Let’s face it, it looked like Al Franken was going to skate.
A few weeks ago, when Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden went public with her tale of unwanted kissing and that cringeworthy groping photo, it was a major embarrassment for the Minnesota senator. But it didn’t seem likely to cost him his job.
Even after a couple of other women came forward with stories of butt-grabbing during photo ops, the media and political consensus was that the former “SNL” star was in an entirely different category than the allegations against, say, Roy Moore.
Then the dam burst. And yesterday, Franken bowed to fierce political pressure from his own party and said in a floor speech that he is resigning.
I had told a colleague before the speech that by this morning, Democrats would be using the resignations of Franken and John Conyers to position themselves as the party of zero tolerance on sexual harassment and rip the Republicans for backing Roy Moore. Well, Franken framed the contrast even as he said he disputed some of the allegations against him but could no longer effectively serve in the Senate.
Franken noted the “irony” that he is leaving “while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.”
With the Alabama election on Tuesday, expect to hear this about a million more times. It’s not true, though, that Moore has the GOP’s full support. While President Trump has endorsed him, Alabama Republican Richard Shelby voted for a write-in candidate and Arizona Republican Jeff Flake donated to Democrat Doug Jones.
What happened to Franken speaks volumes about the political climate right now. On Wednesday, Kirsten Gillibrand called for Franken to quit, nearly all the female Democratic senators joined her, and his support collapsed.
A report by Politico on the seventh accuser may have been the tipping point. The unnamed woman, a former congressional aide, said Franken tried to kiss her in 2006, before he was a senator. It was just one allegation too many.
That same day, former congressional aide Tina Dupuy became the eighth accuser with a disturbing piece in the Atlantic. Her account of Franken squeezing her waist during a photo op at a 2009 inaugural party may have seemed less dramatic than the others, but she wrote that “he knew exactly what he was doing.
“It shrunk me. It’s like I was no longer a person, only ornamental. It said, ‘You don’t matter — and I do.’ He wanted to cop a feel and he demonstrated he didn’t need my permission.”
Dupuy, who was reluctant to come forward, added: “I’m also no longer defending Bill Clinton. I’m ashamed I ever did.”
A couple of years ago, Franken might have hung on, or the ethics committee might have delivered an empty reprimand. But not in the post-Weinstein climate. And maybe other politicians will now be judged in the post-Franken climate.