- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sorting out Minnesota’s election took eight months, but Al Franken became the Senate’s newest Democrat in just a matter of minutes Tuesday.

Mr. Franken, joined on the Senate floor by fellow Minnesota Democrats Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Vice President Walter Mondale, was sworn in by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at a midday ceremony on Tuesday. His oath-taking was greeted with considerable applause from Democratic senators and members of the Minnesota congressional delegation, as well as from about a dozen Republicans who were present.

“Al Franken, there is a desk waiting for you in the United States Senate,” said Ms. Klobuchar, who has been the state’s sole senator for more than 240 days.

The writer and comedian of “Saturday Night Live” fame received the green light to take office last week after incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman said he would not appeal a decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court declaring Mr. Franken the victor of the tight race by just 312 votes out of nearly 3 million cast.

Ironically, Mr. Franken cast his first vote later in the day against a spending cut favored by President Obama. He was one of 51 senators who voted against a measure - sponsored by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona - that would have eliminated a $6 million grant program for bus companies.

But the new senator kept a low profile on Tuesday, making no public remarks and being whisked away by a police officer following a weekly lunch for Senate Democrats. He did celebrate, however, at a reception in the Hart Senate Office Building and later at an AFL-CIO party held at the labor group’s headquarters.

“Senator Franken is, I think, taking a serious approach to his job, probably contrary to what some people expected,” said Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat. “I expect him to have a laugh or two along the way and probably create some laughs for us, but when it comes to his work, he seems to be dedicated and serious-minded.”

In a scene somewhat reminiscent of a grade-school playground, Mr. Franken’s new colleagues swarmed him like an instantly popular new student after his swearing-in. He embraced and chatted, even shaking hands with Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, a Republican who referred to him as a “clown” in a recent interview.

Mr. Franken - along with the Senate’s two independents - puts the Democratic caucus at the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome Republican filibusters. The boon comes as the Senate is gearing up to act on two of President Obama’s biggest initiatives - health care and climate change - in addition to the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

But when it comes to the magic number of 60, Democrats have sought to dial down expectations of a “filibuster-proof majority.” Regional and ideological differences still bedevil the caucus, and Democratic Sens. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the longest-serving members of the Senate, are both in poor health.

Nevertheless, Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democrats’ top vote-counter in the chamber, said Mr. Franken’s presence provides a boost in frustrating minority delaying tactics.

“We are going to urge our members now to stick with our caucus when it comes to procedural issues,” Mr. Durbin told reporters. “That really is a decision of whether you stop or go forward. We need to go forward.”

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