Franken takes Dems to 60 in Senate

Former “Saturday Night Live” star Al Franken will become the 60th Democratic vote in the Senate next week after former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) conceded Minnesota’s Senate race Tuesday.

Coleman’s concession came hours after the state Supreme Court struck down his challenge and ruled that Franken should be seated. It brought an end to an eight-month legal battle over one of the tightest and most expensive Senate races in history. The parties spent over $50 million trying to win the seat.

Franken’s status as the 60th vote gives his party the ability to override GOP filibusters without needing a Republican senator to cross over.

ADVERTISEMENT
The comedian and liberal radio host should be seated “early next week,” said a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

But even as Franken becomes the 60th Democrat in the Senate, health problems could prevent the party from actually being able to field its full team on a given vote.

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) was released from the hospital Tuesday after spending a few weeks there — a stay that included treatment for a staph infection for the 91-year-old incumbent. And Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) should also continue to miss time in the Senate as he battles a brain tumor.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Franken’s seating will not automatically give Democrats absolute power.

“The crises we’ve inherited were not created in a day and will not be fixed overnight,” Manley said. “Moving America toward recovery still requires the cooperation and collaboration of Republicans.”

Nonetheless, President Obama welcomed Franken with open arms as a key piece of the puzzle in moving forward with his initiatives.

“I look forward to working with Sen.-elect Franken to build a new foundation for growth and prosperity by lowering healthcare costs and investing in the kind of clean energy jobs and industries that will help America lead in the 21st century,” Obama said in a statement.

Minnesota’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Franken was the winner of the state’s Senate race and should be awarded a certificate of election, paving the way for Franken to be seated regardless of continued legal wrangling.

Coleman elected not to pursue a federal court challenge that could have prolonged the case and done political damage to both himself and Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), who could have faced a tough decision about whether to certify Franken’s win.

Pawlenty said in a statement that he was signing the certificate Tuesday.

Coleman was somber but resolute in announcing his concession.

“I have never believed that my service is irreplaceable,” Coleman said. “We have reached the point where further litigation damages the unity of our state, which is also fundamental. In these tough times, we all need to focus on the future. And the future today is we have a new United States senator.”

Republicans stood solidly behind Coleman as he pursued every legal avenue available, mostly because the 60th vote was so close to becoming a reality.

Franken’s fate took on added significance when Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter switched from the Republicans to the Democrats two months ago. Prior to that, Franken would have been the 59th vote.

Democrats have been able to pick off centrist Republicans on some issues, with Specter and Maine centrists Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins joining them to narrowly pass the stimulus package earlier this year.

But, even in that case, concessions to those members had to be made. And Franken should side with the party frequently as it deals with potential filibusters on an energy bill passed by the House last week and on the union-organizing Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), or card-check.

Still, card-check illustrates how Franken’s seating hardly gives Democrats the ability to ram through any legislation they want. Even if Franken is a reliable vote on the issue, other Democrats have wavered, and the legislation remains in serious doubt.

Reid said he looked forward to Franken’s seating.

“The people of Minnesota will now finally get the brilliant and hardworking new senator they elected in November and the full representation they deserve,” Reid said.

Coleman was the leader of the race after Election Day, but a recount showed Franken overtaking him. A three-judge panel then affirmed Franken’s victory, which led to Coleman’s appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Coleman could have still filed suit in federal court and, with Pawlenty’s help, perhaps delayed Franken’s seating. But it would have been difficult for both of them after the state Supreme Court called for Franken’s certification.

Justices ruled against Coleman on each of the five issues his campaign raised, calling the Board of Canvassing certification “prima facie evidence that Franken ... has been elected” to the Senate.

“For all of the foregoing reasons, we affirm the decision of the trial court that Al Franken received the highest number of votes legally cast and is entitled under [state law] to receive the certificate of election as United States Senator from the State of Minnesota,” the ruling states.

Coleman’s legal team argued its due process rights were violated when a trial court did not require total compliance with statutes involving absentee voters, and that different applications of statutory requirements violated Coleman’s equal protection rights.

ADVERTISEMENT
Coleman also alleged the lower court had erred in excluding certain evidence, refusing to count more absentee ballots and including vote tallies from a specific Minneapolis precinct in which ballots were lost.

The Republican served one term in the Senate. A former Democrat and two-term mayor of St. Paul, he ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1998 but was elected to the Senate in 2002 after then-Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) died in a plane crash.

Coleman wound up defeating former Vice President Walter Mondale (D), who replaced Wellstone on the ballot one week before Election Day.

Reid Wilson contributed to this article.