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Sen. Al Franken on ‘horrific’ House health care bill, questioning Jeff Sessions and comparing the Senate to SNL

May 31, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
Political satire demands a different set of skills from actually practicing politics. Minnesota Sen. Al Franken explains what it’s really like to transition from entertainment to government in his new book, “Al Franken: Giant of the Senate.” Hari Sreenivasan sits down with Franken to discuss reports about Jared Kushner, Republican efforts to replace Obamacare, who’s funny in the Senate and more.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: Political satire requires one sets of skills. Practicing politics requires another, at least according to one of the few people who have professional experience doing both.

A new memoir presents an up-front account about what it’s really like to go from entertainment to government.

“Al Franken, Giant of the Senate,” a book, is officially out this week.

Hari Sreenivasan sat down with Democratic senator from Minnesota earlier today in our New York studio.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There’s quite a bit of news recently about the president’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner. We have heard that he wanted to set up a back channel of communication with the Russians.

Before that, we know that he didn’t declare any of these contacts on his security clearance form.

SEN. AL FRANKEN, D-Minn.: Sure.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, has he already broken the law by withholding information on that form?

SEN. AL FRANKEN: The special prosecutor will look at whether it’s a violation of the law. You’re supposed to.

There’s been a lot of these, not disclosing meetings with the Russians, by a lot of members of the Trump team. And they’re not acting like a group of people that have nothing to hide. Put it that way.

It’s hard for me to believe that Jared Kushner wasn’t telling his father-in-law that he was — I mean, this is not a normal back channel they were talking about doing, using Russian communications, so that U.S. intelligence couldn’t hear it.

It was naive, because if you do something out of a Russian Embassy, of course we’re going hear it. But he didn’t know that. I think it’s very hard to believe that he didn’t tell his father-in-law.

We may get to a point where it is, what did the president know and when did his son-in-law tell him?

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, you are on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Right now, there is talk that the senators are meeting behind closed doors on drafting a health care plan.

SEN. AL FRANKEN: Republican senators.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Republican senators are meeting behind closed doors about something.

The Affordable Care Act had, what, 44 different hearings on this.


HARI SREENIVASAN: And if this process is happening behind closed — what do you know about what is happening and what that bill could look like?

SEN. AL FRANKEN: I don’t know a lot about what is happening. I know they’re having problems.

And I don’t — it doesn’t surprise me. Mitch McConnell said they will have trouble getting to 50. They need 50 if they do this through the process called reconciliation. I can’t see, you know, someone like Ted Cruz signing on to the same bill that Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and Will Cassidy would sign on to.

I — the House bill is horrific. And I have had people crying at roundtables, saying: My mom will lose her home health care, which she gets through Medicaid, if this happens. And my husband and I work full-time. And we don’t know what we’re going to do with mom.

And this will happen over and over and over again. And it is actually hurts the people who voted for Trump more than anybody else.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Your line of questioning of Jeff Sessions, he ended up answering a question that you didn’t ask.


HARI SREENIVASAN: And, eventually, it led to his own recusal from the Russia investigation.

But in the book, you say that you have come to befriend him, that his wife made your grandson his first baby blanket.

SEN. AL FRANKEN: That’s true.

HARI SREENIVASAN: That you’re friends.

SEN. AL FRANKEN: I think the friendship happened before those hearings.


SEN. AL FRANKEN: And I haven’t talked to him since.

You know, I — Jeff and I served together on the — Sessions — Senator — Attorney General Sessions and I — and I disagree with him. I think he is a terrible attorney general. I will say that.

But, yes, you have to get along with your colleagues. There’s a — we’re a small town of 100 people. And there is no sense making enemies. And so, yes, Jeff and I had a friendly relationship. And, yes, Mary Sessions made a blue blanket for my first grandson. It was his favorite blanket.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You talk a little bit about that relationship management and how you actually have different senators with different levels of senses of humor.


HARI SREENIVASAN: But it also seems like, for the first …

SEN. AL FRANKEN: Yes, that’s for sure.


HARI SREENIVASAN: It seemed like, the first term, you were almost scared of being funny, because you wanted to be taken seriously. You won in a very, very tight race.

And now you are kind of relaxed. You are kind of joking with whether Pat Roberts or Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham. You say these guys have funny bones.

SEN. AL FRANKEN: Well, Lindsey is funny. So is Pat. Mitch, not so much.

But, no, when Lindsey was like — I remember when he was running for president, and he was like 16th out of 17. And I went up to him. I said “Lindsey, if I were voting in the Republican primaries, I would vote for you.”

And he said, “That’s my problem.”

HARI SREENIVASAN: There is a passage where you recount how you apologized to Mitch McConnell once…


HARI SREENIVASAN: … because you were presiding over the Senate. He rolled his eyes while he was saying something.

SEN. AL FRANKEN: I rolled my eyes, yes.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You rolled your eyes.

And then he came up to you and said, “This isn’t ‘SNL,’ Al,” right?


HARI SREENIVASAN: And do you ever feel like now it’s almost that this has come full circle? There is actually a sketch on “SNL” today playing you as the sitting senator, and also sometimes a sort of…

SEN. AL FRANKEN: That guy was just playing straight to Kate McKinnon’s Sessions, and — but a lot of this book is answering the question that I get asked probably more than any other question, which is, is it as much fun being a United States senator as working on “Saturday Night Live”?

And the answer, of course, is no. Why would it be? But it’s the best job I have ever had.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You like Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer?

SEN. AL FRANKEN: When I saw that, I went, oh, my goodness, this is hilarious and an instant classic.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You say that there are passages in this book that are worthy of a middle school writing contest.



There’s a couple of purple prose descriptions of things.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Senator Al Franken.

The book is called “Giant of the Senate.”

SEN. AL FRANKEN: It’s called “Al Franken, Giant of the Senate.”



Thank you for joining us.

SEN. AL FRANKEN: You bet. Thank you.