After eight years in office, Al Franken calls it quits.
Earlier today, embattled Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) delivered a speech on the Senate floor responding to the sexual harassment accusations being leveled against him.
Wednesday saw the seventh and eighth allegations against the second-term senator come to light, immediately followed by a flood of more than 30 of his Democratic colleagues calling on Franken to resign.
He touched on all of that in his near-11-minute speech, opening with a reflection on his own feelings about being accused and closing by saying that when it came to his political career, he'd "do it all over again in a heartbeat." (Presumably without sexually harassing anyone?)
As far as apologies from the slate of powerful men recently facing consequences for a pattern of sexual harassment or abuse, Franken's initial statement on Nov. 16 was actually pretty solid. He struck the right balance of expressing remorse while still centering on the victim, and his track record of supporting women with his votes spoke for itself.
It's unsurprising that the left was conflicted over whether he should step down. People are complicated and are rarely heroes or monsters, but somewhere in between.
That's what makes it such a shame that his resignation speech featured many story beats we've heard before from other men on the left in similar situations. He hedged around what exactly it was he did or what he was apologizing for — some of which he denied happening at all — and, in something I'll get to in a moment, he shifted the conversation away from himself and onto other men.
In the end, there's really only three lines from his resignation speech that matter:
Franken in October 2017. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.
1. "[I]n the coming weeks, I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate."
Listening to the pleas of his fellow senators, Franken confirmed that he will be yielding his position — though he didn't specify a date or time. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton will select Franken's replacement to hold the office until after the 2018 election, when voters will decide who will serve out the remainder of Franken's term (which expires in 2020).
Rumor has it that Dayton is expected to tap Lt. Gov. Tina Smith for the interim role.
Franken's office door. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.
Some might argue over if Franken should have to step down at all, especially given that a number of other lawmakers (and the president) are facing accusations just as bad — and, in some cases, worse — with no signs of accountability.
Which brings us to the second point from Franken's speech that matters...
2. "I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office ... "
He goes on to reference Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore as "a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls [and] campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party."
Earlier in his resignation, Franken dodged responsibility for some of the actions he's been accused of (including saying some are "simply not true"), but he concedes that stepping down is "the right thing to do."
Roy Moore and Donald Trump have both been accused of some pretty horrific acts, but have still retained the support of their party. Photos by Mark Wilson/Getty Images, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
There should be no illusions about what Franken's resignation — or that of Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), who retired earlier this week — means for the political careers of Trump, Moore, Blake Farenthold, and others. If there's any hope of actually addressing the cause of this problem, Franken's resignation couldn't be contingent on the actions of others. He had to do it because it was the right thing to do.
Removing serial sexual harassers and abusers from office can't be about "teams" or point-scoring — it has to be about ensuring that voters have representation in a government that truly has their interests at heart.
3. "Minnesotans deserve a senator who can focus with all her energy on addressing the challenges they face every day."
Did you catch what made that line so special? It's his use of a specific pronoun: her.
OK, so it's most likely that the "her" he's referencing is just a nod to some inside knowledge that Lt. Gov. Smith will likely take over his role in the interim. Or ... maybe it's more than that.
Perhaps Franken understands that if he's sincere in his belief that women are owed competent and effective leadership, that it's only fair that women — who currently occupy just 21 seats in the Senate — take the role he currently occupies.
After all, it's hard for women to feel represented by our government until they're represented in our government.
Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) speaking in Congress. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
Regardless what he meant in that moment, the deviation from the social default of saying "he" is a bittersweet reminder that Franken, for all his faults, "got it," making his fall from grace and the actions that caused it that much more disappointing.
Longtime Franken supporters are right to feel conflicted watching the person they once looked up to have such an epic fall, but in the end, he did the right thing.