Politics with Jennifer Brooks

Franken fallout: What happens now

Good morning from Washington, where we’re still reeling from the aftermath of Al Franken’s announcement that he will resign from the Senate. It was a swift and shocking downfall for Minnesota’s biggest political celebrity, a man who was often buzzed about as a 2020 presidential contender and who seemed to be in his prime as a liberal voice in the age of Trump. Starting this spring, his face was in the window of bookstores across the country as his new memoir about being a senator became a bestseller. After years of following the Hillary Clinton model and trying to eschew the TV cameras and establish himself as a serious policy wonk, the former “Saturday Night Live” personality found it was not so easy to put his comedic past behind him after all.

The first sexual harassment allegation against him came from Leann Tweeden, who said he forcefully kissed her and posed for a picture with his hands hovering over her breasts while she was sleeping -- all during a USO tour in 2006, when Franken was performing as a comedian. Only one allegation of groping concerned his time as a senator, in 2010. During his speech on the Senate floor yesterday, Franken said some of the allegations weren’t true, and that he had done nothing to dishonor the Senate -- and he took swipes at Trump and Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore for facing far worse accusations of sexual misconduct.

Reporters and camera crews spent hours Thursday staking out a Capitol entrance in anticipation of Franken, who finally arrived with his wife, Franni. He even managed a smile as he pushed through the mob, calmly striding through the hall and eventually up the stairs amid repeated shouts from onlookers for the crowd to be careful and get back. He said little, even as the same mob descended and followed him out to the car after his speech. “Folks, please give us some space,” his driver said as they climbed in. “You were set up, senator!” a man called out as the doors closed and they drove off.

Meanwhile, inside the Capitol, senators who had called for Franken’s resignation weren’t interested in talking about it. The news cycle being what it is these days, the Franken story was quickly overshadowed by votes to avert a government shutdown and the sudden resignation of U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican who asked several staff members to become surrogates bearing his child. Back in Minnesota, the news stirred resignation and melancholy among constituents.  “What man hasn’t done something inappropriate?” a Franken supporter asked the Star Tribune. “Maybe we’ll end up with an all-female Senate.” Tension is also brewing between D.C. and Minnesota about how to fill Franken’s seat.

Politico has an important profile of Kirsten Gillibrand, the New York Democrat who got the ball rolling Wednesday on the calls for Franken to resign. The New Yorker has a story on the selective enforcement of #metoo. Trevor Noah says that Franken would still have a job if he was a Republican (“Like a dude who shows up at a wedding wearing a toga: wrong party”). The Daily Beast lays out some concerns with forcing Franken out before the ethics investigation had run its course (or even, for that matter, begun), and raises an interesting question: Would Dems have been pushing so heavily for his resignation if Minnesota had a Republican governor? The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan writes a piece called, “Franken departs without grace.”

That’s all from Maya -- Coolican is jumping in here now for the rest of the newsletter:

I usually am off newsletter duties but couldn't resist with everything going on this week. So....

Scooplet: The GOP-aligned Jobs Coalition -- House GOP chief of staff Ben Golnik's old shop -- sent out a nasty mailer on House DFL Minority Leader Melissa Hortman with the tag: "Why is Melissa Hortman enabling the sexual harassment of women?" On the other side, there's a photo of Hortman with Franken and this: "Warning: Potentially Explicit Photo Inside." The punchline? The mailer -- I've only seen photos of it so far -- was sent to a home in the district of ... Rep. Nolan West. So they're beating up on Hortman outside her district, which I guess will help West, the one-time Confederate-lovin' millennial forced to resign from his House GOP staff job for lovin' on the Confederacy but elected anyway in 2016.

Also, Hortman is the one who brought concerns of some women lawmakers about harassment and gender discrimination to House Speaker Kurt Daudt earlier this year. Daudt then scheduled mandatory sexual harassment training next session. Hortman also says she specifically mentioned disgraced former Rep. Tony Cornish to Daudt, but he says she never mentioned Cornish. Hortman is also an employment lawyer. As Karl Rove taught us, hit their perceived strengths and turn them into a weaknesses. Ruthless, shameless, brilliant -- or all three? I'll have images of the mailer for you next week.

Sam Clark, the St. Paul city attorney, Yale educated Klobuchar grad, is running for attorney general. Official announcement next week. Strong, crowded field, and I have to think the gaggle of men running on the DFL side gives an advantage to Rep. Debra Hilstrom.

I've now heard from two different influential DFL sources that they are concerned about a Dayton appointment of Lt. Gov. Tina Smith leading to a Republican lieutenant governor, as the state Constitution calls for. They fear Dayton's health scares. If something were to happen to Dayton, Republicans would control all of state government and could go into special session and run wild, these DFL sources fear. Keep your eye on Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. Minnesota's senior senator built a profile as a county attorney. Michael Brodkorb, who has a good eye for legerdemain, thinks Franken delayed the resignation to give himself a tiny possibility that something could change in the coming weeks. Just as likely Franken wanted to give his staff time to find other work and continue to receive benefits etc.

GOP state Sen. Karin Housley told me she's talking to family and supporters and will make a decision on a Senate run by early next week. Smart to move quickly. GOP state Sen. Julie Rosen tells me she has no interest in the Senate race but continues to mull a run for governor, with an announcement after the first of the year.

A DFL operative with knowledge of the governor's race advises that it would be impossible to switch from the gov race to the Senate race because you can't roll the money from one account into the other, so you'd be starting from scratch. Seems to me it would also annoy delegates who pledged their support to you for governor if you turned around and told them oh nevermind I'm running for the Senate.

Former Sen. Norm Coleman is a no.

Re: Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty: My goodness, D.C. is in love with him for the Senate race. Like he's prom king back there. High name ID, big money, proven statewide winner, trusted by D.C. insiders after years as a high-powered banking lobbyist. There's an ominous parallel, however: Evan Bayh.

Finally, a book recommendation for the weekend. You can read it in a couple hours: "On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the 20th Century" by Timothy Snyder.

Have a great weekend, all.

-- Maya Rao and J. Patrick Coolican



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