Al Franken: From Saturday Night Live to Congress

Franken leaves the Capitol in Washington, on Dec 7, 2017.
Franken leaves the Capitol in Washington, on Dec 7, 2017. PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Democratic Senator Al Franken said on Thursday (Dec 7) that he plans to resign "in the coming weeks" amid mounting accusations of sexual harassment against him.

Franken, 66, is from St Louis Park, Minnesota. Raised in a middle-class household where education was emphasised, he went on to attend Harvard University. In 1969, he met Franni Bryson, his wife of more than 40 years, at a college mixer.

A comedian who spent years at Saturday Night Live, Franken reinvented himself as a politician before being felled by a string of harassment allegations in recent weeks.

After college, Franken and a childhood friend, Tom Davis, moved to Los Angeles to try their hand at stand-up comedy. Soon, they caught the attention of Lorne Michaels, who hired them as two of the first writers for Saturday Night Live, which began in 1975.

After a hiatus from the show in the early 1980s, Franken's star rose in the late 1980s and early 1990s 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.

After spending years at Saturday Night Live, 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.

Weeks before its scheduled release, his 2003 book, Lies, And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair And Balanced Look At The Right, reached the top of Amazon's best-seller list amid publicity surrounding a Fox News lawsuit over his use of the phrase "fair and balanced."

"I'd like to thank Fox's lawyers for filing one of the stupidest briefs I've ever seen in my life," he said at the time.

In March 2004, Franken began hosting the flagship show on the now-defunct liberal talk-radio network Air America Radio. Over three hours each day, he would heap scorn and ridicule on Republicans. 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.

Around that time, he had even begun hinting at a Senate run.

On Feb 14, 2007, he signed off on his last show by announcing his candidacy.

"I have decided to move on to another challenge," he told his audience.

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 Franken had defeated the Republican incumbent, Norm Coleman. 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," Franken said after the court ruling.

He was re-elected in November 2014.

 

During his eight years in Congress, 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, Franken pressed executives from Google and Apple during a congressional panel about location information the companies received from cellphones.

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, 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.'"

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 Franken had a memorable exchange with 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, Franken cut her off.

"It surprises me that you don't know this issue," he replied.

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

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

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.

On Thursday morning, he spoke on the Senate floor, saying he would resign in the coming weeks, though he continued to dispute allegations against him.

While Franken had hoped for vindication from a congressional investigation, he said on Thursday that his remaining in the Senate would be a distraction.

"This decision is not about me. It's about the people of Minnesota," he said. "It's become clear that I can't both pursue the Ethics Committee process and at the same time remain an effective senator for them."