[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/09/13/art.franken.cnn.jpg caption="Comic-turned-Senator Al Franken drew big laughs at an annual Iowa fundraiser Sunday."]
INDIANOLA, Iowa (CNN) - Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, the former comedian who has largely put the funny business on hold as he plays catch-up due to his late arrival in Washington, proved to a Iowa crowd Sunday that he's still got it.
The "Saturday Night Live" alum and Minnesota native was the keynote speaker at Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin's annual Steak Fry party fundraiser.
For obvious reasons, this year's speeches centered largely around health-care reform.
Harkin was recently named chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, taking control of the seat held by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Also a member of that committee now, Franken, in his deadpan delivery, used sarcasm to highlight the importance of the post.
"Its not really that big a deal," he said to laughter, as he slowly went through the list of the group's topics. "I mean, it's only health. Education. Labor. And pensions. I mean, who really would care about those things? Except for maybe people who are concerned about their health or their kids' health or maybe want their kids to go to, oh, a good school, or I don't know, people who work."
The crowd of a couple thousand chuckled and gave him cheers and applause. He then got a bit more serious.
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/09/13/art.gibbs0913.cnn.jpg caption="White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Sunday that the president doesn't think growing conservative anger directed at the administration is being motivated by the color of the president's skin."]
WASHINGTON (CNN) – A day after tens of thousands of conservatives gathered in Washington to protest the policies of the Obama administration, a top White House aide said that President Obama doesn’t think the protests and the growing conservative movement against Obama are motivated by racism.
“I don’t think the president believes that people are upset because of the color of his skin,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
Pointing to the upcoming first anniversary of the collapse of investment banking giant Lehman Brothers, Gibbs said he thought the anger directed at the administration stems from the federal government’s unprecedented intervention in the private sector during the financial crisis that began last fall.
“We’ve had to do some extraordinary things, both this administration [and] the previous administration, to rescue the financial system, to ensure that our domestic auto industry didn’t go out of business, and to stimulate the economy,” Gibbs said.
“This rhetoric often gets way too hot,” Gibbs added, “I think what we have to all do is take a step back, take a deep breath and remember who we’re here to represent: millions of Americans that have health insurance but are watching their premiums double.”
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/09/13/art.harkin0913.gi.jpg caption="Sen. Harkin, who took over a key Senate committee after Sen. Ted Kennedy's death, said Sunday that the Senate's health care bill will have a strong public insurance option."]
(CNN) - More and more, a possible compromise on how to overhaul the nation's ailing health-care system is taking shape.
Senators from both parties provided further clues Sunday to the potential form of a final agreement on the partisan issue that has sparked a heated nationwide debate, including last week's unprecedented heckling of President Barack Obama in Congress.
Two prominent senators said Sunday that a House health-care bill drafted by Democrats and vehemently opposed by Republicans and conservatives is dead. The senators - Democrat Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina - said on Fox News Sunday that any chance for a health-care overhaul focuses now on a compromise bill being negotiated by members of the Senate Finance Committee.
Another senior Demoratic lawmaker on Sunday promised that the Senate's health-care bill would include a public option that would have support from "some" Republicans.
"The bill - mark my word, I'm the chairman - is going to have a strong public option," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who recently fill the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Harkin was speaking to a supportive crowd at his annual steak fry fundraiser for Iowa Democrats.
Meanwhile, a moderate Republican senator considered one of the few who might cross the aisle to support health-care legislation being pushed by Democrats said she rejects a possible compromise provision - a trigger mechanism that would bring in a government-funded public health insurance option in the future if initial reforms fail to achieve specific thresholds.
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/08/27/kennedy.senate.clout/art.kennedysenate.gi.jpg caption="Sen. Tom Harkin recently became the chair of key Senate committee led by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy until Kennedy fell ill with brain cancer. 'It now falls to me to pick up the torch,' Harkin said Sunday."]
INDIANOLA, Iowa (CNN) - Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat who recently filled the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said Sunday that a Senate health-care reform bill would include a "strong" public option and that it would get through by the holiday recess.
He also said it will have support from "some" Republicans, although he said he isn't sure how many.
"I'm ready to carry on [Kennedy's] work, and I'm ready to get a health reform bill passed and to President Obama before Christmas comes this December," Harkin said in a fiery push for health reform during a speech at his annual Steak Fry, a fundraiser for Iowa Democrats.
"That bill - mark my word, I'm the chairman - is going to have a strong public option," he added to thunderous applause.
In a media availability held just prior to his speech, Harkin said he believed the legislation would be able to garner enough support from both sides of the aisle - potentially enough to label it bipartisan when all is said and done.
"We will have some Republicans on our bill," Harkin said.
While reflecting on Kennedy, Harkin called him a "great friend" whose legacy will be tough to live up to.
"We lost a great progressive, a great leader on so many issues...It now falls to me to pick up the torch," Harkin said, adding that he is up to the challenge.
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/09/13/blagojevich.fundraiser.dead/art.christopher.kelly.gi.jpg caption="Christopher Kelly, 51, was former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's chief fundraiser."]
CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) - Police are looking into the death of the former chief fundraiser for ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich as a "death-suicide investigation," an Illinois mayor said Sunday.
Financier Christopher Kelly told police shortly before he died Saturday that he took an "overdose of drugs," said Dwight Welch, mayor of Country Club Hills, Illinois.
Country Club Hills police found several drugs in Kelly's black 2007 Cadillac Escalade, but they were not sure yet whether they were prescribed, Welch said. Country Club Hills is about 27 miles south of Chicago.
Kelly had recently undergone surgery and was taking drugs following the operation, Welch said. Welch said he did not know which drugs Kelly was taking.
Kelly, 51, of Burr Ridge, Illinois, was pronounced dead at Stroger hospital in Cook County at 10:46 a.m. Saturday, hospital spokesman Marcel Bright told CNN. Cook County authorities did not release any details about Kelly's death.
Earlier this year, Blagojevich, who was impeached and removed from office, pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges. A federal grand jury in April indicted him on 16 felony counts, including racketeering, conspiracy, wire fraud and making false statements to investigators.
The indictment also named some of Blagojevich's closest aides, including Kelly; former chief of staff, John Harris; and Springfield, Illinois, millionaire William Cellini.
“Let’s go about the business that we are trying to get done which is to affect real health care reform,” Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
Cantor noted that Wilson’s apology had already been accepted by the president and Wilson has said he would not engage in that type of behavior again.
“We’ve got to look to how we get this health care reform done right – not just get it done. And there are areas that we can agree,” Cantor also said, citing banning the practice of denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, trying to ensure coverage to people who have employer-provided coverage but who lose their jobs, and working on medical malpractice reform.
But Cantor also suggested that President Obama had a ways to go if the White House is to be successful on one of Obama’s top domestic agenda items.
“My view is that the mission has to be very clear,” Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
“I believe it is not now,” Feinstein also said, “I don’t believe we can build a democratic state in Afghanistan. I believe it will remain a tribal entity.”
The California Democrat also said the White House should have a clear sense of how much longer troops would be in the country.
“I believe the mission should be time-limited, that there should be no, ‘Well, we’ll let you know in a year-and-a-half depending on how we do.’ I think the Congress is entitled to know, after Iraq, exactly how long are we going to be in Afghanistan.”
The mission for U.S. troops entails, in Feinstein’s view, clearing the Taliban and al Qaeda out of the country and training Afghan military and police forces.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, largely agreed with Feinstein. In addition to waiting for the release of a report about likely increases in troop levels from the top U.S. military commander on the ground, Shaheen said Congress should also wait on information relating to the benchmarks it has “mandated” from the White House for determining success of the mission in Afghanistan.
Compared to the two Democrats, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins sounded a more pessimistic tone.
(CNN) - President Barack Obama's top political adviser had a blunt message Sunday for protesters who took part in a Tea Party rally the day before in Washington: "They're wrong" on health care.
"The president made it very, very clear that he wants to build on the system that we have," rather than create a vast new system, David Axelrod told CBS' "Face the Nation."
Axelrod said the reform would bring changes that benefit those with health coverage and those who can't afford it or lose it.
"We ought to focus on what it's about and not on distortions of it," Axelrod said of the president's plan.