Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has scheduled a news conference for Thursday after a quick flood of Democratic senators -- led by Democratic women -- called for him to resign Wednesday in the face of a seventh sexual-harassment accuser. And it seems quite likely that at this news conference, Franken will give those senators what they want.
But the fact is, nobody is being especially courageous here. The writing has been on the wall for this one for quite some time, and it took Franken's Democratic colleagues (and apparently Franken himself) longer than it should have to see it.
The first reason is that the Democratic Party has simply staked out a much stricter position on these issues than Republicans have with Roy Moore and President Trump. A poll released Wednesday shortly after the senators called on Franken to resign showed why. Quinnipiac University asked Americans whether a lawmaker facing multiple sexual harassment accusations should resign. While just 51 percent of Republicans agreed, a full 77 percent of Democrats agreed. It also asked people how they thought each party was handling sexual harassment issues, and just 45 percent of Democrats approved of their own party. (It's worth noting it was conducted before longtime Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr. announced his resignation Tuesday. But Democratic leaders called on Conyers to resign last week.)
The second reason is that, while Franken probably handled this about as well as he could have politically, his approach was always more about buying time than actually mitigating his problems. Franken repeatedly and profusely apologized, and plenty of Democrats and reporters focused on those apologies rather than what specifically he was (and wasn't) apologizing for.
Franken's comments painted these incidents as occurring within gray areas in which the women had perhaps gotten false impressions of his intentions or actions. He basically suggested that they were accidents and that he wouldn't do such things on purpose. As The Fix's Amber Phillips has written, that may have accounted for some of the accusations he faces, but it never really accounted for all of them. The first accuser, Leeann Tweeden, essentially described a pattern of predatory behavior by Franken, and the latest accuser, an anonymous former Democratic congressional aide who spoke to Politico, offered a similar account of a forcible kiss. The latter woman told Politico that Franken told her, “It's my right as an entertainer.”
Franken apologized to Tweeden and suggested that the photo that showed him with his hands over her breasts while she slept was a joke gone wrong. But he never explained how she might have come to the conclusion that he had forced himself upon her with that kiss. Tweeden compared his actions surrounding the kiss to none other than Harvey Weinstein. Franken tried to pretend this all existed in some kind of gray area, but that was never going to suffice as an explanation. Franken declined to elaborate much, which Democrats probably took as him not wanting to call Tweeden a liar, but this discrepancy was never really going away.
When the latest accuser came forward, Franken shifted tactics and offered a blanket denial. “This allegation is categorically not true, and the idea that I would claim this as my right as an entertainer is preposterous,” he said. “I look forward to fully cooperating with the ongoing ethics committee investigation.”
That fuller, unmistakable denial was clearly a sign of the jeopardy in which he found himself. It also reinforced that his mealy-mouthed apologies were never really going to cut it in today's Democratic Party.