But the Franken imbroglio’s more appreciable impact may be in how the party handles a new accusation against Joe Biden.
The parallels between the Franken and Biden situations are limited but real. Franken faced multiple women, including broadcaster and model Leann Tweeden, who accused him of groping her and of an unwanted kiss while rehearsing a sketch for a USO tour. A number of other women, including a few who were named, alleged that Franken touched them inappropriately. Two unnamed women also alleged attempted forcible kisses by Franken.
Biden faces only one accusation. On Friday, former Nevada lieutenant governor candidate Lucy Flores (D) accused Biden of inappropriate physical conduct that she has clarified does not qualify as sexual assault. She said Biden came up behind her, smelled her hair and kissed the back of her head in a way that made her uncomfortable. Since then, the media and Biden opponents have pointed to a number of examples of Biden doing somewhat similar things in public.
But one woman who has featured prominently in those examples, former defense secretary Ash Carter’s wife, Stephanie Carter, has said she did not feel violated. The image of Stephanie Carter looks a lot like what Flores described — Biden being behind her, putting his hands on her shoulders, getting very close and whispering in her ear. But she interpreted it quite differently than did Flores. “Let me state upfront that I don’t know her, but I absolutely support her right to speak her truth and she should be, like all women, believed,” Carter wrote on Medium. “But her story is not mine. The Joe Biden in my picture is a close friend helping someone get through a big day, for which I will always be grateful.” She said Biden was whispering a message of reassurance on a difficult day.
And therein lies the dilemma for Democrats. When the MeToo movement really got off the ground, the party seemed to adopt an approach that said accusers should be believed, full stop. What was important was how the women involved interpreted the events.
Then that approach abruptly ended the career of one of the party’s favorite liberals in the Senate, Franken, who was also rumored as a potential 2020 candidate. To this day, there are whispers about the possible political motivations of Tweeden (as there are to some extent with Flores, who addressed them in an interview with Jake Tapper on Sunday). Some of Franken’s supporters have expressed doubts that he was even capable of such actions.
But more than that, there is a palpable sense that Democrats overreacted and that Franken was a victim of too high a standard. President Trump was elected after being accused of much worse, Franken’s supporters argue, yet Franken was cast out by his own party over accusations that generally involved inappropriate touching and kisses that made women feel violated — much like what Biden is now accused of. While Democratic senators were nearly unified in calling for Franken’s resignation, 68 percent of Minnesota Democrats said afterward that he shouldn’t have resigned. To this day, it’s not out of the question that Franken could resurrect his political career.
Much has to play out with the Biden situation, but you have to think that the backlash against the Franken ouster is going to color the reaction, to some degree. Based on the party’s past approach, when people such as Flores come forward to say that Biden made her feel uncomfortable with physical contact, that’s what should matter. Biden’s actual intentions? Not so much.
Today, Biden’s would-be 2020 opponents are saying Flores should be heard, but they are being somewhat cautious about demanding that her discomfort should lead to immediate sanction against Biden. You have to believe Biden is watching how this issue might play if he does get into the 2020 campaign — both among his opponents and a base that has largely stood by Franken — and gauging whether his party still believes actions such as these, which operate in a gray area in many people’s minds, are dealbreakers.