Franken takes oath of office, joins Senateby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
Washington — Al Franken became a U.S. senator on Tuesday, completing the transformation from comedian to politician.
The Minnesota Democrat's swearing-in marked the end of an eight-month political and legal struggle, and drew thunderous applause in the Senate chamber. His presence gives Democrats 60 votes, enough to thwart possible Republican filibusters.
Vice President Joe Biden administered the oath to Franken, slapping him on the back, then embracing him in a full hug.
Former Vice President Walter Mondale, a Minnesota native, accompanied Franken. Franken was introduced by fellow Minnesotan and Democrat Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
"I think it was Al who told me that the third year of his campaign would be the best," Klobuchar said. "He was right."
Franken arrives in the Senate more than eight months after Election Day. Last week the Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Franken's favor after a protracted recount and his opponent, former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, conceded.
In the usually staid Senate, there were plenty of signs something unusual was afoot. The Senate Gallery, rarely full even with dozens of summer tours, was packed with onlookers.
After Franken took the oath of the Senate, the gallery erupted in an unusual and lengthy applause that continued for several minutes.
Before the swearing in, Franken learned one truism of the Senate: nothing ever runs quite on time. Several senators read lengthy remarks from a Homeland Security bill as anticipation built for Franken's arrival. Franni Franken, the candidate's wife, smiled broadly and seemed to shift nervously in her seat.
Then, about 15 minutes later than had been scheduled, Klobuchar began her introduction. She said Franken would be a champion of average Minnesotans and played up his middle-class bona fides.
"He's demonstrated to Minnesotans that he takes his new job seriously," she said.
She added that he carried, "the same passion as Paul Wellstone," who was famous for his populist roots. Franken took the oath on a Bible that belonged to the family of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn.
Franken exchanged hugs with most of his Democratic colleagues and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent.
Franken acknowledged a section of the Senate Gallery that included his wife, Franni. Franken waved to his wife and children while behind him, his friend Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, gestured with his hands to raise the roof, prompting a fresh burst of cheers.
Following the formal swearing-in, Franken and Vice President Biden re-enacted the oath in the old Senate chamber. It's a tradition done so that family members who are not allowed on the floor of the Senate can be part of the ceremony. It also provides for photo opportunities.
Biden joked with Franken's wife and their two adult children. The mood was jovial, with Mondale, Klobuchar and other members of Minnesota's congressional delegation offering their congratulations to Franken and his family.
At an afternoon reception, Franken thanked all of the people who made his Senate campaign a success.
Among those attending the reception was Wayne Peterson of St. Paul, who just happened to be visiting Washington and got an invitation. Peterson says he voted for Franken, and he expects Franken will make a good senator.
"Al's an old friend, and he's going to be a great statesman. And it's important to have that kind of sensibility here in government," said Peterson. "That's why I'm here. I came from California to celebrate this historic and amazing achievement."
Franken wrapped up his remarks by reiterating his pledge to hit the ground running as Minnesota's new senator.
"I'm going to work as hard as I can, going to wake up every day saying, 'What can I get done? What can I do to improve people's lives?'" said Franken. "Because that's what Paul Wellstone said politics is about. It's not about power, it's not about elections. It's about improving people's lives, and that's what I'm going to do."
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)
- All Things Considered, 07/07/2009, 5:20 p.m.