In Minnesota, Franken feels heat -- but no widespread calls to quit

Sen. Al Franken
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., attends the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee hearing on July 19, 2017, in Washington, D.C.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Updated: 10:13 a.m. | Posted: 6:08 a.m.

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken faces a certain ethics complaint in Congress but uncertainty among party leaders and voters in his home state — most stopping short of calling for his resignation — after a Los Angeles radio anchor accused him of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour.

Leeann Tweeden said Thursday that Franken kissed her while rehearsing a sketch over her protests, and later on the tour was photographed with his hands over her breasts, grinning at the camera, as she slept on board a military aircraft.

Franken immediately apologized, saying he feels "disgusted with myself" for the photo, though he disputed Tweeden's recollection of the skit rehearsal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell soon called for an ethics investigation of Franken — a request the Minnesota senator repeated for himself.

Franken's fellow Democrats quickly condemned his actions. One congressional candidate said she was forwarding $15,000 in Franken donations to a charitable organization, and both the Minnesota party chairman and Franken's colleague, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, repeated the call for an ethics investigation.

"This should not have happened to Leeann Tweeden. I strongly condemn this behavior and the Senate Ethics Committee must open an investigation," Klobuchar said.

But there was no widespread call for Franken's resignation, in contrast to sexual harassment allegations that roiled the state Capitol over the past week. More than a dozen state Democratic leaders pressed Democratic state Sen. Dan Schoen to quit after he was accused of unwanted advances on a candidate, including groping her buttocks. Schoen has refused.

Al Franken and Leeann Tweeden
Al Franken and Leeann Tweeden perform a comic skit for service members during the USO Sergeant Major of the Army's 2006 Hope and Freedom Tour in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, on Dec. 15, 2006.
Staff Sgt. Patrick N. Moes | U.S. Army via AP 2006

Franken won't face voters again until 2020.

Gov. Mark Dayton, who earlier this week said any legislator who committed sexual harassment or assault should resign, on Thursday said the looming ethics investigation was the proper recourse for Franken.

Nearly every other top Democrat said the same — with the notable exceptions of state Auditor Rebecca Otto and Rep. Erin Murphy, two Democrats running for governor who said Franken should lead by example and step down. Otto called Franken a friend, but said "we can't have a double standard."

A cross-section of voters interviewed Thursday were more measured. Terry Stokes, who called herself a Republican but had voted for Franken in the past, said she couldn't believe the reports even after hearing of Franken's apology.

"I'm surprised that he's involved in any type of scandal like this," Stokes, 61, said. "I don't think he should resign. I just think it's bad behavior. He's apologized."

Sarah Jane Stowell, 42, of St. Paul, said she had never voted for Franken but said she's been pleasantly surprised by his performance in office. She said she was disappointed by Tweeden's allegation.

"Anyone that's sort of in the public eye seems to have their own demons in the past but you can kind of hope someone would be above it. And this just shows that no one seems to be," she said.

Patwin Lawrence, 40, of Minneapolis, said he thinks an ethics investigation is appropriate. Lawrence — who said he is conservative but votes independent — thinks the public should not rush to judge Franken.

"I think he's going about it the right way, in that he's admitting to it," Lawrence said. "He's saying, you know, 'I'm open to the scrutiny.' I think he's doing a good thing there."

Eight women who used to work for Franken issued a joint statement Friday morning vouching for the senator, saying he treated them "with the utmost respect" while working in his office.

"He valued our work and our opinions and was a champion for women both in the legislation he supported and in promoting women to leadership roles in our offices," the statement said.

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