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Al Franken: From ‘Saturday Night Live’ to Congress

Al Franken: From ‘Saturday Night Live’ to Congress


Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, has scheduled an announcement on his future in the Senate for Thursday, amid mounting accusations of sexual harassment against him.

Mr. Franken, 66, a Democrat from St. Louis Park, Minn., was a longtime cast member on “Saturday Night Live.” He joined at its inception in 1975 as a writer and later became a star in the ’80s and ’90s with memorable recurring roles, including as the smarmy self-helper Stuart Smalley and as an intrepid journalist known as the one-man mobile-uplink unit.

He left “Saturday Night Live” in 1995 for his second act. Mr. Franken turned to writing, publishing the best-selling satire “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations” in 1996 and “Why Not Me?” in 1999, a satirical novel about making a fictional run for president. In the mid-2000s, he began his ascent into serious politics as a liberal talk-radio host and became a favorite on the left for heaping scorn and ridicule on Republicans.

In 2007, he left Air America Radio to run for office.

From March 2004 to February 2007, Mr. Franken hosted the flagship show on Air America Radio, the progressive radio network that was created as an answer to conservative radio. He mocked Bill O’Reilly — his radio show was initially called the “The O’Franken Factor” — and poked fun at President George W. Bush’s administration.

Mr. Franken’s passion for politics was more than just jokes. On Feb. 14, 2007, he signed off on his last show by announcing his candidacy for the United States Senate. “I have decided to move on to another challenge,” he told his audience.

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Al Franken (D-MN) "Franni"CreditVideo by WilsonResearchStrat

In 2009, he won the Senate race after a recount.

The Minnesota Supreme Court ended eight months of legal challenges over the results of the November 2008 election and ruled that Mr. Franken had defeated the Republican incumbent, Norm Coleman. Mr. Franken was sworn in a few days later, on July 7.

“When you win an election this close, you know that not one bit of effort went to waste,” Mr. Franken said after the court ruling.

He was re-elected in November 2014.

In 2011, he pressed Apple and Google over privacy.

During his eight years in Congress, Mr. Franken spoke out often about concerns that consumers were risking their security and privacy by using certain electronic devices. In 2011, he and several other senators expressed concern about tracking information that Apple and Google collected on users through their cellphones.

In May that year, Mr. Franken pressed executives from Google and Apple during a congressional panel about what location information the companies received from people’s cellphones.

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Apple, Google Defend Phone Privacy PracticesCreditVideo by Associated Press

In 2014, Mr. Franken battled Comcast.

Mr. Franken took aim at proposed telecommunications mergers during his time in Congress, relishing his role as a congressional opponent to media conglomeration. He opposed the Comcast-NBC Universal merger, which got federal approval in 2011, and the unsuccessful merger of AT&T and T-Mobile.

When Comcast sought to take over Time Warner Cable in 2014, Mr. Franken let the company’s executives know that his opposition was not just about his fear of higher prices for consumers. His opposition was also personal, as a New York Times article in April 2014 noted:

Mr. Franken, for his part, should have a good sense of Comcast — he said the company was his provider in both Minnesota and Washington, and added with a laugh: “It’s great. The service is wonderful.” Moments later, he doubled back to explain his tone. His chuckle, he said, “was more ironic than sarcastic.”

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Sen. Al Franken: Comcast-Time Warner merger "would be bad for consumers"CreditVideo by CBS This Morning

In 2017, he grilled Betsy DeVos.

Mr. Franken was praised among Democrats in January for his questioning of Betsy DeVos during her confirmation hearing to be education secretary. The hearing was heated and partisan, and Mr. Franken had a memorable exchange with Ms. DeVos about education policy.

“I would like your views on the relative advantage of doing assessments and using them to measure proficiency or to measure growth,” he asked her.

During her response, Mr. Franken cut her off. “It surprises me that you don’t know this issue,” he replied.

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Al Franken Questions Betsy DeVos on Proficiency vs Growth | ABC NewsCreditVideo by ABC News

Later in 2017, women accused him of sexual misconduct.

On Nov. 16, Leeann Tweeden became the first woman to publicly accuse Mr. Franken of sexual harassment. Ms. Tweeden, a Los Angeles newscaster, said he kissed and groped her without consent during a 2006 U.S.O. tour. He apologized almost immediately.

By Wednesday, several more women had come forward to accuse Mr. Franken of making unwanted sexual advances.

Mr. Franken’s support among his colleagues in the Senate crumbled this week. By Wednesday night, dozens of senators, including nearly all of the Democratic women in the Senate, were calling on him to resign.


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