The rise and fall of Al Franken: from comedy to politics to disgrace

The Minnesota senator had begun to attain his mark on Capitol Hill as an incisive and amusing presence, but those who knew him alerted he came here with baggage

When Al Franken was mooted as a possible dark horse in the 2020 presidential election, those who knew him warned that he comes with baggage. They little guessed how much.

The Democratic senator announced on Thursday that he will resign in the coming weeks following a string of sex misconduct accusations. It marked a dizzying rise and fall for the comedian-turned-politician whose legacy on Capitol Hill will be heatedly contested.

In his farewell address on the Senate floor, Franken sought to portray himself as a victim.” Some of the allegations against me are simply not true ,” he said defiantly.” Others I remember very differently … But this decision is not about me. It’s about the people of Minnesota .”

Not all the people of Minnesota have been taken by surprise by the events of the past three weeks, however. Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, said:” I didn’t know of any of these accusations but he’s a very self-confident person who guess of himself as special. With some of the accusations you see that: what he felt was being goofy or having his style was clearly unacceptable .”

Franken, 66, who grew up in the Jewish community in St Louis Park, a suburbium of Minneapolis ,~ ATAGEND had appeared to be a phase in favour of the debate that politics is enriched by people from varied and colourful backgrounds rather than career politicians.

He first stimulated his name 40 years ago as a writer and musician on the TV slapstick show Saturday Night Live and was twice a guest performer at the White House correspondents’ dinner . He also worked as a talkshow host and wrote books such as Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.

Then came an abrupt turning when Franken ran for the Senate in 2008. He went to Jeff Blodgett ,~ ATAGEND who operated the late Paul Wellstone’s Senate campaigns, for advice. Blodgett commented on Thursday:” I would hope that Al Franken would get credit for growing into a senator of real substance, someone who dug deep on issues like net neutrality, mental health and veterans affairs, a senator who paid close attention to his country, and a consistent progressive voice during a tough era for our country .”

During the election campaign Republican attempted to turn his old jokes against him, but in vain. The Democrat creaked home by 312 referendums after an eight-month legal battle. But anyone expecting him to become court jester in the Senate was in for a letdown .~ ATAGEND

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Al Franken on election night in November 2008 Photograph: Craig Lassig/ EPA

Facing scepticism over whether he possessed the necessary grativas, Franken chose he had to prove himself as” a workhorse and not a indicate horse”, he recalled in a recent memoir, Giant of the Senate. He subjected himself to what he calls” the DeHumorizer” and became a polished politician who steered clear of reporters.

” Possibly the most ridiculous Politician Skill I had to learn … was how to’ fulcrum ,’ which basically means’ not answer questions ‘,” he writes. But there were occasional lapsings, such as the time he rolled his eyes at the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.” As soon as Mitch had finished his speech, he marched up to the podium and let me know he was furious, as he had every right to be.’ This isn’t’ Saturday Night Live ,’ Al !'”

Meanwhile Franken induced significant contributions to policy, including to Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Jacobs said:” There’s no doubt Al Franken is very bright, “hes having” genuine interest in public policy and he worked hard to prove to his constituents and his fellow senators that he was worthy .”

It paid off. Franken was re-elected by a comfortable margin in 2014. He allowed the mask to slip a little, letting himself be funny again and more media friendly. Thus liberated, he also became one of the Democrats’ hardest hitters, pummeling the education secretary, Betsy DeVos ,~ ATAGEND us attorney general Jeff Sessions and supreme court justice Neil Gorsuch during confirmation hearings.

He also took on unfashionable causes such as net neutrality, and his recent grilling of Facebook and Google over Russian election interference was at once sardonic and incisive, amusing and devastating.

But the inner jester was still there and so were its dark secrets. Allegations began to emerge last month when Los Angeles radio anchor Leeann Tweeden accused Franken of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 United Service Organisations tour. He apologised and called for himself to be investigated, but over day a further seven women came forward with asserts about inappropriate behaviour.

On Wednesday more than 30 Democratic Senators called for Franken to stand down .~ ATAGEND No amount of “pivoting” could save him from his past. Jacobs said:” His career was in an industry where outrageous behaviour and sexual aggressivenes have a free rein and the commission has caught up with him with a vengeance. It’s a sad day: he put their own lives on hold and now his career in politics appears to be over. There’s nothing to celebrate .”

During an interview with the Guardian at a cafe in St Paul in September, a casually dressed Franken showed a down-to-earth side of his personality, relating how he had just been to the Minnesota Vikings’ training camp with his son. A stranger approached him and said:” I’m this close to asking for your autograph but the memory will be enough .” Franken graciously insisted on an autograph.

Reaction in his home country is mixed, Jacobs said, with conservatives generally “elated” and some liberals “hopping mad” that the senator has been pushed out of office.” I believe most Minnesotans have a heavy heart. A sense of disloyalty, frustration and annoyance about what’s going on in public life .”

For now, Franken has joined the ranks of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer as out of work and unemployable. But he said on Thursday:” I may be resigning my seat, but I am not giving up my voice .”

Jacobs suspects he could yet attempt a third act.” He may be forced from office but I don’t think it’s the last we’ve seen of him. He may recover, re-energise and come back as a spitfire comedian looking for retaliation. I would not want to be on his enemies list .”

But some assured Franken’s farewell statements in the Senate as self-serving. His legacy is eternally tainted. Neil Sroka, spokesman for the progressive political organisation Democracy for America, which called for him to resign last week ,~ ATAGEND said:” It’s hard not to see how this doesn’t cast a cloud up what could have been an important career in the Senate, but it’s a shadow that has to exist. There’s a broad sense, at the least among Democrats, that we cannot ignore the victims of sexual harassment: their voices need to be heard .”

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‘Enough is enough’: leading Democrats call on Al Franken to quit

Minnesota senator, 66, recommended by several female my fellow members to resign as allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior mount

Half a dozen female Democratic senators have called on Al Franken to resign, as other women stepped forward to accuse the Minnesota Democrat of sexually inappropriate behavior. They were joined by the minority leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, and the national party chair, Tom Perez, who also called on Franken to step down.

Franken’s office said he would make a public statement- expected to include a response to the calls- on Thursday. One Democratic senator, Ron Wyden, said he expected Franken to” announce his resignation tomorrow “.

In Facebook posts, tweets and public statement, several Democrats advised their colleague to step aside amid widening accusations of sexual assault and misconduct against powerful humen that have roiled Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Washington.

” I have spent a lot of day reflecting on Senator Franken’s behaviour ,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a longtime advocate for victims of sexual assault, said in a Facebook post that started the cascade of calls.” Enough is enough .”

Gillibrand was joined by Patty Murray of Washington, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Kamala Harris of California and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire.

Those calls were swiftly echoed by other colleagues, including Dick Durbin, the No 2 Democrat in the Senate, as well as Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.

Tom Perez, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, also called on Franken to resign.

” Everybody has to share the responsibility of building a culture of trust and respect for women in every industry and workplace, and that includes our party ,” Perez said.

Perez’s remarks came less than 36 hours after the Republican National Committee renewed its support for Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate who is facing multiple allegations of inappropriate behavior with teenage girls and women, including sexual assault.

While many national Republican have distanced themselves from the Alabama Republican, he has approved by Donald Trump. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who has called on Moore to drop out, has said the Alabama Republican would face an ethics investigation if elected.

McConnell issued a statement calling for Franken to step down:” The near daily barrage of allegations of sexual misconduct against Senator Franken are extremely concerning to all of us in the Senate. While the Senate ethics committee is reviewing these serious allegations, it now appears that Senator Franken has lost the support of his colleagues, and most importantly, his constituents. I do not believe he can effectively serve the person or persons of Minnesota in the US Senate any longer .”

Hours afterward, the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, weighed in to say he too believed Franken should resign. In a brief statement, Schumer said:” 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 .”

Franken, 66, who has been accused by multiple other women of groping or trying to forcibly kiss them, has apologized for his behaviour and asked the Senate ethics committee to analyse himbut the senators said elected official must be held to a higher standard, putting his political future in question. Franken did not appear in the Senate on Monday.

” This institution has evolved over centuries, it’s evolved over my virtually three decades of service, and it’s evolving once more before our very eyes ,” said Murray, a member of Democratic leadership.

” This current evolution is long overdue. It’s time for us as elected representatives to hold ourselves to a higher criterion, to define two examples, and to live a situated of values that is truly representative and worthy of the Congress, our republic, and our great country .”

Hirono tweeted:” Today, I am calling on my colleague Al Franken to step aside. I’ve fought with this decision because he’s been a good senator and I consider him a friend. But that cannot excuse his behaviour and his mistreatment of women .”

Harris posted:” Sexual harassment and misconduct should not be allowed by anyone and should not occur anywhere. I believe the best thing for Senator Franken to do is step down .”

Earlier on Tuesday, Politico reported on a new accusation against Franken. A former Democratic congressional aide said the former comedian tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006, as he was ramping up his campaign for the US Senate, according to Politico. The aide dodged his advance and alleged that Franken said as she left:” It’s my right as an entertainer .” Franken denied the accusation to Politico.

The calls for Franken to resign come one day after John Conyers, the longest-serving Democrat in Congress, resigned after allegations of sexual harassment. Conyers, who was the top Democrat on the House judiciary committee and spend over a half-century on Capitol Hill, had settled one claim of sexual harassment against him with taxpayer money and had been accused of misconduct by several other former staffers.

Two other members of Congress currently face allegations of sexual harassment: Republican Blake Farenthold of Texas and Democrat Ruben Kihuen of Nevada.

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