Al Franken arrives — and sticks to his script

Al Franken made a muted maiden appearance in the Senate on Monday, avoiding questions and sticking to his script.

A week after his eight-month legal battle with former Sen. Norm Coleman (R) ended, Franken (D) — due to be sworn in to the Senate on Tuesday —  toured the old and new Senate chambers, met with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and began ensconcing himself in his new office — Room 320 of the Hart Senate Office Building.

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Franken’s staff is so new that by mid-afternoon his office had two empty receptionist desks in the lobby and still-fresh glue around the plaque that bears his name. A Senate work crew installed it Monday morning.

During a brief appearance with Reid, Franken, who gives the Democratic Conference enough votes to overcome a filibuster (assuming no defections), downplayed the significance of his seat.

“A lot has been made of this number 60. The number I’m focusing on is the number 2,” Franken said. “I see myself as the second senator from the state of Minnesota.”

Franken said he sees his election as proof of Minnesota voters’ desire for healthcare reform, economic recovery, job growth, energy policy reform and retirement security.

“I am going to work day and night to make sure that our kids have a great future and that America’s best days lay ahead [sic],” he said. “I’m ready to get to work.”

Neither Reid nor Franken took questions Monday, although Reid suggested they might on Tuesday.

Other Democrats trickling through the chamber on Monday offered advice for Franken. One suggested he follow the path taken by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton after she was elected to New York’s Senate seat in 2000.

“Be a workhorse, not a show-horse,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.). “The same advice that Sen. Clinton stated that she took.”

Both the Floridian and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) dismissed the idea that Franken’s background as a comic will make it harder for him to gain legitimacy and credibility during policy and legislative discussions.

“I’ve seen his remarks recently, and he seems to be taking the job seriously,” Nelson said. “I’m sure he’ll give the issues serious consideration. He can still have fun and be a comedian when he wants to be, but when he’s doing his work that will be largely a serious effort, I’m sure.”

Followed by reporters into the Senate subway, Franken brushed off questions in a cheery, upbeat manner. Even when he was trapped in the subway car with a cameraman recording him, Franken just laughed.

The former “Saturday Night Live” actor and writer will be sworn in Tuesday morning by Vice President Biden in the Old Senate Chamber, sometime before the weekly Democratic Conference lunch, according to a spokesman in Reid’s office.

Franken is not exactly new to the Senate; he has been a regular visitor this year, briefing Reid on his legal case against Coleman and having his staff stay in touch with the majority leader.

Spokesmen in Reid’s office said Franken’s committee assignments are still undetermined but that seats on the Judiciary Committee, Aging Committee and Indian Affairs Committee are likely.

Reid said Monday that he understands Franken’s first duty is to Minnesotans, but also made clear that he expects Franken “to deliver on the change this country is demanding.” He also took pains to downplay Franken’s comedic past, predicting people will be “pleasantly surprised” by his seriousness.

And Reid made a point of stressing that the GOP will still be consulted and needed for legislation. At 60 seats, Democrats have only the barest minimum necessary to move legislation, and will likely need Republican help often.

“Moving America forward will still require the cooperation of my Senate colleagues who are Republicans,” Reid said. “Democrats aren’t looking at Sen. Franken’s election as an opportunity to ram legislation through this body.

“In turn, Senate Republicans must understand that Sen.-elect Franken’s election does not abdicate from them the responsibility to govern … It’s up to them to decide whether they will continue to sit down and either be the party of ‘no’ or sit down and work for the common good of the people.”