Franken Takes His Senate Seat. No Joke.

Ex 'Saturday Night Live' Star Is All Business On First Day

July 08, 2009|By Faye Fiore | Faye Fiore,Tribune Newspapers

WASHINGTON - -Al Franken, the funnyman who wrote the best-seller Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, was sworn in as the junior senator from Minnesota on Tuesday without doing one single funny thing.

Once, he was known on the Saturday Night Live stage as the lisping, sweater-wearing bundle of insecurities Stuart Smalley ("I'm good enough, I'm smart enough and, gosh darn it, people like me"). But Franken stepped into the ornate Senate chamber to take his oath of office in a charcoal gray suit, Bible in hand, surrounded by political allies eager to cast him as a "serious" addition to Congress.

Still, Franken seemed genuinely in awe of his place in the political process. He hugged his new colleagues with abandon. He waved enthusiastically to his wife, Franni, in the gallery. He acknowledged constituents who came to witness his hard-earned moment. He cast his first vote.

But he didn't crack wise once. In fact, he hardly said anything.

It was clear the day would be auspicious when Franni brought him coffee in bed. (He had to get his own Cheerios.) They had met at a college dance; she was 17, with no idea that life as Mrs. Franken would mean hob-nobbing with the likes of Chevy Chase and Lorne Michaels of New York City, much less John Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Franken slipped in through a side door of his new office around 11 a.m. Workmen were still installing wall brackets for the flat-screen TV in the suite, which once belonged to Norm Coleman, the Republican Franken vanquished by 312 votes after an eight-month recount.

The nameplate AL FRANKEN had already been screwed into the wall; Coleman's had come down last November.

Around noon, Franken headed to a mostly empty Senate chamber, where Minnesota's senior Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, introduced her new colleague with a nod to his comedic roots and an assurance that he "takes his job seriously."

Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, a fellow Minnesotan and adviser, stood by Franken's side as he took the oath, with current Vice President Joe Biden doing the honors.

"He'll be a serious senator, and he'll do what he thinks is right," Mondale said afterward.

There was that word "serious" again. Is there no place for a comedian in the most exclusive and arguably stuffiest club in America?

No, says Charlie Cook, an independent analyst in Washington. "A comedian would not be an effective senator - but then again, a comedian wouldn't have won. That phase of Franken's life has to be over."

Republicans, Cook noted, are embarrassed to lose such an important seat to a political neophyte such as Franken, his Harvard degree in political science notwithstanding.

"They are going to be watching him very closely, aggressively attacking him at any sign that the original Al Franken is coming back, even baiting him to do something," Cook said. "He just has to resist temptation."

On Tuesday, he resisted just fine. After the swearing-in, Franken and his family - he has two grown children, Joe and Thomasin - retreated to the Old Senate Chamber to re-enact the event for cameras under a giant gold eagle, with Biden again administering the oath.

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