WASHINGTON, D.C. — When Al Franken is sworn in here at 12:15 p.m. EDT Tuesday as Minnesota’s next senator, his right hand will be placed on the family Bible of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.
Franken said he asked David Wellstone, one of Paul and Sheila Wellstone’s sons, to use the Bible a few months back. It’s the Bible that Sheila Wellstone gave to Paul when they were married.
Although both Wellstone and Franken share the Jewish faith, the Wellstone’s family Bible contains both the Old and New Testament, because Sheila was not Jewish.
Franken, of course, is filling the seat that once was Wellstone’s, and he often mentions his hopes of following in the late senator’s footsteps.
“It was important to me,” Franken said of the Bible and his chance to use it.
What will he be thinking Tuesday?
In an interview tonight with MinnPost, Franken was asked what he might be thinking Tuesday during swearing-in ceremonies in the Senate chamber. He’ll be accompanied at the ceremony by Minnesota’s “first” senator, Amy Klobuchar, and by former Vice President Walter Mondale, who was put on the 2002 ballot at the last minute days after Wellstone’s death in a plane crash and lost a close race to former Sen. Norm Coleman.
“I think that’s something I’ll feel in the moment,” Franken said, adding that he was asked recently on a radio show what he’d be thinking and, he said, his first reaction was to repeat a part of his oath, that “I’ll be thinking about defending the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic. But, in all truth, I don’t know if I’ll be thinking about my parents, about my wife and kids, about folks I met in Minnesota along the way …”
He spoke of meeting a miner on the Iron Range early in his campaign. In a session with the Steelworkers Union, a worker asked: “What are you going to do to protect my pension?”
Said Franken: “I may be thinking about him tomorrow, or some of the retired miners who had their pensions defaulted on … I know I see this as an enormous opportunity and an enormous responsibility.”
He met with Harry Reid Monday. What did they talk about?
Well, among other things, they talked about recounts. Reid had once gone through a six-week-long recount.
Franken: “He said it was really a horrible thing for him. But I told him, at a certain point, it sort of became the new normal. But as life crises go, it isn’t that horrible … He expressed some admiration for how I handled it.
They talked about his committee assignments and chatted about Franken’s hope to kick off a pilot program for service dogs for veterans.
60th senator, second or 100th?
During Reid’s media session today, he spoke about the need for bipartisanship. Did Franken find it counter-intuitive that he would talk about that with Franken himself a symbol of partisan power, now being the 60th Democratic senator?
Said Franken: “I think that he believes that it’s just best for the country that these momentous decisions that need to be made be made in a bipartisan way and that the Republicans not just sit back to wait and say, ‘No.’ ”
A theme and sales pitch during Franken’s campaign was that he could become the 60th Democrat and help to build a filibuster-proof Senate.
Now, he’s defining himself more as “Minnesota’s second senator” and downplaying his 60th role, as did Reid today.
Today in an email to MinnPost, a Republican Party operative noted that Hillary Rodham Clinton participated in a campaign ad for Franken asserting : “It’s going to take a new president and 60 senators willing to stand up for change. Now, any single Republican can block the progress we need. Al Franken could very well be that 60th vote.”
MinnPost asked Franken about that change in defining his role.
“I think that’s a fair thing for that Republican operative to say,” Franken said. “I’m very well aware the Republicans have used the filibuster. The 60 number isn’t magic, but it means something if the Republicans continue to be obstructionist … But legislation that will pass has to be practical and have a return on investment. Everywhere I can I’ll be working with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle … I’m not saying I’m not the 60th,” he said, with a chuckle. “I’m also the second. I’m also the 100th. There are three numbers in there.”
In some other news, Franken said he’d hired Lauren Gilchrist of Rochester, to be his legislative aide in his work on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. She’s the former outreach director at the University of Minnesota’s Powell Center for Women’s Health and recently a policy fellow for the HELP Committee. Franken said he was heartened to learn that there has been bipartisan support on many amendments of the ongoing health care legislation markup.
How did he feel about being up on the Iron Range over the Fourth of July holiday and being congratulated?
“Those people were saying, ‘Attaboys,’ but they were also saying, ‘Get to work.’ ”
Jay Weiner can be reached at jweiner [at] minnpost [dot] com.