WASHINGTON ― The allegations of sexual harassment against Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) could cost Democrats a progressive voice who distinguished himself with his tough and incisive questioning of President Donald Trump’s judicial and cabinet nominees.
Franken has laid low since a news anchor last week revealed that he kissed and groped her without her consent during a USO tour in December 2006. The Democrat canceled several speaking engagements over the weekend and is planning to “reflect” with his family in Washington, D.C., during this week’s Thanksgiving holiday.
But on Monday, in a development that will likely intensify pressure on Democrats to further distance themselves from Franken, a second woman came forward with an allegation about the two-term senator.
Lindsay Menz, 33, said in a report published by CNN that Franken groped her in 2010 while posing for a photograph at the Minnesota State Fair.
“As my husband took the picture, [Franken] put his hand full-fledged on my rear. It was wrapped tightly around my butt cheek,” Menz said, becoming the first woman to allege improper contact by Franken while he was in office.
While some progressives have already begun calling on Franken to resign, establishment Democrats have largely held their fire pending a Senate Ethics Committee investigation that Franken has readily welcomed. Such a probe, however, could take months to complete. The last time the committee recommended a senator be expelled over allegations of sexual harassment or assault occurred in 1995, against Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.).
Franken’s role in the Senate could be diminished even if he does not step down.
“If nothing more comes out, then it’s more like, say, Ted Kennedy, who had to lay low” after reports of his drunken debauchery decades ago threatened to sink his re-election in 1992, a Democratic strategist who requested anonymity due to his close ties to Franken told HuffPost.
Kennedy took a surprisingly passive role in the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Clarence Thomas, who was also accused of sexual harassment, “because of his own issues, but over time he was able to rehabilitate and rebuild,” the strategist noted.
While Franken kept a conspicuously low profile during his first term, the former “Saturday Night Live” comic emerged as a prominent liberal force on the Senate Judiciary Committee this year with his pointed grilling of Trump nominees.
Franken made headlines in February by skewering then-Education Department Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos over her lack of experience in the education field. In March, he pressed Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, over Republicans’ refusal to give Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, a hearing. And it was Franken who got into a heated exchange with Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month over his shifting memory regarding his meetings and contacts with Russian officials during last year’s presidential campaign.
“It would be a loss. He’s become pretty famous for his clear, penetrating questions,” the strategist said about the possibility of Franken stepping down.
Franken exerted influence over lower court nominees as well. He objected to the nomination of Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, forcing Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to upend longstanding Senate precedent to overrule him and grant Stras a hearing. Franken also called into question the record of Amy Comey Barrett, Trump’s nominee to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who he said was tied to a “hate group.”
For now, though, the allegations mean more immediate consequences.
Franken has forfeited the ability to speak credibly on the issue of sexual assault, for example, which was one of the first causes he decided to take up upon being elected to the Senate in 2008. Fellow Minnesota Democrat Sen. Amy Klobuchar will be the main sponsor of a bill that Franken was set to introduce that aims to help survivors of sexual assault, CNN reported Monday.
As calls for his resignation mount, it’s clear Franken’s career in the Senate is hanging by a thread.
“With additional women coming out, patterns emerge,” Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, who condemned Franken’s actions, told HuffPost. “Sen. Franken has to go home to Minnesota, admit his fault. He needs to convince his constituents that he understands the problem, is sincere in his regret and will work hard to earn back women’s trust.”
“If his constituents forgive him, he can move forward,” Rosen added. “But times have changed so this won’t be an overnight process.”