Skip to comments.After quiet first months, Franken's sharp tongue emerges in Senate
Posted on 12/23/2009 10:10:59 AM PST by markomalley
Al Franken, the Democrat from Minnesota who won election to the Senate after a successful career as a comic and author, has begun to show the sharp-tongued side of his personality by ripping into GOP staffers behind the scenes.
Franken has worked diligently to keep a low public profile in Congress while focusing on wonky policy debates. But he has been unable to completely repress the fiery passion that made him a hero of the Democratic Partys liberal base.
Franken has teamed up with GOP colleagues to introduce a variety of legislation, something that may surprise fans who read his books, such as Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.
But he has also pummeled Republican senators and their aides, showing a glimpse of the pugilistic style of his best-seller, Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations.
Franken has surprised some of his colleagues behind the scenes by getting into heated tangles with GOP staffers.
One such exchange took place in Frankens office during a recent meeting with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and his aides.
Franken invited Corker to his office to discuss an op-ed that Corker penned in a Tennessee newspaper opposing an amendment Franken offered to a defense bill. The measure gave the employees of defense contractors who suffer rape or sexual assault at the workplace the right to sue in court.
The meeting quickly deteriorated when Franken began berating one of Corkers aides, according to GOP aides familiar with the incident. Frankens sally was so harsh that Corker told Franken to lay off his aide and direct the comments at him instead.
Frankens tough approach came as a surprise because Corker scheduled the meeting to mend fences after Franken confronted him about the op-ed during an angry exchange on the Senate floor.
Another GOP staffer, an aide to a Senate Republican leader, found herself at the sharp end of Frankens wit at a recent reception in the Senates Mansfield Room. The tongue-lashing took place at an event to celebrate the swearing-in of GOP Sen. George LeMieux (Fla.).
After the conversation began ordinarily, Franken started to grill the aide about what he sees as the failings of the GOP. Franken demanded to know why it had become the "Party of No" and had exaggerated facts in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, according to another GOP leadership aide.
A spokeswoman for Franken declined to comment on either exchange.
The aide emphasized Franken's accomplishments during his short time in the Senate.
"Sen. Franken is always looking for ways to work with his colleagues to make people's lives better and get things done for Minnesota," said spokeswoman Casey Aden-Wansbury.
"He has built good working relationships with colleagues on both sides of the aisle half the bills he has introduced have Republican co-sponsors. Sen. Franken is pleased that two of his bills have already been signed into law and that both passed with bipartisan support," she said.
The incidents with GOP staff have reminded some Senate observers of a mocking interaction Franken had with a conservative student, Peter Fritz, at Carleton College during his Senate campaign. After learning of Fritzs political orientation, Franken pressed him to defend Reaganomics and mimicked his speech patterns, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Aden-Wansbury vigorously denied that Franken made fun of Fritz and claimed that element of the report was inaccurate.
There is a war within Al Franken, said Lawrence Jacobs, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. The Al Franken head tells him to steer away from the limelight and build his reputation. Then there is his heart, which is quite fiery."
Jacobs said Franken must be careful not to engage in too many political brawls, or it could reinforce for independent voters what they feared about him, that hes a hot-headed partisan.
Franken has not just confronted GOP aides at private meetings; he has also mixed it up with Republican colleagues in public on the Senate floor.
In addition to chewing out Corker over the op-ed, earlier this month Franken clashed loudly with Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) on the Senate floor. The dust-up was spurred by Thunes claim that Democratic healthcare legislation would impose new taxes immediately but fail to implement benefits for several years.
Franken derided Thunes floor presentation and implied that he had fabricated some of his facts, a more personal confrontation than usual in the clubby Senate. An irate Thune walked off the Senate floor after Franken revealed a private conversation they had on the topic.
I asked if he mentioned any of the benefits that do kick in [immediately] and he said, Uh no, Franken said in front of C-SPAN television cameras.
We are entitled to our own opinions; were not entitled to our own facts, Franken said, raising his voice. Benefits kick in right away, and if youre going to hold up a chart that says when taxes kick in and when benefits kick in you better include the benefits that do kick in right away.
Franken later apologized to Thune.
And last week, Franken cut off Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) during his speech on the Senate floor. Lieberman, who has drawn the ire of liberals over his opposition to the public health insurance option, asked for an additional moment to finish remarks about amendments he planned to offer, but Franken, who was presiding over the Senate, refused to grant the routine request.
"In my capacity as the senator from Minnesota, I object," Franken said.
"Really?" replied Lieberman.
A spokeswoman for Franken said that the senator was just trying to move along with the legislation, but at a press conference late last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) expressed disgust with Franken, saying that Lieberman's request for more time to extend his remarks was "objected to by the newest member of the United States Senate in a most brusque way ... We've got to stop this kind of behavior. I have never seen anything like that and I hope that I don't see it again."
An aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) confirmed to reporters the leader asked colleagues presiding over the chamber to strictly enforce a 10-minute speaking rule.
And Democrats note that despite his criticism, McCain did the same thing to a colleague in 2002 when he objected to former Sen. Mark Daytons (D-Minn.) request for an additional 30 seconds of floor time during the Iraq War debate.
These incidents have pulled Franken away from his stated goal of modeling his early career in the Senate on former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who made a point of proving herself as a workhorse, in Senate parlance, and who teamed up often with Republicans.
Frankens sharp-elbowed exchanges have come in moments of passion. By all appearances, he has worked to keep partisan outbursts to a minimum, knowing that what may draw listeners to Air America does not play well in the buttoned-down Senate.
He has stayed off national cable shows such as "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" and "The Rachel Maddow Show" to avoid appearing as a celebrity liberal spokesman instead of a hard-working senator from Minnesota.
Franken stayed away from the popular liberal blog Daily Kos until this past weekend, when he submitted a measured defense of his decision to vote for Senate healthcare reform legislation.
Franken, who has shared a lot of his time with Minnesota media outlets, has kept the national press at arms length. He participated in his first national conference call over the weekend. The call with colleagues did not, however, push political hot buttons. Instead, it focused on consumer protections in the healthcare bill.
And he has wooed a significant number of Republican colleagues to cooperate on legislative initiatives.
For example, he introduced the Service Dogs for Veterans Act with Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.); a diabetes prevention amendment with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.); a bill to assist the victims of sexual assault with Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah); and the Compassionate Care for Servicewomen Act with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).
But even while Franken has tried to focus on sober policy issues, he has at times become embroiled in heated political debates inadvertently, his defenders say.
This happened with the so-called anti-rape amendment Franken offered to a defense bill. The measure barred the government from doing business with contractors that required employees to settle rape and sexual assault charges through arbitration instead of the courts.
The amendment was popular enough to attract 68 votes in the Senate, but it quickly became a political football when liberals used it to attack 30 Republican lawmakers who opposed it.
Liberal comic Jon Stewart slammed Republican opponents on his talk show, and other critics set up a fake website, RepublicansForRape.org, something that did not endear Franken to some of his conservative colleagues.
Its partly because Frankens on a 24/7 watch, said Jacobs of the University of Minnesota. Even when hes not intending to go public, hes finding himself in the media spotlight.
A two bit punk.
The good news is, that since his head is up his arse, he only cuts himself.
His election to the U.S. Senate alone, devalued the stature of the institution immeasurably. Wow, what an ass hat state.
Boxer will give him a run for the money, but she wasn’t as well known (at least by me) before being elected to the Senate.
He was a known quantity, a blithering idiot of the first order, prior to being elected. It’s shocking someone that dumb could be elected to the Senate.
Well, in light of what is taking place right now, it really isn’t.
“But he has also pummeled Republican senators and their aides, showing a glimpse of the pugilistic style...”
I would love to trade “pugilistic styles” the REAL, physical kind, with a arrogant little punk like “conservative” Ben Stein’s pal, Al Franken.
Absolutely love to....
He’s a clown that proves the Democratic Party can’t be taken seriously.
Two bits still has some redeemable value. That's not an apt description of Franken.
Coming soon to a Senate near you
So what Obamacare benefits kick in right away? The media certainly has not been talking about that. Didn't the media read the bill, so that they could understand it and explain it to us?
franken just being franken (a putz).
Any pubbie who teams up with him is an imbecile.
FOR GOD'S SAKE WOULD YOU PUBS GROW SOME COURAGE!
Lol. It didn't play well on Air America either, apparently.
A swift punch in the mouth would end that, but that would offend the "decorum" of the senate that so concerns the rinos...
FOR GOD'S SAKE WOULD YOU PUBS GROW SOME COURAGE!
A spokeswoman for Franken declined to comment on either exchange.
I see Lord Suckadouche belongs to the Party of "no comment".
This man is a glowing example of how far we’ve fallen. Those Republicans should just carry around the photo of him in a diaper and when he expresses his ‘wit’ just pull it out and say, “That tells me all I need to know about you.”
This article is a bit sickening.
Something about kids being protected against being denied insurance coverage by providers. That’s about it.
The exagerations that the Democrats are making in the run-up to the war on America’s medical establishment are obscene.
“Al Franken, the Democrat from Minnesota who won election to the Senate”
You mean stole the election. His Republican opponent won by 800 votes on election day. Then they did a recount and the Republican was still ahead by 200 votes. Franken was able to take the lead when 1 precint magically was able to find 350 votes (all for Franken) and the election board counted this twice. Coleman was not able to overturn this huge farce. The rat secratary of state certified the election to Franken.