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Democrats worry: Were we too slow on sex assault response?

Alex Roarty and Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- John Conyers resigned. Ruben Kihuen faces intense pressure to do the same. And Al Franken's own colleagues expect him to step aside Thursday.

Democratic leaders think they have finally found the right response to accusations of sexual assault and harassment against their own lawmakers, after weeks of half-measures and ill-timed gaffes.

But now they must assess the political fallout, knowing that the party's initially slow-footed response might have undermined its credibility amid a transformative national movement of women revealing their stories of sexual abuse.

It's an important question as Democrats look to the 2018 midterm elections -- especially coming just as President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee decided to once again help Roy Moore, a Senate candidate in Alabama who has been accused -- by multiple people, on the record -- of sexually assaulting teenagers.

"When you're faced with a situation like the Democratic Party faces right now, then you have to act swiftly and make it known to the public that this is not acceptable," said Nina Turner, president of the liberal group Our Revolution.

Democrats can't afford to be hypocrites, Turner said, not after "the tide has turned" on how the public treats allegations of sexual harassment.


Calls for Franken's resignation mounted Wednesday after two additional reports that the senator had inappropriately touched women, bringing the total number of accusers against him to eight. Fellow Senate Democrats had been hesitant to call for resignation, citing an ongoing Senate Ethics Committee investigation.

But their minds had changed Wednesday. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, called on Franken to resign, saying that "enough is enough." Sen. Kamala Harris of California, another Democratic rising star, said "sexual harassment and misconduct should not be allowed by anyone."

And Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, said Franken "should step down immediately."

Franken said he would hold a news conference Thursday, where he is widely expected to announce his resignation even as his Senate office reiterated that "no decision has been made."


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