By J. Taylor Rushing - 07/07/09 01:51 PM EDT
Former comedian Al Franken officially became Minnesota’s junior senator on Tuesday, continuing his policy of silence and seriousness but giving the Democratic Party a critical 60-seat Senate majority.
Franken was sworn in twice by Vice President Joe Biden, first officially in the Senate chamber and then again in a mock ceremony down the hall in the Old Senate Chamber for photographers. He was accompanied by his wife, Frannie, his son Joe, his daughter Thomasin, his brother-in-law Neal, sister-in-law Carla, fellow Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) and former Vice President Walter Mondale (D). Minnesota Reps. Jim Oberstar (D) and Collin Peterson (D) also made brief appearances.
Franken did not speak to reporters, but ate lunch with his new Democratic colleagues and has an open-house event for Minnesota constituents planned for Wednesday. He is eligible to vote on Senate business immediately.
As expected, Franken has been assigned to the Judiciary Committee, Indian Affairs Committee and Aging Committee. He will also sit on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee once the panel finishes marking up the healthcare reform legislation.
Mondale, who in 2002 briefly ran for the seat that Franken wrested from Republican Norm Coleman after an eight-month legal battle, told The Hill that Franken will be a “very strong, very smart” senator.
“This two-year campaign, as tough as it's been, has made him tougher and more ready to get started here,” he said. “He and Amy will make a great team.”
Asked if Franken may have to struggle for legitimacy because of his background as a comedian, Mondale simply noted that celebrities are no strangers to the Senate.
“The details are different, but there’s a lot of them here,” he said. “Are they here to repeat an old career, or are they here to be senators? I don’t think Franken has left any doubt that he’s here to be a serious senator. That will be accepted.”
Klobuchar, who was Minnesota’s sole senator during the past eight months, also said Franken isn’t in the Senate for laughs.
“He’s going to buckle down and get back to work. That’s what he’s told me, and you can already see it happening,” she said. “If people from the national media expected some laugh riot, that’s not how he’s been through the campaign, that’s not how he’s been the last six months. He’s just going to get to work.”