After Senator Al Franken (D-MN) became official among his ninety-nine other colleagues, political observers and fans alike are still waiting for the former Saturday Night Live comedian to be the outrageous guy he was known for prior to coming to Washington. Strangely enough, Congressman Alan Grayson (D –FL) is saying everything people would expect Mr. Franken would have blurted out by now. Mr. Franken has offered up bills, amendments, and chaired Senate floor debates without any wild fanfare. So what’s up?
Recently, while covering the ongoing health care debate in the Senate, I caught up with Mr. Franken and asked him about his opinion on Senator Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) amendment, which would enroll the President, members of Congress, their political advisors, and staff in the public option. I had previously asked Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) the same question minutes before, to which the northeastern Senator said that he had not fully looked at the entire amendment to be able to respond. Ok.
The Junior Senator from Minnesota, on the other hand, only responded that he would only speak to me, if I set up an interview with him through his press secretary. I asked again, saying I only was asking one question on the amendment and received the same response. This time I got a card from Mr. Franken’s legislative assistant, and the same canned response that I could set up an interview with Mr. Franken through his press secretary. (TRANSCRIPT BELOW) AUDIO
I was curious why Mr. Franken seemed so terribly guarded over such an innocuous question that Senator Kerry breezed right through without the help of an aid. I asked other reporters in the gallery if they had similar experiences with the Minnesota Senator, and apparently, I am not alone. Other journalists in the Capitol have received the “talk to my press secretary” response from Mr. Franken as well. This seems unusual. Mr. Franken has taken an active role in the Senate already. Why so shy with the press on the fly? One needs to wonder if Democratic leaders have asked Mr. Franken to lay low given his already notorious reputation before becoming “Senator” Franken.
Reporters who work in the Capitol Hill press gallery are not being sent there to primarily speak to a Senator’s or Congressman’s press secretary to set up interviews for the future but rather the representatives themselves at that moment. Stories need to be filed, because deadlines need to be made. Mr. Franken should know this, because his flying below the radar may not benefit him for too much longer.
TWT: Senator Franken, Hi Kerry Picket…Washington Times. I was just wondering if I could ask you about Senator Grassley’s amendment forcing staff to…?
SEN. FRANKEN: If you want a comment from me, you can talk to Jess McIntosh…is my press secretary
TWT: I understand, sir. I just want to ask about Senator Grassley’s amendment.
AIDE: I can give you my card.
SEN. FRANKEN: Jess McIntosh whose my press secretary , you can always call her to ask for an interview with me.
TWT: Oh. Ok. It’s really just one answer I need…Senator Grassley’s amendment, sir.
SEN. FRANKEN: You can call Jess McIntosh.
(Aide steps in front)
AIDE: Ok, we got it.
TWT: He doesn’t like to talk to the press?
AIDE: No he’s happy to talk to press. Like he said, he’s happy to set up an interview whenever you’d like.
(hands a card over)
TWT: Well, it seems like he likes to talk to my… “legislative assistant.”