Sen. Tina Smith (D., Minn.), who was appointed to fill former Sen. Al Franken's seat after his resignation, praised her Democratic predecessor on Wednesday as a "champion" of women's issues.
Smith appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" after her maiden speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday, in which she praised Franken's "passion and heart" as well as his progressive values. Franken resigned in January after allegations of groping and sexual misconduct continued to mount following the release of a picture with his hands on radio host Leeann Tweeden's breasts while she slept.
"Do you hear from constituents about Al Franken?" host Mika Brzezinski asked. "And what do they say? And how do you navigate that?"
"Al is a friend of mine, and I've known him for a long time," Smith began. "Al was a great leader in Minnesota; he was a champion for a lot of causes that I care a lot about."
Smith specifically lauded Franken's work for women.
"He was a champion for a lot of issues that matter to women. Minnesotans, I think—this is how I feel—also understand that Al had a really tough choice to make," she said. "He made the best decision that he could for himself and Minnesota."
Smith concluded by saying she wanted to build on Franken's legacy of being a "strong voice for families."
"I think Minnesotans are now looking to see who can carry on the—kind of the strong voice for families in Minnesota, and that's what I'm totally focused on," she said.
A January poll of Minnesota voters found 60 percent of respondents believed the sexual misconduct allegations against Franken, who resigned a month and a half after the Tweeden photo came out, but a minority believed he needed to resign. Only 41 percent agreed he should have resigned, while 48 percent said he should not have, and 11 percent said they were not sure.
One of Smith's Democratic opponents in the upcoming Senate race, Richard Painter, has also come to Franken's defense, refusing to say he believes his seven other accusers besides Tweeden. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) has received stiff backlash for publicly calling on Franken to resign.
During Smith's interview, Brzezinski was the only one on the MSNBC panel to ask a question about Franken. Smith was asked, however, to describe her responsibilities to women in light of the #MeToo movement. The senator did not mention Franken in any of her prior answers, instead saying there is a lot of work to do about sexism because more states have not elected women to the Senate.
Smith said she wants to "keep pushing" for culture change on Capitol Hill to treat women more fairly.