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File Photo: House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution Chairman Trent Franks (R-AZ) holds a hearing about H.R.3, the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill February 8, 2011 in...

Republican social conservative latest to resign from Congress

12/08/17 08:00AM

When Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) announced yesterday that he's stepping down, he became the third member of Congress in the last two months to resign under a cloud of controversy. What we didn't know was that another resignation would soon follow.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., announced his resignation Thursday evening as the House Ethics Committee announced it was opening an investigation into potential sexual misconduct.

Franks said in a statement that he had discussed his interest in finding a surrogate mother with two women in his office, making them uncomfortable. His wife has struggled with infertility, he said.

Even by 2017 standards, this is an odd one. As best as I can tell, Franks wasn't the subject of gossip in political circles, and while the Arizona Republican had a reputation as a far-right culture warrior and ardent Donald Trump ally, the congressman wasn't someone expected to get caught up in a controversy like this one.

As for the details, there appear to be elements to the story we don't yet know. In fact, pretty much all we have to go on is a statement issued by Franks himself -- one in which he largely exonerates himself before concluding that he's stepping down from the office he's held for 14 years. [Update: The details are now coming to light and they're stunning.]

Franks insists he didn't have any physical relationships with his aides, but in his telling of events, he apparently made some of his staffers uncomfortable by asking if they'd consider becoming birth surrogates for his family.

We haven't yet heard from the staffers who were apparently displeased with Franks' overtures, and there may yet be additional aspects of this story that haven't yet come to public light. In fact, I'm assuming that there will be.

Either way, after learning that the matter had been referred to the House Ethics Committee for an investigation, Franks surprised nearly everyone by quitting.

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Congressional ethics roils both parties

Congressional ethics scandals roil both parties

12/07/17 09:04PM

Rachel Maddow reports on a spate of ethics scandals by members of Congress including Al Franken, John Conyers, Blake Farenthold, and Trent Franks, and one member, Devin Nunes, cleared by the ethics committee in what is likely to be bad news for the productivity of Trump Russia investigation. watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 12.7.17

12/07/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest school shooting: "Two students were killed in a shooting at a high school in Aztec, New Mexico, according to authorities. New Mexico State Police confirmed to reporters that the two students died Thursday at Aztec High School."

* Southern California: "Firefighters battling the blazes that have been tormenting Los Angeles and the surrounding area for four days got some help from Mother Nature when record high winds that had been expected to fuel the fires failed to materialize."

* There probably won't be a shutdown tomorrow: "The House of Representatives on Thursday narrowly passed a stop-gap spending measure to continue funding the federal government through December 22. The bill prevents a shut-down that would be triggered if Congress fails to pass a spending bill before a deadline of midnight Friday. The final tally was 235 yes votes, and 193 votes against."

* FBI Director Christopher Wray "appeared to provide the first official confirmation Thursday that the FBI has applied for secret FISA warrants in the Russia investigation -- the type of warrants that can allow the bureau to spy on the email and telephone calls of specific individuals."

* Is this really an "open question," as Haley said? "Nikki Haley, America's ambassador to the United Nations, suggested that the United States' participation in February's Winter Olympics in South Korea remains up in the air, while the White House said Thursday that 'no official decision has been made' regarding the games."

* Syria: "About 2,000 American troops are in Syria fighting the Islamic State, a Pentagon spokesman said on Wednesday, almost four times the total previously disclosed as the Trump administration changes how troop numbers are publicly counted."

* A sign of the times on the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor: "The Hawaii Air National Guard has used its fighter jets and helicopters to perform the flyover for many years, but federal budget cuts prevented it from participating this year."

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Blake Farenthold

Texas Republican's sexual harassment settlement in the spotlight

12/07/17 03:29PM

With Al Franken and John Conyers stepping down from their congressional seats, Republicans are facing charges of partisan hypocrisy on sexual misconduct. Donald Trump and Roy Moore, for example, continue to enjoy the GOP's institutional support, despite the seriousness of the allegations against them.

But there's another name that keeps popping up. The New York Daily News  reported today:

[T]he case of Conyers and now Franken and others are emerging in relative isolation, perhaps arbitrarily, from a Congress where more misconduct surely lurks.

Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold, who settled a large sexual harassment claim, remains in office.

Regular readers may recall the Farenthold controversy, which first came to public light three years ago. The Texas Republican's former communications director, Lauren Greene, accused Farenthold and his chief of staff of creating a hostile work environment, gauging her interest in a sexual relationship. In her court filing, Greene alleged that Farenthold told another staffer that he had "sexual fantasies" and "wet dreams" about her.

The case was settled out of court, but the incident was politically unique: NBC News reported that the $84,000 settlement came by way of the Office of Compliance, the first such taxpayer-funded settlement to be made public.

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Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) speaks to reporters at a news conference outside the Capitol on June 9, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty)

As Al Franken steps down, a partisan division comes into focus

12/07/17 12:50PM

When it comes to scandals prompting congressional resignations, departures from the U.S. House happen with relative frequency. We saw one in October, for example, and it didn't cause much of a fuss.

U.S. senators, however, resign from Congress under a cloud of scandal far less frequently. In the last 20 years, plenty of senators have left before the end of their terms to take other jobs or due to illness, but only one -- Republican John Ensign of Nevada -- was forced out by a controversy.

Today, however, there was another.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., the former "Saturday Night Live" comic who made an improbable journey to become a leading liberal voice in the Senate, announced on Thursday that he will leave office in the coming weeks, after a string of allegations of sexual misconduct and mounting pressure from Democratic lawmakers to step down.

"Today I am announcing that in the coming weeks, I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate," Franken said during an emotional speech from the Senate floor.

It's not yet clear exactly when Franken will formally leave Capitol Hill, but he'll reportedly give up his seat at the end of the month. It means he's likely to remain in the chamber for the final vote on the Republican tax plan, which is expected before Christmas.

The Minnesotan seemed to make today's announcement grudgingly, arguing in his remarks, "Some of the allegations against me simply are not true, others I remember very differently." Franken conceded, however, that the scandal would make it impossible for him to be an effective lawmaker.

"[T]his decision is not about me. It's about the people of Minnesota," he said. "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."

Of course, there's the broader political landscape to consider, and Franken took the opportunity to highlight the details intended to make Republicans uncomfortable.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.7.17

12/07/17 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* According to the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) is likely to appoint Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (D) to fill Al Franken's (D) Senate vacancy. Under the scenario described in the article, Smith would serve until a special election next November, but she wouldn't run for the seat.

* If Doug Jones (D) has any chance of success in Alabama's Senate special election, he's going to need strong support from African-American voters. With that in mind, the Washington Post reports that Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) is organizing a series of events for this weekend featuring Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). Sewell, Booker, and Lewis are black.

* Republican strategist John Weaver, who helped run John McCain's and John Kasich's presidential campaigns, announced yesterday's he's contributed to Doug Jones' campaign. Mark Salter, another former McCain aide, has done the same thing.

* In Tennessee, former two-term Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) has decided to run for the U.S. Senate next year, hoping to succeed Sen. Bob Corker (R), who's retiring. Though Tennessee is a red state, Bredesen, who's also a former Nashville mayor, easily won his gubernatorial campaigns in 2002 and 2006.

* Though Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) isn't considered vulnerable next year, Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is apparently under pressure from Donald Trump to run against King next year.

* In Ohio, Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) has decided to end his gubernatorial campaign and will instead be state Attorney General Mike DeWine's (R) running mate in 2018.

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Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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