Franks is the third member of Congress to announce a premature exit this week alone, and his is easily one of the weirder cases to emerge from the wave of sexual assault and misconduct allegations sweeping the political world.
In his first resignation statement Thursday, Franks insisted he had “absolutely never physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of [his] congressional staff.” But Franks said that he and his wife have long struggled with infertility, and had several miscarriages. They also attempted adoptions, only to have birth mothers change their mind, he said. They successfully had twins with one surrogate, but another attempt ended in miscarriage, Franks said, and his children had said they wanted siblings.
So far, so good, and very sympathetic. But things quickly went askew: Franks acknowledged approaching two staffers and inquiring about whether they would be willing to serve as surrogates. The women felt uncomfortable, and Franks said he learned this week that the House Ethics Committee was investigating him. Strange and even plainly unreasonable requests from bosses are not unheard of for congressional staffers, yet being asked to literally bear a member’s child is perhaps novel.
The congressman blamed this misstep on losing perspective. “Due to my familiarity and experience with the process of surrogacy, I clearly became insensitive as to how the discussion of such an intensely personal topic might affect others,” he said.
Franks, who represents suburban Phoenix, has long been known as a culture warrior, especially on reproductive issues. In 2013, he drew heat for dismissing rape and incest exceptions in abortion laws, saying the rate of conception from rape was low. He has also repeatedly tried to impose a ban on abortions after 20 weeks in the District of Columbia, infuriating Washingtonians. In 2011, Franks suddenly decided not to run for U.S. Senate, citing family reasons, the day before an expected announcement of his candidacy. While the $5 million figure reported by the AP is astonishing, Franks is a wealthy man, worth $9.85 million in 2014, according to tabulations by Roll Call.
Franks was an early and stalwart supporter of Donald Trump, and his district is reliably Republican. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey will be responsible for calling a special election to replace him.
In his statement, Franks acknowledged the wave of sexual-harassment allegations.
“We are in an unusual moment in history—there is collective focus on a very important problem of justice and sexual impropriety. It is so important that we get this right for everyone, especially for victims,” he wrote. “But in the midst of this current cultural and media climate, I am deeply convinced I would be unable to complete a fair House Ethics investigation before distorted and sensationalized versions of this story would put me, my family, my staff, and my noble colleagues in the House of Representatives through hyperbolized public excoriation.”