NYT: ‘Stern’ Stand on ‘Hero’ Franken May Make Dems ‘Unassailable’ on ‘Moral High Ground’

December 8th, 2017 4:38 PM

The New York Times is still trying to spin the congressional sex scandals in the Democrats’ direction, as demonstrated in three stories Friday virtually bragging that their stand on Franken will put them on the “unassailable” “high ground” for Campaign 2018.

The lead story tackled the “emotional” resignation speech on Democratic Sen. Al Franken after several accusations of sexually inappropriate behavior were lodged: “Franken, Vexed By Accusations, Will Quit Senate – Pressed By Democrats – Apparent Bid for High Ground as Charges of Harassment Swirl”:

Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, in an emotional speech on the Senate floor, announced on Thursday that he would resign from Congress, the most prominent figure in a growing list of lawmakers felled by charges of sexual harassment or indiscretions.

At turns defiant and mournful but hardly contrite, Mr. Franken called it “the worst day of my political life,” as he denied allegations of groping and improper advances from at least six women. Instead, as his Democratic colleagues looked on, he took a parting shot at President Trump and Roy S. Moore, the Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama; both have also been accused of sexual misconduct.

Reporters Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Yamiche Alcindor, Nicholas Fandos frantically spun for the party of Bill Clinton on a day when a presidential hopeful for 2020 was resigning in disgrace:

Democrats appear determined to grab the moral high ground in an environment in which they hope sexual harassment becomes a wedge issue in the 2018 midterm elections – even if it costs them popular colleagues and political icons.

Republicans, by contrast, have been more situational. In the case of Mr. Franks, Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin released a statement Thursday night indicating that he had forced the representative out.

“The speaker takes seriously his obligation to ensure a safe workplace in the House,” a statement from Mr. Ryan’s office said.

Yet Representative Blake Farenthold of Texas appears to be under little pressure, even though he used $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle a sexual harassment claim with his former communications director. The House Ethics Committee said on Thursday that it was establishing a subcommittee to investigate Mr. Farenthold.

The Times found a Republican strategist to call the party hypocritical:

[Peter] Wehner continued: “After years of making the argument that character mattered in terms of sexual ethics, now Republicans are saying it doesn’t matter at all. They’re utterly indifferent to it, and Republicans and evangelical Christians have nothing to do with this particular moral moment.”

But Democrats also face risks in setting themselves up as the party of purity. Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus are angry over the treatment of Mr. Conyers, who served in the House since 1965. Some progressive Democrats, who form Mr. Franken’s base, view the treatment of him as an overreaction.

The part of Bill Clinton could hardly be called the party of “sexual purity.”

The Times hailed Franken’s inquisitorial skills as he packed up to leave:

His questioning of Jeff Sessions, then a senator, during his confirmation hearing to be attorney general in January may prove to be one of his most important contributions as a senator....The exchange helped force Mr. Sessions to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election and helped prompt the naming of a special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who has dogged the Trump administration.

Also on Friday, Fandos filed a story suggesting conservative hypocrisy and throwing President Trump into the mix. The story was entitled “Trump Ally In House Says He Will Resign” and stated:

Representative Trent Franks of Arizona, one of the House’s most ardent social conservatives, said Thursday night that he would resign after the House Ethics Committee began an investigation into complaints that he had asked two female staff members to be a surrogate to bear his child.

In a statement, Mr. Franks said the discussion about surrogacy came up with “two previous female subordinates” because he and his wife, who have struggled with fertility, wanted to have a child. He said he regretted that the conversations had “caused distress.”

“Due to my familiarity and experience with the process of surrogacy, I clearly became insensitive as to how the discussion of such an intensely personal topic might affect others,” Mr. Franks said.


Mr. Franks, whose strident social conservatism and adamant opposition to abortion in all forms have defined his tenure, said he would step aside at the end of January rather than wait for the outcome of the investigation.

Congressional reporter Carl Hulse was positively affectionate toward “hero” Franken in his “On Washington” column Friday, while praising the Democrats for taking a hard (and politically advantageous?) line, “In Political Star’s Sudden Fall, a Stern Line by Democrats”:

Al Franken walked onto the Senate floor just before noon Thursday and anxiously scanned the spectator galleries above to find his family. He wanted to make sure they were there in what was going to be the most difficult moment in a short but -- until recent days -- wildly successful political career.

Mr. Franken, a “Saturday Night Live” comedian turned progressive Democratic hero who was being mentioned seriously as a presidential candidate, was about to relinquish a Minnesota Senate seat he had barely won in the first place in the face of mounting accusations that he fondled and acted inappropriately in the past with several women.

Hulse sketched out the bright side for Democrats, as he so often does:

It was an almost unthinkable loss for Mr. Franken, who continued to insist he hadn’t really done anything wrong. But if it was a personal sacrifice, it was one that could help his party in the months ahead by allowing Democrats to draw a sharp distinction between their party and its efforts to hold politicians accountable for sexual harassment and abuse and Republicans, who could be welcoming a man accused of sexually assaulting teenage girls into the Senate as early as next week.

Feelings among Democrats who demanded Mr. Franken’s resignation after another accuser came forward on Wednesday were raw as they watched a much-admired colleague step aside, and they weren’t eager to discuss the political ramifications. But privately, they said the purge of Mr. Franken -- and that of Representative John Conyers Jr., the Michigan Democrat and dean of the House, this week -- would stand in strong contrast with Republicans and leave their party “unassailable” on the issue.