WASHINGTON - Sen. Al Franken's first week on the job started with a media frenzy and a full-court press by Democrats to proclaim the 58-year-old satirist a very serious fellow.
But by week's end, after enjoying some celebratory laughs, Franken largely removed himself from the spotlight and became immersed in the logistics of getting his staff and office up to speed.
His first votes were largely along party lines, including one against a measure to require building 700 miles of border fence by 2011, which he opposed because "none of the relevant effective law enforcement agencies were asking for it," spokeswoman Jess McIntosh said. Fellow Democrat Amy Klobuchar voted for the measure.
Many of Franken's new staffers -- 26 hired so far -- are Washington veterans, including chief of staff Drew Littman, a former lobbyist who has been an instrumental figure in setting up many Senate offices over the years. A handful have been borrowed from fellow Minnesota Democrats on the Hill, others come from the Senate Health Committee, and one formerly worked for Paul Wellstone, Franken's political mentor, whose picture now sits near his desk.
Franken's first bill, likely to be introduced in the coming weeks, will provide service dogs for veterans, and he has been talking about it with colleagues -- including California Democrat Barbara Boxer, whom he met for lunch in the Senate dining room on Wednesday.
Franken also signed on to his first earmark requests on Wednesday with Klobuchar. One would provide funding for the Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota's credit and financial counseling and the other would help start-up businesses in Minneapolis' Midtown Global Market.
Then there were more formal meetings, such as a brief sit-down Thursday with Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor and a gathering with Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday night.
A lighter side of Franken
Following a day of formal events on Tuesday where Franken said very little, the new senator showed his supporters that he hadn't lost his ability to engage a crowd and make people laugh.
With a smile on his face, he walked into a reception across town from the Capitol where he was greeted by cheering AFL-CIO employees. They held up enlarged copies of his election certificate, projected "60 in the Senate" on a massive screen and dined on State Fair delicacies -- walleye, fried pickles and cheese curds.
Franken's 15-minute speech had the eager audience roaring with laughter, but rarely strayed far from the issues -- pensions, health care and union labor.
Franken applauded the thoroughness of the Minnesota election, joking that the reason his recount took longer than the 2000 Florida presidential recount was that "in Minnesota we counted the votes." Then, only moments later, he hit a sobering tone, crediting his union memberships as the reason he had health care during the campaign.
It was a more complex side of Franken, one that was largely absent only a day earlier as he stood expressionless next to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. With nearly 70 reporters looking on, Franken had read a prepared speech and took no questions, returning to Reid's office.
Before heading to the AFL-CIO reception, he met with campaign supporters -- many of whom traveled great distances just to see him -- at a reception in the Hart Office Building, where he reflected on all the help he had along the way.
"We had an amazing staff. And as you know that all comes from the top, from me," Franken jokingly told to the crowd, who burst out in laughter. "Amy [Klobuchar] just confirmed that, for those of you in the back."
Franken's political foes wasted no time before letting it rip.
Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly, a frequent target of Franken's satire, called the senator "a blatantly dishonest individual, a far-left zealot who is not qualified to hold any office, a man who trafficked in hate on his failed Air America radio program."
A day earlier, the National Republican Senatorial Committee released a new ad titled "60," which paints a gloomy picture of trouble ahead because of unfettered Democratic control of the House, Senate and executive branch. The ad reuses video of an apparently angry Franken that became controversial during the campaign when Franken forces revealed that he was actually imitating Wellstone cheering on his son in a race.
Although Republicans have congratulated Franken on his victory, only about half a dozen GOP senators showed up to his swearing-in ceremony. Even Minnesota's Republican representatives skipped the event.
New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg said Tuesday that there is still "a significant amount of resentment and anger" from Republicans because of the close election.
Eric Roper • 202-408-2723