Senator Heitkamp Didn’t Mean It When She Said “Zero Tolerance” for Sexual Harassment


Earlier this month embattled Minnesota Senator Al Franken delivered a self-serving, self-pitying speech on the Senate floor in which he announced that he’d be announcing his resignation at some point in the future.

It was a truly bizarre speech, and many (including this observer) thought it was Franken buying himself some time to rehabilitate his political career. A point of view bolstered by the fact that other Democrats, notably West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, began calling for Franken to stay in the Senate.

I guess the trial balloons on Franken staying in the Senate didn’t float the way proponents hoped, because a resignation date has been announced for shortly after the New Year holiday.

But just hours before Franken made that announcement, and just weeks after making a “zero tolerance” call for Franken to resign, Senator Heidi Heitkamp said she’d support Franken’s decision to stay in the Senate.

It happened on her brother’s radio show earlier this week. Audio here (minutes 11:16 – 12:04), or just read the transcript:

JOEL HEITKAMP: “Senator, you’re not going to like this question, but I’m getting a ton of messages on it. I’ve got to ask you, do you still believe that Senator Franken should resign?”

HEIDI HEITKAMP: “You know, I said I thought it was time because I thought that there were so many women who were coming forward who as we say needed to be believed, but at the end of the day, this decision was Al. And Al made the decision, and I respect that decision that Al made. And I think it’s consistent with the policy that he would’ve espoused before this happened, which was zero tolerance.”

JOEL HEITKAMP: “So if he reversed himself, as Joe Manchin called for, would you support him?”

HEIDI HEITKAMP: “Sure [inaudible] Al decided to do.”

This is quite the flip-flop for Heitkamp.

“Sexual harassment and assault are no laughing matter and are never acceptable. Al apologized but an apology does not excuse the behavior,” Senator Heitkamp said in a November 16 statement on Franken.

She also called for “zero tolerance” for Franken’s behavior and called on him to resign:

Heitkamp also donated Franken’s contributions to her campaign to a Bismarck charity.

But now Heitkamp’s message isn’t so much “zero tolerance” as it’s up to Al.

Heitkamp has postured herself in her political career as a staunch proponent of women. She has used that position as a cudgel against her political enemies. Anyone familiar with the way her campaign accused 2012 Republican opponent Rick Berg of “attacking women” and being a part of the “war on women” is familiar with that.

But here’s Heitkamp going from “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment to giving a Democratic ally a pass on it.

That’s unbelievably hypocritical, and crassly partisan.

I doubt Heitkamp would have changed her mind for a Republican.