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Source: Sen. Al Franken Will Resign; Al Franken Resigns Senate Seat. Aired 11:30-12p ET
Aired December 7, 2017 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:31:17] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have breaking news coming into CNN. Sources telling Jake Tapper that Senator Al Franken, the Democrat of Minnesota, in just a few minutes, when he gets on Senate floor to make an announcement, that announcement will be that he is resigning. Following the allegations that he has faced, a flood of allegations and not just a flood of allegations, but a flood of his colleagues stepping up yesterday, almost in mass, to call for him to resign. Dozens of Democratic Senators coming out saying enough is enough and they want Franken to resign.
It's been a big question all throughout yesterday, into today, what was Franken going to announce about his future when he is supposed to be taking to the Senate floor in about 15 minutes. Now Jake Tapper learning from sources that Al Franken will be announcing he is resigning his seat in the Senate he has held since 2008.
Let me get over to M.J. Lee who has led much of our reporting on Capitol Hill with regard to this.
M.J., what are you hearing there?
M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Kate, this is certainly big news as you said, our Jake Tapper confirming that Franken will announce on the Senate floor that he will, in fact, resign. Not surprising to a lot of the folks we've been speaking to in the building and, in fact, it would have been shocking to a lot of folks here if he had decided to do anything other than to announce he was resigning and this comes after a really painful 24 hours for Senator Franken. Most of his Senate diplomatic colleagues announced over the last 24 hours or so he needs to resign, a thing they believe should happen and even as of last night, his office was saying that he was still deliberating and talking to family, he was consulting with some of his colleagues including Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer. He visited Chuck Schumer at his apartment at one point as he thought through this and thought what he would say today.
The speech on the Senate floor is expected around 11:45 in the morning. And if, in fact, as we have now learned, he announces here that he is going to be resigning, we can expect, of course, that this could be an emotional speech, and potentially almost sounding like a farewell speech, potentially a final speech on the Senate floor. That depends on when Franken decides will be his last day. That information we do not have yet.
This is a man, Kate, elected in 2008. He was a comedian, a writer, radio talk show host before that. And what has become very clear over the last couple weeks is he is this beloved figure in the Senate. A lot of his Senate Democrats, the last couple days have been very, very painful for them. The moment of sort of calling him out and saying that he needs to go, that has been a very painful moment and process for them as with well.
And, Kate, I should note what we don't know about what he will say, one thing we are not sure, if he will address on the Senate floor is if he will mention the women who have come out over the last three weeks or so to say he behaved inappropriately over the years. He has said over the last few weeks he is ashamed, that he is embarrassed, but we don't know if that is something he will directly address. We will see what Senator Franken has to say.
BOLDUAN: Absolutely, 11:45, just about 10 minutes from now, Al Franken will be taking to the floor. Everyone will be listening to hear not just his resignation announcement but how he describes what has happened over the past couple weeks.
M.J., thank you so much.
Let's talk about this and get some more reaction. One of the Democrats who has been sounding the alarm on the issue of sexual harassment, as it relates to Capitol Hill, is Cheri Bustos. She's cosponsoring two bills on sexual harassment, one takes aim at lawmakers who use taxpayer money to settle claims with their victims and I want to play -- the Congresswoman with me now.
I appreciate your time, Congresswoman.
Just your reaction to the news that Al Franken, according to sources to CNN, to Jake Tapper of CNN, that Al Franken will be resigning in a couple minutes?
[11:35:18] CHERI BUSTOS, (D), ILLINOIS: Yes. I mean it's not a good day here at the U.S. capitol building. I think what this shows us you can have very accomplished men who have done a lot of good work, do a lot of bad things. I don't know what Senator Franken is going to announce in the next few minutes. I'm guessing he will announce he's resigning, considering so many of his colleagues are calling for his resignation.
But I think, Kate, probably the broader story about this is that it doesn't matter if you're a Democrat or a Republican, a House member or a Senator, if you've been here 10, 20, 30 years or one year, this should not be the place where you have serial sexual harassers. We have got to do something about it, streamline the system where people like interns or aides have a place to go, where the taxpayers know if their dollars are being paid out, you know, let's understand this process. I happen to be one of those who thinks there should not be one cent of taxpayer dollars being paid out because there are men in this building who are sexually harassing people --
BOLDUAN: Congresswoman, I think you are not alone in that one. That is for sure. As you're seeing, and beginning to discuss that more.
I -- we don't know -- we will wait to hear what Al Franken says, but what do you want to hear from him? What do you want to hear him say when he takes to the Senate floor?
BUSTOS: It's accountability and not just Al Franken. The other thing, I'm amazed by the fact that there's a partisan divide on sexual harassment. Believe me, this is not something that is happening on one side of the aisle. And then, you know, while we as leaders in the Democratic Party have called for the resignations of our colleagues, people who we are close with, who have done bad things, look what happened with Blake Farenthold, taxpayers have paid out $84,000 of their money to a victim of sexual harassment. And what's Paul Ryan doing? He's staying silent. What's happening in just the --
BOLDUAN: Paul Ryan definitely going to face some questions about that. Farenthold, for his part, says he's going to pay that $84,000 back.
BUSTOS: It doesn't matter. It's more than that.
BOLDUAN: I -- I hear you. But on that part, on that political question, you have said zero tolerance when it comes to sexual harassers on Capitol Hill, no question about that, that all harassers should be out but if we're being honest there's politics involved when it comes to a politician. I mean, we know in Minnesota, it has the Democratic governor which means a Democrat will be put in to fill Franken's seat if he does resign, as we now know that he's expected to. Would Democrats, do you think, have come forward like they did yesterday in mass, if the governor of Minnesota was a Republican?
BUSTOS: I do. I do.
BUSTOS: Frankly I -- I don't follow the politics of Minnesota. And I doubt that Kirsten Gillibrand, who I was standing next to as she was calling for the resignation of her friend, who has done bad things.
Now, you know, it -- the people back home who I represent, I'm from a district that Donald Trump won. But I'm a Democrat. I can tell you people who I represent just want us to get something done. They want us to do the right thing. And it's time that we as members of the House and in the Senate start building back the trust of the American public and this is one step that we can take in the right direction regardless of party.
BOLDUAN: Regardless of party.
Congresswoman, following very closely the measures you're cosponsoring. Appreciate your time, Cheri Bustos. Thanks so much.
BUSTOS: All right, thank you.
BOLDUAN: Any moment now, Minnesota Senator Al Franken, he is going to be speaking live on the Senate floor. Will this be his farewell speech? CNN's learning sources say he will be announcing he is resigning his seat. We'll be right back.
[11:42:07] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BOLDUAN: We are following breaking news. In just moments, all eyes will be once again on the Senate floor as Senator Al Franken, the Democrat from Minnesota, sources tell CNN, he will be announcing he is resigning his seat in the U.S. Senate. The sources talking to Jake Tapper about that. This, of course, comes amid several seven women coming forward to accuse Al Franken of inappropriate touching, groping, and forcible kissing in the past, and also just a day after the flood of his Democratic colleagues coming forward in the Senate almost at the same time to call for his resignation.
Let's discuss this, as we wait for Al Franken, with CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, is here. CNN political reporter, Rebecca Berg, and senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny here with me as well.
Dana, it had been a big question throughout yesterday and into this morning, of what was Al Franken going to announce? It seems we do know now there was a lot of conversations in front of cameras but also behind the scenes leading up to this. Your thoughts?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. A lot of conversations. We're hearing more and more about the private conversations and pleas from Senator Franken's colleagues, from Senator Schumer, at the top of the Democratic hierarchy in the Senate, on down to Senator Franken. Senator Schumer even had Senator Franken and his wife at Senator Schumer's apartment to discuss the possibility and even probability of Senator Franken saying that he will step aside. This happened yesterday. Now we are told that is going to happen and Senator Franken is going to make a speech on the Senate floor, which you're looking at, in just a few moments, announcing his decision to do so. We're told it won't take effect until the end of the year. But likely to talk about the moment in time, what he did wrong, and he's admitted it, unlike other politicians who are being --
BOLDUAN: Some of it, right.
BASH: He's admitted to some of it. Thank you. Admitted to some of it, not all of it. And then, obviously, just more broadly, likely, about the career that he's had. We'll see exactly the tone he strikes here. But it is -- bears repeating that it's not a typical thing for a United States Senator to go under duress to the floor of the United States Senate and announce that he is resigning. It really hasn't happened since Bob Packwood did so in 1995, 22 years ago. Similar circumstances. A lot of people --
BOLDUAN: You're right, Dana. When Al Franken, after the kind of the first allegations came forward, he came out and made his speech and says, I'm going to make things right. I have a lot to learn. How do I do that? I get back to work. And that was how he answered that. More and more things came out. And now, you're right, under duress, he doesn't want to be leaving the Senate, he made that clear, he is taking to the Senate floor to do just that.
Let's bring in Jeff Zeleny, Dana, while we have a couple minutes, if we do, left.
Because Jeff, your reporting has been, it has been a huge question mark not just in Washington but back in Minnesota. You're reporting, as of last night, the governor did not know what was happening.
[11:45:27] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, the governor was not told directly because Senator Franken was keeping this to himself and having discussions with family members. But there's never been an indication he was going to fight this, seeing the writing was on the wall yesterday, as we see him coming into the capitol building with his wife, Franny, at his side, who has been at his side throughout all this and many years as well.
ZELENY: But there was no sense he was going to fight this. Just a sense he wanted space. Of course, the conversation immediately in Minnesota was, who would be the person named to replace him, so we are expecting to hear that perhaps later today, certainly, before the week ends. And the leading candidate we are told by several Democrats in Minnesota is the lieutenant governor of Minnesota, Tina Smith. That is one of the things we're watching.
As Dana was saying, this is extraordinary this is happening on the Senate floor. And I think it's a reminder of the fact that Al Franken had made this transition from comedian to the Senate pretty skillfully. And he was also being named as a potential Democrat who would seek the presidency in 20. Of course, there's a lot of those. But he had been traveling across the country. He had a lot of support. This is a very big moment for the party as well.
And, of course, Democrats want the moral high ground here. This is all included in so many things including the Alabama election potentially next week of Roy Moore. If he is elected. Democrats believe they would not be able to have the high ground if Al Franken was still in the Senate. But this is a -- quite a remarkable moment.
He was elected in 2008 but he was elected by 312 votes, and he talked to him about that on Capitol Hill, as Dana did as well. That he was not seated until July of '09 because his race was caught up in recounts and contested. He's only been in the Senate a term and a little bit here. Today marks an extraordinary end to what had been an extraordinary rise of his political career.
BOLDUAN: And making me think back when I went to Minnesota to cover the race and a pancake breakfast, and all of covering that race in and of itself and where things have come.
I think we know this is an extraordinary moment as Dana perfectly put it in the context of history, if you cover Al Franken he also understands this is an extraordinary moment when he brings Franny in and Franny is by his side. We know she is there for him on the important moments. It seems Al Franken understand clearly this is an extraordinary moment as well.
Rebecca Berg with us as well.
No matter how this plays out, Jeff said, Democrats are looking to take the moral high ground. It seems in this moment at this moment, there is a very clear difference in how Democrats and Republicans are handling trouble within their own families.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Exactly, Kate. One of the reasons that there was always going to be some doubt that Senator Franken could survive this controversy and stay and serve in the Senate was because Democrats politically need to seize on this moment, needed to show they were going to be the party that really has zero tolerance for this sort of behavior. This is not only a moment that's about Senator Franken, this is really a moment that is much bigger for the Democratic Party. It is about what they stand for, their branding moving forward as we go into these midterm elections in 2018, and beyond that into the presidential election in 2020.
And you know, we do have this race right now in Alabama where there have been these allegations of sexual misconduct against Roy Moore, the Republican candidate there. And Democrats want to try moving forward to frame the Republican Party as the party that accepts people like Roy Moore. And you've seen as this race has progressed in Alabama, as we've moved closer to election day, Republicans who had been talking about potentially expelling Roy Moore from the Senate, should he come to Washington and be seated as a Senator. That sort of talk has died down and so you haven't heard those calls for expulsion from Republicans anymore.
On the House side, as well, you have Congressman Blake Farenthold. who is dealing with some allegations of his own of past sexual misconduct against a former employee, and not all Republicans are calling for his resignation at this time. So Democrats really hoping with this episode with Senator Al Franken to strike a very solid, stark contrast with the Republican Party, use this as a political moment that they can use in the future to help their party.
[11:49:56] BOLDUAN: Jeff, this is a -- I think you said it. This is a big moment for the party as they want to claim the moral high ground here. I wonder how much decision was gone into about the words, and not just saying I'm resigning, but the words and what the tone is of what Al Franken is about to say. If he says, I'm resigning because you are making me, that's not a message that the Democrats will want to carry forward.
ZELENY: I would be surprised if he did that because I expect --
BOLDUAN: Here we go.
SEN. AL FRANKEN, (D), MINNESOTA: A couple months ago, I felt that we had entered an important moment in the history of this country. We were finally beginning to listen to women about the ways in which men's actions affected them. The moment was long overdue. I was excited for that conversation and hopeful that it would result in real change that made life better for women all across the country and in every part of our society.
Then the conversation turned to me. Over the last few weeks, a number of women have come forward to talk about how they felt my actions had affected them. I was shocked. I was upset. But in responding to their claim, I also wanted to be respectful of that broader conversation. Because all women deserve to be heard and their experiences taken seriously. I think that was the right thing to do. I also think it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that in fact I haven't done.
Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others I remember very differently. I said at the outset that the Ethics Committee was the right venue for these allegations to be heard and investigated and evaluated on their merits. That I was prepared to cooperate fully and that I was confident in the outcome.
You know, an important part of the conversation we have been having the last few months has been about how men abuse their power and privilege to hurt women. I am proud that during my time in the Senate I have used my power to be a champion of women. And that I have earned a reputation as someone who respects the women I work alongside every day.
I know there is a different picture of me painted over the last few weeks, but I know who I really am. Serving in the United States Senate has been the great honor of my life. I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a Senator, nothing has brought this honor on this institution. I am confident that the Ethics Committee would agree.
Nevertheless, today, I am announcing that in the coming weeks I will be resigning as member of the United States Senate.
I am leaving while a man bragged on tape about his history of the sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who repeatedly preyed on young girls' campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.
But this decision is not about me. It's about the people of Minnesota. It's become clear that I can't both pursue the Ethics Committee process and at the same time remain an effective Senator for them.
Let me be clear. I may be resigning my seat, but I am not giving up my voice. I will continue to stand up for the things I believe in as a citizen and as an activist. Minnesotans deserve a Senator who can focus with all her energy on addressing the challenges they face every day.
There is a big part of me that will always regret having to walk away from this job with so much work left to be done. But I have faith that the work will continue because I have faith in the people who have helped me do it. I have faith in the dedicated, funny, selfless, brilliant young men and women on my staff. They have so much more to contribute to our country. And I hope that as disappointed as they may feel today, everyone who has worked for me knows how much I admire and respect them.
[11:55:45] I have faith in my colleagues, especially my senior Senator Amy Klobuchar. I would not have been able to do this job without her guidance and wisdom. I have faith or at least hope that members of this Senate will find the political courage necessary to keep asking the tough questions and hold this administration accountable and stand up for the truth.
I have faith in the activists who organized to help me win my first campaign and who have kept on organizing to help fight for the people who needed us. Kids facing bullying, seniors worried about the price of prescription drugs, native Americans who have been overlooked for far too long. Working people who have been taking it on the chin for a generation. Everyone in the middle class and everyone aspiring to join in.
I have faith in the proud legacy of progressive advocacy that I have had the privilege to be a part of. I probably have repeated these words 10,000 times over the years. Paul Wellstone's famous quote, "The future belongs to those who are passionate and work hard." It's still true. It will always be true.
And most of all, I have faith in Minnesota. A big part of this job is going around the state and listening to what people need from Washington. More often than not, when I'm home, I am blown away by how much Minnesota has to offer the entire country and the entire world. The people I had the honor of representing are brilliant and creative and hardworking. And whoever holds this seat next will inherit the challenge I enjoyed for the last 8.5 years being as good as the people you serve.
This has been a tough few weeks for me. But I am a very, very lucky man. I have a beautiful healthy family that I love and that loves me very much. I'm going to be just fine.
I just would like to end with one last thing. I did not grow up wanting to be a politician. I came to this relatively late in life. I had to learn a lot on the fly. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't always fun. I'm not just talking about today. This is a hard thing to do with your life. There are a lot of long hours and late nights and hard lessons and there is no guarantee that all your work and sacrifice will ever pay off. I won my first election by 312 votes. It could have easily gone the other way. Even when you win, progress is far from inevitable. Paul Wellstone spent his whole life working for mental health parody and it didn't pass until six years after Paul died.
This year, a lot of people who didn't grow up imagining that they would ever get involved in politics have done just that. They have gone to their first protest march or made their first call to a member of Congress or maybe even taken the leap and put their names on a ballot for the first time. It can be such a rush to --