WASHINGTON -- Sen. Al Franken said Thursday he was relieved to hear that Comcast was dropping its bid to buy Time Warner Cable.
Franken, a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, has been angry about the bid since the beginning, saying it will only make service more expensive and competition worse for consumers. He pushed federal regulators and the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission to oppose the deal.
Just last week, Franken led a letter with five other senators asking federal regulators to halt it.
"I'm glad that over the last 15 months, more and more people have come to see it the way I do" he said, in a statement. "This transaction would create a telecom behemoth that would lead to higher prices, fewer choices and even worse service. We need more competition in this space, not less."
The scents of warm potatoes and cheese wafted through the room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. Wednesday afternoon as members of the Minnesota delegation went head-to-head for the fifth annual "Hotdish Off," in what might be the friendliest competition on the Hill, hosted by Sen. Al Franken.
The rules: “All hot dishes must contain a starch, some protein and a liquid,” said Eric Kaler, University of Minnesota president and one of the three hot dish competition judges. He, along with Star Tribune editorial writer Jill Burcum and The Hill’s Devin Henry (formerly MinnPost’s D.C. correspondent), graded the dishes on taste (a maximum of 10 points), originality (5 points) and “Minnesota components” (5 points).
Above: Rep. Betty McCollum's winning hot dish.
The faceoff came out with a win for Minnesota’s fourth district — Rep. Betty McCollum took first place, upsetting what would have been Rep. Tim Walz’s three-year winning streak. McCollum couldn’t be at the event to accept the prize for her "Turkey, Sweet Potato and Wild Rice Hotdish" dotted with tater tots. Her communications director Sam McCullough accepted an empty casserole dish award on her behalf.
The challenge exposed the members’ competitive sides, away from the world of amendments and legislation.
“What is wrong with trying to win?” U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked Rep. Keith Ellison before the judging began.
“Nothing, nothing,” Ellison replied.
The deliberation among the top two hot dishes was close and as the judges huddled to decide the ultimate victor, Klobuchar said, “I think we need a recount!”
Franken, who won his first election by a recount of 312 votes and seven months of legal fights, said, “Don’t ever say that word around me!”
Above: Sen. Al Franken hosts the yearly cook-off.
This was the second year the entire delegation participated in the cook-off, and the first year without Michele Bachmann entering a recipe. The room was bristling with staffers and reporters.
Joked Kaler: “To get this many TV cameras, I usually have to fire a coach.”
Franken said he started the event to give members a chance to “get together as a delegation and celebrate a Minnesota culinary tradition.”
And what’s a little tradition without some smack-talk?
“You know, this is the first thing you said in that call you made to me after I won my election,” Republican Rep. Tom Emmer said to Franken. “That I would have to do 'Hotdish.'” Emmer replaced Bachmann after Bachmann retired in 2014.
“I don’t care if I win, all I care about is Tim Walz doesn’t win,” Franken said, hoping someone would break Walz’s two-year winning streak.
Above: (from left) Reps. Tom Emmer, Erik Paulsen and John Kline chat with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (center) during the "Hotdish Off."
Emmer, a first-time hot dish participant, posed with a sign that read “Fresh Meat Hotdish” — a title he gave his cheesy tater tot concoction in a crockpot.
Klobuchar jumped in the photo at the last minute.
“I photobombed you!” she said to Emmer.
“Yeah,” he said, still holding his sign. “With fresh meat!”
Allison Sherry contributed to this post.
WASHINGTON -- To illustrate how much the United States -- the Midwest, really -- stands to benefit from lifting the Cuban trade embargo, Minnesota farmer Ralph Kaehler likes to talk about powdered milk.
Last year, the tiny island off the coast of Florida imported roughly $80 million in powdered milk. United States farmers, a lot of them in Minnesota and other midwestern states, furnished about 25 percent of that order.
Kaehler, who testified Tuesday in front of the Senate Ag Committee, said American farmers could easily compete with China and Vietnam because it would be cheaper to ship to Cuba and the supplies are fresher. The hearing was meant to talk about the potential the United States has with a formal trade relationship with Cuba.
(One ding against the United States, the strong dollar which is making it less competitive for exports than other countries.)
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, on the Ag Commitee, is an original sponsor of a proposal to lift the Cuba trade embargo. She pointed out Tuesday that there is strong progress: President Barack Obama recently met with Raul Castro and said he wants to take Cuba off the United States' enemies list.
"The bill (lifting the Cuban embargo) won't pass this week, but it will pass someday," she said.
WASHINGTON -- For the fifth time, Democratic Sen. Al Franken wants to taste his colleagues' cooking.
On April 22, Franken will host the annual Hotdish competition -- a bipartisan cook-off for the ten members of the Minnesota Congressional delegation.
They borrow a big conference room in a Senate office building and each member has to furnish a dish for the event -- sometimes we wonder whether they cooked it themselves or had some, um, help. This year's judges are Star Tribune editorial writer Jill Burcum and MinnPost alum Devin Henry, who departed for The Hill recently.
"Sen. Franken started the friendly competition as a way to bring the delegation together to put partisanship aside and celebrate a Minnesota culinary tradition," Franken's staffers said in a statement.
Democratic Rep. Tim Walz's cooking seems to be a favorite. He took the top prize last year for his "Turkey Trot Tater-Tot Hotdish" and in 2013 for his "Hermann the German Hotdish."
(This was before my time, does that have sausage?)
In 2012, Franken's "Mom's Mahnomnin Madness Hotdish" and former Rep. Chip Cravaack's "Minnesota Wild Strata Hotdish" tied for first place.
Don't worry. We'll post photos of the event that day.
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate on Thursday was close to wrapping up its markup of the sprawling bipartisan overhaul to No Child Left Behind that, from most accounts, has inclusions that make both Democrats and Republicans uncomfortable.
Democratic Sen. Al Franken has been in the room all week trying to find accord with Republicans and said on Thursday the measure worried him in some key areas because he wants to keep robust accountability in place.
"I want a bipartisan solution ... and I'm hopeful that we can find common ground to improve the bill when it comes before the full Senate," he said in a statement.
Among amendments included that were authored by Franken:
-Mental Health In Schools: Allows schools to partner with community organizations to expand access to mental health services for students.
-Principal Training and Recruitment: Improves the preparation, placement and retention of effective principals.
-Accelerated Learning: Seeks to raise student academic achievement and save students and families cash through acclerated learning programs.
-STEM Education: Includes targeted funding for Science Technology Engineering and Math instruction and teacher development.
On the House side, Republican Rep. John Kline's bill to remake No Child Left Behind is stalled out because it didn't have enough support among Republicans. He said this week he is working on educating members and hopes for a vote soon.