WASHINGTON — On the day that TIME magazine named accusers of sexual harassment and assault their Person of the Year, several Democratic women senators — followed by a few men — came forward to say enough is enough with their colleague Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.).
A seventh woman this week accused Franken of making an unwanted sexual advance. A former Democratic congressional aide told Politico that the senator tried to forcibly kiss her in 2006, calling it “my right as an entertainer.”
In a lengthy Facebook post, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said she was “shocked and disappointed to learn over the last few weeks that a colleague I am fond of personally has engaged in behavior towards women that is unacceptable,” but “this moment of reckoning about our friends and colleagues who have been accused of sexual misconduct is necessary, and it is painful.”
“We must not lose sight that this watershed moment is bigger than any one industry, any one party, or any one person,” she wrote. “The pervasiveness of sexual harassment and the experience women face every day across America within the existing power structure of society has finally come out of the shadows. It is a moment that we as a country cannot afford to ignore.”
Gillibrand noted that both Democrats and Republicans have been “accused of misconduct, and I have no doubt that there will be more because Congress is not immune to this scourge — the question is what are we willing to do about it when courageous women and men come forward.”
“We have to rise to the occasion, and not shrink away from it, even when it’s hard, especially when it’s hard. That is what this larger moment is about. So, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on Senator Franken’s behavior. Enough is enough. The women who have come forward are brave and I believe them,” she added. “While it’s true that his behavior is not the same as the criminal conduct alleged against Roy Moore, or Harvey Weinstein, or President Trump, it is still unquestionably wrong, and should not be tolerated by those of us who are privileged to work in public service.”
“As the mother of two young boys, we owe it to our sons and daughters to not equivocate, but to offer clarity. We should not have to be explaining the gradations between sexual assault, harassment and unwelcome groping. And what message do we send to our sons and daughters when we accept gradations of crossing the line? None of it is ok and none of it should be tolerated.”
Gillibrand said that while Franken “is entitled to have the Ethics Committee conclude its review, I believe it would be better for our country if he sent a clear message that any kind of mistreatment of women in our society isn’t acceptable by stepping aside to let someone else serve.”
“In the wake of the election of President Trump, in just the last few months, our society is changing, and I encourage women and men to keep speaking up to continue this progress,” the senator wrote. “At this moment, we need to speak hard truths or lose our chance to make lasting change.”
Tweeted Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), “I’m shocked and appalled by Senator Franken’s behavior. 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.”
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) tweeted: “Sexual harassment and misconduct should not be allowed by anyone and should not occur anywhere. I believe the best thing for Senator Franken to do is step down.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) simply tweeted, “Al Franken should resign.” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) similarly tweeted, “I believe it is best for Senator Franken to resign.”
Posting on her Facebook page, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said she “struggled with this decision” to eventually call for her colleague to step aside because Franken has “been a good senator and I consider him a friend.”
“But that cannot excuse his behavior and his mistreatment of women,” she added. “…My hope is that this moment for a cultural change will result in women no longer being viewed as objects or toys, but recognized for their abilities and achievements. As regular human beings. Women have endured this behavior, which for too long has been ignored and tolerated. But no longer.”
Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) wrote on her Facebook page, “It is clear that Al Franken has engaged in a pattern of egregious and unacceptable behavior toward women. He should resign. We are experiencing a sea change in our culture that is long overdue, and we must continue working to empower all women and do everything we can to prevent sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said, “We must commit to zero tolerance – which is where I believe we as a country and Congress should be – and that means Senator Franken should step down.”
Then men from the Senate Dem delegation joined in: “I agree with my colleagues who have stepped forward today and called on Senator Franken to resign,” tweeted Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.). “We can’t just believe women when it’s convenient.”
Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) said that “Franken’s conduct and behavior are unacceptable and he should resign.” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said he has listened to the victims. “I have listened to my female colleagues, to women I work with and women in my life. And I agree the time has come for Senator Franken to step aside.”
“I also believe the ethics committee should continue to investigate. He is entitled to the investigation,” Brown added. “And their findings will be important to informing changes that are needed in Congress.”
At a press conference last week, Franken said that “from these stories it’s been clear that there are some women — and one is too many — who feel that I have done something disrespectful and have hurt them. And for that I am — I am tremendously sorry.”
“And I know that I am going to have to be much more conscious when — in these circumstances, much more careful, much more sensitive, and that this will not happen again going forward,” he said.
Franken would not say if he would resign, but said he was going to cooperate with the Ethics investigation and was “going to try to learn from my mistakes.”
After today’s rash of calls to resign, Franken’s office said, without elaborating, that he’d make an announcement Thursday.