US senator quits over multiple sexual misconduct claims

Senator Al Franken and his wife Franni leaving the Capitol on Thursday after the Democrat announced his resignation over multiple allegations that he touched women inappropriately.
Senator Al Franken and his wife Franni leaving the Capitol on Thursday after the Democrat announced his resignation over multiple allegations that he touched women inappropriately.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • Senator Al Franken has resigned amid multiple claims he touched women inappropriately, a stunning political fall at a time when the issue of sexual harassment has exploded on Capitol Hill and enveloped both parties.

Yielding to pressure from other Democrats, Mr Franken will now prepare to end a career that seemed just to be hitting its stride as he was emerging as a potent voice challenging the Trump administration - and was being seen as a potential presidential candidate in 2020.

Also on Thursday, Republican Representative Trent Franks of Arizona announced he was resigning after House officials found out he had asked two staffers to bear his child as a surrogate.

And the House Ethics Committee said it has set up an investigative subcommittee to further probe allegations that Republican Blake Farenthold sexually harassed a former aide and then retaliated against her after she filed a complaint.

All of this came just two days after Democrat John Conyers Jr, the longest-serving member of Congress, became the first lawmaker facing harassment claims to step down.

The mounting pressure on Mr Franken to leave the Senate reflected an effort by Democrats to gain the higher ground on the harassment issue as they seek to capitalise on allegations of misconduct against President Donald Trump and Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore.

The political risks for Democrats came into focus this week in Alabama, where voters will cast ballots next week. Supporters of Mr Moore, who is accused of pursuing romantic relationships with teenage girls while in his 30s, began to argue that Democrats could not decry his alleged misconduct given the scandals plaguing their party.

In a defiant Senate floor speech on Thursday, Mr Franken noted that neither Mr Moore nor President Trump has been forced to step aside despite facing arguably more serious allegations against them.

"There is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party," he said.

Mr Franken also denied recent allegations that he made unwanted advances towards more than a half-dozen women, most of whom said the episodes took place before he joined the Senate.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2017, with the headline 'US senator quits over multiple sexual misconduct claims'. Print Edition | Subscribe