WASHINGTON, D.C. [12/07/17]—Today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) gave the following speech as prepared for delivery on the Senate floor. You can also download a video of the speech here.
A couple of 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 affect them. That 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 claims, I also 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’ve 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 for women – and that I have earned a reputation as someone who respects the women I work alongside every day. I know there’s been a very 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 dishonor on this institution. And I am confident that the Ethics Committee would agree.
Nevertheless, today I am announcing that, in the coming weeks, I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate.
I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has 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. And 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.
But 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 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 ever worked for me knows how much I admire and respect them.
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. And I have faith – or, at least, hope – that members of this Senate will find the political courage necessary to keep asking the tough questions, 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 it.
I have faith in the proud legacy of progressive advocacy that I have had the privilege to be a part of. I think I’ve probably repeated these words ten thousand times over the years, Paul Wellstone’s famous quote: “The future belongs to those who are passionate and work hard.” It is 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. But, more often than not, when I’m home, I’m blown away by how much Minnesota has to offer the entire country and the entire world. The people I have had the honor of representing are brilliant, and creative, and hard-working. And whoever holds this seat next will inherit the challenge I’ve enjoyed for the last eight and a half 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 am going to be just fine.
I’d just 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. And even when you win, progress is far from inevitable. Paul Wellstone spent his whole life working for mental health parity, and it didn’t pass into law until six years after he died.
This year, a lot of people who didn’t grow up imagining they’d ever get involved in politics have done just that. They’ve 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 name on a ballot for the first time.
It can be such a rush, to look around at a room full of people ready to fight alongside you, to feel that energy, to imagine that better things are possible. But you, too, will experience setbacks and defeats and disappointments. There will be days when you will wonder whether it’s worth it.
What I want you to know is that, even today, even on the worst day of my political life, I feel like it’s all been worth it. “Politics,” Paul Wellstone told us, “is about the improvement of people’s lives.” I know that the work I’ve been able to do has improved people’s lives. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
For a decade now, every time I would get tired, or discouraged, or frustrated, I would think about the people I was doing this for, and it would get me back up on my feet. I know the same will be true for everyone who decides to pursue a politics that is about improving people’s lives. And I hope you know that I will be right there fighting alongside you, every step of the way.
With that, M. President, I yield the floor.