The strange case of Trent Franks [UPDATED]

Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican, is resigning from the House. He came under pressure to resign from Speaker Paul Ryan after it was revealed that he asked two staffers if they would bear his child.

Franks says that he and his wife have long struggled with infertility. After having twins with a surrogate, the couple wanted additional children. He viewed the staffers as potential surrogates.

Franks’ conduct towards the two staffers was certainly inappropriate. His request may not have created a hostile work environment, but it must have created a strange and uncomfortable one, at least for a time.

However, assuming Franks didn’t seek sexual relations with his staffers and didn’t pressure them, his inappropriate requests do not strike me as sufficient reason for him to leave the House. Franks says he did neither of these things and, so far, I’ve seen no indication to the contrary.

Not all inappropriate conduct towards women justifies dismissal. If Congress doesn’t figure this out soon, we will see a mass exodus.

Speaker Ryan played a major role in pushing Franks out the door. According to his account, he confronted Franks with the surrogacy allegations, told Franks he should resign, and said he would refer the matter to the House Ethics Committee.

Ryan explained that he “takes seriously his obligation to ensure a safe workplace in the House.” That’s great. Where, though, is the evidence that Franks created an unsafe workplace?

Did Ryan push Franks out because he wanted to grand stand — to one-up Nancy Pelosi, who was slow to pull the trigger on the odious John Conyers? Did Ryan push Franks out because Franks, an arch-conservative and member of the Freedom Caucus, is a thorn in his side?

I don’t know, but the questions are legitimate, it seems to me.

UPDATE: Politico reports that it “was not clear to the [female staffers] whether [Franks] was asking about impregnating the women through sexual intercourse or in vitro fertilization.” If so, you can’t blame the staffers for not seeking the details. At the same time, you can’t assume Franks was seeking sexual intercourse.

Politico also reports that one staffer believes she was retaliated against by Franks for refusing to be a surrogate mother. The alleged retaliation consisted of less access to Franks.

In addition, the Associated Press reports that Franks “repeatedly pressed [one staffer] to carry his child.” Allegedly, he made this request at least four times, offering the woman $5 million to do so. (Politico reporters Rachel Bade and Jake Sherman characterize this as “relentless pressure”).

Retaliation and/or repeated requests might justify Franks’ removal for the House. Franks denies these claims, but resigned before they could be considered by an ethics panel.

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