WASHINGTON — Support for Al Franken all but collapsed Wednesday among his Democratic colleagues in the Senate, with dozens calling for him to resign after a sixth woman said he had made an improper advance on her.
“Sen. Franken should resign,” Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said Wednesday evening, the latest in an avalanche of statements that began with a half-dozen Democratic women and then snowballed throughout the day. “I consider Sen. Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and he should step down immediately.”
Franken, D-Minn., has scheduled an announcement on his future in the Senate for Thursday, and he pushed back on a Minnesota Public Radio report that he would be resigning. “No final decision has been made and the Senator is still talking with his family,” his office said on Twitter.
Schumer quietly worked through the day to urge Franken to step aside. According to a person familiar with the conversations, Schumer called Franken before any of his fellow senators went public with their resignation calls and later met with Franken and his wife in Schumer’s Washington apartment.
But that did not head off a deluge that started when Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York declared on Facebook, “Enough is enough.”
“As elected officials, we should be held to the highest standards — not the lowest,” Gillibrand wrote on Twitter. “The allegations against Senator Franken describe behavior that cannot be tolerated. While he’s entitled to an Ethics Committee hearing, I believe he should step aside to let someone else serve.”
By Wednesday evening, there was widespread expectation among senators in the Democratic caucus and aides that Franken would step down. If he does, he would be the most prominent lawmaker so far to be felled by the swirling allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct sweeping through the Capitol.
On Tuesday, Rep. John Conyers Jr., the longest-serving member of the House and the longest-serving African-American congressman in history, stepped down under severe pressure after multiple women said he had harassed them, including one who said she was fired for refusing to have sex with him.
A freshman Democrat, Rep. Ruben Kihuen of Nevada, has faced calls for his resignation since charges emerged Friday that he had repeatedly propositioned his former campaign finance director.
Accusations against Franken include an episode of forcible kissing on a USO tour before he was elected and several allegations that he groped women as he posed with them for photographs.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, also called on Wednesday for Franken to leave the Senate.
But by and large, Republicans have seemed more tolerant of infractions in their own ranks. House leaders have said nothing since it was revealed Friday that Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas used $84,000 from a secret taxpayer fund to settle a lurid sexual harassment case filed against him. And Republicans are deeply divided over Alabama’s Republican Senate candidate, Roy S. Moore, who has been accused of sexually assaulting teenage girls as young as 14, yet has maintained the support of President Donald Trump and other conservatives.
Rep. Joe Barton of Texas announced last month that he would not seek re-election next year after graphic images that he sent to a constituent appeared on the internet. But he received little pressure to step down.
Some have said Democrats are simply too quick to destroy their own, but the party appears intent on holding the high ground as sexual harassment scandals rock politics, entertainment and the news media.
“The Democratic Party will stand up for women and for what is right,” Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said in a statement on Wednesday night. “Public service is a public trust. If you are a candidate for office or an elected official who has engaged in sexual misconduct, you should step aside — whether you sit in the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate or the Oval Office.”
If Franken resigns, the state’s Democratic governor, Mark Dayton, could choose his successor from a list of prominent female Democrats, including Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and Attorney General Lori Swanson.
That appointee could then run to fill the remainder of Franken’s term next year, when the Democrats have the political momentum.
That calculus may be playing in Democrats’ minds. After Politico published accusations from a Senate aide on Wednesday morning that Franken had forcibly kissed her, Democrats lunged. Unlike earlier accusations, the newest one involved a Senate employee in the workplace.
Gillibrand was joined by Sens. Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington state, Kamala Harris of California, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, who issued statements after talking privately with each other for weeks about what to do about Franken.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat, added his support, as did Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, as well as Perez of the Democratic National Committee.
“It’s time for him to resign,” Durbin said. “It just seemed that the credible charges continued. I thought it might be an isolated incident or two. It seems to be that there was a pattern of conduct.”
By the end of the day, well more than half the senators who caucus with the Democrats, 35 of 48, and nearly all of the Democratic women in the Senate, had said that Franken must go. Some who remained silent did so because they serve on the Ethics Committee, which is considering his case.
Franken has apologized for his behavior, but the senators said his admissions are not enough. Hirono said Wednesday’s outpouring came after much thought.
“We have been in touch with each other,” she said. “It’s been difficult because I consider Al a friend. I’ve sat with him in two committees, but that doesn’t excuse his behavior.”
She added: “We’re at the point where I think that there can be a cultural change in terms of how women are perceived and treated in this country. This kind of bad behavior has been tolerated and ignored for far too long, but not today.”