Former senator Al Franken is staying silent in the face of attacks on his ex-colleague, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has been shunned by major Democratic donors and criticized heavily online after calling for Franken’s resignation last year in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations.
Gillibrand responded on Twitter Tuesday to a Politico story saying the incident with Franken, who had been accused of sexual misconduct by eight women, was “haunting” Gillibrand’s presidential chances in 2020. More than a dozen high-level Democratic donors, Politico said, had pledged not to donate to or fundraise for Gillibrand in a presidential primary.
“Silencing women for the powerful, or for your friends, or for convenience, is neither acceptable, nor just,” Gillibrand wrote of the reporting in the story.
A spokesperson for Franken declined to comment on the attacks against Gillibrand, saying the former senator was “still not doing any press.”
In a Facebook post last week, a little over a year after the first misconduct allegations surfaced, Franken said he had “spent a lot of time … thinking about the broader conversation we’ve been having about the experience of women in this country.”
“Over the last year, I’ve heard from so many of you,” he wrote. “Representing Minnesota in the Senate was the greatest job I’ll ever have, and I miss it more than you know.”
Franken’s post drew thousands of comments, many of them entreating him to consider a return to public life. “Doing anything in two years?” one commentator wrote.
The response to Gillibrand’s tweet was markedly different. An onslaught of replies accused the senator of denying Franken his right to due process by calling for his resignation before a Senate ethics investigation had been completed. Critics have called Gillibrand’s decision self-serving, saying she railroaded Franken in order to raise her own national profile as a combatter of sexual assault.
Though Gillibrand was the first to speak up publicly against Franken, she was immediately echoed by other women Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and a majority of Senate Democrats eventually joined the call for his resignation.
As Gillibrand mulls a presidential campaign, it’s unclear whether the incident with Franken could end up hurting — or helping — her chances at the Democratic nomination. Though the influence of donors matters less than it has in the past, Gillibrand would likely need the backing of some major donors in order to compete in a 2020 primary field that will be crowded with Democrats who are adept at raising money through small-dollar donors, like Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris.
But, especially in the #MeToo era, Gillibrand could also see a boost from a reputation as a tough crusader against sexual assault who has been shunned by Democratic insiders for her willingness to take on men within her own party.