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Al Franken on Trump’s pandemic response and why Biden would be better

Al Franken was a U.S. senator from Minnesota -- a state that is a flashpoint for the nation’s current movement for racial justice. Franken’s departure from public office also came during a period of major U.S. social change, the MeToo movement. Now host of his own podcast, Franken joins Judy Woodruff to discuss President Trump’s handling of the pandemic and why Joe Biden would be a better leader.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    But also throughout this week, we're going to be talking to some prominent Democrats.

    Al Franken was a United States senator from Minnesota. It's a state that, as we know, has been a flash point as the nation's reckoning of race with the murder of George Floyd. Al Franken's departure from public office was also a moment in the MeToo movement. He now hosts his own podcast.

    And we're delighted to have him join us right now.

    Al Franken, good to see you.

    How well do you know Joe Biden? And why is he the right man for this moment?

  • Al Franken:

    A number of reasons.

    One, we right now have a president who had — did not have a crises until the coronavirus. And his job was to step up and handle that. And he didn't. And we're all paying the price. If you look at South Korea, one-100th of the deaths per capita that the United States had.

    This guy spectacularly blew this. And I think the American people would have reelected a president who handled this properly. But I don't think he possibly could have done this worse.

    America wants someone with experience, someone who is going to hire people who aren't cronies, someone who has empathy for people, who is going to unite people.

    Joe Biden is going to lay out what he wants to do on Thursday. America will be listening. And this is going to be a tough campaign. But this president has been an absolute failure.

    And I think Michelle Obama laid that out pretty thoroughly last night.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, you are somebody who knows a thing or two about keeping — holding people's interest. You come from the world of entertainment, before you went into politics.

    How do you think — how do you — just based on last night and what you see coming this week, do you think this convention is going to tell the Biden story that you think needs to be told?

  • Al Franken:

    Well, I was very impressed with last night.

    And I agree with Mark Shields. That video about him on Amtrak and the conductor he was such close friends with, I mean, that is such — that's Joe Biden. That just — that's just him.

    This is — we're going to learn more about Joe Biden this week. And I think, the more America gets to know, really get to know him, the more they're going to like him.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You said he has challenges, it's going to be a tough campaign.

    One of those is the economy. We're seeing in polls that, despite Joe Biden's lead overall in the polls, when people are asked about the economy, they give President Trump the advantage.

    Yesterday, the Nasdaq financial market hit a new record high. Today, the S&P 500 hit its own record high. What's that going to say?

  • Al Franken:

    I think every American knows that the stock market is not the economy.

    And this pandemic has laid bare the awful disparities in income and wealth. And, actually, people in high-paying white-collar jobs are doing just as well.

    But we're seeing people who — of color paying the price, low-income people who are suffering now. And this economy, Trump has to own this. This did not have to happen. Germany is open. South Korea is open. Germany, per capita, one-tenth of the fatalities.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Al Franken:

    And that's because every other leader in the developed world, most of — almost all of them, understood that this was very serious.

    And because Donald Trump didn't want the stock market to tank that week, he told everyone that this was just going to go away, that it was totally under control.

    He has to own the collapse of this economy. He has to own that, because it is his fault. This did not have to happen. He could have — immediately, he could have relied on science, instead of his son-in-law.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what about — you're somebody from the Midwest. You represented the state of Minnesota.

    What about those voters in the heartland of this country who are still looking at this, though, and aren't sure that Joe Biden is the right moment? Maybe they're worried about his age. Maybe they're worried about the kind of thing Amy mentioned that the Trump campaign is bringing up.

    What does Joe Biden need to do to reassure them?

  • Al Franken:

    (AUDIO GAP) they're taking — Amy said they — they are doing an ad on his mental acuity?

    Donald Trump bragged about passing a dementia test. Now, normally, you don't take a dementia test if you're actually…


    … you know, operating on all cylinders, OK?


    I mean, did they go up to him and say, Mr. President, you have been just sharp as a tack lately, but I think it'd be fun if you could — if we could see if you could identify an elephant?

    I mean, I think Biden wins this one, frankly.

    And Minnesotans — this election is about competence and about leadership. And this president has not led during the greatest crisis we have had since World War II. And that's what this is going to be about.

    Joe Biden was vice president for Barack Obama. Barack Obama inherited an economy that was tanking. It was the worst economy since the Great Depression. He left a record string of growth, months of job growth, in the history of our country.

    This president is now going to leave Joe Biden a cratering economy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to ask you…

  • Al Franken:


  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Al Franken:

    Go ahead.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let me just get to something I do want to ask you about, and that's Kamala Harris.

    I mentioned, you left the Senate in 2017. There were accusations of sexual misconduct. Some of that later, through investigative reporting, there was credibility — questions about the credibility of it.

    You have since said that, if you did anything that offended someone, you're sorry.

    Kamala Harris, though, was one of the 13 women senators who called on you to resign. She has said she sticks by that view. Have you spoken to Kamala Harris? And what do you think of her selection as Joe Biden's running mate?

  • Al Franken:

    Well, of course, I took issue with that, my colleagues, who said that I shouldn't have due process. I think that was wrong, especially for people who were lawyers, et cetera. And I have had eight of my colleagues apologize for it.

    And you're right. Jane Mayer did a very thorough investigative piece in "The New Yorker" and showed that many of these — that it didn't happen.

    I will say this, though. I think that this addition to the ticket is very good. This is historic. This is who our party is. This represents our party. This represents the country. And I think it's a great development. I think she's helping the ticket tremendously.

    And what's really at stake here is, if we have Donald Trump somehow reelected, whether it's through suppressing votes and tampering with the mail or whatever it is he does, or he wins fairly — that could, I suppose, happen. That's — that happened, I think, last time, kind of. We found out a lot about Manafort and the Russians today.

    But this is good. This is who — and I think Minnesotans — I want to say something about Minnesota.

    George Floyd's brutal murder in my hometown was a moment. And I think America responded, and it changed things.

    I really believe that a majority of Americans now agree that we have had systemic racism throughout our entire history and that we have to do something about it. And Minnesotans know that.

    And this president has done nothing, nothing but sow division and appeal to the worst instincts in people. And it's — we need to get rid of him. And I believe that Kamala Harris' addition to the ticket is a good thing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Former Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, we thank you very much.

    Appreciate it.

  • Al Franken:

    Thank you, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Appreciate it.

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