Franken resigns; Cortez Masto says culture of Congress needs change

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto responds to Sen. Al Franken's announcement that he is resigning, amid sexual misconduct allegations. (Al Franken Photo: Lorie Shaull; Catherine Cortez Masto Photo: Erik Verduzco)

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, resigned Thursday, capping a tumultuous 24 hours which saw his support among his Democratic colleagues collapse. Franken’s fate was sealed when Wednesday, a seventh woman accused the Democrat of forcibly trying to kiss her.

“I am extremely disappointed in Senator Franken,” Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada, said Thursday in a statement. “The experiences shared by the brave women who have come forward show a disturbing pattern of behavior.”

Franken’s departure is the latest tremor in the harassment earthquake shaking America’s political, entertainment and media culture, as numerous men-in-power have now been felled by accusations of misconduct, some decades old.

In his departure, Franken said he would resign “in the coming weeks.” After the first accusations against him broke weeks ago, Franken apologized and said he would support an Ethics Committee investigation. Today, he went further and said some of the accusations against him are false.

“Some of the all allegations against me are simply not true,” Franken said, adding, “others I remember very differently.”

Franken’s departure has shown a sharp contrast between the two parties. His is the second high-profile Democratic resignation, coming a day after Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, the longest-serving member of the House, resigned over allegations of harassment. Another Democrat, Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nevada, has also been hit with accusations of harassment, and despite calls to resign from Democrats including their House leader Nancy Pelosi, Kihuen refuses to step down.

In contrast, Republicans have shown far greater tolerance for lawmakers or candidates accused of misconduct. This week, the Republican National Committee resumed its support for Alabama candidate Roy Moore, facing multiple accusations of improper conduct with young women, some underage. Moore has denied any wrongdoing. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, is among those who called on Moore to step down.

In his Senate speech, Franken included a shot at the GOP.

“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.

RELATED | Franken announces resignation from Senate amid allegations

On Wednesday, the Democratic dam broke against Franken when top members of his party and most of the Senate’s female Democratic senators said he needed to leave office. Cortez Masto was not one of them, perhaps reflecting her background as Nevada’s former Attorney General and someone very cognizant of due process. In both the Franken case and the Kihuen case, Cortez Masto has called for investigations in the appropriate committees.

Her office, as of this writing, has not responded with a further explanation about Cortez Masto’s position regarding resignation. A spokesperson told The Nevada Independent “she is focused on the broader issue of sexual harassment and changes to the congressional harassment process.”

In her statement Thursday, Cortez Masto spoke about her work as Attorney General fighting sex abuse and misconduct.

“My time working with these survivors has shown me that the epidemic of sexual harassment and sexual assault is bigger than one Senator and that the culture of the United States Congress must change," said Cortez Masto. "That begins with reforming the Ethics process to clearly set the highest standards for conduct for Members of Congress and to enforce severe sanctions for Members and their staff that engage in this inappropriate conduct.”

Local progressives applaud a zero-tolerance approach to harassment.

“These folks need to go,” says Annette Magnus, with Battle Born Progress. “It doesn’t matter whether they’re a Democrat, it doesn’t matter whether they’re a Republican. This is a non-partisan issue.”

Critics, including some Republicans, say Democrats are playing politics, making Franken a sacrificial lamb so they can take the moral high ground on the harassment issue, especially with Trump in the White House and Moore on the campaign trail.

Magnus says nonsense.

“Losing a senator like Al Franken, who many of us thought could be a contender for the presidency in 2020 is not a joke, it’s not a partisan game. He’s gone now," said Magnus.

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