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Was Al Franken 'railroaded' out of the Senate?

The 360 is a feature designed to show you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

Speed read

What's happening: In December 2017, two months after the #MeToo movement gained intense national attention, Sen. Al Franken resigned amid allegations of misconduct from eight women.

Franken's resignation came after dozens of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate called for him to step down. In a story published Monday in the New Yorker, seven of those senators said they regret pushing him out of office. Franken also said he “absolutely” regrets resigning.

Much of the New Yorker story examines the first public accusation against Franken made by Leeann Tweeden, a conservative radio host who said Franken had forcibly tried to kiss her and had groped her while taking a photograph of her sleeping. Seven other women later came forward with allegations of inappropriate touching or unwanted advances.

Why there's debate: The New Yorker article reinforces a belief that Franken's resignation was a mistake. The writer Jane Mayer said he was “railroaded.” Sen. Patrick Leahy called his decision to join the voices pushing out Franken “one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made.” The argument is that Democrats were overzealous in an attempt to be seen as having a “no tolerance” policy towards harassers. “Al deserved more of a process,” said Sen. Angus King.

Others contend that, even if the allegations are true, Franken’s misdeeds pale in severity when compared to the accusations against prominent Republicans like President Trump, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. It’s unfair, they say, for Franken’s career to end when these men have been allowed to continue their political careers.

Franken’s resignation was necessary, some argue, so Democrats could maintain moral authority when working to combat issues of sexual impropriety. They specifically point to the awkward position for the party in having Franken question Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who was the first member of the Senate to call for Franken to resign and has faced backlash for doing so, said she has “no regrets.”

What’s next: Franken has not talked publicly about a potential return to politics, although polling suggests he may find support among voters in Minnesota. If he did have ambitions toward getting back to the Senate, his next chance would be in 2020, when he could challenge Tina Smith, the woman who took over his seat when he resigned.

Perspectives

Franken showed he was an honorable man by stepping down.

“His decision to resign under a cloud of scandal in December 2017 was entirely in keeping with his approach to politics over the past 15 years, displaying seriousness about the moral weight of political work and a willingness to put cause above ego.” — Matthew Yglesias, Vox

Liberals only regret what happened because one of their own got punished.

“The Al Franken case is what #MeToo was created to address: Powerful men who behaved inappropriately with women. Due process is nice but fairly safe to skip a few steps when there’s a photographic evidence and the accused admits to feeling shame in an apology. It’s nice, though, that liberals are reconsidering their blind devotion to the #MeToo cause. Let’s remember that the next time.” — Eddie Scarry, Washington Examiner

Franken mishandled his response to the allegations.

“[The article] also provides the defense of Franken that he, to his detriment, never really gave himself.” — Aaron Blake, Washington Post

The belief that he could have stayed in his seat requires rewriting history.

“Franken’s defenders are married to the delusional belief that it’s all just a frame-up and that if he'd had ‘due process’ in the form of a Senate ethics investigation (run by Republicans, who control that chamber) he would have somehow managed to prove this.” — Amanda Marcotte, Salon

The #MeToo movement shouldn’t be reserved for only the worst offenders.

“It betrays a failure of imagination and a fundamental distrust of women’s activism to strive to limit the #MeToo movement to men accused of the most heinous sexual assaults.” — Christina Cauterucci, Slate

Franken’s defenders overstate the severity of his punishment.

“And the big punishment Franken faced? Not being a U.S. senator anymore. While his former colleagues talk about ‘due process,’ Franken wasn’t actually wrongfully imprisoned or charged. He’s just not a senator anymore — something most women who’ve experienced behavior like Franken’s in the workplace likely never had to opportunity to pursue at all.” — Emma Hinchliffe, Fortune

Franken’s alleged actions shouldn't be measured against others who were accused of worse.

“I truly don’t understand how anyone who has engaged even casually with the facts of #MeToo ... can think ‘This was unfair treatment because it's not like he was Roy Moore’ is an acceptable conclusion.” — Andi Zeisler, Bitch Media writer

The allegations run counter to firsthand accounts of Franken’s personal character.

“Charges of sexual harassment typically roll out in a drearily scripted way, and one of the inevitable moments is the scene where a bunch of people acknowledge that ‘everyone knew’ about it all along. But this scene was not just missing from the Franken affair, it was specifically repudiated by virtually everyone who knows him. Literally nobody thought that Franken was in any way a sexual predator or anything even close.” — Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

There is too much focus on the result rather than the allegations themselves.

“I think the key source of Al Franken’s regret is realizing that if he dug in his heels he might have gotten away with it. That’s not the same as having been railroaded.” — Josh Barro, New York columnist

Franken was denied due process.

“Due process, to me, is a must because this is what happens. We talk about witch hunts. … That’s a witch hunt. Because the #MeToo movement came up and everything everybody said, there was no space to say ‘Well wait a minute, let’s talk about this.’” — Whoopi Goldberg, on The View

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