Politics

Schumer Told Franken Wednesday Morning That He Needed to Go

Calls by Senate Democrats for Franken to resign came after new allegations

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer told Minnesota Sen. Al Franken on Wednesday morning that he needed to resign. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer knew it was time for Minnesota Democrat Al Franken to leave the Senate even before the public calls for his resignation Wednesday.

The New York Democrat told Franken in a phone call that he needed to resign after Wednesday morning’s publication of further allegations of sexual misconduct by the senator, according to a person familiar with the conversation.

That’s despite the close friendship between the two lawmakers. Franken was a member of one of Schumer’s Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee classes and he provided the party with 60 votes in 2009 when he was sworn in after a lengthy recount and legal battle in his race against Republican Sen. Norm Coleman

Schumer’s conversation with Franken seems to have taken place at the same time a group of Senate Democratic women were deciding they had heard enough.

Opening salvos

According to aides to some of the female senators involved, Franken’s conduct and his refusal to step down from the chamber had been a topic of private conversation for a while. But the latest allegations published by Politico were enough to prompt their public calls for his resignation.

Members spoke Wednesday morning and decided they did not want to wait any longer.

By the afternoon, there were at least eight allegations in total published by a variety of media outlets, and at least 30 members of the Democratic caucus said Franken should leave quickly.

The public calls started with Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii, followed in quick succession by a wave of other Democrats.

“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,” Gillibrand said.

Leadership speaks

Gillibrand’s fellow New Yorker, Schumer, held additional conversations with Franken during the day, according to a source familiar with the talks. Those included a private meeting between the minority leader, Franken and the Minnesota senator’s wife, Franni, at Schumer’s Washington, D.C., apartment.

“Senator Franken should resign,” Schumer later said when he issued his public statement. “I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and he should step down immediately.”

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat and the top-ranking woman in either party’s leadership ranks, was said to have talked to Schumer ahead of the decision by the female senators to take their private concerns about Franken public.

“This institution has evolved over centuries, it’s evolved over my nearly three decades of service, and it’s evolving once more before our very eyes,” Murray said in a statement. “This current evolution is long overdue. It’s time for us as elected representatives to hold ourselves to a higher standard, to set an example, and to live a set of values that is truly representative and worthy of the Congress, our democracy, and our great country.”

“To truly accomplish that we must agree that there is no place for discrimination or harassment in the government. We cannot pick and choose based on political party or friendship who we call out. It pains me that in this case it is someone who I think has been a tremendous voice for our party,” she continued. “But that makes it even more imperative that we don’t tolerate this behavior.”

Dragging it out

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, on which Franken has served, pointed to the generally glacial deliberative pace of the Senate Ethics Committee. The panel had opened a “preliminary inquiry” into the allegations against the senator.

“I am concerned that even a prompt Ethics Committee investigation and recommendations will not come soon enough,” Leahy said in a statement. “He has to step aside. I hope as a nation that we are beginning to come to terms with the systemic problem of sexual harassment and assault, but we still have a long way to go.”

Even those Democratic senators who did not comment publicly were making their opinions known, such as Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. An aide to the senator said she had spoken with Franken privately and suggested he resign.

And other Senate Democratic Conference members left the impression they expected that is exactly what Franken would do Thursday, when the senator is slated to make an announcement about his political future. Minnesota Public Radio reported Wednesday evening he would be announcing his resignation then, citing a Democratic official.

Although Franken’s office has pushed back on the MPR report, saying no final decision has been made, the handwriting is on the wall for the comedian-turned-lawmaker, and it says he has no more allies among his colleagues, a relatively untenable situation in the clubby Senate. 

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