When news of Leeann Tweeden’s sexual harassment accusations broke, my heart sank. Though I live in Los Angeles now, you have long been one of my favorite U.S. Senators, because of your ability to ask incisive questions on important topics, because you represent my home state and I voted for you twice, and because from the moment he died, you stepped up to be a champion for Paul Wellstone’s memory and the progressive values for which he stood.
I believe Ms. Tweeden’s claims. I also believe that a good number of men and women in America were likely jolted by that photo, not because it was so terrible but because it was so familiar. You are not the first comedian or man to think a photo like that is funny. Nor are you the only man who has thoughtlessly written a script that calls on women to carry out uncomfortable or demeaning acts for the sake of someone else’s entertainment. Finally, I believe that there are varying levels of severity in the realm of sexual harassment and assault, just as there are for any other harmful or criminal behaviors.
What none of those beliefs change is how you made Ms. Tweeden feel at the time, and what your decision to remain in the Senate means for our country. I am calling on you to show that you understand the seriousness of this moment and the weight of your position. Senator, please resign.
I am confident you are surrounded by friends, family, and colleagues telling you to stay. It is clear from the defense raised by former colleagues and staff that you are beloved of many, and it is also clear that you are one of the most compelling, cogent, and sincere representatives currently serving in Congress. In the case of Ms. Tweeden, even your accuser has not called for you to resign.
But you are also a man whose voice and moral authority have been compromised. Can you persist in your position? Yes. Can you be re-elected? Quite possibly, once the furor dies down. But by staying in office, you force your supporters to defend against actions that, if carried out by their opponents, they would never tolerate. Your continued presence in the Senate (and on the Democratic fundraising circuit) weaken every argument your party can make against men like Donald Trump and Roy Moore.
We have seen, with Trump, and Ted Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas, and Bill Clinton, what happens to political parties when they ignore moral imperatives in service of political power. You may earnestly believe that whatever good you can do in office outweighs whatever harm you will do to your party’s integrity and standing. But what message does it send to young men and women when there is never a sexual offense important enough to merit a loss or surrender of political power? What hope do survivors have when even the sponsor of a bill supporting survivors’ rights believes he is more essential to government than justice is essential for victims?
You have become the bulwark other men in Congress use to explain why they, too, should stay. If you settle for an inconclusive ethics investigation for something you have already admitted to doing, you cannot credibly demand that other workplaces meet harassment with real consequences. Already, women and men who should be speaking out on these issues are undermining themselves by remaining quiet or reacting tepidly out of respect for you and your place in progressive politics.
No representative in a democracy is irreplaceable. There are others already in office in Minnesota who can serve as a powerful voice for progressive values. If stepping down costs you pride, then as the sister and friend of sexual assault survivors, I would tell you your pride is not as important as your example. Show Minnesota and the country that you understand the impact of your past behavior and the power of your current position. Remind everyone that when someone is granted power, they become more accountable for their values and actions, not less.