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.
"I am deeply convinced I would be unable to complete a fair House Ethics investigation before distorted and sensationalized versions of this story would put me, my family, my staff, and my noble colleagues in the House of Representatives through hyperbolized public excoriation," his statement read.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), whose office was made aware of the matter eight days earlier, accepted the resignation yesterday.
As for what happens now, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) will call for a special election to fill Franks' vacancy. And while Arizona has some competitive congressional districts, this probably won't be one of them: Trump won the 8th district by 21 points last year, and Mitt Romney won it by even more in the previous presidential election.
In 2014 and 2016, Democrats didn't even run a candidate against Franks.