Dems mourn Franken’s demise but see a 2018 election benefit

WASHINGTON (AP) — Members of both parties are glum and guarded after a shocking week of resignations on Capitol Hill. But Democrats say the way they’re handling the sexual misconduct issue will give them a valuable weapon for next year’s congressional elections. Republicans say that’s just wishful thinking.

No one knows when or where the allegations that have felled lawmakers, journalists and entertainers will end. The ax could well fall again in a Congress where the culture has long tolerated behavior that would trigger departures today.

For now, Democrats want voters to see a very bright line: They forced the liberal rising star Al Franken and civil rights veteran Rep. John Conyers to leave, while Donald Trump remains president and Alabama Republican Roy Moore could well be elected to the Senate on Tuesday.

“Democrats are now in a better position than ever to tie Donald Trump and Roy Moore around the necks of Republicans” running for Congress next year, said Jim Manley, a Democratic operative and former Senate aide.

Republicans are quick to contest that. They argue Trump was elected last year despite the election season release of a 2005 tape in which he described sexually offensive behavior, followed by accusations by several women of aggressive sexual misconduct. And they suggest Franken’s departure was more politically bearable for Democrats because Minnesota has a Democratic governor who will appoint the temporary replacement.

What’s important, Democrats say, is the contrast heightens their chances of winning over female and suburban voters, pumping up donors and party activists and even recruiting women to run for Congress next year.

“Yes, we may lose some people that we liked quite a bit along the way,” said Brian Fallon, senior adviser to the liberal group Priorities USA. He added, “In the long term, the party is better off doing right by women.”

Moore has been accused of initiating sexual contact with teenage girls and pursuing dates with others when he was in his thirties during the 1970s. He has denied wrongdoing.

Republicans have taken action, too. Rep. Trent Franks quit Congress on Friday, a day after House Speaker Paul Ryan said he’d told the conservative Arizonan to leave. A former Franks aide told The Associated Press he repeatedly pushed her to carry his child, at one point offering her $5 million.

Ryan, R-Wis., struggled Thursday to articulate a standard for forcing a lawmaker to resign over allegations of sexual impropriety.

“It’s a really good question,” Ryan said. He said accusations must be taken seriously and processed fairly, adding, “I want my daughter to grow up in a country, going into the workplace, where she’s empowered and respected, and not fearful for reporting harassment when it occurs against her.”