Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) went to the Senate floor to announce his intention to resign from the Senate, in light of the multiple sexual harassment accusations leveled against him over the past few weeks. His resignation was offered in response to pressure from within his own party. But Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) says he should not have resigned – and he’s right.
When accusations first arose, two things happened. First, Franken acknowledged some misdeeds. Second, he agreed to submit himself to the process of an extensive review by the Senate Ethics Committee, even going so far as to promise to abide by the committee’s conclusions.
Franken was applauded by fellow Democrats for admitting his mistakes (whereas, they said, Judge Roy Moore admitted nothing). He was further applauded for his willingness to submit to the review process and to abide by the decisions the committee would render, even if that meant resigning from the Senate at the end of the non-partisan review process. (The Ethics Committee is made up of an even number of Democrats and Republicans.)
In stepped Manchin on Monday. In multiple interviews on Fox News, CNN, and CBS, he offered the same view. “I definitely think he should not resign,” he told CNN’s New Day. “I think he should submit himself, which he has willingly done and offered to do, and go through this complete process of an extensive ethics review. And whatever that outcome is, I will live with that. I can live with that.”
Manchin was critical of his own party leaders. “I’ve seen a person that his own caucus has turned on. It just made me sick. It really did. And I’ve said this. They know how I feel. My caucus knows I’m very upset with this process, or a lack of a process. And the only thing I’ll ask for is expedite, put extra investigators, do whatever you have to do, to go through this investigation, through the ethics. And there’s nothing worse than being found guilty of ethics violations from your own peer group.”
Manchin is not alone. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), although originally among the voices calling on Franken to resign, said that he should have waited for the ethics investigation to play out.
Leahy said, “I have stood for the process throughout my years as a prosecutor and in chairing the Judiciary Committee. I regret not doing that this time. The Ethics Committee should have been allowed to investigate and make its recommendation.”
I offer two responses.
First, the reason that Democratic leaders Schumer (NY), Durbin (IL), and others pushed Franken aside is as obvious as Rudolph’s red nose. It was all about political expediency. These same Democratic leaders were in the Senate when President Clinton admitted – finally – to “having sex with that women, Ms. Lewisnsky,” a 24-year-old White House intern. But neither Schumer nor Durbin ever said one public word of condemnation from their Senate perches, let alone called for Clinton’s resignation. To the contrary, they defended him.
Franken admitted misdeeds – and Schumer and Durbin tossed him aside like Thanksgiving turkey leftovers. But when Clinton was accused by multiple women of everything from harassment to rape – then lied about it under oath – the same Schumer and Durbin rushed to his defense.
Why the difference? In two words – Roy Moore. They wanted to make a point. And to do so cost them nothing. They knew the Democratic Governor of Minnesota would replace Franken with another Democrat. In the 1990s, “doing the right thing” would have cost them something – so they did nothing. Now, when “doing the right thing” cost them nothing, they were happy to step up in the name of all things right and just.
Second, Sens. Manchin and Leahy are right because they simply stood up for the process that is already in place and than Franken had already agreed to. Franken offered to undergo a painful ethics probe, and to live by its conclusions. What is so bad with that?
At the end of the process, it is clear that the committee would have found Franken guilty of unseemly behavior. He had already admitted as much. There was just one little problem with that. And both Schumer and Durbin would admit this only if hooked up to a polygraph. That little problem was that the Alabama Senate race was days away. The Democratic Party had to appear to side with women, take the high road, and eat their own – immediately, before the Alabama election.
So what Schumer and Durbin are really saying is this. “We stand for the rights of women. Any leader – even in our own party – when accused of misdeeds, must do the right thing and resign immediately, so long as it doesn’t move a seat into the hands of the Republicans and it makes us look good. And as long as that person is not named Clinton.”
Sen. Manchin was right to call out the hypocrisy of his own party. Sen. Leahy was right to agree with him. Monday was a good day for America. Two partisan politicians – for one day, at least – set their own political viability aside and said and did the right thing.
It’s just two Senators. That’s not much. But it’s a start.