Tales from the Trail

Feds unlikely to launch campaign finance probe anytime soon

For weeks, leading Democrats have castigated pro-Republican special interest groups involved in the current election campaign for what they describe as secretive fundraising practices. USA/

In an effort to call further attention to the activities of groups like American Crossroads GPS, a political fundraising committee which GOP guru Karl Rove helped to set up, some prominent Democrats and non-partisan election watchdogs have written law enforcement agencies demanding official investigations.

But there is little indication that any relevant agency is going to launch an  in-depth probe anytime soon.

In early October, the liberal activist group MoveOn.org sent a letter to the Justice Department demanding that it investigate allegations that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had received election-related funds from unspecified foreign sources — something the Chamber emphatically denies. A similar request for an investigation was sent by Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, to the Federal Election Commission.

Around the same time, two political finance watchdog groups, the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, sent a letter to the Internal Revenue Service requesting an investigation into whether Crossroads GPS is violating its status as a tax-exempt organization by spending too much of its time and resources on electioneering.

Al Franken’s moment of backsliding…

It was one of those moments Al Franken seems to work hard to suppress.

The comedian-turned-politician has kept a mostly straight face through his first year as a senator — listening seriously to hours of committee testimony and posing pointed questions with only the flicker of a smile crossing his face.
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Thursday’s Senate debate over Elena Kagan was evidently too much for the clown in him to bear.

As Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell argued that Kagan was too inexperienced and political to be confirmed as a justice of the Supreme Court, Franken couldn’t contain himself.

The liberal Democrat from Minnesota, who was presiding over the Senate at the time, rolled his eyes, let out his breath and finally began to shake his head, a Senate Republican aide said.

Healthcare critic Lieberman silenced in Senate

USA-HEALTHCARE/Senator Joe Lieberman, who has forced Democrats to jump through hoops on healthcare reform in recent weeks, was effectively told to be quiet and sit down on Thursday.

Comedian turned freshman Senator Al Franken gave the order while presiding over the Senate to a surprised Lieberman.

“I object,” Franken said, denying Lieberman the unanimous consent that he needed for “an additional moment” to complete his floor speech on healthcare.

Funnyman Franken turns serious on Senate stage

The Senate’s newest member, former comedian Al Franken, is making clear that he is taking the new job seriously and it’s no longer funny business for him.

Sworn in as a senator less than a week ago, there were no jokes when Franken faced a packed house in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room and expounded on the loftiest of government institutions – the U.S. Supreme Court — and President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor.USA-COURTS/SOTOMAYOR

It was a life-immitating-art moment. Franken had played a senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee on television comedy show Saturday Night Live during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.

Senator Franken draws no laughs but plenty of applause

Al Franken, a big-time comic turned Washington politician, received plenty of applause but no laughs on Tuesday when he finally took his seat as a member of the U.S. Senate.

In fact, one of the few jokes publicly told on Capitol Hill about Franken had the former writer/performer on the popular TV show “Saturday Night Live” as the punchline.

“Senator Franken gave me a few jokes he thought I should share with you, but I didn’t like them, so I’m not going to do it,” Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid told reporters.

A serious Franken vows to work hard in U.S. Senate

Former comedian Al Franken on Monday made it clear in his first appearance in the U.S. Capitol as senator-elect that he had not come to entertain.

Franken did not crack a single joke, nor did he take a single question as he spoke briefly to reporters outside the Senate chamber. Instead he vowed to work hard and tried to downplay expectations now that his election has clinched a super-majority of 60 for President Obama’s Democrats in the Senate.

“A lot has been made of this number 60.  The number I’m focused on is the number two.  I — I see myself as the second senator from the state of Minnesota,” Franken said. (The other Minnesota senator is Amy Klobuchar).

The First Draft: Is Al Franken “Stuart Smalley”?

USA-SENATE/Plenty of current and former U.S. senators had memorable professions before they got to Washington: country fiddler (Robert Byrd of West Virginia), astronaut (John Glenn of Ohio), jewelry-maker (Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado). But none were dogged by a satirical persona, as is already happening to newly-confirmed Democratic Senator-elect Al Franken of Minnesota.

Franken, formerly a comedian and writer for “Saturday Night Live,” created the character Stuart Smalley, a cardigan-wearing self-help guru, often pictured gazing lovingly into a mirror and intoning, “I’m going to do a terrific show today! And I’m gonna help people! Because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggonit, people like me!”

Stuart showed up in many Web headlines noting Franken’s victory in the Minnesota senate race over Republican Norm Coleman, especially those with a conservative bent.

The First Draft: Recess!

USA/There’s a real school’s-out feeling around Washington today. Congress left town last week after the House voted for bill to curb climate change, and most lawmakers won’t be back until after the July 4 holiday weekend. The Supreme Court issues its last rulings of the term, with a full sheaf of decisions expected — but then the justices will be gone for the summer.

President Barack Obama’s hosting Colombian President Alvaro Uribe at the White House, with a joint appearance in the afternoon. In addition to a full plate of U.S.-Colombian issues, the two leaders could address last weekend’s military coup in Honduras. Obama has already called for peaceful resolution of “tensions and disputes” but he may have more to say.

Later in the day, Obama celebrates the accomplishments of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans at a White House reception. This community has criticized the president for what they see as foot-dragging on repealing the Defense of Marriage Act — which defines marriage as between one man and one woman and says states need not recognize gay marriages performed in another state — and the U.S. military’s Don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy.

Minnesota Democrat Franken calls on Biden

frankenDemocrat Al Franken went to Washington on Wednesday — but not to to claim the Minnesota Senate seat Republican incumbent Norm Coleman lost in the November election. Franken, a comic turned politician, called on Vice President Joe Biden at the White House to talk about policy issues and the still-unresolved Minnesota contest he hopes will end with a win for the Democrats.

“Minnesotans are eager to see Congress make progress on the administration’s agenda and I’m eager to do my part in that effort,” Franken said after his meeting with Biden.

He’s going to have to wait a while. A state court ruled last month that Franken should be certified the winner of the Minnesota Senate race.  But it’s far from over. The widely anticipated ruling merely signaled the end of another round in a long-running battle. Coleman’s legal challenge continues — and he has said he may take his case all  the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Whoever runs in Minnesota stays in Minnesota?

Nearly five months after the 2008 election, there’s no sign that either Norm Coleman or Al Franken will definitively be declared the winner in the race for one of Minnesota’s U.S. Senate seats, allowing him to spend the next six years in Washington.

USA/Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told Reuters in an interview that it could be many months before all legal challenges are exhausted. “I don’t think we’re going to see the end to this matter any time soon,” McConnell said.

For those who have forgotten about this cliff-hanger: Coleman, the Democrat-turned-Republican first-term senator running for reelection, lagged behind Democratic comedian-author-Franken by only 225 votes after a recount of nearly 2.4 million ballots cast for the two.