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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Franken listens during confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch in Washington© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Franken listens during confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch in Washington

By Richard Cowan and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic Senator Al Franken will announce his decision to remain in or resign from the U.S. Senate on Thursday after facing intense pressure from members of his own party to step down following allegations of sexual misconduct.

Franken, a former comedian who was seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party before accusations surfaced three weeks ago that he had groped or tried to kiss women without their consent, was discussing the matter with his family on Wednesday and no final decision about his future had been made, his office said.

Minnesota Public Radio, citing a Democratic official who had spoken to the senator and aides, reported Franken would resign.

After the initial accusations were first made public, Franken said he would stay in office and work to regain the confidence of the citizens of Minnesota, which he represents in Congress.

But a majority of his Democratic Senate colleagues, including most of the party’s women lawmakers in the chamber, pressed him to step down on Wednesday after a fresh allegation hit the news. Politico reported that a congressional aide said Franken had tried to forcibly kiss her in 2006, before he was first elected to the Senate. Franken denied the allegations, Politico reported.

If Franken leaves, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, a fellow Democrat, would appoint someone to take his place, meaning Democrats do not risk losing the seat for now. Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate.

Politico reported that Dayton was expected to appoint Democratic Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith to the position if Franken resigned. She would hold the seat until a special election in 2018.

Pressure built throughout the day on Wednesday for Franken to step down.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called him immediately after the Politico story with the latest allegation of misconduct was published and told him that he needed to relinquish his Senate seat, a person familiar with the events said. Schumer also had a meeting at his apartment with Franken and his wife urging him to step down.

Franken apologized for his behavior after earlier accusations and said he would cooperate with a Senate Ethics Committee investigation. Reuters has not independently verified the claims against him.

Democrats are seeking to set the example in the wake of sexual misconduct accusations against several public figures, including Republican Roy Moore of Alabama, who is running for the Senate, and Democratic Representative John Conyers, who resigned on Tuesday. Both of those men have denied the accusations against them.

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