NEW YORK ― Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) made it clear on Monday that she has zero regrets about calling for former Sen. Al Franken’s (D-Minn.) resignation amid allegations of sexual misconduct in 2017.
“He has eight credible allegations against him. Two since he was senator and the eighth one happened to be a congressional staffer,” the presidential hopeful said during a town hall conversation with Mic Editor-at-Large Jake Horowitz in New York City.
“Now I could’ve told those seven senators and any of the senators... that there is no prize for someone who tries to hold accountable a powerful man who is good at his day job,” Gillibrand continued, referring to the seven senators who later joined her call for Franken to resign. “Well, we should have the courage to do it anyway. So, no, I do not have any regrets.”
Franken, who assumed office in 2009, resigned from the Senate on Dec. 7, 2017, amid the anti-sexual violence reckoning spurred by the Me Too movement. He resigned after several news organizations, including HuffPost, published allegations from eight women who accused him of sexual misconduct, including groping and forcible kissing.
Gillibrand, an outspoken advocate for sexual assault survivors, was the first senator to call for her fellow Democrat’s resignation. Although multiple senators also called for Franken’s resignation after Gillibrand, the senator from New York took the brunt of the criticism from her own party.
The controversy over Franken’s resignation resurfaced Monday when The New Yorker published a profile on the former senator. Franken said he “absolutely” regrets resigning and said he wishes he had appeared before a Senate Ethics Committee hearing about the accusations. He had requested an investigative hearing into the accusations but ended up resigning before a hearing could take place.
Gillibrand pointed out in Monday’s conversation that the New Yorker piece only looked at one allegation against Franken, effectively ignoring the seven other accusations.
“Listen, Al Franken had every right to do whatever he wanted. If he wanted to wait for his ethics committee investigation, that’s his decision. If he wanted to wait for his next election ― his decision,” Gillibrand said.
“My only decision was whether or not I chose to remain silent. My decision is whether or not I chose to carry his water and defend him with my silence,” she continued. ”... As a mother of sons, when I’m having conversations at home with Theo, who’s 15, and he says, ‘Mom, why are you so tough on Al Franken?’ I need to... say, ‘Theo, it’s not OK to grope a woman anywhere on her body without her consent. It is not OK to forcibly kiss a woman ever without her consent. It is not OK for Sen. Franken, and it is not OK for you.’”
The senator was met with a round of applause before adding that the eight women who accused Franken “have a right to tell their truth.”
“My job is to lift up voices of those who aren’t being heard and demand at least some measure of accountability,” Gillibrand said.
She later became frustrated as she tried to explain that Franken’s decision to step down before the ethics committee could begin its investigation is no one’s fault but Franken’s.
“The decision of whether to wait for his investigation through the ethics committee? His alone. No one else’s,” Gillibrand said. “So blaming a woman for the actions of a man... I don’t believe in it, and I don’t think it’s right.”
When Horowitz attempted to move on to the next question ― asking Gillibrand if she’s faced sexist double-standards as a woman and a mother running for president ― the senator quickly cut him off.
“Uh, answering questions about Al Franken,” she said flatly. “Honestly, are you kidding me?”
“Let me ask you: How many senators were asked, ‘Should Al Franken resign? Should Al Franken resign?’ every day for two straight weeks?” she continued. “It was the women senators who were asked every day, multiple times a day. Were the make colleagues asked? Absolutely not. So let’s be clear: There is absolutely a double-standard. Women are asked to hold accountable their colleagues, the men are not. Who is being held accountable for Al Franken’s decision to resign? Women senators including me. It’s outrageous. It’s absurd.”