WASHINGTON — The very first time I sat down for an interview with Al Franken, I asked him if he had anything specific he’d like to accomplish in his freshmen term. After health care and Wall Street reform, plus a few other policies, Franken admitted that he was chasing the Golden Gavel, an award given to freshmen who spend at least 100 hours chairing the Senate.
Despite a six-month late start, well, mission accomplished. Franken passed the 100-hours mark on Friday.
Along the way, Franken has been in the chair for a highlight reel of the Democrats’ 2009 and 2010 accomplishments. He held the gavel during Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court confirmation, and then again for Elena Kagan’s. He was in the chair for much of the final debates on health care reform and Wall Street reform.
“I’m proud to say that I think I was the first winner of the Golden Gavel to give an acceptance speech in front of all of the Democratic Senators, which gave me the opportunity to thank everyone who helped make it possible,” Franken said, thanking Senate staffers for helping him understand the Senate’s parliamentary procedure and “the less-senior senators, who relieved me right on time at the top of the hour—most of the time.”
It hasn’t entirely been a smooth ride — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Franken of fidgeting and rolling his eyes while presiding during closing remarks on Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination. Franken quickly apologized to McConnell in a handwritten note.
There was also that much-overblown incident during the health care debate with Sen. Joe Lieberman, where Franken (under instruction from leadership to deny time to everyone) denied him an extra few seconds to complete his remarks. Arizona Sen. John McCain took the floor moments later to denounce the shushing as unprecedented, but it had happened earlier that day with Alaska’s Mark Begich in the chair — and in fact McCain had done the same things a few years before to then-Sen. Mark Dayton.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar also hotly pursued the Golden Gavel in her freshman year, getting dubbed the “Queen of C-SPAN” for her frequent face time in the chair. A certificate marking the accomplishment shakily signed by the (now deceased) Sen. Robert Byrd with his own frail hand hangs in her private hideaway office.