Sen. Al Franken is planning to resign from the U.S. Senate on Jan. 2, and Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith will be sworn in to replace him the following day.
The transition of power, which Franken’s office laid out Wednesday, will bring to a close an unsettling chapter in Minnesota politics. Franken announced earlier this month that he would step down, bowing to pressure from a group of his Democratic Senate colleagues after more than half a dozen women had accused him of groping, kissing or making them feel uncomfortable.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton named Smith to replace Franken last week. More details about the transition are expected in the coming days.
Despite the resignation announcement, Franken has quietly continued his Senate duties: casting votes, asking questions at committee hearings, posing for photos with passing tour groups and giving a string of farewell speeches intended to end his Senate career on a grace note, focusing on his time in the Senate, not the way it ended.
“I know there are strong voices in the Senate that will carry on the work when I’m gone,” Franken said Wednesday in a Senate floor speech. He talked about education policy and the work he’ll leave undone; a few hours later, he returned to discuss net neutrality, privacy and media consolidation.
Franken also fired a parting shot at the Republican tax bill: “I believe we need a fairer, simpler tax code that helps Minnesota’s working families get ahead,” he said in a statement. “But instead of helping those families, Republicans have rushed through a debt-funded giveaway to the wealthy that, by 2027, raises taxes on 35 million low- and middle-income families and puts Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security at risk for cuts. It is, at its core, an awful bill, and I strongly oppose it.”
He has a third Senate floor speech planned for Thursday. On Twitter, he described them as “a series of final speeches.”
Just over a month ago, there was no reason to believe that the end of Franken’s Senate career was in sight. He had a new book on the bestseller list, his relentless grilling about Russian contacts had tripped up the incoming attorney general and he was raising millions of dollars for Democratic candidates across the country.
That changed in the space of a single blog post and #metoo. On Nov. 16, Los Angeles radio personality Leeann Tweeden posted an 11-year-old photo of Franken, not yet a senator, grinning for the camera with his hands posed suggestively over her chest while she apparently slept on the plane ride home from a 2006 USO performance.
Other accusations followed from women who said Franken put his hands on their backsides or breasts during photo ops, or tried to plant kisses on them during encounters both before and after he won his Senate seat. Franken issued a series of apologies, saying the women deserved to be heard and believed, although he remembered many of the encounters differently and disputed others. He offered to undergo a Senate ethics investigation into the allegations.
But after a seventh allegation, calls for Franken’s resignation started coming from inside the Senate. After more than two dozen Senate Democrats called on him to resign, Franken agreed.
Franken’s delayed departure from the Senate fueled speculation that he might “unresign” — even after Smith was named his successor and headed to Washington to househunt. Some of the senators who called for his resignation weeks earlier admitted they regretted their decision and hoped he would reconsider.
But Franken’s spokesman said he always intended to go and was simply staying in office long enough to ease the transition for his longtime staffers. Smith has said she intends to keep working with most of Franken’s crew. Other details — like whether Smith will inherit Franken’s committee assignments — are still being worked out.
In his Dec. 7 resignation speech, Franken promised that Minnesotans hadn’t heard the last of him.
“There is a big part of me that will always regret having to walk away from this job with so much work left to be done,” he said. “Let me be clear. I may be resigning my seat, but I am not giving up my voice. I will continue to stand up for the things I believe in as a citizen and as an activist.”