Al Franken's political future has been thrown into doubt as the Minnesota senator faces calls to resign in his home state on top of widespread condemnation from Hill colleagues who say an ethics probe of new sexual misconduct allegations is in order.
The comedian-turned-politician has little to smile about after Los Angeles TV host Leeann Tweeden accused him of groping and kissing her without her consent during a USO tour in 2006.
The Democratic senator repeatedly has apologized and sought to make amends, agreeing on Thursday to an ethics investigation.
“I believe it is in the best interest of Minnesotans and of women everywhere for Senator Franken to resign, and to set an example to powerful men across America that sexual harassment will not be tolerated."
Whether the fallout stops there remains to be seen.
While most congressional Democrats have stopped short, two prominent Democrats from the senator’s home state are calling on him to leave office.
“I believe it is in the best interest of Minnesotans and of women everywhere for Senator Franken to resign, and to set an example to powerful men across America that sexual harassment will not be tolerated,” Minnesota state auditor and gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Otto said in a statement.
The president of the state’s Democratic Farmer-Labor-Party’s Feminist Caucus, Megan Thomas, told the Washington Examiner that Franken’s misconduct was “every woman’s nightmare on a bus.”
“The ‘political’ answer is to wait and not overreact,” Thomas wrote in a Facebook post. “But I also know the next time I see him in person I will, however fleeting or unneeded, be afraid because of what he is doing in that picture. No one should fear their elected representatives, so, sadly, for me, I think the Senator should resign.”
New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, who had written in a recent column that she was even hoping Franken would consider a 2020 presidential run, also is now calling for Franken to step aside.
“I would mourn Franken’s departure from the Senate, but I think he should go, and the governor should appoint a woman to fill his seat,” Goldberg wrote Thursday. “The message to men in power about sexual degradation has to be clear: We will replace you.”
But on Capitol Hill, there is no groundswell yet for Franken to leave. Rather, there is a bipartisan agreement to launch an ethics investigation into the allegations facing him.
“As with all credible allegations of sexual harassment or assault, I believe the Ethics Committee should review the matter,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday. “I hope the Democratic Leader will join me on this. Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable – in the workplace or anywhere else.”
The Democratic leader agreed.
“Sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement Thursday. “I hope and expect that the Ethics Committee will fully investigate this troubling incident as they should with any credible allegation of sexual harassment.”
The most recent lawmaker to resign amid allegations involving sexual misconduct -- related to an affair and efforts to keep it secret -- was Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., who abandoned his seat before the ethics investigation was complete.
Franken’s accuser is not calling for his resignation, even though she said she felt "violated" and "humiliated" by his actions more than a decade ago.
“People make mistakes. I’m not calling him to step down,” Tweeden said on Thursday. “That’s not my place to say that. If there are other people who come out and say he’s done this, I don’t know.”
On Friday, during an appearance on ABC's "The View," Tweeden said that she received a personal letter of apology from Franken.
Tweeden, who detailed the Franken incident in a blog post Thursday morning, published a picture of what seemed to be a grinning Franken standing over her as she slept, with his hands over her breasts.
The allegations caught many lawmakers and supporters by surprise, as the Minnesota Democrat has been a proponent for women’s rights and a leading voice in speaking out against sexual harassment.
“Many of us spent years working for Senator Franken in Minnesota and Washington,” seven female former Franken staffers said in a statement on Friday. “In our time working for the Senator, he treated us with the utmost respect. He valued our work and our opinions and was a champion for women both in the legislation he supported and in promoting women to leadership roles in our offices.”
Franken apologized in a lengthy statement, indicating he intends to stay put and work to regain voters' trust.
“And the truth is, what people think of me in light of this is far less important than what people think of women who continue to come forward to tell their stories. They deserve to be heard, and believed. And they deserve to know that I am their ally and supporter. I have let them down and am committed to making it up to them,” he said.
But despite the support from former staffers, Democrats are still condemning Franken’s alleged behavior.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said any “credible allegation” should be subject to a probe, and told Fox News that “we are at a watershed moment and now is the time for Congress to overhaul how it deals with the issue of sexual harassment.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., went a step further, and tweeted that she had donated $30,000 in campaign contributions from Franken’s Midwest Values PAC to food banks in her home state.
Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.