WASHINGTON — Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., facing fresh allegations of sexual misconduct and vanishing support from fellow Democrats, announced Thursday he is resigning.
“In the coming weeks, I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate,” he said in a speech in the Senate chambers. “I may be giving up my seat but I am not giving up my voice.”
Franken called attention to allegations against both President Donald Trump and GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, who is in a special election in Alabama to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“I, of all people, am aware that 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 repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” Franken said.
In recent weeks, starting with a flood of accusations against Hollywood power-broker Harvey Weinstein, Frank said the national conversation had focused on harassment of women, and he was glad it had done so.
“Then the conversation turned to me,” he said. “I was shocked, and I was upset.”
He insisted that “some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others, I remember very differently.”
Franken noted that he had called for an Ethics Committee investigation.
“I was confident of the outcome,” he said. “I am proud that during my time in the Senate I have used my power to be a champion for women” and he remains someone “who respects the women I work alongside every day.”
Franken’s family members sat in the Senate gallery, some of them crying. Staff lined up in the back of the chamber, stone-faced. Around 18 Democratic senators quietly listened to his speech on the floor. No Republicans were present except the chamber’s presiding officer, Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan.
“I know who I really am,” Franken said. “I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a senator — nothing — has brought dishonor on this institution.”
But a majority of the Senate’s Democrats called on the two-term lawmaker to quit after a woman emerged Wednesday morning saying he forcibly tried to kiss her in 2006. Hours later, another woman said Franken inappropriately squeezed “a handful of flesh” on her waist while posing for a photo with her in 2009. That brought the number of women alleging misconduct by Franken to at least eight.
Franken, the former comedian who made his name on “Saturday Night Live,” had faced a chorus of calls to step aside.
“Enough is enough,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York tweeted Wednesday. “We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK, none of it is acceptable, and we, as elected leaders, should absolutely be held to a higher standard.”
Franken’s replacement will be chosen by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, who on Thursday said he hasn’t decided on a replacement but expects to make and announce his decision in the next couple of days. Whomever he names will serve until a special election next year to complete the remainder of Franken’s term, which runs through through 2020.
Gillibrand had been the first to call for Franken’s resignation on Wednesday, but a torrent of Democrats quickly followed.
“I’m shocked and appalled by Sen. Franken’s behavior,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state. “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.”
Late in the day, Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York added his voice.
“I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and he should step down immediately,” Schumer said.
The resignation demands came in rapid succession even though Franken on Wednesday vehemently denied the new accusation that came from a former Democratic congressional aide, who said he tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006.
The woman, who was not identified, told Politico that Franken pursued her after her boss had left and she was collecting her belongings. She said that she ducked to avoid his lips and that Franken told her: “It’s my right as an entertainer.”
Franken, in a statement, said the idea he would claim such conduct as a right was “preposterous.”
But it was soon clear that his position had become untenable.
Fellow Democratic Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who spoke to Franken, wrote on Twitter, “I am confident he will make the right decision.”
The pressure only mounted Tuesday, when Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., resigned after numerous allegations of sexual misconduct. Rep Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., faces pressure to resign as well over allegations reported by Buzzfeed that he repeatedly propositioned a former campaign worker.
While Franken is departing, Moore could be arriving, if he prevails in a Dec. 12 special election. Multiple women have accused the 70-year-old Moore of sexual misconduct with them when they were teens and he was a deputy district attorney in his 30s. If Moore is elected, it could create a political nightmare for Republicans, who have promised an ethics probe.
A national conversation about sexual harassment has intensified this fall after the heavily publicized case of movie mogul Weinstein, who was accused of many acts of sexual misconduct, including rape, by actresses and other women. Just on Wednesday, Time magazine named as its person of the year the “silence breakers” — women who have come forward on sexual harassment.
Punishment has been swift for leaders in entertainment, media and sports while members of Congress have tried to survive the onslaught of allegations.
The allegations against Franken began in mid-November when Leeann Tweeden, now a Los Angeles radio anchor, accused him of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour in Afghanistan.
Other allegations followed, including a woman who says Franken put his hand on her buttocks as they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. Two women told the Huffington Post that Franken squeezed their buttocks at political events during his first campaign for the Senate in 2008. A fourth woman, an Army veteran, alleged Franken cupped her breast during a photo on a USO tour in 2003.
Franken has apologized for his behavior but has also disputed some of the allegations.
Associated Press writers Juliet Linderman in Washington and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, contributed to this report.