Sen. Al Franken on Monday said that past remarks he made more than 15 years ago — before he became a senator — about Sen. John McCain’s military service were a joke.
The Minnesota Democrat’s remarks are similar to those of Donald Trump, who ignited a firestorm after telling a crowd in Iowa Saturday that McCain is “not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
Franken said that he told a similar joke during his radio show, during an episode where McCain, the Arizona Republican, was a guest in 2004. He said Monday that McCain understood the intent of the joke, and he praised the Republican senator for his “amazing feat of courage.”
Franken’s remarks also appeared in a 2000 Salon article. That story quotes Franken as saying “I have tremendous respect for McCain but I don’t buy the war hero thing. Anybody can be captured. I thought the idea was to capture them. As far as I’m concerned he sat out the war.”
Before that, Franken made the joke at a 1999 White House Photographers Dinner, CNN Politics reported.
Franken said he admired McCain because he declined a chance to be released, choosing instead to remain a prisoner of war so as to not give his captors a propaganda victory.
“Here’s someone who spent five-and-a-half years being tortured in these camps,” Franken said Monday “... but what a lot of people don’t understand is that he had the opportunity to leave early because his father was the admiral who commanded the whole Pacific fleet.”
He added: “McCain, who as I said was being tortured there, declined. That’s an amazing feat of courage.”
He also condemned Trump’s remarks from Saturday, saying “I don’t know what’s going on in Donald Trump’s head or through his hair, but I condemn him for a lot of things he’s said.”
Franken addressed the past remarks in a news conference Monday regarding the education bill the U.S.. Senate passed recently, 81-17. Minnesota educators, parents and students joined Franken at the news conference in St. Paul.
Franken, who worked on several provisions in the education bill, said the revamp of the Bush-era “No Child Left Behind” education law is much needed.
The Senate bill, which Congress still must reconcile with the House bill and input from the Obama administration, contains support for mental health, principal training and recruitment, as well as computer adaptive testing.
Franken said he expects the final bill to include more accountability measures sought by some, including the White House. “I think everyone is entering these negotiations with eyes wide open,” Franken said.