July 7th, 2009
01:58 PM ET
13 years ago

Biden swears Franken in on Senate floor

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Satirist-turned-politician Al Franken was sworn in as the newest member of the U.S. Senate Tuesday, officially closing the books on one of the longest post-election recount struggles in recent American political history.

He was sworn in on the Senate floor by Vice President Joe Biden.

Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, became the 60th member of his party's Senate caucus. The Democrats now have a potential filibuster-proof majority in the chamber.

Franken will take a seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, giving him an opportunity to take part in next week's confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

He also will serve on the Committee of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, as well as the Senate's committees on Indian Affairs and Aging.

"We all know Al spent some time in comedy," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, said shortly before Franken's swearing-in.

"But during this long campaign he has demonstrated he takes his job seriously. ... His heart is with middle class families who work hard, live responsibly, and know the rules. He knows their hopes and fears because he has lived it."

Franken's long road to the Senate was one of the most unusual ones in U.S. politics.

Soon after graduating from Harvard University in 1973, Franken started writing for the show "Saturday Night Live." He also was a performer - playing self-help guru Stuart Smalley and impersonating public figures such as Henry Kissinger and the Rev. Pat Robertson.

Over the course of two decades, he took home five Emmys for his work on the show.

After leaving "Saturday Night Live," however, Franken became a polarizing political figure, penning several best-selling books, including "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations."

In 2004, Franken made a name for himself as someone well-versed in politics through "The Al Franken Show," carried by the liberal Air America Radio. During his final show on February 14, 2007, Franken announced his intentions to run for the Senate.

David Schultz, a professor of law at Hamline University in St. Paul, says Franken's win was probably not an affirmation of support for the Democratic candidate, but was, for many, a "lesser of two evils vote" in a year when Republican incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman was damaged by a tainted GOP brand.

Going into the race, Coleman was considered one of the more vulnerable Republicans seeking re-election. Although he'd started distancing himself from President George W. Bush, he had been long seen as one of the president's allies.

Franken's campaign took off as he raked in contributions, but Republicans did not let Coleman go down without a fight. The former comedian's past came was used against him as anti-Franken ads focused on some of his more controversial lines.

Among other things, the National Republican Senatorial Committee launched a 60-second spot highlighting clips from Franken's SNL days, with an announcer saying, "Rape jokes, poor and foul-mouthed anger do not make for good training for the United States Senate."

The Minnesota State Republican Party also blasted the challenger for a 2000 Playboy column he wrote called "Porn-O-Rama!"

When the votes were tallied on Election Day, Coleman held a slight edge of just 206 votes. Under Minnesota law, a recount was required because the margin of victory was less than 0.5 percent.

The controversial recount and subsequent court challenges evoked comparisons to the 2000 Bush-Gore presidential election saga. This time, however, the Democrat ended up on top by a margin of 312 votes.

A day after the Minnesota Supreme Court handed down its unanimous decision in favor of Franken on June 30 - 239 days after the election - Franken thanked his supporters in an at-times emotional speech on the steps of the state Capitol.

He also cited his political hero, the late Minnesota Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash shortly before the 2002 election.

"It is, of course, technically true that this was Paul's U.S. Senate seat," Franken said.

"But I don't think Paul saw it that way. This seat belongs to the people of Minnesota, and so did Sen. Wellstone, and so will I."

While Democratic congressional leaders recognize the opportunity that accompanies Franken's win and a 60-seat majority, they have also been attempting to tamp down expectations.

"Much has been made of the expectations of Al Franken joining the Senate," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said recently.

"Here are my expectations. He ... is going to work hard for the people of Minnesota."

The last time either party had a filibuster-proof Senate majority was during the first half of the Carter administration, when the Democrats controlled 62 seats. Carter nevertheless had a tough time passing his agenda.

At the time, straight party-line votes were very rare, according to Senate historian Donald Ritchie. Filibusters still occurred, initiated primarily by coalitions between conservative Democrats and Republicans.

–CNN's Evan Glass, Kristi Keck, Alan Silverleib, and Robert Yoon contributed to this report

Filed under: Al Franken
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Terry Smith

    Former Comedian? You mean this isn't a joke!?!?!?!

    July 7, 2009 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  2. Bill, Bloominton IL

    did Biden do this correctly or is this another mess Obama has to clean up?

    July 7, 2009 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  3. red33,cedar rapids, ia

    Whoop-de-doo! Our problems will all be solved now, since Franken got installed.
    I always gave Minnesota more credit than this, to have more sense than elect someone like him, but then I hear that the democrats are in control, so he was going to 'steal' the election one way or other.
    What a shame! I feel sorry for the ones with common sense.

    July 7, 2009 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  4. Penn Voter

    where's the punchline?

    July 7, 2009 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  5. Lisa in Shelton

    It's about time! GO get 'em Al.

    July 7, 2009 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  6. Sniffit

    Were there 40 GOP Senators there crying as if they were at the MJ memorial?

    July 7, 2009 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  7. aCorNN watchdog

    Dumb and dumber?

    I couldn't resist.

    July 7, 2009 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  8. JWR

    At least we knew up front this one was a comedian. All the rest of those clowns snuck in under the radar.

    July 7, 2009 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  9. Jimmy the Greek

    Franken probably thought "Swearing In" was him spewing more foul diatribes against those who espouse conservative ideals.

    July 7, 2009 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  10. RR

    Can't wait for Al to lay into the people who disagree with him by calling them "Lying Liars," or "Big fat idiots."

    The senate is not offically a joke.

    Thanks Minnesota

    July 7, 2009 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  11. Willy Brown

    A lost episode from the original Dumb and Dumber movie.

    July 7, 2009 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  12. JAY

    It's going to take a little time to find out what his priorities are.

    July 7, 2009 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |