Calls for Al Franken to leave Congress have dramatically increased, with the leader of Senate Democrats, the majority of his caucus and the head of the Democratic Party’s campaign arm urging the embattled senator to step aside.
As another woman came forward to accuse Mr Franken of sexual misconduct, Democrats had seemingly made a calculation that they could not stand by their Minnesota colleague. Seven women in the Senate released statements urging Mr Franken to resign, issuing their pleas at roughly the same time in a sign of a coordinated effort. By the end of the day, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer did as well.
The list of Democrats joining them grew steadily throughout the day. Senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Dick Durbin of Illinois also prodded Mr Franken to step down, as did Vermont independent Bernie Sanders.
“I’m shocked and appalled by Senator Franken’s behavior,” Senator Patty Murray of Washington said in a statement. “It’s clear to me that this has been a deeply harmful, persistent problem and a clear pattern over a long period of time. It’s time for him to step aside.”
Adding to the pressure on Mr Franken, Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez echoed the calls for his resignation — signaling that the Democratic campaign organisation is trying to avoid being associated with an accused sexual harasser heading into the 2018 election.
“Everyone must share the responsibility of building a culture of trust and respect for women in every industry and workplace, and that includes our party,” Mr Perez said on Twitter.
Multiple outlets reported that Mr Franken plans to make a formal statement on Thursday. His office repudiated a report from Minnesota Public Radio saying Mr Franken had made the decision to step aside, saying in the late afternoon that “no decision has been made”.
After the initial allegation against the Senator emerged, with broadcaster Leeann Tweeden saying he kissed and groped her against her consent, Mr Franken swiftly took responsibility and apologised. As more women have come forward alleging unwanted sexual advances, Mr Franken has pledged to cooperate with a Senate ethics investigation.
A spokesman said that he “has never intentionally engaged in this kind of conduct,” and Mr Franken has denied as “categorically not true” a former congressional aide’s claim that Mr Franken tried to kiss her following a taping of his radio show in 2006.
A national backlash against sexual misconduct has spurred a round of accusations against members of Congress and already led to the retirement of John Conyers, Democrat of Michigan, a long-serving member who denied allegations of unsolicited advances by multiple women.
Representative Ruben Kihuen, a Nevada Democrat, has resisted calls to resign — including from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — as he rejects a former campaign staffer’s claim of sexual misconduct. Texas Republican Blake Farenthold has acknowledged reaching an $84,000 settlement with a former staffer who accused him of sexual harassment but has denied any wrongdoing.