Tuesday, Franken’s hand will be on Wellstone Bible, his thoughts likely on the many Minnesotans he’s met

Senator-elect Al Franken
MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
Senator-elect Al Franken

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 …”

Or …

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.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/06/2009 - 07:36 pm.

    And to think that people blamed Rick Kahn for making a mockery Wellstone’s memory.

  2. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 07/06/2009 - 10:42 pm.

    I would have loved to be around to have seen the look on Former Senator Bochwitz’s face, when he first realized that the underdog Paul Wellstone with his green bus beat him.

    I imagine it might have been similar to the look that Former Senator Coleman had when he realized that he too had been beaten by an unlikely candidate named Al Franken.

    To make fun of a gentleman who was overcome by grief and then gave an “over the top” eulogy, is simply beyond the pale. Your demagoguery knows no bounds Thomas.

    The fact that Franken has won back Paul Wellstone’s former seat is a much better tribute to Wellstone’s memory.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/07/2009 - 08:37 am.

    Who’s “making fun”?

    I think the way the Democrat party treats it’s former elected officials is a tragedy.

  4. Submitted by Terry Hayes on 07/07/2009 - 11:51 am.

    “The fact that Franken has won back Paul Wellstone’s former seat is a much better tribute to Wellstone’s memory.”

    Thanks, Richard. This is one of the most satisfying things about Franken’s victory.

  5. Submitted by Gregory Stricherz on 07/07/2009 - 02:52 pm.

    Well, actually Franken is the 58th Democratic Senator. Lieberman and Sanders are both Independents, although they often caucus with the Democrats. But what does a Democratic majority get us? They gave us the Wall Street / Bankster bailout. They gave us an expanded war in the Middle East — under the able leadership of Obama. They gave us pretty much the status quo on health care — again under the able leadership of Obama. So we are supposed to be happy the Democrats have picked up another Senate seat? Wny?

  6. Submitted by William Levin on 07/07/2009 - 04:51 pm.

    Why do we keep on hearing about “Wellstone’s seat?” It belongs to the voters of Minnesota.

  7. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 07/08/2009 - 06:55 am.

    William, you are correct as to whom the seat belongs to and to whom the power to seat or unseat a candidate in said seat belongs to.

    I was was simply trying (or failing) to show the former occupant and the irony that a friend/supporter was reclaiming that particular seat.

    As opposed to winning a seat that had not been occupied by Wellstone at some point in time.

    No doubt that seat (office) will evolve over the years and many “former” senators will lay claim to it being “their former seat”.

    Best wishes William….

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