Sen. Al Franken ducks it.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar embraces it.
This year, both have had their share of national attention and are due for more.
As members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Minnesota’s U.S. senators have faced the spotlight’s glare on gun control and will face it again as the panel crafts legislation that could overhaul the country’s immigration laws.
Judiciary Committee members can have fleeting moments of fame, usually during a Supreme Court confirmation hearing or the tussle over a proposed constitutional amendment.
But the committee has drawn more attention than usual this year as it debates two of the most pressing issues of the current Congress: gun control and immigration.
The committee took center stage in January, when it hosted Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association and former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was severely wounded in a shooting in her Arizona district that left six people dead, for a hearing on federal gun laws.
With the Minnesota House abandoning plans to vote on gun legislation this year, the two U.S. senators, especially Franken, should be leery about how they broach the issue, said Keith Downey, chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota.
The gun-control debate has also stalled in the U.S. Senate after members voted down a background check bill.
“Gun control is effectively dead, it probably doesn’t play well throughout Minnesota and I don’t know that Al Franken was getting that much attention … anyway,” Downey said.
With gun control now on the back burner, immigration has been thrust to the forefront.
On Thursday, the committee began debate on a sweeping 844-page reform bill that is just as likely to be the center of attention. The meeting marked the first of what is expected to be several hearings on amendments over the next three or four weeks.
Whether the added attention for Franken and Klobuchar brings risk or reward remains to be seen, Carleton College political scientist Steven Schier said.
Klobuchar, fresh off a landslide re-election victory in November, popped up on a list this month of female lawmakers being touted as potential future presidential candidates by EMILY’s List, the female-focused Democratic political action committee.
Up for re-election in 2014, Franken has shunned the national spotlight during his freshman term, choosing to focus instead on Minnesota issues. Gun control has now become a Minnesota issue that Franken will be asked about on the campaign trail, Schier said.
“Is he going to be giving ammunition to his opponents that will produce effective ads in greater Minnesota about guns?” Schier asked. “Or will he find allies from out of state and in state who will use resources to emphasize his record in a positive way?”
Come 2014, voters will focus on other issues, Downey said.
“When you think about the major issues, it’s the economy, the budget deficits and it’s foreign affairs,” he said. “Minnesotans would expect our U.S. senators to really be leading on these biggest issues.”
While the congressional focus on guns and immigration has boosted the profiles of fellow committee members such as Ted Cruz of Texas, Klobuchar and Franken could be less likely to reap results.
“If they’re going to get a benefit out of it, they have to be part of the solution,” Schier said. “But the Republican House is going to prevent that. It’s hard to claim credit when nothing happens.”