July 17th, 2009
11:38 AM ET
14 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. 'and gosh darn it, I like me'

    I would have never have thought 'light touch' would have been the end of Coleman v. Frankin

    July 17, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  2. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    He asked some real good questions. I know that's shocking for his critics to hear.

    July 17, 2009 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  3. Out the door in 4

    What a total waste of time!! Get serious or get out. That whole Perry Mason crap was dumb. Notice how he turned it into being about him and when he was a kid. Guess what, we don't give a crap clown!

    July 17, 2009 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  4. Fair is Fair

    He's not much more than a doofus clown. Hopefully, for the sake of the country, he'll stop going for a cheap laugh. Doubtful.

    For the inevitable "but he's highly educated" comments forthcoming, I remind you that so was Ted Bundy and the unabomber.

    July 17, 2009 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  5. Stacy, NJ

    Franken is already doing a fabulous job. It was worth the fight and from one Democrat to another–Welcome, welcome, welcome.

    July 17, 2009 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  6. conservative

    Once a comedian always a comedian! Minnesota and America deserves better!

    July 17, 2009 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  7. southerncousin

    I would still like to know how he can be the winner in an election where there were more votes than registered voters. But then thats life in the Obamanation.

    July 17, 2009 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  8. Hugo Castrobama

    Al is still providing huge laughs – only they are AT him.

    "Sotomayor is the most qualified SCOTUS nominee in over a hundred years". Yuk yuk yuk. Stop it, Al, you're killing me!

    July 17, 2009 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  9. phoenix86

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

    July 17, 2009 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  10. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    As long as Franken response and fairly represents his state in the Senate, then he is doing a reasonable job. He asked, from what I have heard and read, fair questions of the nominee. He is starting off slow as he should.

    July 17, 2009 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  11. Ben R.

    Just because the man was a head writer for SNL it does not make him unqualified to hold a senate seat! Franken has better education than Coleman and holds the ideals of the Mineesota public. He's good enough, smart enough and dog-gone-it he won.... get over it you conservative morons! What have you all accomplished in your life.

    July 17, 2009 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  12. Greg

    Southercousin – the answer to your question is there wasn't more votes that registered. Quit repeating lies and fabrications! We in Minnesota are pleased with the outcom and excited for Senator Franken to get to work

    July 17, 2009 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  13. halfmn

    conservative – being from MN, we don't deserve any better, we voted for him.. well, I didn't, but somebody did. we had 2 bad choices, and i guess he won. this is what you get with no term limits.. if the Pres. can only be in office for 2 terms, why can the Congress ? does that even make sense ? Guess Al was a way of getting rid of the lifetime pol in this state. Sad, but true !

    July 17, 2009 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  14. uncledoc

    Yep, that's it, conservatives. Look more foolish by trying to link the Coleman/Franken election result to the sitting president, even though he had nothing to do with the race in Minnesota. Give the guy some credit for interjecting the pro-choice/pro-life debate into the hearings as a Democrat. Of course, I don't expect anything but negativity and attack from the right anymore. There's a reason they call the GOP the Party of No.

    July 17, 2009 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  15. deb0155

    This guy is truly an example of what is wrong with the American government! He got into office by cheating and confirming a candidate for the Supreme Court is supposedly a joke to this idiot! It only gets worse with Obama in office!

    July 17, 2009 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  16. dominican mama 4 Obama

    @ Fair is fair:

    You're soooo right because didn't Bush attend an Ivy League school and look how brilliant he was (NOT!).

    I do not believe, in other words, that Franken being "highly educated" is a guarantee of stellar performance. I do believe though that he is a quick study, appears to utilize his common sense, is inquisitive and that bodes well for his future performance in the Senate.

    July 17, 2009 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  17. dan

    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.

    July 17, 2009 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  18. Nancy, GA

    Many people who knock Al Franken know only one side of him - his role as a comedian. Unless you had an opportunity to listen to his thoughtful commentary and questions, holding his own with a range of journalists and politicians, when he hosted the Al Franken Show on Air America Radio, you do not know his range. He is extremely knowledgeable and intelligent. Probably more so than a large % of Senators currently warming their seats in that chamber.

    July 17, 2009 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  19. Obama Victim

    between Franken and Obozo.............tough call as to who is the biggest fool

    July 17, 2009 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  20. Res ipsa loquitur

    How dare he go for a little chuckle in such a serious hearing! He should have asked her about her "wise Latina" and policy comments and the Ricci case, since we haven't yet heard enough about those!

    When will he learn...Senators aren't supposed to have personalities. Of course, he's not a real Senator anyway, since those darn activist Minnesota judges (including all the Republican ones who unanimously agreed) found in his favor.

    July 17, 2009 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  21. tim

    Funny to see repubs so angry that a comic is in the senate. We had a comedy in the White House for the eight previous years.

    I seem to remember an actor being elected to the White House that Repubs still wag their tails in love over. Oh, but in that case, it was OK, him being the star of Bedtime for Bonzo, and all. Shocking to find Repubs are hypocrites.

    July 17, 2009 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  22. Skip, a black man

    Blame it all on Bush!

    July 17, 2009 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |

    The American people are a living nightmare joke that they put their future in the hands of show people and undeserving politicians. A commedian. The only joke here is on the tax paying people. You think this man knows ianything about government or gives a d...! When are we to wake up from our fantasy type lives and get a life by egtting rid of these unfit jokers such as Franken, Scharnegger(Spelling), Kennedy's, Kerrys, Pelosi's, Obama's and put someone in office worthy of being President like Hillary. At least we know the Clintons can run a country and leave it with a sound economy and a surplus.

    July 17, 2009 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  24. Jon in CA

    And to think he is getting PAID for this dribble??

    July 17, 2009 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  25. Mike, MN

    I believe that Franken has proven that he can win a fight. Sorry Republicans. I guess that makes him smarter than your Coleman.

    July 17, 2009 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
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