Sen. Al Franken was not kicked out of Congress. He decided to resign. That distinction should not be lost on either Congress or the American people, especially if Roy Moore wins this week’s Alabama Senate election.
Franken, D-Minn., could have remained in Congress to fight the numerous allegations of sexual misconduct against him. He chose not to only after intense partisan pressure: It’s one thing to be ostracized within your party; it’s another to cost your party its credibility in an intense cultural debate.
If the Democratic Party wants to send the message that it does not tolerate harassment, the theory goes, then it could not accept Franken’s continued presence in the Senate. Besides, a Democratic governor will appoint Franken’s successor, and in the special election to replace him, Democrats will be favored to win. Principles are so much easier to keep when the politics work out.
That is not the case for Republicans and Moore. The accusations against Moore are both more numerous and more serious than those against Franken, and party leaders initially urged him to withdraw and said they believed the women who accused him. As Election Day approaches, however, the party has resumed its funding of Moore’s campaign.
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Yet Republicans shouldn’t fool themselves: If Moore is elected on Tuesday, their dilemma gets even more fraught. Should he be expelled, as some have suggested? They should think twice before taking such action for misdeeds – alleged or confessed – committed decades before an election and known to the public.
Other than those who supported the Confederacy, the last senator to be expelled was Tennessee’s William Blount in 1797. The charge was treason. The bar for expulsion, rightly, is high: The Senate has never expelled a member for acts committed prior to election. Granted, others have resigned rather than risk expulsion, and several have been censured. And many more have faced ethics investigations, which Moore can and should expect if he is elected.
Just because senators were right to pressure Franken to resign, however, does not mean they would be right to expel Moore. Democracy is a messy business in part because people are flawed. The right to judge those flaws, and weigh them against political considerations, belongs to voters.