ROCHESTER, Minn. — President Trump mocked former senator Al Franken Thursday night for resigning from Congress so quickly after he was accused of sexual harassment and groping women, marking the president’s most recent contentious comments about the #MeToo movement.
“Boy, did he fold up like a wet rag, huh? Man. Man. He was gone so fast. I don’t want to mention Al Franken’s name, okay? So I won’t mention it. He was gone so fast. It was like, oh, he did something. ‘Oh, oh, oh, I resign. I quit, I quit.’ Wow. He was gone and he was replaced by somebody that nobody ever heard of. Her name is Tina Smith,” Trump told the Minnesota crowd to cheers.
Franken resigned in January amid multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. A photo that emerged in November showed Franken appearing to grope the breasts of a journalist while on a USO tour in 2006. When the allegations arose last year, Democrats were divided on whether Franken should leave the Senate.
At Thursday’s rally, Trump seemed to criticize Franken for not fighting back against the charges — as Trump has done when facing charges of sexual harassment or groping from women.
“You’ve got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women,” Trump previously told a friend facing sexual assault allegations, according to Bob Woodward’s book “Fear.”
He did not attack Rep. Keith Ellison, the Minnesota lawmaker and a top-ranking official in the Democratic Party who is running for state attorney general, for accusations that he physically and emotionally abused his former girlfriend. Ellison has denied the charges.
Still, the president showed more caution than earlier in the week about his embattled Supreme Court nominee, Brett M. Kavanaugh.
He refrained from attacking Christine Blasey Ford as he did Tuesday night in Mississippi, when he imitated Ford’s testimony and mocked her for not remembering certain details of the night when Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her. Those remarks prompted laughter and cheers from the crowd earlier this week but also drew rebukes from lawmakers in Trump’s own party, including key undecided senators.
The president also did not repeat his statement that men face the greatest jeopardy from the #MeToo movement. And while he praised Kavanaugh and urged his confirmation, he spoke far less extensively about the judge than earlier this week.
The rally is Trump’s third of four this week. He heads to Kansas on Saturday, the same day a final vote is expected on Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Trump appeared somewhat less animated than usual and spoke for about 70 minutes, and some in the crowd appeared to leave early and lose focus at times.
The president gave his usual stump speech, saying without evidence that Minnesotans would lose their guns and see their 401(k) and bank accounts diminish if Democrats won the election.
He mentioned one of his favorite topics — standing for the national anthem — and taunted Democrats with nicknames as he often does. “Legendary low IQ Maxine Waters,” he said of the Democratic congresswoman from California.
Trump boasted about his crowds, falsely stating that more than 40,000 people were recently outside a Missouri arena because there was not room for them inside.
He brought up local candidates to the stage, who gave short speeches. “You really do go off script, don’t you,” Karin Housley, the Republican Senate nominee, said. “Jeez.”
She then suggested that the president say her name more frequently than that of Smith, the Democratic senator whose name Trump said repeatedly during the rally.
Trump rebutted criticisms of his foreign policy, saying the news media had unfairly attacked him for being too cozy with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“They want me to get into a boxing match with him,” Trump said of the media’s opinion of Putin. “I think I’d do very well.”
“Let me tell you. If I was really rough with Russia, they’d say ‘He was too tough,’ ” Trump said. It seemed to be a tacit admission that he has not been “really rough.”
And he recounted stories about his encounters with world leaders, casting many of his endeavors as remarkably easy while telling a winding story about his business acumen.
Thursday night, it was Trump scoring concessions for the NFL from Canada on advertisements during games. He was not specific on the details, but made mention of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s expression of gratitude to him earlier this week.
The president, who has privately expressed frustration over a lack of progress with North Korea, sold the crowd on his progress by saying there were no missile launches since his talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June.
On health care, Trump said he had both “obliterated” the Affordable Care Act and also pushed to lower premiums as part of the act.
“We’ll get a little more money from China. It will be just fine,” Trump says, explaining how the government will fund health care for preexisting conditions.
Trump, however, made several explicit pitches for his supporters to vote in the midterm elections, telling the crowd it would damage him if they did not.
He has told allies in recent days that Kavanaugh could help Republicans boost turnout, and the crowd chanted wildly for the judge.
Trump’s visit to Minnesota comes amid some worrisome signs for Republican House campaigns: The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call announced Thursday that it has shifted its ratings for two-dozen congressional races, all in a positive direction for Democrats.
Advisers have repeatedly told the president the House could be in peril, even as he has fought the prevailing polls.
“The only reason to vote Democrat is if you are tired of winning,” Trump said, a line he has repeated throughout the rallies.
“Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House?” he said. “Please don’t do that to me!”
While Trump did not mention the abuse allegations against Ellison, he did hit the Democratic lawmaker for his position on immigration. Trump also made note of the fact that Ellison was among the few who predicted in 2015 that Trump stood a chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination.
Housley has called for the state attorney general to investigate Ellison, and other Republicans have increasingly sought to leverage the accusations against other Democrats as well. Earlier Thursday, former House speaker Newt Gingrich tweeted in praise of Housley and said that Smith “can’t defend Keith Ellison’s record of abusing women.”
The rally took place in Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District, where Republican Jim Hagedorn is battling Democrat Dan Feehan for a seat that political handicappers rank as a toss-up this November. The Democratic-held seat is being vacated by Rep. Tim Walz, who is running for governor. Voters in the district narrowly backed President Obama in 2012, but four years later, the district went heavily for Trump, who bested Hillary Clinton here 53 percent to 38 percent.
Minnesota is also home to two Senate races this November. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) faces a smooth path to reelection, but Smith faces a tougher time in her special election for the remainder of Franken’s term. Recent polling shows Smith leading Housley by anywhere from 4 to 9 percentage points.
The last time Trump visited Minnesota, in June, he predicted he’d win the state in 2020. He lost it narrowly to Clinton in 2016, 46 percent to 45 percent.
Ahead of the rally, Trump tweeted his support for Housley, Hagedorn and a trio of other Republican House candidates: Jason Lewis, Tom Emmer and Pete Stauber.
Lewis, who spoke briefly at Thursday’s rally, was the subject of national headlines in July when CNN published audio recordings from 2012 in which Lewis had lamented on a radio show that it was no longer acceptable to call women “sluts.”
Sonmez reported from Washington.