Franken watch: Will he really resign?

Today’s the day, according to Al Franken, that he will step down from the US Senate, allowing Tina Smith to be appointed as his interim replacement. The senator from Minnesota announced on December 11th his intention to resign under tremendous pressure from his own party after several allegations of groping and other sexual misconduct arose over the preceding month. Almost immediately, however, speculation arose as to whether Franken would actually quit, especially given the relative nature of the allegations and the lack of due process afforded Franken.

Some on the Left, such as Michael Tomasky, have had serious second thoughts about the rush to push Franken out of his seat:

But the Democrats’ 2018 is sure getting off to a dubious start. Franken should not be going. When he announced his resignation on December 7, I wrote a column saying that Democrats would come to regret what they’d done to him. Nevertheless, I wrote, his resignation was probably the right and necessary thing under the circumstances.

The Twitter response to the piece was huge—about four or five times the normal response I get. And it was, as near as I can remember, literally unanimously in defense of Franken. This made me start rethinking things. Yes, I still think the Democrats will regret this. But was his resignation really the right and necessary thing? …

Democrats are supposed to believe in things like a fair process and hearing both sides and letting a person defend himself. In this case, they did not. They will face, and deserve to face, very tough questions of their own, starting with New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who started this Queen of Hearts-ish avalanche. She came in for a lot of heat on my Twitter feed, and elsewhere, I’ve noticed. And props to Pat Leahy for being the only Democrat to come forward and admit on the record that he was wrong to call for Franken’s resignation. It would help, a little, if more of them had the courage to do the same.

Tomasky uses a recent PPP poll taken in Minnesota to argue that Franken may be staged for a political comeback, as well as to argue that Senate Democrats acted too precipitously in forcing Franken out. It’s certainly evidence for the latter, but the argument on the former is tougher to credit. It’s true that Minnesotans would have preferred a Senate Ethics Committee investigation to a forced resignation (60/35) and that Republican voters were more enthusiastic about Franken’s resignation, but that doesn’t mean that Minnesota voters would return Franken to the Senate, either. The photograph with Leeann Tweeden will stick to Franken like glue, as it should, and don’t think for a moment that other DFL candidates would have refrained from using it during the 2020 primaries.

Minnesotans rightly object to having their election reversed without due process, and they’re defending the process more than Franken. The dirty little non-secret here and in Washington is that Franken is entirely expendable. Minnesota Democrats have plenty of other options other than a perpetual back-bencher whom the party never trusted with any significant role. Senate Democrats understood that, which is why they made Franken a poster boy for their zero-tolerance pretensions … while still donating money to Robert Menendez, who has been credibly accused of actual corruption in office.

Tomasky’s correct that the railroading of Franken is unfair. That doesn’t change the fact that Franken made himself a liability, nor does it mitigate his adolescent and offensive behavior. Once he’s gone, the DFL has a better shot at keeping the seat (which is why Minnesota Republicans should have been a lot less enthusiastic about Franken’s resignation), and Franken will go back to his previous role as progressive activist/crank. It’s only that reality which might get Franken to reconsider his decision. No matter how much he claims that he’s “not giving up my voice,” the fact is that Franken’s voice has barely mattered at all over the last nine years, and once he’s out of office it won’t matter at all.