Duckworth, Durbin join call for fellow Democrat Franken to resign

By Laura Litvan and Erik Wasson
Updated 12/6/2017 4:17 PM
  • U.S. Sen. Al Franken

    U.S. Sen. Al Franken

Illinois' two Democratic senators joined with a score of other colleagues of U.S. Sen. Al Franken in calling on him to quit in the face of another sexual-harassment claim.

"I am deeply disappointed by Sen. Franken's behavior. He must step aside," U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, of Hoffman Estates, said in a news release.

"Sen. Franken's behavior was wrong. He has admitted to what he did. He should resign from the Senate," U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Springfield said via Twitter.

Franken plans to make an announcement Thursday.

On Wednesday, statements by Democratic women in the Senate quickly built to a wave as their male colleagues also broke with Franken, 66, of Minnesota. Franken has been a leader of the Democrats' liberal wing and was seen as a potential 2020 presidential candidate.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York told reporters that Democrats have been discussing the allegations against Franken and that a new claim reported by Politico Wednesday morning was a "tipping point." She said, "Enough is enough."

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said on Twitter he expects Franken to announce his resignation Thursday and that it's "the right thing to do."

Franken denied the report by Politico that he tried to forcibly kiss a former Democratic congressional aide after a taping of his radio show in 2006.

Late last month, Franken apologized and acknowledged a woman's claims that he groped and forcibly kissed her during a military-sponsored entertainment tour to the Middle East in 2006, two years before he was elected to the Senate. Several other accusers came forward after that. He and other Democrats called for a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into his conduct after the first allegation, but that didn't stem the damage.

The calls for Franken's resignation come as Congress seeks to address sexual harassment in the workplace and on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers in both chambers introduced legislation Wednesday that would bar employers from requiring workers who allege harassment or gender discrimination to use arbitration to resolve their complaints. Arbitration often results in smaller settlements for accusers and allows abusers to benefit from secret deals. Sponsors include Gillibrand and GOP Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

"You're going to lose if you fight this," Graham said in a message to business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "You're going to win if you embrace this."

The backlash against Franken is fueled in part by women elected to the Senate in the last decade. Most of the Democratic women who participated in the collective call for the senator to resign were elected starting in 2010.

Throughout U.S. history, only 50 women have served in the Senate, according to the Senate Historical Office. Of those, 21 are serving in the chamber now and 16 of them are Democrats.

Democratic leaders have wrestled with how to calibrate their response to harassment allegations against their members, but in recent weeks there's been a rising sentiment for zero tolerance. On Tuesday, Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the longest serving House member and a civil rights leader, resigned amid claims he sexually harassed members of his staff.

Democrats have one eye on Alabama, where they hope on Dec. 12 to defeat Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, 70, who has strongly denied claims by multiple women that he sexually assaulted or sought to date them when they were teenagers and he was in his early 30s. One of the women said Moore molested her when she was 14. President Donald Trump, who has denied harassment accusations from more than a dozen women, endorsed Moore this week, saying on Twitter, "We need his vote."

If Franken decides to resign, Minnesota's Democratic governor, Mark Dayton, would appoint a replacement who would serve until next November's election. Minnesota Democrats have a deep bench; top contenders would include Rep. Keith Ellison of Minneapolis, the first Muslim elected to Congress, and Rep. Betty McCollum of St. Paul.

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