WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Minnesota Supreme Court today unanimously cleared the way for Democrat Al Franken to become the state’s next U.S. senator. His challenger, former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, even agreed, and the governor said he’s signing the election certificate today.
The only problem now: There’s nobody here to swear him in.
Or, rather, Congress is not in session because of its weeklong Independence Day recess. Thus, Franken will still have to wait until next week — at the earliest — to be seated, according to Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
“The Senate looks forward to welcoming Senator-elect Franken as soon as possible,” Reid said in a statement, adding, “He will play a crucial role as we work to strengthen our economy, ensure all Americans can access and afford quality health care, make our country more energy independent, confirm the President’s outstanding nominee to the Supreme Court, and tackle the many other challenges we face.”
Crucial might even be a bit of an understatement. When he is seated, Franken will become the magic 60th vote for the Democrats, which means, if party affiliation holds, a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate at a time of controversial health care reform measures and unprecedented climate change legislation.
Franken gets coveted Judiciary assignment
During a press conference today in Minneapolis, Franken said that he would be appointed to the powerful Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, the Judiciary Committee, and the Committee on Indian Affairs and Aging.
This means that Franken and, by extension, Minnesota will now be at the heart of one of the most important legislative discussions in Congress — health care reform. He will also join Minnesota’s Democratic senior senator, Amy Klobuchar, on Judiciary in time for the hearings on Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Obama’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I think the hardest part of this transition is that there is a real difference getting briefings on what is going on in these committees and having been there during the markup” on health care, for instance, Franken said today.
As the state’s recent junior senator, Klobuchar said Franken’s best strategy, at this point, would be to keep his nose to the grindstone.
“I think given the tumultuous times that we are in right now, he just needs to get to work,” Klobuchar said in an interview today with MinnPost. “He is a smart guy, and he needs to focus on specific issues — the number one would be health care — and I know that he knows that.”
Until Franken can be sworn in at the Capitol, he can also take the oath of office from a local judge, according to Betty Koed, an assistant historian in the U.S. Senate.
Franken would then have an official budget and would be able to start hiring staff, Koed said. But, he would not be able to vote or assume other official legislative duties until he was sworn in before the Senate in open session.
“It is not that unusual for a person to be sworn in by a judge in their local area very quickly,” said Koed.
In a statement issued after the ruling, Coleman conceded defeat, indicating that he would not pursue the matter to the federal courts.
“Ours is a government of laws, not men and women,” Coleman said in a statement. “The Supreme Court of Minnesota has spoken and I respect its decision and will abide by the result. It’s time for Minnesota to come together under the leaders it has chosen and move forward. I join all Minnesotans in congratulating our newest United States Senator — Al Franken.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., meanwhile, said that while he was “very disappointed in the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision today,” he respected “Norm’s decision not to pursue his case any further.”
A warm welcome from Obama, state delegation
President Barack Obama even chimed in, saying, in a statement, that he looks “forward to working with Senator-Elect Franken to build a new foundation for growth and prosperity by lowering health care costs and investing in the kind of clean energy jobs and industries that will help America lead in the 21st century.”
Klobuchar also welcomed Franken to the Senate, congratulating him on a “hard-earned and long-awaited election victory.”
But, Klobuchar dedicated most of her statement today to Coleman, who she said handled the ruling with grace.
“I respect Norm Coleman for what I’m sure was a very difficult decision,” Klobuchar said. “He had the right to pursue a legal appeal, but he chose to do the right thing for Minnesota. Norm was my Senate colleague for two years. Although on opposite sides of the aisle, we often worked together on issues affecting Minnesota, in particular securing quick federal support for rebuilding the 35W Bridge. Norm is a dedicated public servant. As a Senator, he took to heart his duty to represent and serve the people of Minnesota. I wish him the best.”
Minnesota’s House members also reacted quickly to Tuesday’s ruling.
“It took longer than we expected, but now the people of the state finally have their second senator, which they need” said Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn. “I give my congratulations to Al, and welcome him to the fight.”
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said that he looked forward to meeting Franken and congratulated both Franken and Coleman for “a hard-fought race.”
Coleman “has served Minnesota with honor and integrity for the past six years in the U.S. Senate. He has demonstrated strong leadership in the face of significant challenges and made tough decisions at a time when our nation needed it most,” Kline said in a statement.
He then thanked Coleman “for his dedicated service” and wished “him all the best on his future endeavors.”
Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said that Franken should “immediately be sworn-in” and that she looked “forward to working with him on important issues, like health care reform and creating new jobs to get out economy back on track.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., also enthusiastically welcomed Franken into the fold.
“I welcome Senator-elect Franken to the Congress and look forward to sharing Minnesota’s workload with him,” Walz said in a statement. “In these challenging economic times, the people of Minnesota are more inclined than ever before to use the resources congressional offices provide to citizens and I’m certain the citizens of Minnesota are eager to have one more resource at the federal level.”
During his Minneapolis press conference, Franken announced that he would likely head to Northern Minnesota to attend Fourth of July festivities before flying here early next week.
And, according to political analysts, that’s a smart move for a Democrat who trailed President Obama by 12 points in the state and went on to win the election by only 312 votes.
“I think the main challenge for Al Franken is that he has to win back Democrats,” said Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota. “He has to rehabilitate himself all over the state. Al Franken has his work cut out for him.”
Cynthia Dizikes covers Minnesota’s congressional delegation and reports on issues and developments in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at cdizikes[at]minnpost[dot]com.