WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday publicly urged Sen. Al Franken to step down after a Facebook post by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand opened a floodgate of calls by Democratic senators for the Minnesota lawmaker’s resignation.
More than half of the 48-member Democratic caucus — at least 28 members split evenly between women and men — tweeted or said he should quit after a report of an another accuser coming forward to say that he had forcibly kissed her.
“I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and he should step down immediately,” Schumer said in a statement at the end of the day.
Franken will make an announcement Thursday. If he resigns, Democratic Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton would appoint a replacement, who would be up for re-election next year.
Democratic support for Franken eroded after Gillibrand posted an essay titled “Senator Franken Should Step Aside” on Facebook, in reaction to Wednesday morning’s Politico story, which reported that a former congressional aide said Franken tried to forcibly kiss her following a 2006 radio show. Franken denied the allegation.
The aide was the sixth woman to accuse him of sexual misconduct since Los Angeles radio anchor Leeann Tweeden first wrote about him forcibly kissing her and taking photos of him with his hands over her breasts on a 2006 USO tour.
“Enough is enough. The women who have come forward are brave and I believe them,” Gillibrand wrote.
She called her decision about a friend “painful” but declared “this watershed moment is bigger than any one industry, any one party, or any one person.”
After Gillibrand’s post hit the news, all but two of the 16 Democratic women senators, and at least 14 male Senate Democrats, tweeted, issued statements or told reporters that they though Franken should quit.
Not joining them were Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, an Ethics Committee member, and Franken’s Minnesota colleague Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who tweeted, “This morning I spoke with Senator Franken and . . . I am confident he will make the right decision.”
Behind the scenes, Schumer placed several phone calls to urge Franken to quit after the story appeared, said a person familiar with the call. Schumer also held a meeting in his apartment with Franken and his wife to tell him he should immediately step down.
Franken has said he would cooperate with a Senate Ethics Committee investigation. He has apologized to some accusers but has challenged others.
But Gillibrand said, “I believe it would be better for our country if he sent a clear message that any kind of mistreatment of women in our society isn’t acceptable by stepping aside to let someone else serve.”
The shift by Senate Democrats toward Franken came just days before the Alabama’s U.S. Senate election Tuesday pitting Democrat Doug Jones against Republican Roy Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct toward teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
President Donald Trump, also accused by more than a dozen women of sexual misconduct, endorsed Moore Monday and will campaign for him in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday.
Trump and Moore deny the allegations.
By forcing out Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who quit Tuesday, and Franken, Democrats could be putting them in a better position to challenge Moore and criticize Trump on issues of sexual impropriety.
Gillibrand has criticized sexual harassment and assault in the military and pushed bills to move decision-making on sexual misconduct prosecutions from commanders to attorneys. She recently stunned Democrats when she said President Bill Clinton should have resigned after his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) on Nov. 27 called on both Conyers and Franken to resign for sexual misconduct allegations. Conyers stepped down Tuesday.