Former senator Al Franken (D.-Minn.) is no longer on Capitol Hill following repeated accusations of sexual misconduct.
While he denied the allegations, for some lawmakers allowing a senator accused of inappropriately touching and kissing at least six women to remain in Congress was unacceptable.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D.-N.Y.), who along with Franken has been the topic of 2020 presidential speculation, tweeted in December:
“As elected officials, we should be held to the highest standards — not the lowest. The allegations against Sen. Franken describe behavior that cannot be tolerated. While he’s entitled to an Ethics Committee hearing, I believe he should step aside to let someone else serve.”
More than 30 Democratic senators — at least a third of them women — called on the former comedian to leave Congress, but the pushback those lawmakers are now receiving, even from women, reveals just how differently some women view the way lawmakers should respond to the sexual mistreatment of women.
BuzzFeed reported that Susie Tompkins Buell, a longtime donor to Democratic women senators, is rethinking how much she will support the women who she believes helped push Franken out:
Buell described the push for Franken’s departure as "unfair," "cavalier" and somewhat politically motivated — "a stampede," "like a rampage," she said, speaking in stark terms about senators she has backed for years, naming Gillibrand in particular.
"They need to know that some of their biggest supporters are questioning why they did that," Buell said. "We have to do things conscientiously and fairly. He didn't have the chance to defend himself."
Nearly 6 in 10 — 57 percent — of Minnesota women did not want Franken to leave office, according to a Public Policy Polling survey.
And Kate Harding, co-editor of "Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump's America," wrote in The Post that leaving Franken, who supported liberal women’s issues, in the Senate was better than the risk of losing his seat to a conservative:
“If we set this precedent in the interest of demonstrating our party’s solidarity with harassed and abused women, we’re only going to drain the swamp of people who, however flawed, still regularly vote to protect women’s rights and freedoms. The legislative branch will remain chockablock with old, white Republican men who regard women chiefly as sex objects and unpaid housekeepers, and we’ll show them how staunchly Democrats oppose their misogynistic attitudes by handing them more power.”
One of the reasons some liberal women were frustrated with the move to remove Franken is that they don't believe Republicans will match the call within their own party. Although multiple Republican politicians — including the president of the United States — are facing sexual assault claims, there has not been a large number of lawmakers on the right calling for those members of Congress to leave Washington.
Part of that may be because women in different parties view this issue differently, according to a recent survey from Time magazine and SurveyMonkey:
"Democrats are more likely than Republicans to believe accusers: 93% of Democrats say they believe the women alleging sexual harassment, compared to 78% of Republicans. Republicans are also twice as likely as Democrats to think that accused men are being unfairly treated by the media (52% of Republicans think the media coverage of the sexual allegations is unfair, compared to 20% of Democrats). And while 77% of Democrats say the #MeToo movement will lead to meaningful change, 55% of Republicans say the movement is a distraction."
Women voters repeatedly prove that they aren’t monolithic — even within a political party. The degree to which different demographics of women support the Democratic Party and liberal issues often varies based on race, education and religion.
But as we get closer to the first anniversary of the Women’s March on Washington and the heightened profile of the #MeToo movement, how both parties respond to what is clearly a national issue will likely become a campaign topic of significant focus during the midterm elections.
Democratic women obviously want to maintain their advantage with women voters over the GOP. That means lawmakers will be called to hear how their constituents want them to respond to this issue beyond risking losing seats. So far, Franken’s replacement — former Minnesota lieutenant governor Tina Smith — has proven what many Democratic women voters deeply believe: The best way to get rid of the men in Congress who abuse women is to replace them with women.