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Franken addresses US Senate over misconduct claims

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Democratic Senator Al Franken, under mounting pressure from within his own camp over multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, was expected to resign Thursday in an address from the Senate floor.

With support from fellow Democrats vanishing, Franken has a stark decision to make: heed the calls to leave, and allow the party to close ranks and try to gain the moral high ground amid a tidal wave of sexual harassment allegations that have lashed the political world — or stay and fight.

A friend in Franken’s Minnesota congressional delegation, House Democrat Keith Ellison, said he believes Franken “will do the right thing and resign,” and Minnesota public radio cited a party official saying the two-term senator does intend to quit.

But Franken insisted through his Twitter feed late Wednesday that he was still discussing the issue with his family, and that “any reports of a final decision are inaccurate.”

He is scheduled to address his colleagues at 11:45 am (1645 GMT).

Franken — a former comedian who made his name on the popular late-night comedy show “Saturday Night Live” before turning to politics — has acknowledged misconduct with at least one accuser.

The 66-year-old Minnesota lawmaker apologized last month and vowed to work to regain the trust of his colleagues and voters.

But with six other women now reportedly coming forward to accuse Franken of touching them inappropriately, and the issue of sexual harassment reverberating throughout Washington, a chorus of Democratic senators said it was time for him to go.

It was female lawmakers who led the revolt against their once-popular colleague.

In a well-coordinated social media attack, 12 of the Senate’s 16 Democratic women took to Twitter or Facebook to demand Franken’s resignation.

Seventeen male colleagues followed, including top Democrat Chuck Schumer, who heaped major pressure on Franken by issuing a statement saying he should step down “immediately.”

It marked a dramatic and sudden show of unity against one of their own in the 100-member chamber, where the Republicans hold a slim majority.

“We must commit to zero tolerance,” Heidi Heitkamp said in a tweet. “And that means Senator Franken should step down.”

– ‘Moment of reckoning’ –

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Facebook post appeared to be the opening Senate salvo against Franken Wednesday, as she declared that the nation — and Congress — faced a “moment of reckoning” regarding sexual misconduct.

“We should demand the highest standards, not the lowest, from our leaders,” she said.

Franken was first accused last month by sports broadcaster and former model Leeann Tweeden of forcibly kissing her, and touching her without consent as she slept, during a 2006 tour entertaining US troops deployed in Afghanistan.

Several other women have come forward with accusations of misconduct.

If Franken does resign, Minnesota’s Democratic governor, Mark Dayton, has the power to appoint a replacement.

The Star Tribune newspaper said the likeliest replacement is the lieutenant governor, Tina Smith, who would serve until a November 2018 special election.

– Wave of accusations –

The pressure comes just one day after Democrat John Conyers, the longest-serving member of Congress, left the House of Representatives after several female former staffers accused him of sexual misconduct.

And it follows a wave of accusations of harassment against titans in the worlds of entertainment, the media and politics, which began with claims targeting movie mogul Harvey Weinstein earlier this year.

As a consequence of the unfolding scandals, the Senate and House both voted to make anti-harassment training mandatory for all lawmakers and staff.

The specter of sexual misconduct is also overshadowing a high-stakes US Senate race in Alabama.

Republican Roy Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice, has been accused by several women of sexually molesting them when they were teenagers — one was 14 at the time — and he was in his 30s.

President Donald Trump, who himself faced sexual misconduct accusations when he was a candidate, has endorsed Moore in the closely watched special election set for December 12.


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