Hey Al Franken: No joke, you need to resign

Earlier this year, Vice President Mike Pence was ridiculed and mocked for saying he won’t eat a meal alone with a woman who’s not his wife, with his critics actually saying that his policy hurts women. Enter Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and a picture that was released this week that showed him groping a radio anchor’s breasts while she slept on a flight during an overseas USO tour.

Whose behavior is it that really hurts women?

In his apology, Franken said the picture was intended to be funny. Except nobody is laughing, so now he’s apologizing.

Franken’s disturbing sense of what is funny goes beyond this picture and Leann Tweeden’s claim that he also forcibly kissed her. However, also in his apology, he said he doesn’t respect men who don’t respect women.

Except that he doesn't respect women.

Is Franken making some kind of awkward indictment of himself? Or are we supposed to accept with a straight face that there are two Al Frankens – simultaneously a liberal crusader for women’s rights, and middle school class clown with the maturity of a 12-year-old?

Franken’s “problem” isn’t a he said-she said dispute, left for his constituents and the rest of the country to try and judge. It’s right there for the world to see in full-blown color.

Before becoming a senator, Franken “joked” about child rape during a comedic roast of director Rob Reiner. And in a 2000 Playboy article, he “joked” about raping “60 Minutes” reporter Lesley Stahl.

According to the Congressional Office of Compliance, $15.2 million in taxpayer “hush money” was paid out between 1997 and 2014 for sexual harassment complaints against members of Congress or members of their staffs. That’s an astounding figure. We, the taxpayers, are footing the bill while being left completely in the dark as to who we’re shelling out this money to protect.

Was Franken a beneficiary of the hush money? Don’t we have a right to know?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the issue of Franken’s behavior should be referred to the Ethics Committee for review.

However, after calling for Republican candidate Roy Moore to withdraw from the Alabama U.S. Senate race, why wouldn’t McConnell also apply the same standard to Franken and call for him to resign from the Senate? 

Regardless of what your opinion is of Moore, this appears to be a disturbing two-faced approach in which Moore and Franken are wrongly being held to two completely different standards.

If you believe the women making accusations against Moore, and therefore believe he is unfit to hold the office of U.S. senator, then shouldn’t the same be said of Al Franken?

Why are there not calls for resignation by Franken’s colleagues rather than just punting it off to the Ethics Committee? Particularly given that Franken’s situation is compounded by the fact that his accuser, who comes across as credible, has a picture of him groping her – which Franken does not dispute, except to call it a “joke.” 

Franken’s “problem” isn’t a he said-she said dispute, left for his constituents and the rest of the country to try and judge. It’s right there for the world to see in full-blown color.

So why this nonsense about a Senate Ethics Committee investigation? If Franken were a Republican, can anyone really say with a straight face that there wouldn’t be universal screams for his head, reverberating so emphatically that his political life might be over already?

With all these stories in the news about sexual misconduct since the first Harvey Weinstein bombshell – and more inevitably coming – I’ve seen evidence of a lot of harm being done to women by men in power, but none of it due to the fact that the vice president’s dining habits.

The vice president is a man who honors his marriage and presents himself as a role model for his children. Perhaps it’s time we lose the political correctness and start respecting men like him who don’t take advantage of women, rather than ridiculing them.

If we are serious about protecting women from sexual predators and not just saying that as a political talking point, then Al Franken’s colleagues in the Senate need to call on him to resign his seat immediately.

Lauren DeBellis Appell was deputy press secretary for then-Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., in his successful 2000 re-election campaign, as well as assistant communications director for the Senate Republican Policy Committee (2001-2003).