Will Al Franken resign, as Minnesota Public Radio reported yesterday? Or does he plan to stick around and fight? Franken’s office denied the MPR report yesterday afternoon and now says that he will go to the Senate floor this morning to announce his decision about whether to stay or go:
Democratic Party leaders united Wednesday in calling for Sen. Al Franken to resign from the U.S. Senate, an extraordinary rebuke to the Minnesota Democrat as he faced a new allegation of sexual harassment.
Franken planned to make an announcement about his future Thursday morning on the Senate floor. A top Democratic official told the Star Tribune that Franken planned to resign, but the senator’s staff insisted no final decision had been made.
Yesterday’s belated gang-up on Franken clearly intended to resolve the scandal immediately, but didn’t quite achieve its purpose. That may have been because of the hypocrisy involved. The Senate Democrat caucus had stood behind Franken enough to keep talking about “due process” and an Ethics Committee probe through six different accusers. After a seventh emerged yesterday, suddenly there was a 33-member consensus to force Franken out by shaming him into resigning. It’s tough to credit that to principle, and it seems more related to the polling that suggests Roy Moore has rebounded a little in Alabama’s special election.
This announcement leaves the suspense in place a little longer. If Franken was going to resign, why not just have an announcement from outside the Senate chamber, or even back home in Minnesota? On the other hand, how does Franken stay to fight it out when almost the entire caucus — including its leader, Chuck Schumer — has publicly demanded your resignation?
If I had to bet, I’d put a small amount of money on Franken sticking around. He’s not a man who takes criticism easily, let alone obloquy, and it’s his nature to dish it right back out. Franken might have decided to pay back his colleagues for their coordinated hit job yesterday by demanding due process and standing on his earlier denials in a less-passive voice.
What happens if Franken defies Schumer & Co and announces that he’s sticking around? The most likely outcome would be that the Ethics Committee would take up the issue and spend the next several months chewing it over. Democrats could ask Republicans to start an expulsion proceeding without an Ethics referral, but why would Republicans go along? After all, Senate Democrats stood by Robert Menendez after his corrupt dealings with Salomon Melgen got exposed because Menendez’ state had a Republican governor. Why would Republicans work to expel Franken against his will just so a Democratic governor could replace Franken with someone who would easily hold the seat in a special election, and then into perpetuity?
Democrats aren’t the only party with a moral-high-ground issue, either. The RNC just jumped back into the Moore race despite finding him repugnant a couple of weeks ago. Neither Moore nor the allegations have changed, but Moore won’t leave and Republicans don’t want Doug Jones to win. It’s political calculation over principle and morals on both sides of the aisle, and don’t let anyone tell you different.
Of course, Franken will probably resign. The Tweeden picture alone should have shamed him into retirement. If he does, though, Dayton appears ready to fumble the opportunity:
If Franken resigns, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton will appoint a temporary replacement. A high-ranking Democratic source told the Star Tribune that the likeliest replacement is Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, a close Dayton ally who would not be expected to run for the seat in an ensuing special election in November 2018.
Say what? This is precisely the opportunity to appoint someone who wants to hold the seat for several terms. Dayton might be offering a concession to DFL heavyweights who want to hold an open primary next year for the remainder of Franken’s term, but it’s a mistake in the long run. Dayton has the opportunity to set the course of this seat for decades, potentially. If the DFL turns this into an open-seat fight in 2018, they may not like the outcome in the general election — especially if Republicans can lure Tim Pawlenty out of retirement.