By Richard Cowan and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senator Al Franken, facing pressure from his fellow Democrats to step down following allegations of sexual misconduct, will announce his decision at 11:45 AM ET on the Senate floor.
Franken, a former comedian who was seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party before accusations surfaced three weeks ago that he had groped or tried to kiss women without their consent, was discussing the matter with his family on Wednesday, and no final decision about his future had been made, his office said.
He will make an announcement from the Senate floor at 11:45 a.m. (1645 GMT), Franken spokesman Michael Dale-Stein said in an email, without elaborating.
Minnesota Public Radio, citing a Democratic official who had spoken to the senator and aides, reported Franken would resign.
After the initial accusations became public, Franken said he would stay in office and work to regain the confidence of the citizens of Minnesota, which he represents in Congress.
But a majority of his Democratic Senate colleagues, including most of the party’s women lawmakers in the chamber, pressed him to step down on Wednesday after a new allegation hit the news. Politico reported that a congressional aide said Franken had tried to forcibly kiss her in 2006, before he was elected to the Senate. Franken denied the allegations, Politico reported.
If Franken leaves, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, a Democrat, would appoint someone to take his place, meaning the party would not risk losing the seat for now. Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate.
Politico reported that Dayton was expected to appoint Democratic Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith to the position if Franken resigned. She would hold the seat until a special election in 2018.
Pressure built throughout the day on Wednesday for Franken to step down.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called him immediately after the Politico story appeared and said he needed to relinquish his Senate seat, according to a person familiar with the events. Schumer also had a meeting at his apartment with Franken and his wife, urging the senator to step down.
Franken apologized for his behavior after earlier accusations and said he would cooperate with a Senate Ethics Committee investigation. Reuters has not independently verified the claims against him.
Democrats are trying to set an example after sexual misconduct accusations against several public figures, including Republican Roy Moore of Alabama, who is running for the Senate, and Democratic Representative John Conyers, who resigned on Tuesday. Both men have denied the allegations against them.
Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders drew Republican President Donald Trump into the mix on Thursday, pointing to the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump made lewd remarks about women.
“We have a president of the United States who acknowledged on a tape widely seen all over the country that he’s assaulted women, so I would hope maybe the president of the United States might pay attention of what’s going on and also think about resigning,” Sanders said on CBS “This Morning.”
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Michael Perry and Lisa Von Ahn)