Republican Senators brush off Senator Al Franken’s old jokes aimed at them

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) once called Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) a “chickenhawk,” claimed Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) didn’t serve in the Vietnam War because of acne and suggested he wanted to sleep with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine.).

Franken has largely stayed out of the spotlight since he was sworn in to office in July, but in his previous career he wasn’t so quiet. The former “Saturday Night Live” star wrote several books in the 1990s and early 2000s before he launched his bid for the Senate in 2007.

ADVERTISEMENT
In his 2003 book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Franken took shots at Sens. Gregg, Chambliss, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

But Franken also admitted admiring at least one Republican. He singled out Snowe, praising her in an unusual way for frequently voting against her party.

“I am not currently having an affair with any Republican woman, but if I were, it would be with Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, whom I respect for voting her conscience,” Franken wrote.

Snowe, who is married to former two-term Maine Gov. John McKernan Jr. (R), was surprised, diplomatic and a little confused when asked about Franken’s writings.

“He’s a comedian, so it’s all in jest,” Snowe said. “I assume it is, anyway.”

Franken’s political books are a mix of serious and tongue-in-cheek commentary. Some of his other books are more satirical, such as Why Not Me?, a fictional account from 1999 about a Franken campaign for president.

Franken labeled Chambliss a “chickenhawk” for how he conducted his 2002 campaign against then-Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) and quoted a 1997 Coburn interview in which the Oklahoma senator said abortion doctors should receive the death penalty. Franken also asserted that Hatch cost the U.S. military the chance to catch Osama bin Laden by leaking intelligence details during an interview days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Franken declined to comment for this article. When his spokesman, Jess McIntosh, was asked if Franken had approached any senators to apologize for or explain his written comments, the answer was, “Sen. Franken is focused on representing the folks who elected him. And he’s working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address the very serious challenges we face.”

In the 2003 book, Franken wrote without explanation that Gregg received a Vietnam War deferment “for acne. Acne!”

Republican senators targeted by Franken declined to comment or dismissed the writings as a partisan exercise.

“I’m finding Al Franken to be a very friendly and very serious senator,” Gregg said.

ADVERTISEMENT
Franken wrote that Hatch compromised the effort to find bin Laden “by disclosing classified intercepts,” noting that then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld complained publicly about Hatch’s remarks.

Franken referred to conservative commentator Pat Buchanan’s knee-injury deferment when lambasting Chambliss: “Cleland lost three limbs in Vietnam, but Chambliss ran ads with Cleland’s face next to Saddam Hussein’s. Chambliss, it seems, had Buchanan’s knee problem — the kind that gets better after you’ve gotten your [military waiver].”

Hatch and Chambliss both said they were unaware of Franken’s writings about them. Chambliss defended the 2002 campaign he ran against Cleland.

“Sen. Franken and I have a good relationship, and I’m going to keep it that way,” Chambliss said. “There have been any number of uneducated references to the 2002 campaign, and it’s developed almost a myth out there. But thank goodness, not among Georgians. They know the real story. So, you know, he and I are friends and colleagues and we work well together.”

Hatch refuted Franken’s assertion, but said he wasn’t offended.

“He has the right to write whatever he wants. If it’s wrong, then it’s wrong. He was playing partisan politics at the time,” Hatch said.

Asked about Franken’s criticisms, Coburn replied, “I don’t have any comments on anything he’s written.”

Franken revealed his friendship with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in one of his books. The 2008 GOP presidential nominee met Franken in 1996, Franken wrote, when he delivered a “beautiful” eulogy at the funeral of a mutual friend who had protested the Vietnam War.

Franken also delivered a blistering assessment of George W. Bush’s treatment of McCain during the 2000 presidential campaign, defending the Arizona senator from a broadside of attacks from the Bush team.