Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand defended her decision to call on former Sen. Al Franken to resign after allegations of unwanted touching and kissing were made against him, earning praise from a friendly audience of Iowans in Sioux City on Friday.
Gillibrand, who was first to call on Franken to resign, clearly came prepared to answer questions about the Minnesota Democrat, whose ouster after a series of allegations in 2017 remains a contentious issue for the party. Some on the left, including a number of top Democratic donors, believe Franken was pushed out too quickly, while others think he got what he deserved.
Gillibrand said Friday that she made the decision to help push him out because “my silence meant I was defending him and carrying his water, which I was unwilling to do.”
“Enough was enough,” Gillibrand said twice, arguing the tipping point in her decision was the eight allegations leveled against Franken. “Al Franken is entitled to whatever process wanted, if he wanted to say and wait six months for his ethics hearing. His decision was to resign. My design was not to remain silent.”
Gillibrand added, “You have to stand up for what’s right, especially when it’s hard. And if you create a pass because you love someone, or you like someone, or admire someone, or they’re part of your team, it’s not OK, it’s just not, and I feel strongly about it and it’s painful. It’s painful for me. It’s painful for a lot of us.”
Franken announced his resignation in December 2017 after multiple women accused him of touching them inappropriately. Franken apologized for some of the accusations but said in his resignation speech that his response to those women’s accounts “gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that in fact I haven’t done.”
Gillibrand was the first to call for his resignation, writing that it would be “better for our country if he sent a clear message that any kind of mistreatment of women in our society isn’t acceptable by stepping aside to let someone else serve.”
Gillibrand’s comments were well received in the room, including by Bernie Scolaro, the 60-year old woman who asked the New York Democrat who is running for President the question.
“It was the only thing I keep reading about” regarding her, Scolaro said. “She believed what she said, and she spoke to the truth. She followed her conviction. I respect that.”
Gillibrand also noted that her son, Theo, asked her during the Franken controversy, “Mom, why are you being so mean to Al Franken?”
“And I had to be very clear as a mother, ‘It not OK to grope a woman anywhere on her body without her consent. It is not OK to forcibly kiss a woman without her consent. It is not OK for Al Franken and it is not OK for you,” Gillibrand said. “And I could not be ambiguous about that.”
Gillibrand’s decision to help push Franken out has become a nagging issue for her presidential aspirations, particularly among wealthy Democratic donors.
George Soros, the billionaire Democratic donor, told The Washington Post in 2018 that he hopes Gillibrand fails to capture the 2020 nomination because she pushed Franken out “in order to improve her own chances.”
The Franken saga, however, was not a primary concern for Iowans on Friday.
Marlene Sturdevant, the host of Friday night’s gathering, said she really “liked” Franken but described Gillibrand’s role in pushing him out as “so-so.”
“It’s just unfortunate,” she said.
David Halaas, a 64-year-old man from Sioux City, said he didn’t think Gillibrand’s role in Franken’s ouster would hurt the senator in Iowa.
“I think she spoke her mind and answered honestly,” Halaas said. “She was speaking from her heart.”
And Jim Jung, a 70-year-old from Sioux City, said he believed people “have forgotten about all that.”
Only Rick Mullen, a 65-year-old retiree from Sioux City, said he was concerned with the treatment of Franken and believed the senator was “railroaded.”
“Most of us love Al Franken,” he said. “I think he was badly treated and used.”
Most of Gillibrand’s speech did not deal with Franken, however, and the senator instead dedicated considerable time attacking President Donald Trump’s view of the world.
“I want to run for president because I feel like we are in this moment where, as you said, there is a darkness,” she said. “President Trump has created so much hate, so much division.”
She added, “I feel I have to use everything I can to defeat what he created.”