Politico reported Monday morning that Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat, was being urged by at least 4 of his colleagues to reconsider his decision to resign his seat in the wake of a series of allegations from women that he groped and forcibly kissed them. "I definitely think he should not resign," West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said on "New Day" Monday.
Could that actually happen? And, if so, how? In search of answers to those questions, I reached out to veteran Minnesota political reporter Brian Bakst, who now works at Minnesota Public Radio. Our conversation, conducted via email and lightly edited for clarity, is below.
Cillizza: Was there any indication in Minnesota that Franken might not actually leave?
Bakst: There were plenty of people who took note of his open-ended timetable for resignation when he announced earlier in the month he would leave. Ardent fans of Sen. Franken saw a glimmer of hope that he would reverse course. Staunch foes saw fretted over the same possibility. But those conversations have largely occurred outside of Franken's direct orbit.
Cillizza: Has anyone talked to Franken? Any indication from his world about this? Is he encouraging it?
Bakst: Franken's team has given several indications his mind was made up. They worked with Gov. Mark Dayton's office on crafting a hand-off plan. In a statement, Franken praised the selection of Lt. Gov. Tina Smith as his replacement. Late last week, a Franken spokesman said that the senator's office expected the change to happen in early January, the most precise information offered to date.
Some people who worked with Franken's political campaigns have continued to press the case he was run out on allegations some find suspicious. That sentiment has zoomed across social media, fed by big-time celebrities like Tom Arnold, Bette Midler and Rosie O'Donnell.
But Franken himself has said very little. He hasn't sat for an interview since announcing he would step down.
Cillizza: How does this affect Dayton and Tina Smith? Would she step aside?
Bakst: Dayton said he took his guidance from Franken's statement he would resign but doesn't have any official paperwork in hand. At the state level, Dayton has typically waited for legislators to officially resign before scheduling special elections to replace them.
In this case, Dayton said he felt it was important to announce his intention early to assure Minnesota has continuous representation. Dayton, a former senator, said he isn't expecting a sudden shift: "I know Senator Franken is a man of his word. I know he gave this some very intense thought. I fully expect that he will follow through and resign in early January and this will be a smooth transition."
Meanwhile, Smith is preparing to take over. She announced Friday she would retain two of Franken's most senior advisers, including his chief of staff. She traveled to Washington on Sunday and will spend a couple of days looking for a place to live and holding meetings. So if Smith suspects she won't actually get the job, she's not showing it.
Cillizza: What's the reaction to this news in the state? Arne Carlson has said he supports the un-resignation. Any other voices and why?
Bakst: It's been met with fascination.
Few major Democrats -- in the congressional delegation or otherwise -- publicly joined the call for Franken to resign. But they also commended him for doing the right thing when he did. It's clear there was a balancing act at play because Franken retains a strong base of support in the liberal wing of the party but also a fear that he would become a 2018 liability.
The loudest call for Franken to stay came from Carlson, a former Republican governor who has moved toward the political left since serving in the 1990s. But Carlson's noted commentary asking Franken to ride it out wasn't contagious in the state's political class.
Even some people who support Franken and believed he was owed more opportunity to defend himself said they saw it as a done deal. State Rep. John Lesch, a St. Paul Democrat, put it this way last week. "The ship has sailed." Lesch told reporters. "He has resigned. He has lost the confidence of over I think half of the members of his own caucus based on that aggregate effect. So I think it becomes a de facto resignation. I don't know how he survives. He made the decision he needed to make."
Cillizza: Finish this sentence: "The chances of Franken reversing his decision and staying in the Senate are ______%." Now, explain.
Bakst: "Close to zero."
Franken surely has some defenders, but he's lost so much support in his Democratic caucus in the Senate. More party Senate colleagues called for him to leave than expressed a hope he would stay. Franken knows that his ability to function effectively in Washington is impaired even if he believes he was not given a fair shake.
That said, it's 2017 and we've seen far stranger twists in Washington. So until he hands over the letter with a hard date, it's impossible to say with certainty that Franken is gone.
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