Franken apologizes, sees long fight for trust
Sen. Al Franken apologized Monday to “everyone who has counted on me to be a champion for women” as the Minnesota Democrat fought to bolster his support with his first Capitol public appearance since being drawn into a wave of sexual harassment accusations buffeting Congress.
Franken spoke as lawmakers began returning from an extraordinary weeklong Thanksgiving break that saw sexually tinged problems engulf two other legislators as well: Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Joe Barton, R-Texas. Those revelations were on top of allegations that Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl and sought romantic relationships with other teenagers when he was in his 30s four decades ago, which he has denied.
With harassment charges bringing down big names in the worlds of entertainment and journalism, Congress was adding widespread complaints about how it handles such incidents to its pile of year-end work.
In a brief appearance before reporters, Franken stopped short of specifying how his memory differs from four women’s accounts of separate incidents in which he allegedly initiated improper sexual contact.
He said he recalls “differently” one woman’s allegation that he forcibly kissed her but provided no detail, and said he doesn’t remember three other times women assert he grabbed their buttocks, citing “tens of thousands” of people he meets annually.
“But I feel that you have to respect, you know, women’s experience,” he said.
Franken said he’ll cooperate with an Ethics Committee investigation of his behavior. He said it will take “a long time for me to regain people’s trust” and said he hoped to begin that process by returning to work.
“I want to be someone who adds something to this conversation,” said Franken, a longtime liberal.
The House planned to vote Wednesday on a resolution requiring lawmakers and staff to annually complete anti-harassment training. Its chief sponsors included Reps. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., and Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who has said she was sexually assaulted by a male chief of staff as a House aide decades ago. The Senate approved a similar measure this month.
With many lawmakers – particularly women – pushing for more, the House Administration Committee planned a hearing next week on how to strengthen Congress’ processing of harassment allegations.