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Al Franken became a senator on Tuesday, completing the transformation from comedian to politician.
The Minnesota Democrat's swearing-in marked the end of an eight-month political and legal struggle and drew thunderous applause and a standing ovation in the Senate chamber. His presence gives Democrats 60 votes, enough to thwart possible Republican filibusters.
Vice President Joe Biden administered Franken's oath, slapping the former Saturday Night Live performer on the back, then embracing him in a full hug. Former Vice President Walter Mondale, a Minnesota native, accompanied Franken. Franken was introduced by fellow Minnesotan and Democrat Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
"I think it was Al who told me that the third year of his campaign would be the best," Klobuchar said. "He was right."
Franken arrives in the Senate more than eight months after Election Day. Last week the Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Franken's favor after a protracted recount and his opponent, former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, conceded.
In the usually staid Senate, there were plenty of signs something unusual was afoot. The Senate Gallery, rarely full even with dozens of summer tours, was packed with onlookers. After Franken took the oath of the Senate, the gallery erupted in an unusual and lengthy applause that continued for several minutes.
Before the swearing in, Franken learned one truism of the Senate: nothing ever runs quite on time. Several senators read lengthy remarks from a Homeland Security bill as anticipation built for Franken's arrival. Franni Franken, the candidate's wife, smiled broadly and seemed to shift nervously in her seat.
Then, about 15 minutes later than had been scheduled, Klobuchar began her introduction. She said Franken would be a champion of average Minnesotans and played up his middle-class bona fides.
"He's demonstrated to Minnesotans that he takes his new job seriously," she said.
She added that he carried, "the same passion as Paul Wellstone," who was famous for his populist roots. Franken took the oath on a Bible that belonged to the family of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn.
Franken exchanged hugs with most of his Democratic colleagues and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent.
He acknowledged a section of the Senate Gallery that included Franken's wife, Franni. Franken waved to his wife and children while behind him his friend Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, gestured with his hands to raise the roof, prompting a fresh burst of cheers.
The hullabaloo that accompanied Franken's swearing in was in some ways a contrast with the image the former comedian is trying to project as a serious-minded senator. Since moving back to Minnesota in 2005, Franken has sought to tone down his image as an irreverent performer and satirist casting himself as workhorse and policy wonk.
Franken said in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday that while he is still garnering attention for his career as a comic, he expects the publicity to die down once he is able to establish himself in the Senate.
"I think they'll get to used to the idea that I'm a senator, that I've kind of changed careers," Franken said. "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."
Democrats said Franken will assume seats on the Senate Select Committee on Aging, the Committee on Indian Affairs, the Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday Franken will not join the HELP committee until after the current health care bill goes through budget mark up.
Franken's most pressing business will be the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. He told the AP Monday that he would like to serve as a "people's proxy" on the committee.
This program aired on July 7, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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