Go figure that an embarrassing backbencher might end up paying a price for alleged serial groping incidents in the Age of #MeToo. Thus far, Al Franken has adamantly refused to resign his Senate seat despite calls from his own party in Minnesota to quit. Now that House Democratic leadership has thrown John Conyers under the bus, the Washington Post reports, Capitol Hill Democrats have stepped up their public campaign against Franken too:
Sen. Al Franken, who until two weeks ago was one of the Democratic Party’s brightest stars, is now fighting for political survival amid mounting allegations that he committed sexual abuse and a solidifying resolve within his party to take a hard line on any such transgressions.
Before we go any further, let’s cast some cold water on this claim, which seems to keep coming up without any particular evidence. Al Franken has never been a bright star among Democrats, let alone its brightest. Despite having midranking seniority in the Senate (48th), Franken occupies no ranking-member committee positions. Neither does he occupy any party offices. In fact, three senators with less seniority than Franken have more connection to leadership:
- Tammy Baldwin (D-WI): 66th in seniority, caucus secretary
- Elizabeth Warren (D-MA): 75th in seniority, caucus vice-chair
- Chris Van Hollen (D-MD): 93rd in seniority, DSCC chair
The last one particularly demonstrates Franken’s backbencher status. He raises a lot of money for Democrats, and at one time was on the shortlist for the DSCC chair. His fundraising prowess had two key sources — his sense of humor and his connection to the entertainment industry, both of which have soured entirely for Democrats, at least in the short run. Before this, though, Franken’s status as a master fundraiser should have put him in the running for a leadership position. Instead, he’s been passed over.
However, his status as an expendable is on the rise:
None of his fellow Senate Democrats has yet called for Franken to resign; the party line has been that he should be dealt with by the Ethics Committee.
But more and more Democrats outside the Senate are saying that it has become untenable for Franken to remain in office, despite the fact that his alleged offenses are arguably of a lesser degree than those of the other cases that have dominated the news. Conyers, for example, has been accused of demanding sexual favors of female aides.
In the House on Thursday, two more Democrats — caucus chairman Joseph Crowley (N.Y.) and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) — called on both Franken and Conyers to leave Congress. Earlier in the week, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) said both men should resign.
Privately, many other Democrats are coming to the same conclusion about Franken, said political strategist Lis Smith. “I haven’t talked to a Democrat behind the scenes who thinks this guy should stay,” Smith said.
On one hand, it’s a completely understandable political calculation. Not only is Franken expendable, he’s also easily replaceable. Minnesota’s governor is a Democrat, and the DFL has at least three women available who have won statewide office before: Rebecca Otto, Lori Swanson, and Tina Smith, all of whom would have more credibility than Franken to lead on issues of female empowerment, especially now. Franken’s term would run to 2020 if he sticks around, making him a potential embarrassment for two political cycles, but a replacement would have to win the seat in 2018 for the final two years of the term. It helps to have a candidate who has already demonstrated a statewide constituency.
On the other, though, the cases of Franken and Conyers are qualitatively different, as the Post also notes. Franken’s accusers come from his public appearances, mostly before he entered the Senate. Conyers has been credibly accused of a lengthy pattern of sexual harassment and employee abuse in his Congressional office, and over a much longer period of time. The settlement that Conyers reached also has two affidavits attesting to misuse of taxpayer funds by paying for the travel of women for the purpose of Conyers’ sexual activities.
In both cases, though, nothing much will change either way. If both resign, Democrats will hold both seats, although it might be slightly more of a challenge in Minnesota (except Republicans haven’t won a statewide office since 2006). In that sense, both men are expendable … which makes it curious as to why they’re still hanging around.