Last month, when we told you that Al Franken would be in town to promote his new memoir, Giant of the Senate, our headline was: “Here’s Your Chance to Ask Al Franken If Everything’s Going to Be Okay.”
Jonathan Alter, the journalist who led yesterday’s conversion at Barnes & Noble Union Square, must’ve read that. The first thing he told Franken was, “The basic question I hear all over the place is simply: Are we going to be okay?”
The Gentleman from Minnesota’s answer wasn’t quite as reassuring as one of Stuart Smalley’s Daily Affirmations. “I hope so,” he said. “I have my concerns about this president and this administration and about North Korea– I mean, if we’re talking about okay okay. Is the Democracy going to be okay? I think so.”
That’s thanks, in part, to Robert Mueller’s appointment as special prosecutor in the Russia investigation. “The sequence of events, of course, started with my questioning of Jeff Sessions– when he answered a question I didn’t ask,” Franken said, throwing modesty to the wind. “But believe me, I anticipated the pivot. You see, a lot of people have said this about me: I play three-dimensional chess. I’m four moves ahead of everybody.”
That might be why Franken was reelected in 2014, in what he described as a “drubbing” of his opponent. In truth, Franken won by just 312 votes– “the smallest clobbering in history,” he said.
So yes, Democrats are doing just fine. But are they getting a little ahead of themselves when they brace for Trump’s impeachment? “We have to let the facts go where they may,” Franken told Alter. “All I can say is, the Trump people and Trump himself don’t act like people who have nothing to hide.”
Of course, the Russia investigation has now become overshadowed by Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord. Franken said Republican senators “won’t step up” on environmental protection because “members of the Republican Party are terrified that if they acknowledge climate change and the importance of addressing it, they will be primaried by the Koch brothers, Siegfried and Roy.”
Nevertheless, he said there are still “a lot of good developments” where climate is concerned, including the fact that wind and solar energy continue to get more cheaper. “The Chinese are going to spend $340 billion on research,” he noted. “If they’re choking on their own fumes and there’s 1.5 billion of them, I want Minnesota scientists and New York scientists selling stuff to them, selling that [renewable energy] technology to them. And this is a tragedy, because in [Trump’s] budget he has cut these research programs. These are the jobs of the present and the future. And this is so stupid what he is doing.”
As Franken’s frustration subsided, he borrowed a joke from the book: “I have three grandchildren and I don’t want them saying, 50 years from now, ‘Grandpa, you were a United States senator, you knew climate change was happening, why didn’t you do anything? And also, why are you still alive [at the age of 116]?”
Of course, Obamacare is the other big thing on Trump’s chopping block. “It turns out, and nobody knew this, that health care is complicated,” Franken deadpanned.
The Senator said he didn’t see the new Republican plan passing, since he couldn’t imagine the party reaching a consensus, and also because, “My [Republican] colleagues, I don’t think understand how health care works.”
To illustrate the point, Franken described an unnamed Republican who asked to meet with him, to see if they could work together on healthcare. Here’s how Franken told the story:
I just got this call and I said, “Okay, let me just find out where you are on health care. How do you feel about letting states have a waiver on essential health benefits?” And he said, “Sir, well, I’m not really up to speed on essential health benefits, could you explain that to me?”
And then I did. I said, “Look, there are 10 essential benefits in the Affordable Care Act that every policy has to cover, including things like mental health and addiction treatment and if you allow states to have waivers and insurance policies don’t have to cover these things, then of course there will be cheaper policies that don’t cover stuff. And you’ll have to really figure out what every policy does, it’ll be really hard to figure out… But let’s say just a policy that doesn’t cover mental health. People who have a mental illness, they can’t get that policy. They’re going to have to get a policy that does cover that, that’s going to be more expensive. That’s the end of protecting people with preexisting conditions, [raises voice in exasperation] that’s what you’re doing when you’re giving a waiver to essential health benefits.”
And the putz was silenced.
It’s a safe bet that, back when he was a writer for Saturday Night Live, Franken would’ve used a stronger word than putz. The book’s foreword includes a disclaimer that, as a US senator, he has to use euphemisms in lieu of obscene insults. “I feel I have a duty to both my colleagues and my constituents to make at least a token effort to preserve [the Senate’s] dignity and decorum,” he explains. “I wish I could say the same for that dunderhead Ted Cruz.”