Al Franken confirms he will leave the Senate in January

When Senator Al Franken announced earlier this month that he would resign in “coming weeks” there was some speculation that he might drag it out or even renege on his decision. This week, Gov. Mark Dayton announced that Lt. Gov. Tina Smith would be taking Franken’s seat until a special election next November determines who will serve the final two years of Franken’s tenure. Franken’s office promised a “speedy and seamless transition” at the time but still wouldn’t say when. Finally, yesterday Franken’s office confirmed to the Associated Press that he would step down in early January:

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken has confirmed that he expects his replacement, Democratic Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, to take over his seat in early January…

A statement from Franken’s office says Smith is expected to be in place in early January. A spokesman says Franken has not set a specific date to step down.

So it seems this is really happening, though there are still plenty of people who don’t seem thrilled about it. Reading this NY Times story on the announcement of Smith as his replacement, it’s clear that not everyone thinks Smith is a great choice. She checks one important box though: She’s a woman. Given the reasons the seat is being vacated, that was probably an important signal the party wanted to send. But the story notes she has little name recognition which could make it difficult for her to compete in the special election next November. There are also people who still wonder if Franken should resign at all:

Others questioned whether Mr. Franken, a former “Saturday Night Live” cast member who had been discussed as a potential presidential candidate in 2020, should have been pushed to resign, suggesting that his behavior was less egregious than claims against Mr. Trump.

“I don’t think he had to go,” said Al Rosario, a carpenter from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. “I feel he’s a comedian. He was probably just joking.” Mr. Rosario said he had not heard of Ms. Smith.

In an ABC News interview published Thursday, actor Matt Damon also indicated he would have preferred if Franken had remained in office. Asked about the sexual harassment allegations in Hollywood, Damon replied, “I think we’re in this watershed moment and I think it’s great and I think it’s wonderful that women are feeling empowered to tell their stories, and it’s totally necessary.” He continued, “I do believe that there’s a spectrum of behavior, right?…There’s a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right? Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated.

“When you see something like Al Franken, right, I personally would have preferred if they had an ethics committee investigation. You know what I mean? It’s like at what point, at what—you know, we’re so energized to kind of get retribution I think and we live in this culture of outrage and injury and you know that we’re going to have to correct enought to kind of go ‘None of us came here perfect.'”

“When you see Al Franken taking a picture putting his hands on that woman’s flak jacket and mugging for the camera… that is just like a terrible joke, and it’s not funny. It’s wrong, and he shouldn’t have done that,” opined the Oscar winner. “But when you talk about Harvey and what he’s accused of, there are no pictures of that. He knew he was up to no good. There’s no witnesses. There’s no pictures. There’s no braggadocio. That stuff happened secretly, because it was criminal and he knew it. So they don’t belong in the same category.”

Damon then contrasted Louis C.K. with President Trump saying he was struck by C.K’s admission that his accusers were telling the truth. “I just remember thinking ‘Well, that’s the sign of somebody who—well we can work with that,'” Damon said. He added, “What the hell else are you supposed to do?…The fear for me is that right now we’re in this moment where, at the moment and I hope it doesn’t stay this way, the clear signal to men and to young people is: deny it. Because if you take responsibility for what you did, your life’s going to get ruined, right? But if you deny it, you can be in the White House.”

Damon has a point, though I suspect he’ll take some heat for making it. There are degrees of misconduct. Even if you believe Franken’s accusers are telling the truth, he hasn’t been accused of forcing his way into someone’s home and raping them in the hallway as Weinstein has been (among other horrible allegations). But I’m not convinced that means Franken should have stayed in the Senate. In other words, just because there’s a spectrum of bad behavior doesn’t mean one end of that spectrum should be acceptable in a national politician.

In fact, it’s noteworthy that in resigning, Franken didn’t really take responsibility for his actions. Several of his accusers pointed this out at the time. So he seems to fail the Damon Responsibility Test which would mark him as someone “we can work with.” It would be interesting to see if Damon would extend the same kind of grace to someone on the opposite side of the aisle, but he isn’t asked that question in this interview.