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Al Franken’s rustic path — literally — to the White House’s Syria briefings

WASHINGTON — Sen. Franken cut short a BWCA canoe-and-camping trip to return to Washington for Syria briefings.

alton lake
Sen. Al Franken’s time on picturesque Lake Alton was cut short when he was called back to Washington.

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers are keen on saying they’re never truly on vacation — even, as Sen. Al Franken realized last week, when they actually are.

Franken embarked on a Boundary Waters Canoe Area canoe-and-camping trip on Friday, the day before President Obama announced he would consult with Congress on a possible military strike in Syria. Franken said he didn’t think Obama would call on Congress, so he set off for rural Cook County with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Coleman’s brother Pat and one other — but he brought a satellite phone and planned a Saturday afternoon call with a staffer, just in case.

They group spent about six hours Saturday doing what you do when you’re on a Boundary Waters vacation: canoeing across lakes (they were up around Lake Alton in the Arrowhead Region), hiking through the woods with equipment on their backs, searching for good fishing spots and setting up camp.

Then 3 p.m. rolled around and Franken made his call.

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“My LD, my legislative director, said, ‘You have to come back,'” Franken said.

So they did.

Franken and the group retraced their steps and met up with one of his Iron Range staffers around 7:30 p.m. They drove to Duluth, where Franken left with his chief of staff, who drove him back to Minneapolis, getting into town around 2:30 a.m. He took a Sunday morning flight to Washington and made it to a briefing with administration officials later in the day.

“We did all the work of a Boundary Waters canoe camping trip with zero percent of the actual sitting around enjoying it,” Franken said Tuesday.

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Franken said he’s participated in two classified briefings with Obama officials while in D.C. He generally backs an intervention in Syria, though he said the original military authorization Obama had sent to Congress was too broad. A group of senators has since written a new plan.

“The ramifications for acting and, conversely, the ramifications for not acting are very, very serious, and there are unknowns for both, there are risks for both,” he said. “I want to make sure that I’m as comfortable as I can be with my ultimate decision on this.”

Devin Henry can be reached at