Democrats who have called for the resignations of Sen. Al Franken and Rep. John Conyers from within their ranks are drawing a clear contrast with Republican lawmakers, who seem to be unwilling to present a unified response to allegations of inappropriate behavior against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, Rep. Blake Farenthold and even President Donald Trump.
More than 30 members of the Senate Democratic caucus – including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York – piled on to pressure Franken to resign on Wednesday, saying he should step aside as fresh allegations emerged against him.
“Enough is enough,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said in a lengthy statement posted to Facebook. “While it’s true that his behavior is not the same as the criminal conduct alleged against Roy Moore, or Harvey Weinstein, or President Trump, it is still unquestionably wrong, and should not be tolerated by those of us who are privileged to work in public service.”
Franken had managed to weather the initial round of accusations against him, likely benefiting from the fact that allegations against him were mild compared to that of other high-profile men who have been accused of sexual assault. But the dam seemed to break Wednesday after Politico reported that an unnamed former Democratic congressional aide accused Franken of trying to kiss her after her then-boss appeared on Franken’s radio show in 2006.
The Minnesota Democrat is widely expected to announce his resignation from Congress on Thursday, two days after Conyers announced his retirement in response to several women accusing the longtime Michigan Democrat of sexual harassment.
That drama played out even as Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on Tuesday, citing legal precedent, reluctantly admitted that he expected to be obligated to seat Moore if the former Alabama Supreme Court justice wins a seat in the upper chamber of Congress during a special election next week.
Moore has been accused of frequently chasing after teenage girls when he was in his 30s, including one who was 14 at the time and another who accused him of sexually assaulting her when she was 16. Many elected Republicans supported the possibility of immediately expelling him from the Senate if he were victorious, only to later awkwardly re-embrace him after failed efforts to force him to withdraw.
Many conservative commentators said they suspected that, while Democrats were likely rushing to purge the accused for their own political benefit, the gambit would allow the party to attack Moore without hypocrisy and use him as a cudgel against all Republicans in future elections.
“If Moore wins & GOP doesn’t vote to expel, Dems will nationalize the issue, claim high ground (despite past sins), and, I suspect, draw a LOT of political blood,” TownHall political editor Guy Benson tweeted. He added: “GOP will deserve it.”
Republicans’ about-face on Moore comes in part because Trump at first said Moore should drop out if the accusations were true and then on Monday offered his full-throated endorsement. In response, the Republican National Committee, which had pulled resources out of Alabama, transferred $170,000 to the state party on Wednesday in support of Moore’s campaign.
Trump, though, himself stands accused of sexual assault by more than a dozen women – a fact that also limits the amount of damage that Republicans can control on this issue.
That response is at odds with a demand from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California this week that Ruben Kihuen, a freshman Democrat from Nevada, resign his seat amid allegations of misconduct by a former campaign staffer.
While the political downside of a tepid response to sexual assault seems to be greater for Democrats than Republicans, some suggest that the GOP refusing to force harassers out of office could come with a price.
“Republicans should now pray that either Franken refuses to quit or Moore loses,” Fox News commentator Brit Hume noted Wednesday. “Otherwise, a hot mess for the party as Moore becomes their hood ornament.”