WASHINGTON — Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) announced an end to an eight-year tenure in Congress on Thursday, resigning in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct and pressure from fellow Democrats to step down.
Franken announced, in a speech from the floor of the Senate, that he would step aside in the coming weeks.
He said he was “shocked and upset” as the allegations mounted in recent weeks, but that “all women deserve to be heard.” He also said he did not want to give the “false impression” that he was admitting to the allegations, as he has a different recollection of the events and some of the claims are “simply not true.”
“It’s become clear that I can’t pursue the ethics committee process and at the same time remain an effective senator for Minnesota,” Franken said. “I may be resigning my seat, but I am not giving up my voice.”
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, a Democrat, will choose a successor, who would then fill the term through at least next November. That is when there will be a special election that will coincide with other statewide races. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is running for reelection, and there is an open race for governor to succeed Dayton.
Franken’s future was put in doubt last month when a Los Angeles radio newscaster, Leeann Tweeden, published an essay on her station’s website accusing Franken of groping and forcibly kissing her while they were on a USO tour in 2006. Another woman, Lindsey Metz, came forward several days later, claiming that he grabbed her buttocks as they took a photo together at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. Franken had taken his Senate seat a year earlier.
Franken apologized and pledged to win back the trust of the state’s constituents. But on Wednesday, new allegations emerged from an unidentified congressional aide who told Politico that Franken tried to forcibly kiss her on a visit to his radio studio in 2006. He denied the incident, but soon after, some of his colleagues, starting with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), called for him to step down. She was followed by more than two dozen other senators, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
His speech was somewhat defiant, as he expressed some frustration that he is stepping aside before the ethics committee completes an investigation of the allegations, as he had sought when Tweeden first made her claims.
In his speech, Franken said there is some irony “in the fact that I am 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 preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.”
He was referring to President Donald Trump and the infamous 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape, and the election next week in Alabama in which the Republican candidate, Roy Moore, is endorsed by Trump, despite allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct and assault with underage girls. Moore has denied the claims.
“Nothing I have done as a senator, nothing, has brought dishonor on this institution, and I am confident that the ethics committee would agree,” Franken said.
The StarTribune reported that Dayton is strongly considering Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to the seat, and she is not expected to run in next year’s special election.
Franken, who was raised in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, was a key figure for Democrats in driving turnout to events and fundraisers, in part because of his celebrity.
A former comedy writer and “Saturday Night Live” staffer, he later hosted a political radio talk show for the liberal network Air America, and found particular success writing books that skewered conservative figures like Bill O’Reilly. He also became a skeptical voice against major media mergers, including the proposed AT&T acquisition of Time Warner, and was particularly outspoken on the issue of net neutrality.
When he announced his Senate candidacy in 2007, he went to great lengths to tone down his humor on the campaign trail, as the onus was on him to show the state’s voters that his campaign was not a stunt, but a serious bid.
“This has been a tough few weeks for me,” he said. “But I am a very, very lucky man. I have a beautiful, healthy family that I love and that loves me very much. I’m going to be just fine.”
He added, “Even today, even on the worst day of my political life, I feel like it’s all been worth it.”
Franken hugged some of his colleagues on the Senate floor before leaving the Capitol with his wife, Franni. He didn’t say what he planned to do next.