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Senator Al Franken (D-MN) questions Alex Azar (not pictured) during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination to be Health and Human Services secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas(reuters_tickers)
By Makini Brice
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrat Al Franken faced intense pressure from members of his own party on Wednesday to resign from the U.S. Senate over accusations of sexual misconduct.
Minnesota Public Radio reported Franken would resign on Thursday. Franken's office said in an email that no final decision had been made and that the senator was still discussing the issue with his family.
After accusations began surfacing three weeks ago, Franken said he would remain in office and work to regain the trust of voters in Minnesota, the state he represents.
But on Wednesday, calls for him to resign came from the majority of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate, including Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and almost all of the Democratic women in the chamber, putting great pressure on him to quit.
"I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and he should step down immediately," Schumer said in a statement.
Franken said on Twitter that he would make an announcement on Thursday, but he offered no details.
In its report, Minnesota Public Radio cited a Democratic official who had spoken to the senator and aides.
Late on Wednesday, news website Politico reported that Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton was expected to appoint Democratic Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith to take Franken's seat if he resigned. She would hold the seat until a special election in 2018.
That move would leave the Minnesota race wide open because Smith would not run in the special election to finish Franken's term, which goes through 2020, Politico said, citing people familiar with Dayton's thinking.
Franken is one of a number of prominent American men in politics, media and entertainment who have been accused in recent months of sexual harassment and misconduct.
Another accusation against Franken surfaced on Wednesday when Politico reported that a congressional aide said Franken had tried to forcibly kiss her in 2006, before he was first elected as a senator. Franken denied the allegations, Politico reported.
Franken's office did not reply to a request for comment on the report.
The calls on Wednesday marked the first time Franken's Democratic colleagues had publicly pressed for him to step down since the accusations surfaced. The party's chairman, Tom Perez, also pressed for him to resign.
Schumer called Franken immediately after the Politico story was published and told him that he needed to relinquish his Senate seat, according to a person familiar with the situation.
"I've struggled with this decision because he's been a good senator and I consider him a friend," Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii wrote on Twitter. "But that cannot excuse his behaviour and his mistreatment of women."
Franken apologised for his behaviour after earlier accusations and said he would cooperate with a Senate Ethics Committee investigation. Reuters has not independently verified the claims against him.
Democrats are seeking the moral high ground in the wake of sexual misconduct accusations against numerous public figures, including Republican Roy Moore of Alabama, who is running for the Senate, and Democratic Representative John Conyers, who resigned on Tuesday. Both of those men have denied the accusations against them.
Several Republican lawmakers initially called on Moore to step out of the race, but have since said the decision is ultimately up to Alabama voters. President Donald Trump has endorsed the candidate. The election is Tuesday.
Franken, a former comedian who rose to national prominence as a cast member on the long-running television programme "Saturday Night Live," had been considered a rising star in the Democratic party since he was first elected in 2008.
Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who was among those saying Franken should resign, told reporters that Democrats had been "having conversations" about Franken for a while.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell joined the groundswell against Franken, saying in a statement, "I do not believe he can effectively serve the people of Minnesota in the U.S. Senate any longer."
Franken's Minnesota colleague, Senator Amy Klobuchar, wrote on Twitter, "Sexual harassment is unacceptable. This morning I spoke with Senator Franken and, as you know, he will be making an announcement about his future tomorrow morning. I am confident he will make the right decision."
(Reporting by Makini Brice; Additional reporting by David Alexander, Susan Cornwell, Maria Caspani and Lisa Lambert; Writing by Makini Brice and Jeff Mason; Editing by Clive McKeef, Toni Reinhold & Simon Cameron-Moore)