Departure presents an opening for Republicans to recapture the seat they lost in 2008
Democratic US Senator Al Franken resigned from office on Thursday, bowing to pressure from party colleagues after a series of sexual misconduct allegations against him.
Franken, 66, a former comedian who had been seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party, announced his decision on the Senate floor.
“I know in my heart that nothing I’ve done as a senator — nothing — has brought dishonour on this institution,” Franken said. “Nevertheless, today I am announcing that in the coming weeks, I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate.” Franken is one of several prominent American men in politics, media and entertainment to be accused in recent months of sexual harassment and misconduct.
“Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others I remember very differently,” Franken said on Thursday.
The departure of the Minnesota Democrat presents an opening for Republicans to recapture a seat they lost when Franken won election in 2008, and to build on their slim 52-48 Senate majority.
The election to succeed him, however, will not be held until November 2018. In the interim, Minnesota’s Democratic governor, Mark Dayton, will appoint someone to take his place, ensuring Democrats hold the seat for now.
Allegations that Franken had groped and tried to kiss women without their consent in the past began to surface three weeks ago.
After the initial accusations, Franken said he was embarrassed and ashamed by his behaviour but would not resign.
Rather, he said, he would cooperate with a Senate ethics probe and work to regain the trust of the people of Minnesota.
However, a majority of his Democratic Senate colleagues, including most of the party’s female lawmakers in the chamber, pressed him to step down on Wednesday after a new allegation hit the news.
Politico reported that a congressional aide said Franken had tried to forcibly kiss her in 2006, before he was elected to the Senate. Franken denied the allegations, Politico reported.
Reuters has not independently verified the accusations against him.
In putting pressure on Franken to step aside, Democrats have tried to capture the moral high ground and draw a distinction between their party and Republicans.
Democrat John Conyers, the longest serving member of the US House of Representatives, stepped down on Tuesday after multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, the first member of Congress to leave his seat during the wave of high-profile harassment allegations. Conyers has denied the allegations against him.
Republican Roy Moore, who is running for the Senate in Alabama and who faces numerous accusations of sexual misconduct or assault, has been backed by President Donald Trump ahead of a special election on Tuesday.
Senate Republicans, however, have been cooler toward the candidate, who denies the accusations against him.
The election to fill Franken’s seat next year could be a close fight.
When he ran in 2008, the race was decided after an extensive recount, with Minnesota’s Supreme Court weighing in.
While Minnesota has been leaning Democratic lately, the party’s 2016 presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, won the state by less than two points.
Before he switched to politics, Franken rose to national prominence as a cast member on the long-running television program “Saturday Night Live.”