With an insider’s eye, Hot Dish tracks the tastiest bits of Minnesota’s political scene and keep you up-to-date on those elected to serve you.

Contributors in Minnesota: Patrick Condon, Baird Helgeson, Patricia Lopez, Jim Ragsdale, Abby Simons, Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry, Corey Mitchell and Jim Spencer.

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Sens. Franken, Klobuchar push for more answers on prisoner swap

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: June 5, 2014 - 12:01 PM

WASHINGTON -- Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken said they are hoping for more answers from the White House on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was released over the weekend by the Taliban in exchange for an agreement by President Obama to release five high-level prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.

In a classified briefing with all senators late Wednesday, White House officials divulged some details about the swap, including Bergdahl's reported deteriorating health. 

Franken, who said he was limited to what he could share, said, "a number of concerns that senators had expressed were addressed."

"I will reserve judgment as to whether all the answers were satisfactory," he said, in an e-mail after the meeting. "We know that once Bergdahl returns to the U.S., the circumstances of his capture will be thoroughly investigated. For now, questions remain about whether this was done in the proper way. I don't want to draw any conclusions as of now."

Sen. Klobuchar said in a short statement she had concerns.

"The briefing was classified so it limits what I can say. I continue to have concerns about what happened here and strongly believe that Congress should have been notified."

Neither senator granted interviews to the Star-Tribune on the matter.

Sen. Franken hosts fundraiser with Grateful Dead front man Bob Weir

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: June 4, 2014 - 12:04 PM

With contributions from Patrick Condon

WASHINGTON -- What a long strange trip ...

Self-avowed Grateful Dead fan Sen. Al Franken will host a fundraiser with one of the group's front men Bob Weir at the Northrop Auditorium on the University of Minnesota campus June 13.

"As you know, I really love the Grateful Dead. Really. I am very excited to invite you to a private sound check with the Grateful Dead's own Bob Weir & Ratdog. We will even have dinner with Bob after! You can also stick around and catch the show with me," an email sent out to Franken's donors this morning said.

Weir is playing a public concert that night at Northrop, but Franken's donors can drop $2,600 to listen to the sound check, have a private dinner with Weir and Franken, and then attend the show. Franken is asking for $1,000 for dinner and the show and $500 or $250 for just the show, according to a copy of the fundraiser e-mail.

(Maybe Franken's peeps have access to premier seats. Tickets for just the show are currently retailing at $143 on StubHub.)

Weir was only 17 when he started singing with the late Jerry Garcia and others in 1965. He wrote a number of the band's most famous pieces including "The Other One" and "Sugar Magnolia," according to Weir's website

Franken, a baby boomer who came of age in the late ‘60s, is a self-professed Deadhead who saw the jam band many times in concert and became friends with several of its members. During his 2008 race, as he traversed Minnesota by car, a Grateful Dead satellite radio station provided a constant soundtrack for the road. 

The junior senator reportedly even sometimes sang along.

Sen. Al Franken opposes Obama's Norwegian ambassador nominee

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: June 3, 2014 - 4:40 PM

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Al Franken sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry Tuesday warning him that he will vote against the nomination of George Tsunis as Norwegian ambassador after hearing concerns from the outsized community in Minnesota.

Norwegian-Americans across the country were alarmed at Tsunis' unsteady January appearance in front of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, as well as his admission he has never visited the country.

In January, Tsunis thanked one senator for a "save" when he couldn't answer a question. Then, in responding to a question from Sen. John McCain, said the country's government had "condemned" a party within its own coalition -- which isn't true.

"I stand corrected," Tsunis told McCain.

"I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group of nominees," McCain said, clearly sarcastic.

Tsunis is a Greek-American millionaire businessman who has given money to both Republicans and Democrats, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

T. Michael Davis, a longtime member of the Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce-Minnesota, wrote an op-ed in the Star Tribune in February expressing his concerns.

In Franken's letter to Kerry, Franken said the United States "should not do anything that might unneccesarily damage our strong relationship with Norway -- a relationship I am committed to sustaining and strengthening in the years to come."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar told the White House earlier this year that she, too, would not support his nomination.

Minnesota is home to the largest Norwegian-American community in the country. 

Sens. Franken, Klobuchar push VA on Minnesota wait times

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: May 27, 2014 - 4:51 PM

By Allison Sherry

With help from Rachel Stassen-Berger

WASHINGTON -- Democratic Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar joined a chorus Friday in criticizing the Veterans Administration and pressed the regional office on wait times for medical appointments in Minnesota's clinics and hospitals.

"The incidents that have been reported at VA facilities in Arizona and elsewhere are outrageous and entirely unacceptable," the two wrote in a letter to Janet Murphy, network director for the VA Midwest Health Care Network in Minnesota.

Franken and Klobuchar specifically asked Murphy for the average number of days veterans must wait to receive appointments at every VA facility in Minnesota.

One of Franken's GOP opponents Mike McFadden pinged the senator earlier Friday for keeping quiet on the VA scandal, in which more than two dozen hospitals and clinics face allegations of long wait times and false record-keeping. In Phoenix, there are allegations the missteps caused multiple deaths.

"Criticizing mergers and talking about Internet fast lanes may generate headlines for Sen. Franken, but it does nothing to guarantee that our veterans have access to quality healthcare when they need it," said McFadden, in an e-mailed statement. He also called for Shinseki's resignation. "Minnesota doesn't need any more out-of-touch politicians like Al Franken."

Franken's office said that two weeks ago, in the wake of the news about several alleged incidents at VA medical centers in Arizona and elsewhere, the senator directed his office to contact the Department of Veterans Affairs to find more information about the wait times for medical care.

Franken and Klobuchar's letter went out the same day Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan called for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation.

Democratic Reps. Collin Peterson and Tim Walz didn't go that far Friday, instead calling for a "national review" of all VA medical facilities. Walz is a veteran and member of the Veteran's Affairs committee.

GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen has not called for resignation. Rep. John Kline scribed an op-ed on VA issues earlier this week in a local paper, which stopped short of calling for a resignation. Rep. Michele Bachmann, on Fox News, called for his resignation. 

All week, Minnesota Republican Congressional candidates blasted Democrats on the scandal. On Thursday, Republican 7th Congressional District candidate Torrey Westrom and 8th Congressional District Stewart Mills also called for Shinseki’s resignation. First District Republican Jim Hagedorn’s campaign sent out a release titled, “Obama-Walz have let down veterans."

Hank Sadler, chair of Veterans for Walz, sharply criticized the "partisan" attacks. 

"It's despicable that Republicans running for Congress would use veterans' lives in a blatant attempt to score cheap political points. They should be ashamed," he said, in an email.

Update:

First District Republican Aaron Miller had also blasted Walz on May 21, with a release titled, "Our veterans deserve better, President Obama and Congressman Walz are failing them."

On May 27, Kline said: "General Shinseki is a decorated Vietnam veteran and I appreciate his service to our country, but the entire leadership of the VA must be held accountable which is why I’m calling on him to resign – and if he doesn’t, the President should relieve him of his duties."

Citing fraud, Rep. Rick Nolan to push for Afghanistan construction oversight

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: May 21, 2014 - 5:52 PM

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Rick Nolan is appalled that of the $100 billion American dollars spent on construction in Afghanistan, more than $60 billion is unaccounted for, according to an Inspector General's report.

The 8th Congressional District DFLer has a proposed amendment, which he got into the National Defense Authorization Act, that will prohibit funding for any new construction projects over $500,000, unless the U.S. government can physically inspect or audit those projects.

Nolan's amendment will get some floor time tonight and his staffers say a vote should come tomorrow.

The National Defense Authorization Act, an annual bill that sets policy and spending for the Pentagon, may get a full House vote as early as tomorrow. Nolan isn't on the Armed Services Committee, but GOP leaders let anyone submit amendments for a bill this big and Nolan's was approved overnight Tuesday by the House Rules Committee.

Staffers say the potential for corruption and fraud is high in Afghanistan and Nolan is disgusted with the abuse of taxpayer money there.

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