Al Franken becomes #MeToo ‘political football' for 2020 Democrats

Former U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, who resigned in 2017 after women accused him of groping and forcibly kissing them, is suddenly back in the political spotlight as Democratic presidential hopefuls grapple with his place in the movement against sexual harassment.

At least two Democratic candidates, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, have said Franken deserved due process or additional time before resigning under pressure from fellow Democrats. A rival, Kirsten Gillibrand, said this week that Franken deserved what he got.

Many progressive voters feel Franken was wronged, swept up as the #MeToo movement swept Congress in 2017. He has never spoken publicly about his resignation.

“Al Franken is back in politics, but probably not in the way he wants,” said Larry Jacobs, a University of Minnesota political science professor. “He is a political football as the Democrats fight among each other for advantage for the Democratic nomination for president.”

Gillibrand was the first Democratic senator to call on Franken to resign. The New York senator is now struggling to gain a foothold in the crowded 2020 race, and suggested this week that some Democrats were carrying a grudge against her over the Franken situation.

“If a few Democratic donors are angry because I stood by eight women, including a young woman who works in Congress, that’s on them,” Gillibrand said during a Fox News town hall.

Klobuchar, who served with Franken in the Senate, and Buttigieg have taken a softer stance toward the former Minnesota senator.

During a MSNBC town hall this week, Buttigieg said he would not have pushed Franken out so quickly after the sexual harassment allegations surfaced.

“I would not have applied that pressure at that time before we knew more,” Buttigieg said.

Klobuchar initially said that Franken’s resignation was the “right decision.” Then, during a Fox News town hall last month, Klobuchar said Franken deserved due process before stepping aside.

“He and I are friends. We’re still friends. I think there should’ve been due process. But, he made the decision in the end, and he decided to leave,” Klobuchar told FOX 9 in a brief interview after the event.

Jacobs said all 2020 Democratic hopefuls would likely have to take a stance on the Franken issue.

“Before this primary is over, we’re going to see Franken becoming an influential force, a test on the progressive qualifications of some of the candidates,” Jacobs said.

One voice is missing from the discussion: Franken himself. The former senator has not spoken publicly about the details surrounding his resignation, though he recently told The Washington Post that the time would come.