WASHINGTON -- Sen. Al Franken has worked hard to eschew his comedic roots to prove to Minnesotans he is a serious senator.
After handily winning a re-election effort last year, the second-term Democrat is dipping his toe back in.
Franken is scheduled to appear on the Late Show With David Letterman Wednesday for the first time since 2008 -- before he was elected to a first term.
Before then, Franken was a regular on Letterman, first appearing in 1982 with his then-writing partner Tom Davis. He was a guest some 20 times in the 1980s and 1990s, when he was a writer for Saturday Night Live, staffers said Friday.
Apparently, there is no planned agenda, the two old friends will just likely riff.
Letterman's last show for CBS is scheduled for May 20.
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty talked up Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's chances in the emerging Republican presidential race, saying his fellow Midwesterner is best situated to challenge former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
"Jeb clearly is the establishment candidate, and he's raised a boatload of money," Pawlenty said Friday at the University of Minnesota. But in a national GOP fragmented between what's left of the establishment, neoconservatives, libertarians, tea partiers, social conservatives and others, Pawlenty said Walker is best situated to straddle that factionalization.
"Scott is from a Midwestern state, but he's got a national profile and national fundraising capabilities," Pawlenty said, norting Walker's successful efforts to weaken labor union power in Wisconsin.
Drawing parallels between their experiences, Palenty said Walker's success in a Democratic-leaning state has taught him how to speak to moderate voters.
"If you're governing in MInnesota or Wisconsin, there's a common sense craft in how you make common sense arguments using conservative principles," Pawlenty said. "Scott's conservative, but he doesn't scare the establishment."
Now working as CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, a Washington-based lobbying group for banks, Pawlenty said he's not ready to endorse a GOP candidate but did not rule out doing so. He did have scathing comments for one prominent Republican, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
In 2008, Pawlenty and Palin were both finalists to be running mate to Sen. John McCain; Palin won out. At the time, Pawlenty said, he didn't know what to make of her. He later made up his mind.
"One of the criteria is, you have to be able to do the job" of president, Pawlenty said. "You have to be qualified and prepared. I don't think that Gov. Palin would be viewed by the country or should be viewed by the country as a wise selection to be president."
Pawlenty's appearance at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs was mostly a Q-and-A session with former state House Speaker Steve Sviggum, who now teaches there. Sviggum and Pawlenty were close allies in the late '90s and early '00s, when Sviggum led the House and Pawlenty was his deputy.
Elected governor in 2002, Pawlenty narrowly won a second term in 2006 -- still the last time a Republican has won a statewide race in Minnesota. Pawlenty said he thinks Minnesota has shifted a little to the left since then, and he said the state Republican Party must "market itself better" to new groups of voters.
Pawlenty talked little about his failed 2012 bid for president, where he flamed out early in a crowded field of Republican contenders. "Just about everything we did" was a mistake, he said, particularly the decision to spend limited campaign resources on winning a straw poll of Iowa caucus voters.
While repeatedly describing himself as "politically retired," Pawlenty weighed in on a number of state and national issues. He spoke most about education policy, a favorite issue during his time as governor.
The closest Pawlenty came to commenting on a current issue before the Legislature was to voice support for changing Minnesota's seniority-based system for hiring and firing teachers. A bill to scrap that system recently passed the state House, but faces a skeptical audience with Pawlenty's DFL successor, Gov. Mark Dayton.
Still, Pawlenty declined to criticize Dayton.
"I try not to comment on the current governor because it always annoyed me when former governors weighed in," Pawlenty said. "It's like, shut the hell up."
Like a good politician, Pawlenty refused to completely rule out a future run for office, but tried to discourage speculation that he might. Dayton is not running again in 2018, leaving an opening in Pawlenty's old job, and both of Minnesota's U.S. Senate seats are currently held by Democrats.
"I had a full run at it," Pawlenty said. But noting he's still a relatively young 54, he added: "I don't ultimately know what the future holds."
WASHINGTON -- Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken both said this week they planned to support the confirmation of Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, who was grilled in front of the Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
Lynch was nominated last year by President Barack Obama to run the Justice Department after current AG Eric Holder announced he was stepping down. The Judiciary Committee, where both Franken and Klobuchar are members, is the first step towards Senate confirmation.
Klobuchar, who said she's met with Lynch a couple times privately, called her an "exceptional public servant" and noted she liked that they both share a background as prosecutors.
Klobuchar said she wants to ensure the Department of Justice continues its commitment to go after domestic extremists -- particularly in light of recent events in Minnesota. Last year, a federal grand jury probed a local terrorism pipeline to find the Minnesota Somali Americans who were allegedly conspiring to join forces fighting with the Islamic State abroad.
Franken, who has also met with Lynch privately, tried to cut her a break during a tense hearing Wednesday by asking whether she had a nice lunch.
“How was lunch?....You enjoyed lunch?” he said, a softball, amid the Republicans' questions about the president's immigration executive order.
In a statement issued after the hearing, Franken called Lynch qualified to lead the Justice Department.
"Her credentials are strong -- she has successfully prosecuted the toughest cases, from terrorism to public corrruption," he said.
An assortment of possible Republican presidential candidates were in Iowa Saturday, trying to appeal to conservative activists at a Des Moines forum sponsored by U.S. Rep. Steve King.
Jan Mickelson, a conservative talk radio host, succintly summed up what was in store for several hundred conservative activists gathered Saturday for a forum that saw a baker's dozen of Republican presidential contenders line up to seek favor. "Let the pandering begin," Mickelson said.
Pander they did. Over nearly nine hours, high-profile Republicans that included Sen. Ted Cruz, governors like Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Chris Christie of New Jersey and Rick Perry of Texas, and media-driven stars like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump took turns ridiculing President Obama, sounding alarms about the country's future and promising a sharply conservative change in direction.
The Iowa Freedom Summit served as unofficial kick-off to the year's worth of politicking that will lead up to the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses in January or early February of 2016. That contest has been both launching bad and burial ground for presidential contenders: in 2008, then Sen. Barack Obama pulled an upset win over Hillary Clinton and put himself on a trajectory to the White House.
"Do you believe the next president of the United States is going to be speaking to you from this stage today?" asked U.S. Congressman Steve King, who co-sponsored the event. As the crowd applauded in agreement, King said, "As do I."
King, who represents northwestern Iowa including about half the counties along the Minnesota border, is a high-profile conservative with a penchant for generating controversy. His harsh critiques of illegal immigrants, in particular, have drawn derision from critics; the forum was interrupted several times by protests from supporters of the so-called DREAM Act, which grants citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants if they make certain educational achievements.
Walker, recently re-elected despite a tumultous first term where he survived a recall attempt, was something of a breakout star at the forum. He came onstage without a jacket, his sleeves rolled up, and delivered an energetic speech that leaned heavily on his successful effort to strip collective bargaining rights from Wisconsin public workers.
"We weren't afraid to go big and go bold," Walker said. "Maybe that's why I won the race for governor three times in four years, in a state that voted for Democrats for president every four years ever since I was in high school."
Cruz, who got a rock star-like welcome, delivering a rousing, deeply religious speech. Christie, seen as perhaps too moderate for Iowa's conservative Republican base, nonetheless seemed to win over many with a thoughtful speech and a touching story about his late mother.
But the event was nearly as notable for those Republican contenders who didn't show up, namely former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the party's nominee in 2012. For their absence and their perceived roles as establishment candidates, both men earned some scorn from the stage.
"We lose when we nominate RINOs," said New Hampshire state Rep. William O'Brien, another hero to conservatives (RINO is a conservative slur, directed at moderate Republicans, that stands for "Republicans In Name Only").
While the Republican field is wide and active, the Democratic contest is shaping up more slowly. Prominent Iowa Democrats said numerous potential candidates are in a holding pattern until Clinton decides whether to make another go of it, as most expect she will. Her decision is expected by April.
A poll of registered Iowa Republicans released Tuesday shows that Mitt Romney, the party's 2012 presidential candidate now mulling another run in 2016, is currently leading a large field of prospective challengers. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker came in third, behind former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
The nation-leading Iowa caucus is still about a year off, but prospective candidates have already started to openly discuss the race. The Washington Post reported on Monday that Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, is "almost certain" to run again, and has been discussing it with a number of close allies including former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
The poll by Gravis Marketing, a Florida-based pollster, found Romney leading a field of eight other potential candidates with the support of 21 percent of respondents. "Romney's name recognition and the loyalty Republicans have for their last nominee give him an opportunity that no one else has," said Doug Kaplan, the manager partner of Gravis Marketing.
Bush, the brother and son of the two former President Bushes, was next with 14 percent. Walker, recently re-elected to a second term as Wisconsin's governor despite a divisive first term that saw a failed recount attempt, was in third place with 10 percent. A number of additional potential candidates scored support below 10 percent. In order, they were: Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio. Another 18 percent of poll respondents were undecided.
Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, said Monday he would not run in 2016. The poll of 404 registered Iowa Republicans was taken Jan. 5-7.
The Iowa caucuses are tentatively scheduled for Jan. 18, 2016, though that date is not final. In 2012, Romney finished a close second in Iowa to former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Clinton is seen as the prohibitive frontrunner. She has not made her candidacy official but is widely expected to announce this spring that she's running.
Clinton lost the 2008 Iowa caucus to then-Sen. Barack Obama, delivering an ultimately fatal blow to her candidacy.
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