Franken in Washington, says he's ready to work

/ Source: The Associated Press

So, did you hear the one about the comedian who spent a whole day on Capitol Hill and told no jokes?

Democrat Al Franken arrived in Washington on Monday content to be as mundane in the Senate as he was brazen in his previous job as a Saturday Night Live performer.

Forget funny. Soon after he showed up in a Senate hallway with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Franken made clear his new schtick is serious senator from Minnesota, the once-funny funny man.

"I think they'll get to used to the idea that I'm a senator, that I've kind of changed careers," Franken said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I just don't think it will take that long. They'll see what I do and what I say. Mainly I'm going to put my head down and get to work."

Franken said his first order of business would be preparing for the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. He said he was meeting with "the best legal minds" in Minnesota to prepare for his role in the hearings.

"As someone who will have been in the committee a grand total of six days and isn't an attorney, I kind of see myself fulfilling a certain role for Americans watching the hearings," he said.

Franken also said he is looking forward to getting involved in health care legislation and wants to play a role in crafting legislation that contains costs.

"It is unsustainable the way we are going," he said.

"I am ready to get to work," Franken said. "I'm going to work day and night."

Franken's seriousness didn't faze the dozens of onlookers who packed into a narrow Senate hallway hoping for at least one salty quip.

Barely cracked a smile
What they got was essentially a rather dour politician, in a blue-and-white striped tie and a dark blue pinstripe suit, standing behind a podium with the seal of the Senate on it, speaking slowly from prepared remarks. Franken barely cracked a smile as he talked at length about his duty to his constituents and emphasized repeatedly that he would work hard.

In the interview with the AP, Franken offered some glimpses of humor, joking about the similarities between Minnesota and North Dakota and acknowledging the publicity that's surrounding his arrival in the Senate.

"I think that there was a little hullabaloo today because I'm going to get sworn in tomorrow, and because I'm the 60th Democratic vote in the Senate," he said.

But Franken's been working on his new role for years. The man who many considered ribald was the picture of reserve during a two-year campaign and eight-month recount from which he emerged victorious over Republican incumbent Norm Coleman.

Franken is expected to be sworn in on Tuesday. He'll be the junior senator from Minnesota, alongside fellow Democrat Amy Klobuchar

"I think he still has some good jokes in him but right now he's doing some serious work," Klobuchar said.

His potential arrival has been buzzed about for months. Not only does Franken bring with him a filibuster-proof, 60-vote majority for the Democrats, but also a catalog of comedic material and lively commentary as a radio host and writer.

Not that you would know it on Monday.

As cameras clicked rapidly in the background, Franken downplayed that 60th Democrat business.

"A lot has been made of this number 60," he said. "I'm not focused on that."

Health care among top issues
He listed education, health care and energy issues as areas he hoped to take on immediately.

Reid, never accused of being a master joke teller himself, played straight man to Franken's reformed funny-man. Like Franken, Reid downplayed the significance of 60 votes — and offered nothing resembling comic relief.

Reid spoke dryly about how much the Senate would not change despite its newest arrival. He glanced down, then up, down, then up at his audience. If he cared that he and his guest had disappointed a room full of style writers, reporters and TV camera crews, he did not let on.

Instead, Reid cited praise of Franken from former Republican Rep. Vin Weber of Minnesota as evidence of Franken's intellect and earnestness. He promised Franken was coming to Washington with no greater goal than to work hard for his constituents.

"I expect him to help deliver change," Reid said, adding later "We need more than just his presence to address these challenges."

Almost as quickly as Reid and Franken arrived, they were off, taking no questions, offering only a handful of smiles between them.

Aides said Franken would be in meetings much of Monday, including sessions with the staff of his new Senate office. Earlier Monday, workers installed Franken's new name plate in front of the office in the Senate's Hart Office Building vacated by Coleman.