Tales from the Trail

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).

USA/Franken said voters expected him to work on the economy, energy, education and health care issues. “I am going to work day and night to make sure that our kids have a great future and that America’s best days lay ahead,” he said.

Majority Leader Harry Reid welcomed Franken to the chamber with a pledge that Democrats would not use their expanded numbers to “ram” legislation through the Senate despite a full plate of proposals on healthcare and climate change.

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.

Specter gains chairmanship, loses potential foe

Senator Arlen Specter, who has had some rocky times since switching from the Republican to Democratic party last week, had a really good day on Thursday.

Specter gained some power — the chairmanship of a Senate subcommittee — and lost a potential and powerful reelection foe, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge.specter

“After careful consideration and many conversations with friends and family and the leadership of my party, I have decided not to seek the Republican nomination for Senate,” Ridge said in a statement.

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.

Coleman, senator in limbo, visits old stomping ground

Republican Norm Coleman, who is in a court battle against comedian and Democrat Al Franken over who won the Minnesota Senate seat in November’s election, decided to visit his old stomping ground on Tuesday, dropping by the weekly Republican policy luncheon.

USA-ELECTION/A mere 25 steps or so from the Senate floor, Coleman entered the luncheon with the new head of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele and told reporters he was just popping in to catch up with his brethren.

“Everyone understands how important this race is, how important this seat is. Folks have been supportive and are still engaged,” Coleman told reporters before the lunch. ”We were ahead on election night, ahead when the recount began and I expect that when all is said and done.”

Coleman finds temporary gig as fight for Senate seat goes on

USA-POLITICS/FRANKENWASHINGTON – Norm Coleman has found a temporary gig while his court battle to hang on to his U.S. Senate seat representing Minnesota begins — the Republican Jewish Coalition.

After recounting the votes, Minnesota officials declared Coleman’s opponent, comedian and Democrat Al Franken, the winner in the race. But the Republican has complained that the recount was conducted unfairly and promised a court challenge that could take weeks to resolve. 

In the meantime, Coleman has found himself a part-time gig, paid of course, to be a consultant and strategic adviser to the Republican organization. However, he will not engage in any lobbying.

The First Draft: Friday, Nov. 5

Detroit CEOs drive their hybrid cars over to the House of Representatives for another serving of humble pie this morning. But it’s still not clear if they’ll get the $34 billion bailout they’re looking for, as several senators remained skeptical after yesterday’s testimony on that side of the Capitol. 
     
Testimony before the House Financial Services Committee begins at 9:30 a.m. 

     
The last outstanding Senate race may finally reach a resolution today, as Minnesota could complete its recount in the contest between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken. 

But any resolution will be preliminary: there are still about 6,000 ballots that have been challenged and will need further review.