As we've seen over the last week, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) is now going to be a dead-serious public servant, leaving behind the image of the goofy comedian that he'd cultivated for decades before. With that in mind, it's time to remember and say goodbye to Funny Al -- at least for a while.
During the 2008 campaign, Republicans went out of their way to attack Franken for jokes that he'd told over the course of his comedy career, sometimes taking them out of context to make him seem like a real nut-job. Franken clearly adjusted his own demeanor over the course of that race, and he just barely won it in the end. So he'll probably have to be on his best behavior going forward.
As the first part of our trip down memory lane, here's Franken in the early 1980s, along with his writing partner Tom Davis, doing a bang-up impression of the Rolling Stones:
In interviews released this morning, Sarah Palin repeated that the reason she is stepping down is to spare Alaska from spending more time and money investigating ethics claims against her.
She blamed the ethics complaints on the "opposition research" flooding into Alaska after John McCain named her his running mate to "dig up dirt."
Palin gave a slew of interviews last night at her husband's family's fishing spot in western Alaska. During the photo op, in which she wore overall waders and full makeup, she gave 10 minutes to each news outlet: CNN, NBC, ABC and Anchorage Daily News. (FOX was also there, but hasn't aired the interview yet.)
She noted that she now has $500,000 in legal bills and, although she tried to keep the focus on the state's expenditures, she let loose this key point:
The adversaries would love to see us put on a path of personal bankruptcy so we couldn't afford to run.
That almost seems like an acknowledgment that she had to leave office in order to be able, financially, to run for higher office.
More highlights, and video, after the jump.
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Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) has now been sworn into office as the junior Senator from Minnesota, six months and one day after his term would have otherwise begun if not for the super-close election and resulting litigation that kept his victory bottled up.
The former Saturday Night Live performer, author, radio host and Democratic activist, was administered the oath of office by Vice President Joe Biden, and was accompanied by his senior Senator from Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar, and former Vice President Walter Mondale.
After Biden said, "Congratulations, Senator," a raucous round of applause broke out in the chamber -- even from the folks on the Republican side of the aisle who showed up. Sen. Franken then hugged many of his new colleagues.
Franken will have a busy time ahead of him -- with seats on the Health and Judiciary committees, he'll be working on both health care reform and the Supreme Court confirmation process for Sonia Sotomayor.
In the wake of this morning's flap over the public option, President Obama has released a statement reaffirming his support for the policy. "I am pleased by the progress we're making on health care reform and still believe, as I've said before, that one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices, and assure quality is a public option that will force the insurance companies to compete and keep them honest," Obama said. "I look forward to a final product that achieves these very important goals. "
An earlier Wall Street Journal reported that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had suggested that the administration might be willing to accept a number of alternatives. Between the two, the campaign Health Care for American Now is lining up behind Obama.
"Today, President Obama unequivocally reaffirmed his commitment to a public health insurance option as part of comprehensive health care reform this year," noted HCAN's National Campaign Manager Richard Kirsch.
We believe too that a national robust public health insurance plan that is ready on day one is central to lowering costs, injecting competition into the health insurance market, ensuring access to care in every corner of the country, and keeping the insurance companies honest. We look forward to working with the President and Congressional leadership to accomplish these goals.
Reformers acknowledge that Obama's statement doesn't necessarily contradict Emanuel's, but they note that, whatever the explanation for Emanuel's statement, the President has taken the same position on the public option all along.
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel suggested Monday that President Obama wants competition injected into the private insurance market--even if that's accomplished without a public option.
Republicans and conservative Democrats have proposed a small handful of alternatives to the public option--all of which have been rejected by reformers. But according to the Wall Street Journal, Obama isn't standing so firm. "Mr. Emanuel said one of several ways to meet President Barack Obama's goals is a mechanism under which a public plan is introduced only if the marketplace fails to provide sufficient competition on its own." Emphasis mine.
This is the so-called trigger mechanism, and it's been roundly rejected by reformers who view it as an escape hatch for insurers who seek to at least delay the creation of a public option. Obama's openness to this idea puts him at odds with key Democrats in both the House and Senate. On Sunday, in words reminiscent of a pledge put forth by the campaign Health Care for America Now, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY)--a key point man on the public option--said that a public "has to be available, on the first day, to everybody...so there shouldn`t be a trigger."
David Weigel has spotted the National Republican Senatorial Committee posting a new Web video to scare viewers about Al Franken -- using video of Franken paying tribute to his late friend, Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN), and taking it out of context:
During the 2008 campaign, the NRSC ran an ad that featured a seemingly angry Franken yelling out, "You can take this guy!" The Franken campaign responded by running a minute-long TV ad showing what was really happening: He was reminiscing about Paul Wellstone, by doing a funny impression of how Wellstone would act at his son's track meets -- as an overly eager parent cheering on his son, and running alongside him on the whole cross-country run.
Doing a bit of lip-reading of this new video, you can tell that Franken is saying, "You can take this guy!" or, "You can take him!" in all these video segments. Thus, this is all footage of Franken firing up his supporters by doing a goofy impression of his departed friend and political role model.
Late Update: In a comment to Greg Sargent, NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh offered to use a different image of Franken, instead -- which, as we know, is the infamous doctored photo of Franken wearing a diaper, which was first distributed by the Ohio Republican Party in 2006.
I asked Walsh why he was "offering" to use a doctored photo -- and he appeared to defend its authenticity, or at least shift the question over to someone else. "Eric -you'll note the link is to the Los Angeles Times, one of the largest newspapers in the country - if there's a question about the authenticity of the photo, you should direct your question to the LA Times," said Walsh. "That being said, we continue to be both amused and grateful that the Democrats are devoting so much time to ensuring widespread publicity of our web video today."
If you've been following the health care debate in Washington, you know that the issue of a public insurance option--whether to create one, and, if so, how robust it should it be--is proving to be a thorny one.
But there are other, somewhat less pyrotechnic issues that will have to be resolved before Congress can deliver a bill--and one of those is the question of how to pay for it. Industry representatives have pledged to pitch in for part of the cost, and Democrats have floated various ideas--slashing Medicare and Medicaid spending, taxing employer-provided health benefits--but thus far, they've released no specific proposals.
But that'll all change soon enough. House Democrats will release bill text at the end of the week explaining how a reform package will be financed. The situation's a bit less clear in the Senate, where the Finance Committee has yet to unveil it's legislation.
On Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden is expected to announce that three major hospital associations have agreed to provide $160 billion in savings for the overhaul--a substantial chunk of the price tag which is expected to run upwards of one trillion dollars.
Late update: According to Ryan Donmoyer of Bloomberg, the House is likely to propose taxing high income earners. "Two people familiar with closed-door talks by committee Democrats said a House bill probably will include a surtax on incomes exceeding $250,000, as Congress seeks ways to pay for changes to a health-care system that accounts for almost 18 percent of the U.S. economy." That'll be a tough sell to Republicans (then again, what isn't?) but will probably appeal more to most Democrats than the idea of taxing employer-provided health benefits.
Atlantic Media publisher David Bradley is defending the corporate-sponsored, off-the-record "salon" dinners that his company has been organizing since 2003, in response to TPMmuckraker's report yesterday on the dinners.
In a 1500-word "letter" posted on The Hotline, Bradley refers to "concerns I'm reading now on the web" (no attribution, naturally), before explaining why he thinks the salons -- which, as we wrote yesterday, are very similar to the Washington Post's planned event that ignited a furor last week -- "are full of good purpose." (He adds that they're also "part of my best thinking on how we carry forward (read fund) modern journalism.")
The South Carolina Republican Party has formally voted to censure Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) over his extra-marital affair and his disappearance from the state -- an interesting development, the closer one looks at it.
Of the 41 members of the state GOP's executive committee, a bare majority of 22 voted to censure him. Ten members voted to ask him to resign, and nine others in fact voted in support of him.
Funny thing: Sanford voted to impeach Bill Clinton over a sex scandal in 1998, and at the time a whole lot of Republicans said that a mere censure of Clinton was insufficient -- only impeachment or a resignation would truly satisfy the moral and legal problems at hand.
Franken Being Sworn In Today
Sen.-elect Al Franken (D-MN) will be sworn into office today by Vice President Biden, at about noon. This ends a Senate race that lasted eight months beyond Election Day itself, and involved six months of litigation after the State Canvassing Board had completed the recount. Franken will take office six months plus one day after he would have been sworn in with the other Senators who were elected in 2008, if not for the sheer closeness of his race and the resulting litigation.
Obama's Day In Russia
President Obama had a working breakfast in Moscow with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, at 1 a.m. ET (9 a.m. local time). At 3 a.m. ET, he met with former President Mikhail Gorbachev. AT 3:15 a.m. ET, he delivered the commencement address for the 2009 graduation of the New Economic School. At 5:40 a.m. ET, he met one-on-one with President Dmitry Medvedev, and he and First Lady Michelle Obama attended a reception hosted by Medvedev at 6:10 a.m. ET. At 7:25 a.m. ET, Obama and Medvedev met with the Parallel Business Summit, and Obama met with the Parallel Civil Society Summit at 8:20 a.m. ET. AT 9:35 a.m ET, Obama will meet with Russian opposition leaders.