July 17th, 2009
11:38 AM ET
5 years ago

Franken handles Senate debut with a light touch

WASHINGTON (CNN) - It was the role of a lifetime for comedian-turned-inquisitor Sen. Al Franken this week during Judge Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination hearings.

The Senate's newest star seemed comfortable in front of the cameras, but less at ease with Senate procedure.

In one instance, Franken looked to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, to approve a request.

"I would ask for it to be entered into the record ... can I enter it into the record?" Franken asked. He was given the green light to go ahead.

Franken's national debut is also amusing his old peers on the comedy circuit.

"I just kept expecting 'Live from New York!'" said Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" this week.

Franken is also giving his new peers in the Senate a laugh - especially after an incident where the newly minted Minnesota senator switched seats with the committee chairman.

But Franken also hit serious notes, reading from a pocket Constitution, asking Sotomayor about the Voting Rights Act; whether Internet access should be protected; asking for the definition of an activist judge.

He even went where the administration didn't want Democrats to go by pressing the judge on abortion rights - arguing that abortion rights don't have to be written into the Constitution to be protected.

"Are the words 'birth control' in the Constitution?" Franken asked. Sotomayor responded, "No, sir."

Franken then pressed the judge: "Are the words 'privacy' in the Constitution or the word?" Sotomayor said the word "privacy" is not.

But the watercooler moment of the hearing came when he asked the judge - who'd revealed she's a lifelong fan of the TV show "Perry Mason" - to name one case Mason lost. She couldn't.

"And you don't remember that case?" he asked.

Sotomayor responded: "I know that I should remember the name of it, but I haven't looked at the episode."

Franken followed up with this tongue-in-cheek question: "Didn't the White House prepare you for that?"

Nonetheless, the senator says he's pleased with Sotomayor's answers and plans to vote to confirm her.

And on the Perry Mason case question, CNN found that, according to the Perry Mason TV show book, he actually lost three cases. But in one of the cases, despite a guilty verdict, the client was ultimately set free.


Filed under: Al Franken • Sonia Sotomayor • Supreme Court
soundoff (81 Responses)
  1. Charles

    At least his question does not have political agenda. Al is smart and he will learn quickly but hope he doesn't lose his comedian character.

    July 17, 2009 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  2. larry buchas

    From what I gathered, Al Franken will be the most desirable Senator at these hearings. It's great to see some humor injected with these stuffed shirts.

    July 17, 2009 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  3. Aunt Bea and Opie

    We told Andy,and he said Franken will spend the rest of his life in office,hes just that good.

    July 17, 2009 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  4. Out the door in 4

    Nancy GA – Yeah that's why his hateful radio show failed miserably. Knowledgeable and intelligent are YOUR opinion and not Fact!

    July 17, 2009 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  5. Fair is Fair

    @ dominican mama –

    I think you're making my point. When all I hear in defense of ANY politician is "well, he/she is highly educated", it sours my stomach. I don't know about you, but in my estimation, the greatest US president in history was Abraham Lincoln. He was not "highly educated" – did not even attend college. Granted, he lived in a differrent day, but it just goes to show what can be done if one applies themself.

    July 17, 2009 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  6. Kate in San Diego

    Dear "obama victim":

    Please explain to me exactly how you have been victimized here.

    July 17, 2009 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  7. dan

    He is a joke. The Perry Mason exchange just shows how out of his element he is in the Senate. The people of Minnesota must be so proud right now that they elected this guy as Senator.

    July 17, 2009 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  8. Get Real

    I am SO tired of people repeating the outright LIE that there were more votes in the MN Senate elections than their were registered voters. READ these figures and TRY somehow to understand them...it might be a little hard for some of you who only get your facts and figures from the Repub talking points but there are the REAL figures:

    Currently there are 3,178,050 registered voters in Minnesota.

    Al Franken 1,212,431 41.991% −5.35%
    Norm Coleman 1,212,206 41.984% −7.55%
    Dean Barkley 437,505 15.153% +13.15%
    Charles Aldrich 13,923 0.482% n/a
    James Niemackl 8,907 0.308% +0.21%
    Write-ins 2,365 0.082%
    Margin of victory 225 0.007%
    Total votes: 2,887,337

    So there were almost 300000 LESS votes than there were registered voters. So stop repeating the LIE>

    July 17, 2009 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  9. david, CA

    Franken is by far "good enough and smart enough" to make his critics look like a pack of babbling baboons.

    July 17, 2009 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  10. Proud to be a FORMER Democrat

    That Al Franken has a Harvard education and made his living doing some very funny comedy means little to me. Clearly, if you can get to be President with a thimblefull of experience than I guess a Senator needs a lot less on their resume in America these days. That he, despite his Air America debacle, where he demonstrated nightly his supreme lack of understanding of the issues at hand, he made it into this Senate seat, sealing the deal for Democrats to run willy-nilly through our Constitution with no perceptible checks and balances DOES matter to me. It means everything. God help us.

    July 17, 2009 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  11. Proud Member..Party of No

    Al Franken:

    Almost single-handedly ruined Saturday Night Live.
    Failed miserably with his Air America show.
    Is a tax cheat.
    Failed to provide workers’ compensation insurance for his employees for nearly three years.
    Is the south end of a north-bound horse.
    And, of course, is loved by the democrat party. Typical.

    July 17, 2009 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  12. Thin is in?

    Maybe he and Rahm can do a show, Rahm can continue the dirtyy tricks, lies and slight of hand tricks that he uses to get people to not look at the facts of what the liar in chief is up too ans Franken can be the same stupid comis that he always has been.

    He was never funny and his movies bombed, he failed on talk radio because he was stupid and yet he goes to Minny and becomes their Senator and then makes a complete fool of himself at the hearings.

    In turn typical dumb liberals call him the greatest thing in the world because they are well dumb, and "nobody likes them", and "I am somebody and people like me".

    The only joke is Obama, but it least it will only be a four year joke.

    Four and the door barry.

    July 17, 2009 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  13. Lynda/Minnesota

    Senator Al Franken may very well suprise even his most harshest critics.

    I have already had an acknowledgement from him on my e-mail requesting his support for the Hate Crimes Bill which is working it's way through Congress.

    He is been in office how long now?

    July 17, 2009 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  14. RandalH

    Well, of all the clowns on the judiciary committee, I guess he's the only one willing to honestly play the part. As far as clownish behavior on that committee, though, he will never be able to fill the big clown shoes of Joe Biden.

    July 17, 2009 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  15. history repeats

    i would MUCH rather have a politician that can make people laugh (franken) than a politician that gets laughed at (bush)!!! it takes a sense of understanding to make people laugh. you have to be able to relate to people to do it. to say the right things. and it takes a level of common sense and intelligence that should be needed to represent people. i think hell do great. hes not a career politician. hes not doing it for the money. he doesnt need to be in any special interests pockets. i think its a good pick!

    July 17, 2009 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  16. Linda from Minnesota

    We liberals and democrats in Minnesota are thrilled to have Senator Franken represent us. His SNL persona is just that, a persona for entertainment.

    Franken the person is thoughtful, articulate, smart and has the best interests of the people in Minnesota at heart and will serve us well. His hero is Paul Wellstone who he hopes to emulate. You can't do much better than Paul Wellstone as a person in touch with the common man.

    Thank you, Senator Franken.

    July 17, 2009 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  17. Thin is in?

    Maybe he and Rahm can do a show, Rahm can continue the dirty tricks, lies and slight of hand tricks that he uses to get people to not look at the facts of what the liar in chief is up too and Franken can be the same stupid comic that he always "has been".

    He was never funny and his movies bombed, he failed on talk radio because he was stupid and yet he goes to Minny and becomes their Senator and then makes a complete fool of himself at the hearings.

    In turn typical dumb liberals call him the greatest thing in the world because they are well dumb, and "nobody likes them", and "I am somebody and people don't like me".

    The only joke is Obama, but it least it will only be a four year joke.

    Four and the door barry.

    July 17, 2009 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  18. Skar

    You repubs need to take a pill. Or drink some prune juice? What is wrong with some levity? And what proof do you have that Coleman won? Besides, if you REALLY want to talk about hijacked elecations, lets have a talk about Florida in 2000. TRUMPED!

    July 17, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  19. Jordan

    Hey, Proud Member! YOUR party has wrecked our country. Thanks!!!

    July 17, 2009 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  20. Steve (the real one)

    I am NOT going to say that after a week or two and asking a hand full of questions, that Sen Franken is doing a "fanastic job". I will say that the election is over, he is seated, time to move on. He deserves a chance just like everyone else. I will say that whatever is in his heart will eventually come out!

    July 17, 2009 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  21. We should really be education more Americans

    Dan: @July 17th, 2009 12:28 pm ET

    Hey, he's still the biggest joke around. His questions are completely foolish waste of time. We live in a sorry country that will elect a president who has no clue and a two bit actor to the senate. America the world is laughing at you.

    -Umm Dan, Ronald Reagan was a two bit actor as well and by clueless president, it appears that you might be talking about GW Bush. Please look up hypocrite it the dictionary, it might do you a a bit of good to read every once in while.

    July 17, 2009 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  22. history repeats

    Thin is in?

    liberals are dumb? let me ask you a question....do you believe in angels? do you believe in an invisible man in the clouds that watches you and listens to your thoughts and will send you to a burning pit for eternity if you dont? do you believe in evolution? can you explain what evolution is without bringing up monkeys? do you think GEORGE BUSH WAS A GOOD PRESIDENT>? i bet you anything you watch fox news. i know everything about you because there is only one kind of person that thinks like you. idiot wanna bee conservative.

    July 17, 2009 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  23. the 60th- filibuster proof

    Welcome Sen. Franken.....we need you to strengthen our choke hold of the GOP

    July 17, 2009 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  24. dominican mama 4 Obama

    @phoenix86 July 17th, 2009 12:18 pm ET

    Franken will spend his next 6 years in the Senate making Minnesotans look foolish for electing such an idiot to represent them
    ------------------------–

    You, however have to live with your foolishness and idiocy for the rest of your life.

    We'll take Franken.

    July 17, 2009 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  25. chris

    Hey Get Real,

    You do understand people do not have to vote, right? So it is quite possible that 2,700,000 people voted in the Minesota Senate election, even though their are 3,100,000 registered voters.

    July 17, 2009 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
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