U.S. Senator Al Franken resigned on Thursday in the midst of new sexual harassment allegations, though he denied any wrongdoing and called himself a “champion of women” in his resignation remarks.
“Some of the allegations against me simply are not true, others I remember very differently,” Franken said on the Senate floor, before calling out the alleged sexual assaults carried out by President Donald Trump and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.
“I of all people am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns on the Senate with the full support of his party,” Franken said. “But this decision is not about me, it’s about the people of Minnesota.”
The former comedian was considered a rising star in the Democratic Party before his fall from grace three weeks ago when he was accused of trying to grope or kiss women without their consent.
Franken initially said he would not resign, but would stay in office and work to regain the confidence of the citizens of Minnesota, which he represents in Congress.
But a majority of his Democratic Senate colleagues, including most of the party’s women lawmakers in the chamber, pressed him to step down on Wednesday after a new allegation hit the news. Politico reported that a congressional aide said Franken had tried to forcibly kiss her in 2006, before he was elected to the Senate. Franken denied the allegations.
“I know there has been a very different picture painted of me the last few weeks, but I know who I really am,” Franken said during his resignation speech.
With Franken gone, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton is expected to appoint someone to take his place, meaning the party would not risk losing the seat for now. Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate. Politico reported that Dayton was expected to appoint Democratic Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith to the position if Franken resigned. She would hold the seat until a special election in 2018.
Pressure built throughout the day on Wednesday for Franken to step down.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called him immediately after the Politico story appeared and said he needed to relinquish his Senate seat, according to a person familiar with the events. Schumer also had a meeting at his apartment with Franken and his wife, urging the senator to step down.
Franken apologized for his behavior after earlier accusations and said he would cooperate with a Senate Ethics Committee investigation.
Democrats are trying to set an example after sexual misconduct accusations against several public figures, including Republican Roy Moore of Alabama, who is running for the Senate, and Democratic Representative John Conyers, who resigned on Tuesday. Both men have denied the allegations against them.
Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders drew Republican President Donald Trump into the mix on Thursday, pointing to the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump made lewd remarks about women.
“We have a president of the United States who acknowledged on a tape widely seen all over the country that he’s assaulted women, so I would hope maybe the president of the United States might pay attention to what’s going on and also think about resigning,” Sanders said on CBS “This Morning.”
Reuters contributed to this report.