When there is a local angle to a national story, the local press usually has a field day with it. That hasn’t proved to be the case with the story regarding Minnesota Senator Al Franken’s outrageous behavior in the Senate during Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s speech opposing the confirmation of Elena Kagan on Thursday. The Star Tribune ran one perfunctory story by reporter Kevin Diaz and let it go at that.
I spent the lunch hour yesterday on the phone with knowledgeable sources on Capitol Hill seeking additional information and background on the Franken incident. It didn’t take much digging to discover that there is more to the story than has made its way into the local papers.
Franken was presiding over the Senate during McConnell’s approximately 10-minute speech. During the speech Franken was making faces, rolling his eyes, laughing to himself, throwing his head back and shaking his head, shifting his chair from one side to another, and making obvious theatrical movements displaying his disagreement with the speech.
Everyone in the chamber at the time was acutely aware of his absurd behavior. Given the limitations imposed on the C-SPAN cameras, we don’t have video of Franken’s antics. Nevertheless, accounts including those of Politico and the Hill generally agree and are based on the unanimous reports of eyewitnesses.
McConnell went up to Franken at the conclusion of his remarks and said to him: “This is not ‘Saturday Night Live,’ Al.” Franken issued a mealy-mouthed statement that confirms the incident: “The Leader thought I was disrespectful while he was giving his speech on General Kagan. He is entitled to give his speech with the presiding officer just listening respectfully. I went directly to his office after I was done presiding to apologize in person. He wasn’t there, so I’ve sent him a handwritten note.” I was told that Franken’s handwritten note, unlike his public statement, sincerely expressed regret over his behavior.
I find Franken’s behavior almost unbelievable. It is conduct unbecoming a United States Senator. Franken himself doesn’t defend it. But there is more to it than this.
I was told that Franken has become notorious on Capitol Hill for incidents of this kind. He is described as someone who frequently becomes rageful and lacking in control over the behavior related to his emotions. He is susceptible to outbursts, involving Republican Senators as well as staffers, immediately following which he is consumed with regret. He fits the profile of a guy with serious anger management issues.
Several of the incidents involving Franken have been reported in the Capitol Hill press, if not in the local Minnesota media, and not all such incidents involving Franken have been reported. One Capitol Hill source pointed out published stories including this one (citing several such incidents), this one (involving Senator Corker), and this one and this one (involving Senator Thune). Franken now avoids the Capitol Hill press.
Checking out the incident involving Senator McConnell, I immediately thought of our own reportage on Franken during the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden. John Hinderaker provided readers an account of the “Row on Radio Row” (photograph above). The incident goes back to Franken’s days with Air America.
In short, Al Franken is a guy with a problem. It hasn’t gotten better since he was elected United States Senator. It may well have gotten worse. Someone who reports on the news for a living really should look into it.
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