WASHINGTON - In a powerful demonstration of support for his accusers, Senate Democrats pushed Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., to the brink of resignation Wednesday, Dec. 6, over mounting allegations he sexually harassed women, raising the possibility he will become the second lawmaker to step aside over recent accusations of inappropriate behavior.
In a movement led by the Senate's Democratic women, a surge of members said that Franken should leave Capitol Hill roughly three weeks after he was first accused of inappropriate behavior. In total, roughly half-a-dozen women have accused Franken of unwanted advances and touching. He has denied intentional wrongdoing and has apologized.
"Enough is enough," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., told reporters at a news conference. "We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK, none of it is acceptable. We as elected leaders should absolutely be held to a higher standard, not a lower standard, and we should fundamentally be valuing women. That is where this debate has to go."
Franken's office said he would make an announcement about his political future on Thursday. No other details were provided.
The sudden cascade of opposition to Franken came the day after Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., ended his 52-year career in Congress over accusations he behaved inappropriately toward female aides. As the nation grapples with allegations of persistent sexual harassment by powerful men, the resignation of not just one but possibly two prominent Democratic lawmakers would suggest tolerance for lawmakers accused of harassment is waning on Capitol Hill, which has been criticized as soft on perpetrators compared with the private sector.
Among the senators publicly urging Franken to resign were Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Dianne Feinstein of California and Patty of Washington, the highest-ranking woman among Senate Democrats, along with Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Robert Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois. No Senate Democrat defied the consensus that he should step aside.
"Senator Franken's conduct was wrong. He has admitted to it. And he should resign from the Senate," Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, told reporters Wednesday.
The developments reached as far as Alabama, where Democratic Senate candidate Doug Jones also called on Franken to resign. Jones is running against Republican Roy Moore, who faces multiple accusations of pursuing romantic relationships with teenage women when he was in his 30s, including one who said he touched her sexually when she was 14.
The calls for Franken's resignation came after a woman told Politico he tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006, before his election to the Senate.
The woman, a former Democratic congressional aide, said Franken pursued her as she left the station. When he tried to kiss her, he told her, "It's my right as an entertainer," she said. Politico withheld the woman's name.
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Franken's fellow Minnesota U.S. senator, did not call for his resignation Wednesday.
"Senator Klobuchar personally spoke with Senator Franken this morning. As has been reported, he will be making an announcement tomorrow morning," Klobuchar state director Ben Hill said in statement.
Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, joined the calls for Franken's ouster.
"Sen. Al Franken should step down. 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," he wrote on Twitter.
In recent days, the Democratic women senators had spoken privately among themselves about the situation, agreeing that they could not tolerate Franken's presence as allegations continued trickling out.
"People were at the edge of their patience with this. They'd had enough. One more allegation was going to be it," said one senior aide, who was granted anonymity to describe private deliberations.
A second Senate aide familiar with the talks confirmed the private discussions among female senators.
Describing the mood among Senate Democrats, the aide said, "It's a s----y day."
If Franken resigns, Minnesota Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton would pick his replacement, who would serve until a November 2018 special election to fill the final two years of Franken's term.
Franken has said he will cooperate with an ongoing investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee. But Gillibrand argued the panel is not equipped to deliver "the kind of accountability the American people are searching for."
"I think it would be better for the country for him to offer that clear message that he values women, that we value women and that this kind of behavior is not acceptable," she said.
Republican leaders remained quiet amid the developments.
Asked about Franken, Senate GOP Whip John Cornyn of Texas said he would "leave it up to [Democrats] to deal with members of their own party."