U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) says he looks forward to working with the White House and the Republican-controlled Congress. But in an MSR phone interview earlier this week, he also warned that his optimism may be overwhelmed by reality.
“The new administration doesn’t start until Friday,” noted Franken Monday during a break in his statewide MLK Holiday activities. “With my colleagues on the Republican side in Congress, I think they are also trying to figure this out themselves. The question that I am asking myself is [what] this is going to look like, what is the balance [between] trying to get the few things done that will help people, verses fighting what this administration wants to do.”
Last week Franken spoke out against his Republican senate colleagues in their initial attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the nation’s healthcare law passed in 2010. He also announced last week as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that he will vote against Jeff Sessions, the attorney general nominee.
“I felt he exaggerated or misrepresented his record on civil rights,” said Franken on Sessions. “I think that he demonstrated that he is not going to be a champion of voting rights. I fully believe he is hostile toward immigration and refugees.” Nonetheless, Franken noted that Sessions most likely will be confirmed.
“There are other nominees that we are looking at that I think will have bigger problems than Sessions,” stated Franken on the president-elect’s cabinet choices. “There are some nominees who don’t have full Republican support,” such as Rex Tillerson for secretary of State and Tom Price for Health and Human Services, whose confirmation hearing is expected to start Wednesday. “There are some who are egregiously bad.”
Price, who is a strong opponent of the ACA, must be recommended by two Senate committees: Health and Finance. Franken added that some Senate members also may be concerned about Betsy DeVos for Education secretary. Her hearings were set for Tuesday. “I’m hoping that she demonstrates her lack of knowledge about education,” said the Minnesota senator.
When asked if there is any hope of saving the ACA considering that the GOP-controlled Senate last week began its quest to repeal it with a budget maneuver that requires a bare majority in the Senate. “I am viewing this with a mix of fear and amusement,” admitted Franken. “They keep talking themselves into a corner, and I am not quite sure what they are going to do. They seem determined to kill the ACA.”
As a result, with the Republicans now in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, will there be more partisan politics? “I personally believe that we don’t have a clear view of what the Trump agenda is,” responded Franken.
“I think that Democrats can and want to govern, believe in government, so even though we are in the minority, we still will have 48 seats in the Senate, which is enough to stop legislation or key votes on most things.
“They will have to deal with us,” said Franken of the GOP in the Senate. “But it is going to be hard. We are going to have to stand our ground when they are coming after working people, people who are struggling, and the middle class. We are not looking to block everything just because it’s coming from the Trump administration. We are going to block everything we can that hurts people.
“My job is to stand up and resist changes that are bad for people,” said Franken, “and work to find some common ground to make some progress. I am just going to keep fighting.”
Information from the Associated Press was also used in this report.
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.