On Thursday, 790 KABC published a piece on their website by Leeann Tweeden alleging that Senator Al Franken (D-MN) “kissed and groped [her] without consent.” The allegations are startling; Franken was something of a darling of the left following his now-infamous grilling of Donald Trump’s cabinet appointees for Attorney General (Jeff Sessions) and Secretary of Education (Betsy DeVos) during their respective confirmation hearings, leading to murmurs that he should consider a run for president in 2020.
Now, of course, Franken’s 2020 plans appear to be on hold.
In her piece, Tweeden alleges that while on a USO tour, she and Franken were scheduled to appear in a skit in which their characters kissed. According to Tweeden, during the rehearsal, Franken was insistent that they practice the kiss; Tweeden was uncomfortable by Franken’s badgering but eventually relented. When they did kiss, as Tweeden notes in her article, “he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.”
Tweeden then pushed Franken away, noting that she “felt disgusted and violated.” Following the incident, Tweeden alleges, Franken “repaid me with petty insults, including drawing devil horns on at least one of the headshots I was autographing for the troops.” And, on the return flight back to the United States, Tweeden alleges that Franken inappropriately touched her while she was asleep, offering this photo as evidence.
In fairness, it is difficult to tell in that photo whether Franken is actually touching Tweeden, and some have contended that Franken is not (and therefore hasn’t done anything wrong). Even if he isn’t touching her, however, it is still wildly inappropriate for a man to grope — or even pretend to grope — a woman while she is sleeping. Moreover, that still does not explain Tweeden’s other allegation regarding Franken’s unwanted advances during their rehearsal.
Franken’s initial response to Tweeden’s allegations was, to put it mildly, underwhelming. In his first statement, Franken asserted “I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.” As you might expect, this statement — a blend of “She’s lying” and “It was a joke” — didn’t go over so well.
Following Franken’s initial statement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called for an ethics committee investigation into Tweeden’s allegations, a call that was echoed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) also joined the ranks of congressional Democrats rebuking Franken for his actions, saying “I’m glad Al came out and apologized, but that doesn’t reverse what he’s done or end the matter.”
Eventually, Franken issued a longer (and, frankly, better) statement addressing the allegations that acknowledged that his behavior was unacceptable, saying in part, “I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t. And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.” While Franken maintained that his memory of the rehearsal for the skit differs from Tweeden’s account, he also acknowledged that “we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences.”
Franken also echoed McConnell’s call for an ethics investigation and said he would “gladly cooperate.” Though his initial response was tone-deaf, Franken eventually acknowledged the seriousness of Tweeden’s allegations, and he did so without first deploying the standard methods of attacking his accuser or offering excuses for his behavior. Most importantly, he did not attempt to reframe Tweeden’s allegations as politically-motivated, nor did he attempt to hide behind party politics to shield himself from further scrutiny.
In contrast, let’s take a look at the Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama, Mr. Roy Moore. Over the past two weeks, eight women have come forward with allegations that Moore’s behavior towards them ranged from serial unwanted advances to groping and forcibly kissing them. The most damning accusation of all comes from Beverly Young Nelson, who claims that Moore flirted with and inappropriately touched her when she was 15 years old and sexually assaulted her when she was 16 years old.
In fact, of the eight accusations, four took place when the victims were in their teens and Moore was in his 30s. The New Yorker also reported that locals in Gadsden, Alabama were “troubled” by Moore’s interactions with teen girls at the mall, and there is an unverified rumor circulating that Moore was banned by the mall in the mid-1980s for his predatory behavior.
On their own, the allegations are astounding (well, not to me — I told you he was a terrible person); what has made things even worse is the response from Moore and the GOP. Moore took to Sean Hannity’s radio show to defend himself, claiming “these charges are politically motivated.” (The hands on the Doomsday Clock of Hannity’s soul and journalistic integrity continue to march steadily towards midnight.)
Unlike the response from their colleagues across the aisle to the allegations regarding Senator Franken, some GOP congressmen have dismissed the allegations. For example, when Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) was asked by ABC whether he believed Moore over his eight (eight!) accusers, Brooks responded: “I believe the Democrats will do great damage to our country.” And then he literally ran away. (TIME Magazine has kept a list of the responses from GOP legislators, if you’re interested.)
This response is troubling. Granted, many congressional Republicans have called on Moore to step aside, but many of those have only demanded he do so if the allegations are true. Since Moore cannot be criminally charged under Alabama law, the only other way that would happen would be if Moore admitted guilt. As a reminder: Roy Moore was once removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing a federal order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments in the Supreme Court building. After his re-election, he was suspended again for announcing his intention to defy the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. It seems pretty unlikely he’d cop to being a sexual predator with a hankering for molesting teenage girls and using his power as an elected official to intimidate his victims into silence, but hey, maybe that’s just the pessimist in me.
The point is, even in the face of these disgusting allegations, the GOP is having a very difficult time distancing itself from Roy Moore, solely because Roy Moore represents a Senate seat that they don’t want to lose. Keeping that seat is so important to them that they’re willing to associate themselves with Moore, as long as he votes along party lines; of course, if that changed, he’d be out in the cold before you could say “Roy Moore looks like a huge dingus in that corny-ass cowboy hat.”
To the GOP, tax cuts are more important than universal healthcare; keeping the NRA off their back is more important than passing legislation that might prevent the mass shootings occurring on a near-daily basis. And maintaining their Senate majority is so important that they’ll offer refuge to an accused sex offender if it helps their political goals. But this is not a political issue, it’s a societal one — sexual assault, harassment, or misconduct are unacceptable, full-stop.
I would like to offer a brief nod to Mitch McConnell for being among the first in both the Moore and Franken incidents to accept the allegations as true. (A broken clock, as the saying goes.) Moore, of course, is terribly offended that McConnell is not backing him; in a tweet on Thursday, Moore implied hypocrisy on McConnell’s part for only wanting to “investigate” Al Franken while calling for Moore to drop out of the race.
There are a few holes in Moore’s argument; namely, Tweeden is not pressing charges, Franken is a sitting U.S. Senator, nobody is accusing Franken of attempted rape on a teenager, and Franken has one accuser instead of eight. Not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, but that’s probably par for the course from a guy who thought 9/11 happened because we “legitimize sodomy and abortion.”
To be clear, what Franken did is reprehensible and in extremely poor taste. Taking a picture depicting sexual assault — whether real or pantomimed — is an example of how, in many situations, men don’t consider how their actions towards women might affect the women involved. That he thought it was “funny” also casts serious doubt on his claims that he “respect[s] women” and that he is “an ally and supporter of champion of women,” as does Tweeden’s description of his behavior in their rehearsal.
That said, Franken has responded as well as one might expect in this situation, and though his reputation is no doubt tarnished by his actions, he owned up to his mistakes, apologized, and will accept the consequences, and he did it all in less than 12 hours. Moore, on the other hand, has called his accusers liars, claimed the allegations are politically motivated, refused to accept even a modicum of responsibility, and trotted out his lawyer to threaten lawsuits and suggest on MSNBC that the foreign-born host to whom he was speaking ought to understand dating teenagers.
Franken’s response is the antithesis of Moore’s, though that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily “good”; really, it’s the least we should expect from those accused of sexual misconduct. I believe that Franken is sincerely apologetic and willing to do whatever is necessary to regain the trust of those who believed in him. This accusation will rightly follow Franken for the rest of his career, and if Tweeden’s allegation turns out not to be an isolated incident, he ought to have the remainder of his career cut short. In the meantime, however, he should be given the benefit of a second chance.