Sen. Amy Klobuchar has taken over the sponsorship of a bill championed by fellow Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken that aims to help survivors of sexual assault.
The legislation would provide grants for law enforcement personnel to receive training in how to question survivors of sexual assault and other trauma without making them feel uncomfortable. It stems in part from 22-year-old Abby Honold’s experience with the police following her own sexual assault, which she detailed in an article for The Washington Post.
Honold was raped while a student the University of Minnesota in 2014 by fellow student Daniel Drill-Mellum, who had once interned for Franken. He pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and was sentenced to six years in prison in 2016.
“I had a lot of ideas for legislation, and I was hoping that the personal connection would help me get some time with his office, and it did,” Honold told CNN of approaching Franken about sponsorship. Franken’s office had been working with her on crafting the piece of legislation for about a year, Honold said. She had expected it to be introduced next month.
After the Franken revelation
Honold said she was “crushed” when she heard Leeann Tweeden’s allegations that Franken groped her and “forcibly” kissed her without consent during an United Service Organizations tour overseas in 2006.
“My initial thought was that I wanted to support (Tweeden),” Honold said. “I have tried to always remember no matter how well I know someone who is at the center of this, that it’s important to support victims.”
In light of the accusations, Franken called for and said he would “gladly cooperate” with an ethics investigation into his behavior and has apologized to Tweeden. She accepted his apology, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper that she thought it was “heartfelt.”
Honold said she contacted Franken’s office “immediately” after hearing Tweeden’s story to voice her concerns about his continued sponsorship of the bill.
“They agreed that it would be best for the legislation and for every survivor of sexual assault for that bill to be sponsored by someone else,” she told CNN.
Honold noted that she still has “a lot of respect for (Franken’s) staff” and “the effort that they put into creating this bill” with her.
The future of the legislation and sexual harassment on the Hill
Klobuchar’s office confirmed that she was taking over sponsorship of the legislation, telling CNN in a statement that the senator spoke with Honold on Saturday morning about the decision.
Klobuchar also has issued a statement condemning the actions of her fellow Minnesota Democrat.
“This should not have happened to Leeann Tweeden,” she said. “I strongly condemn this behavior and the Senate Ethics Committee must open an investigation. This is another example of why we need to change work environments and reporting practices across the nation, including in Congress.”
The fallout from the allegations against Franken comes as Congress works to grapple with growing allegations of sexual harassment on Capitol Hill and across the United States.
Two weeks ago, Klobuchar and Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley introduced a resolution requiring senators, staff and interns to participate in mandatory sexual harassment training. It passed by unanimous consent.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation last week aimed at overhauling the way sexual harassment is treated on Capitol Hill. California Rep. Jackie Speier and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, unveiled companion bills in the House and Senate to reform the sexual harassment complaint process in Congress and boost transparency around the sensitive issue. The legislation also would require members and staff to go through mandatory sexual harassment training every year and seeks to give victims and whistleblowers more support.