Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said Monday he would not have called for then-Sen. Al Franken’s resignation in 2017 over sexual harassment allegations before having the opportunity to learn more about the claims.
The comment puts Buttigieg at odds with a number of his opponents in the Democratic primary, including New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who was the first to issue the call, California Sen. Kamala Harris, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
“I think it was his decision to make, but I think the way we basically held him to a higher standard than the GOP does their people has been used against us,” Buttigieg said at a MSNBC town hall.
Pushed on his answer, Buttigieg said, “I think it is not a bad thing that we hold ourselves to a higher standard,” but he later added, “I would not have applied that pressure at that time before we knew more.”
Gillibrand has faced criticism for being out front on calling for Franken’s resignation. But the senator has been steadfast in her defense of the decision.
“Eight credible allegations of sexual harassment, two since he was elected Senator, and one from a congressional staffer,” Gillibrand told CNN in a statement Monday in response to Buttigieg’s comments. “That is not too high a standard, regardless of how the Republican party handles this behavior, and worse. Yes, it was Senator Franken’s decision alone to leave the Senate – a path he ultimately chose – but for many senators, including myself and others in this primary field, that was not too high of a bar to raise our voice and make clear we value women.”
A series of women accused Franken, who at the time was a popular senator inside the Democratic caucus, of unwanted touching and kissing throughout his career. The senator, after fighting to keep his position, announced his resignation in December 2017 after a series of allegations were made.
He apologized for some of the accusations but said in his resignation speech that his response to those women’s accounts “gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that in fact I haven’t done.”
Franken’s ouster has become an issue for some on the left, with activists believing the senator was rightfully pushed out and others believing the pressure was unfair and led the Democrats to hold their leaders to an unfair standard without enough information about the allegations leveled against him.
Spokespeople for the other campaigns of senators who did call for Franken to step down did not respond to requests for comment on Buttigieg’s comments about Franken.