Politics

Despite calls for Franken to stay, Senate Democrats largely ready to move on

Some senators say he should stay

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Momentum appears faint for those who want Sen. Al Franken to stay in the Senate and undergo an ethics investigation rather than resign in the coming weeks.

While two Democrats publicly expressed disappointment that the Minnesota Democrat is planning to step down, multiple senators stood by their decision to call for Franken's resignation amid allegations that he had made unwanted sexual advances to several women before he was elected.

Spokespeople for many of the senators -- including New Jersey's Cory Booker, Ohio's Sherrod Brown, Washington state's Patty Murray, Colorado's Michael Bennet, Michigan's Debbie Stabenow, California's Kamala Harris, Oregon's Jeff Merkley and Pennsylvania's Bob Casey -- told CNN that the lawmakers stood by their original comments urging Franken to step aside.

"I think we did what we did, and we need to move on now," Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, said Monday night.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, said he had no regrets. "With the circumstances that happened, I'm still comfortable with the decision we made."

Perhaps most significant, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, still thinks Franken should leave, an aide told CNN.

"Schumer and the vast majority of the caucus like Senator Franken and will miss him, but did what they felt was best and stand by it," the aide said.

In another sign of the caucus moving on, Schumer met Monday afternoon with Franken's replacement, Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith.

Franken announced his resignation earlier this month in an emotional address on the Senate floor in which he said some of the allegations against him weren't true. He has also apologized to some of his accusers, although he has said his recollections of events in some cases differed from the accusations.

Following a Politico report Monday morning that four senators were urging Franken to stay, speculation swirled that he may not leave after all, especially since he hasn't announced his resignation date.

Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vermont, who joined most of his caucus on December 6 in urging Franken to step aside, said Monday that he wished he had waited until the Senate Ethics Committee moved forward with an investigation before expressing thoughts about Franken's future.

"I have stood for due process throughout my years as a prosecutor and in chairing the Judiciary Committee," Leahy said in a statement. "I regret not doing that this time. The Ethics Committee should have been allowed to investigate and make its recommendation."

Politico, which first reported that Leahy was privately regretting his earlier decision, reported that two other unnamed senators were wishing they hadn't joined in the calls for Franken's resignation.

Also quoted in the story was Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who went on CNN's "New Day" later Monday morning to argue that Franken should have remained in the Senate and gone through an ethics review.

"I definitely think he should not resign," Manchin said. "I think he should submit himself, which he has willingly done and offered to do, and go through this complete process of an extensive ethics review." Manchin added that Franken should pledge to abide by whatever the committee recommends.

But most Senate Democrats weren't ready to jump on board with the idea of Franken reversing his decision.

An aide to Franken said the senator is tying up loose ends and working on a smooth and speedy transition. While no date is certain for his official resignation, they expect Smith to be in place in early January.

Meanwhile, a top Minnesota Democrat who is close to Gov. Mark Dayton's office told CNN there was no sense that anything had changed -- despite comments by Manchin and Leahy. "This would be hard to undo," the Democrat said.

Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who was the first senator to call for Franken's resignation, is also standing by her decision, a senior aide told CNN.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, argued that some may have felt remorseful because Franken was widely liked. Indeed, many publicly struggled over how to address the allegations.

"I think the reason that a number of Democratic senators eventually said the time has come is because of the people who just kept coming forward," Carper said. "And our sense was there's probably, there may well be, more to come, and when do you say enough of it?"