Las Vegas — Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) last night told progressive activists and bloggers that they have a responsibility to stay engaged during the crucial midterm elections — lest they allow Republicans to not just roll back the Obama administration’s real gains, but enact an agenda he called “dangerous.” Franken then acknowledged that it’s a tough election year but, especially in Sen. Harry Reid’s home state, Reid (D-NV) shouldn’t be underestimated.Franken credited conservatives for being motivated to reverse the gains progressives have made over the past five years, pointing out that corporations have pledged $200 million during this election cycle and “one oilman, one guy, gave Karl Rove $1 million for attack ads.” He warned participants that, in addition to all of that, the Citizens United decision — the very mention of which earned boos from the crowd — means that “corporations now spend unlimited amounts of money… can now spend unlimited sums of money directly attacking candidates who try to stand up to them.” He pointed out that the Senate would be different without its current leadership and many of its progressive darlings — and that the House would be different with Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) as speaker, a mention that also earned boos from the crowd.
Franken acknowledged the frustration and disappointment of the crowd with the pace of change in the Senate, pointing out that he supported the public option, immigration reform and public financing of elections, too. He then went on to cite the progressive successes of the Senate, from the expansion of health coverage to 32 million more people, to the cap on profits and administration costs for insurance companies, and from the Volcker rule to the open trading of derivatives. In an interview with TPM before the speech, Franken endorsed Elizabeth Warren for the new Consumer Protection agency created with the financial reform law. He also said many of the things within health care reform he discussed during his 2008 campaign against Sen. Norm Coleman (R).
Franken then added that, while there might be a majority of Democrats, there’s hardly a majority of progressives — and those that are there aren’t satisfied with the pace. But he said that, no matter how frustrated the netroots are with Democrats, they shouldn’t “check out now” — because Republicans want to repeal everything that’s been achieved even as progressives bemoan what hasn’t been achieved yet.
Franken pointed out that, if Republicans regain control of Congress “everything is on the table” — from repealing health care to privatizing Social Security (which Sharron Angle, for all her talk at Right Online, once called for) to questioning the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which Rand Paul was caught supporting). He then pointed out that Angle had called for armed revolt, Joe Barton would be chair of the Energy Committee after apologizing for BP and Darrell Issa promised to double his staff and start issuing subpoenas to the Administration. “We’ve seen what happens,” he said, “when the Republicans take over Congress during a Democratic administration, and it ain’t pretty.”
Watch Franken’s whole speech starting at 1:59:20 below (and we’ll post a shorter video when it becomes available):
TPM is heading back to Washington. Check out our coverage of Netroots and RightOnline here.
Additional reporting and writing by Megan Carpentier