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In Congress, a critical reckoning on sexual harassment

Another important and necessary step.

Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat from Minnesota, outside

Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat from Minnesota, outside the Capitol after announcing his plan to resign on Dec. 7, 2017. Photo Credit: Bloomberg / Andrew Harrer

There are 535 men and women who represent us in Congress. It is wrong for any of them to engage in sexual harassment. Each must hold himself or herself and colleagues accountable for wrongdoing.

Sen. Al Franken’s plans to resign come as another important and necessary step amid a critical reckoning, as powerful men are being held accountable for the harmful ways they’ve treated women. The Minnesota Democrat’s decision came two days after Michigan Democrat John Conyers, the longest-serving member in the House of Representatives, retired after multiple women accused him of making unwanted sexual advances or inappropriate comments, and after other members of Congress called for him to step down.

Seven women have accused Franken of inappropriately touching them or forcibly groping or kissing them. But his resignation didn’t come until a group of Democratic senators had had enough, joining those saying such behavior is unacceptable, regardless of party. Some also have sought the resignation of Rep. Ruben Kihuen, a Nevada Democrat also accused of sexual misconduct, but he has refused.

Not everyone’s swimming with the tide. Republican leaders, including President Donald Trump, are still backing their own. They support U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama, and Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas, who paid $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a case in which he was accused of harassing his former communications director.

On Thursday, Franken did not apologize and said some allegations were false. Conyers, too, denied accusations against him. Farenthold promised to repay the settlement money, but said he did nothing wrong. And Moore has denied everything, no matter how many credible accusations of sexual misconduct have emerged. (It’s now up to nine.)

We support due process. There is the possibility of a false claim or a misunderstood encounter. But that’s not what’s happening in Washington. If the claims against a senator or member of the House are credible enough to cause a resignation, wrongdoing can’t be denied. And members of Congress who denounce harassment but support colleagues who are abusers are complicit in the scandals.

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