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Political world in Washington and Minnesota rocked by harassment allegations

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Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)
Sen. Al Franken speaks to reporters at a news conference on June 9, 2016 in Washington, D.C.
Gabriella Demczuk | Getty Images 2016

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken is just the latest political figure to apologize for behavior toward a woman that is being called sexual harassment. 

The Democratic senator's fate isn't yet known. The matter was quickly referred for an ethics investigation in Washington. But it's part of a groundswell of allegations to surface in recent weeks.

Why were the revelations about Franken so significant in Washington?

  He's the first sitting member of Congress to face harassment allegations. Of course, this predates his time in the Senate. But he will be the test case for how these situations are dealt with. There are indications more members could be forced to answer for their conduct. Yesterday, a Democratic member of Congress hinted that two of her colleagues had harassed women.

  But Franken is also a prominent voice in a Democratic Party without a clear leader right now. Some had dropped his name in the 2020 presidential mix even as he downplayed it as flattery. You can pretty much end that talk right now.  

How did Franken's colleagues and his Democratic political allies react?

  They were upset — not only with the behavior but his response. He had to take two stabs at responding. The first was brief and tended to question the woman's story with an apology some saw as far from genuine. The second included more statements of contrition, remorse and self-accountability.

  The second apology joined calls for the matter to go to an ethics investigation.

  Fellow senators started purging their campaign accounts of money they got from Franken or his political action committee.  

But there weren't the outright calls from Democrats for Franken to resign we've seen in past weeks with other politicians.

If Franken winds up leaving before his term is up, what would happen?

  Gov. Mark Dayton would get to pick a replacement. But that person would only serve until the next election in 2018. The election that year would be for essentially a two-year term.

  Franken is not even halfway into the second term he easily won in 2014. His term runs through 2020.

  Remember, Minnesota's other senator, Democrat Amy Klobuchar, is also on next year's ballot for a new six-year term.

  That would mean for the first time since 1978 both Senate seats were up at once.

 

This all comes in a week when accusations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore dominated the news. How does the Franken situation fit in to that?

Democrats felt like they had been on offense and on a moral high ground.

  To refresh: Roy Moore is the Republican nominee in a special election next month to fill out now Attorney General Jeff Sessions' term. Multiple women have come forward to say he flirted with them or touched them when he was in his 30s and they were teenagers. He denies the allegations, which are decades old. But many prominent Republicans in Washington and beyond have called for him to leave the race. They are threatening to expel Moore if he wins.

  Now Republicans get to say Democrats have a problem of their own. And they're forcing Franken and others to live up to the calls for accountability they've put out on Moore and other high-profile cases of harassment.    

Is there an update on sexual harassment concerns at the Minnesota Capitol?

As of now, two Minnesota legislators have been accused of harassment. DFL Sen. Dan Schoen has been called on to resign amid allegations brought forward by four women. He says he won't. But a Minnesota Senate ethics investigation is likely in his case.  

Republican Rep. Tony Cornish is the subject of an outside investigation after two women accused him of unwanted sexual overtures. He has been suspended as chairman of the House Public Safety Committee while the investigation plays out. No top Republicans currently in office now have called for him to resign yet.

  Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt was asked publicly Thursday if he knows of any allegations against other members of the House. He said no. Senator Majority Leader Paul Gazelka gave an identical answer about his members.