If Moore wins and Franken un-resigns, will Senate Democrats back him up?
Ed touched on this earlier. I think Franken’s play in his “resignation” speech was fiendishly clever. He’s quitting, yeah — but not for a few weeks, coincidentally after Alabama and Senate Republicans will have rendered their verdicts on Roy Moore. He was careful this morning not to admit to any wrongdoing, merely saying that he’d lost the confidence of his colleagues and therefore had to go. Imagine now that Moore wins and, as expected, McConnell’s caucus immediately starts hemming and hawing about whether he should be expelled. Some Republicans will deflect by insisting that the ethics committee should look into the allegations against Moore but many more will chime in on a soon-to-be common refrain that “the people have spoken.” The GOP will have rubber-stamped a senator accused of much worse than the departing Franken is accused of.
Despite their momentary ardor for cleansing Congress of creeps, rank-and-file Democrats won’t like that one bit. Why does their guy have to go when the Republicans’ guy doesn’t? He’s confessed to nothing, even in the course of resigning. Congressional Democrats will be leery too, having set a relatively low bar for disqualifying misconduct in making an example of Franken. No violent assaults, no examples of workplace harassment, some groping which Franken himself insists was innocent contact, and no process for determining the credibility of the allegations. Some Dems will inevitably be accused of worse than what Franken has been accused, possibly in the next few weeks before he’s left the chamber, and the party will have no choice but to push them out too to honor the Franken precedent.
Do they really want to tie their own hands that way? When Roy Moore is in the Senate giving floor speeches?
The obvious question arises: Did Franken delay his exit from the Senate this morning because he thinks the political winds are about to change rapidly, in time for him to withdraw his resignation? And if so, did the “brave” Democrats who pushed him yesterday to resign do so knowing that Franken would leave himself a few extra weeks until after Alabama votes, time enough to walk back his resignation under more favorable political circumstances? It’d be unbelievably cynical if Schumer et al. pounded the table for Franken to go expecting that he wouldn’t have to follow through if Moore is elected. Franken could give another floor speech in a few weeks insisting that after having deliberated further and listened to the many, many, many Republicans chanting “the people have spoken” in defense of Moore, the only proper thing for him to do is to let the people of Minnesota render their own verdict on him in 2020. In the meantime he’ll fully comply with the ethics committee’s investigation into his behavior, just as Moore will be expected to do.
And then Schumer, Gillibrand, and the rest will have a very tough decision to make. Do they dare back off their own “Franken must go” position, knowing how cynical that would look? Having finally, finally made an accused abuser face some political consequences, they’d suddenly be retreating for no better reason than that the GOP is taking an amoral approach to its own members and it wouldn’t be “fair” to play by different rules. It would be a crushing repudiation of #MeToo at a moment when prominent pervs are being held to account in the private sector. But if they don’t back off “Franken must go,” they’ll be offending the spirit of partisan tribalism that dominates our age. Some grassroots Democrats are hot to see Franken ousted not because they think he’s a predator but because ousting him gives Doug Jones a bit of extra leverage in Alabama. If Moore wins anyway, they’ll be bitter at having sacrificed one of their favorite senators for comparatively minor misconduct at a moment when Trump and Moore are the face of the GOP. Worse, the fact that Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is reportedly planning to appoint a Democratic successor who won’t run for a full term in 2020 means the GOP will have a ripe pick-up opportunity once Franken is gone. The best play for Democratic partisans under the circumstances may be keeping a damaged Franken in the seat and counting on his incumbency to carry him through.
Under all of that pressure, Democrats like Kirsten Gillibrand may end up trying to walk a line where they never quite rescind their demand that Franken resign but they do stop mentioning it publicly. When asked next year or in 2019 if they still believe he should quit, they’ll briskly say “sure” and then let the subject drop. Franken will be quietly admitted back into the caucus’s good graces and everyone will more or less forget that this happened, especially with the GOP in no position to remind them. In fact, that may become the new S.O.P. in Congress for dealing with members who’ve been credibly accused of misconduct. No one wants to be seen as defending the creeps but no one wants their party to have to participate in endless purges and philosophical hair-splitting about what qualifies as a resignation-worthy offense and what doesn’t. The future of Congress may be check-the-box demands that a member accused by a certain number of women should resign and then punting the matter over to the toothless ethics committee. In the unlikely event that the committee finds very hard proof of a serious offense, then the question of expulsion can be considered. But for the 99 percent of members who are let off with a slap on the wrist, the parties can simply shrug and say “He got due process” before letting the matter drop.
If you think Franken is above un-resigning, watch the part from this morning’s speech when he announces he’s quitting (eventually). Literally the next sentence out of his mouth has to do with how unfair it is that people who are accused of worse deeds than him are sitting in the Oval Office and on the threshold of being elected to the Senate in Alabama.