Democrats turn on Franken to get to Moore

WASHINGTON — By calling on one of their own to resign Wednesday, Senate Democrats tried to seize the moral high ground on sexual misconduct.

The push to oust Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. comes before an Alabama special election next week in which President Donald Trump is supporting Roy Moore, a candidate dogged by multiple accusations of sexual misconduct with teenagers decades ago.

The Democratic dam burst on Wednesday afternoon when Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, R-N.Y., publicly urged Franken to resign his seat over a series of groping and unwanted kissing allegations. Gillibrand, whose call was echoed by more than two dozen Democratic colleagues within a few hours, said there should be no tolerance for sexual misconduct.

RELATED: Democratic senators call on Al Franken to resign

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Democratic senators call on Al Franken to resign
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Democratic senators call on Al Franken to resign
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was the first to publish a Wednesday post on social media calling for Al Franken's Senate resignation, and her colleagues were quick to follow ...
As elected officials, we should be held to the highest standards—not the lowest. The allegations against Sen. Frank… https://t.co/h2BHS6O5nd
Today, I am calling on my colleague Al Franken to step aside. I’ve struggled with this decision because he’s been a… https://t.co/6o1WP2RhFC
Sexual harassment and misconduct should not be allowed by anyone and should not occur anywhere. I believe the best… https://t.co/YrXRgyJpTn
Sen. Al Franken should step down. Everyone must share the responsibility of building a culture of trust and respect… https://t.co/u6cgoWHi42
Al Franken should resign.
It is clear that Al Franken has engaged in a pattern of egregious and unacceptable behavior toward women. He should resign.
I’m shocked and appalled by Senator Franken’s behavior. It’s clear to me that this has been a deeply harmful, persi… https://t.co/PPwAl5dAEY
I am deeply disappointed by Senator Franken’s behavior. He must step aside. My full statement here: https://t.co/Ad0L8WC0Fr
I believe it is best for Senator Franken to resign.
I agree with my colleagues who have stepped forward today and called on Senator Franken to resign. We can’t just be… https://t.co/Gt1Tnsvh1a
Sen. Franken has said that he will be making an announcement about his political future tomorrow. The right thing is for him to resign.
I have listened to them. I have listened to my female colleagues, to women I work with and women in my life. And I… https://t.co/Zh99IfLaUU
My statement on Sen. Franken: https://t.co/SuI2gmHHRk
Senator Franken’s behavior was wrong. He has admitted to what he did. He should resign from the Senate.
Sexual harassment is unacceptable. I believe Senator Franken should do the right thing and resign.
Al Franken has been a friend to many in the Senate – Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike – but these alle… https://t.co/kX1Wyrv2Y2
Joe is calling for Senator Franken to resign. https://t.co/ff5i1rnhJs
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"I think when we have to start having to talk about the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment and unwanted groping, you are having the wrong conversation," she said. "You need to draw a line in the sand, say none of it is okay, none of it is acceptable, and we as elected leaders should absolutely be held to a higher standard not a lower standard. And we should fundamentally be valuing women, and that's where this debate has to go."

Though some Democrats said it was hard for them to turn on Franken, it finally became more painful to stand by him. Gillibrand, considered to be a potential 2020 presidential candidate and a leader in legislative efforts to combat sexual assault in the military and workplace, had perhaps more incentive than any other Democrat to ensure she wasn't perceived to be giving Franken a pass or even waiting too long to press for his ouster.

But she was hardly alone in concluding that it was no longer sustainable just to say Franken's case should be adjudicated by the ethics committee. By pushing Franken to resign, Democrats believed they could "clean the slate," clarify their position on sexual misconduct, and draw a clearer contrast with Republicans, said senior Democratic aides and operatives.

"His continued presence in the Senate compromised our ability to communicate clearly against Republicans' complicity in Moore's candidacy and it subjected Democratic members of Congress to weeks of painful interviews where they twisted themselves into pretzels trying to defend Franken's indefensible conduct," said Lis Smith, a New York-based Democratic strategist.

"This is an important test for our party — to show women that we stand with them and believe them," she added. "And it's an important distinction for us to draw going into 2018: That while the Republican Party will prop up a pedophile like Moore, we’ll show zero tolerance for sexual misconduct."

RELATED: Lawmakers react to Roy Moore sexual misconduct allegations

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Lawmakers react to Roy Moore sexual misconduct allegations
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Lawmakers react to Roy Moore sexual misconduct allegations
Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore is accused of initiating a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32, according to a Washington Post report.

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
The allegations against Roy Moore are deeply disturbing and disqualifying. He should immediately step aside and all… https://t.co/MXrceCZZ9a
If there is any truth at all to these horrific allegations, Roy Moore should immediately step aside as a Senate candidate.
JUST NOW: @lisamurkowski on WaPo Report on Roy Moore: “I’m horrified and if it’s true he should step down immediately.”
If there is any shred of truth to the allegations against Roy Moore, he should step aside immediately.
Look, I'm sorry, but even before these reports surfaced, Roy Moore's nomination was a bridge too far.
The allegations leveled at Roy Moore are disturbing. I have serious concerns about his prior conduct and fitness fo… https://t.co/EQcUEpHRKH
Ted Cruz: Roy Moore allegations "serious and troubling," should "immediately withdraw" if true… https://t.co/XuW33Chx5j
NRSC Chairman Cory Gardner: “If these allegations are found to be true, Roy Moore must drop out.” https://t.co/y4UEOJmZWa
Portman says Moore should drop out of the race if the Moore reports are true, says he has “no reason to doubt”… https://t.co/mOhGuTl2d9
I've long opposed Roy Moore & his divisive viewpoints. The actions described make him unfit for office. The GOP mus… https://t.co/8rpkIH3FkX
I am pulling my endorsement and support for Roy Moore for U.S. Senate.
Having read the detailed description of the incidents, as well as the response from Judge Moore and his campaign, I… https://t.co/cuO0MkNxVJ
I have now read Mr. Moore’s statement and listened to his radio interview in which he denies the charges. I did not… https://t.co/OQDdcvO3fX
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Earlier this week, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who was accused of sexually harassing aides, resigned the House seat he had held for more than half a century. So, if Franken does quit — and he's scheduled to make an announcement about his future Thursday in Washington — Republicans will quickly find themselves without a Democratic lawmaker to equate to Moore or Trump, who faced a series of sexual assault allegations during his bid for the presidency last year.

On Wednesday, some Republican senators largely stuck to their long-held line on Moore: His electoral fate is up to the voters of Alabama next Tuesday, he should be seated if he wins, and the Senate ethics committee should look into his alleged conduct once he's in Washington. Moore has denied that allegations.

"The whole thing will be investigated and we’ll get the facts. Once we get the facts, the Senate will make a decision," said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. "I don’t know who to believe or who not to believe, but if it turns out that as a 32 year old he fondled a 14-year-old girl and that turns out to be true, then we’ll find out."

Many Republicans outside the Senate, though, have expressed concern that having Moore in the chamber could hand Democrats a cudgel to beat the GOP in the 2018 mid-term elections. And others are troubled by the decision of the Republican National Committee to re-engage in the Moore race after having pulled up stakes a few weeks ago.

"I don’t support the RNC's decision to financially support Roy Moore's campaign," said Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y.

But Stefanik had refused to call for the resignation of another Republican who is testing the party's tolerance of sexual harassment allegations. She said the difference between Franken and Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican who settled an $84,000 claim in 2015 by a former employee, is that Farenthold's case went through appropriate channels.

"Of course there should be zero tolerance, but as of now, the difference is he's gone through the ethics process," Stefanik said of Farenthold.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has also declined to call for Farenthold to step down even as the House Ethics Committee thought there was enough evidence of wrongdoing to open an investigation, which is still ongoing.

Even if Moore is elected, Sen. John Thune, R-Ind., who is a member of leadership, said Moore should step aside on his own.

It was clear by late Wednesday that Democrats felt sacrificing Franken will allow them to claim moral superiority over Republicans in a way that they couldn't if he remains in office.

"Before you get into the race in Alabama, I hope that members of both political parties will be guided by sound principles, even when it's painful," said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the number-two Democrat in the Senate. "And this is painful. Al Franken's my friend."

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