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, J. Patrick Coolican, Patricia Lopez, Ricardo Lopez, Abby Simons, and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry, Jim Spencer and intern Beena Raghavendran.

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Sen. Franken to return to Dave Letterman in show's final weeks

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: March 27, 2015 - 3:00 PM

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.

Jones' exit from ATF follows ammo fiasco

Posted by: Jim Spencer Updated: March 20, 2015 - 2:01 PM

B. Todd Jones's unexpected resignation as head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Friday closely follows a controversial attempt by ATF to implement new rules for judging ammunition.

The ATF announced that Jones, Minnesota's former U.S... Attorney, would leave just 19 months after his confirmation "to pursue opportunities in the private sector." His resignation, effective March 31, comes a month after the proposed ammunition rules blew up in a fury of protests from gun rights groups.

The National Rifle Association flexed its political muscles strongly as thousands of angry letters poured into the ATF. But most telling might have been letters in early March signed by dozens of U.S... Senators and 237 U.S... Representatives, including Democrats Collin Peterson and Tim Walz and Republicans John Kline, Tom Emmer and Erik Paulsen of Minnesota.

The gun rights lobby objected to the rules that the ATF wanted to apply to determine the kinds of ammunition used primarily for sporting purposes. The rules might have excluded some armor-piercing bullets from the market. Critics of the policy, including the members of Congress, complained that  the standard was "unduly restrictive," could undermine the Second Amendment and disrupt the market for ammunition used for legal purposes.

"The opposition to the ammo is typical of the firestorm that agency can generate," said University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias. "Maybe that was the final straw [for Jones]. That's the kind of conclusion you would draw."

Tobias, like most, was surprised by Jones' departure because he had survived sometimes scathing confirmation hearings.  

Jones took over the ATF in the wake of the "Fast and Furious" scandal in which the agency failed to properly track weapons purchased along the nation's Southwest border. The weapons sometimes ended up in the hands of criminals and in one case an untracked gun was used to kill a U.S... Border Patrol agent.

Tobias, who specializes in federal matter, felt Jones was doing a good job.

"We didn't hear much about the agency," he said. "That, to me, is a sign things were getting better."

AP: Sen. Amy Klobuchar's office knew of abortion provision ahead of stalemate

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: March 18, 2015 - 5:52 PM

WASHINGTON -- A staffer in Sen. Amy Klobuchar's office knew about the controversial abortion language stuck into a bipartisan bill to help victims of human trafficking before her boss voted on it but failed to say anything, a Senate spokeswoman acknowedged in an Associated Press story.

A bill supported by pretty much everyone in the U.S. Congress that helps victims of trafficking is stuck in a stalemate because Democrats say they "discovered" language last week that restricts federal funds for abortions and the Plan B pill tucked in the bill.

It has been unclear why scores of staffers for more than a dozen senators, as well as the minority staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee, didn't see the language. It was tucked in the bill under a reference to an appropriations bill passed last year. The AP story says a Klobuchar staffer "had seen the language" before the committee voted, but the aide "did not inform the senator."

Klobuchar told the Star Tribune last week she didn't know it was in the legislation when she voted for it on the Judiciary Committee in February. Franken echoed her sentiment, but went farther saying he regretted not seeing the language and regretted his vote for it.

What's still unclear why no one else -- beyond the unnamed Klobuchar staffer -- saw the language.

The staff mess up may explain Klobuchar's low-key approach to the fight since it started. 

While other Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Washington Sen. Patty Murray, have been stomping the halls and making floor speeches about Republicans' approach to the abortion language, Klobuchar has said nothing.

She is the lead Democrat on the Cornyn bill and her own Safe Harbor bill is being held up in the stalemate as well. Klobuchar has long prominently talked about how important human trafficking legislation is to her agenda. Klobuchar stood on the Senate floor for three hours Thursday and read from the book "Half the Sky" by Nicholas Kristoff about trafficking. She didn't mention her staff's blunders.

Klobuchar and Franken have both voted twice to block the bill with the abortion language.

"There shouldn't be disagreement about this," Klobuchar said on the floor. "I am hopeful that at some point here and I hope it's today, we're going to turn the corner."

Morning Hot Dish

Posted by: J. Patrick Coolican Updated: March 18, 2015 - 8:44 AM

Legislators' immunity and MNsure's fate

Good morning. New State-of-the-State date is April 8.

Budget clash coming, Pat Condon and Ricardo Lopez report:

Minnesota’s $1.9 billion projected budget surplus should be spent mostly on programs that benefit kids and families, Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday, setting up a clash with Republican lawmakers who want to return most of it to taxpayers.

Neither Dayton nor Lt. Gov. Tina Smith have any public events today.

Big day of committee hearings as we near first house deadline. For insiders, all eyes on House Gov. Ops at 10:15, where Speaker Daudt will press for a Legislative Budget Office to give the Legislature its own independent budget arm, like Congress has in D.C. (Where things were working really great, last time I checked.) Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk also favors. Dayton opposes.

Also at 10:15, in House Public Safety, Rep. Winkler’s bill to clarify that legislators caught with a DWI during session can still be arrested and prosecuted, which caused a bit of a kerfuffle last year. Columnist Jon Tevlin wrote about this last year. RSB columnizes this year.

MNsure as a state agency instead of independent, in Senate Commerce at 2. In Senate Jobs, Ag and Rural Development, they’ll hear a Sen. David Tomassoni bill: “Correctional facility butcher training pilot program establishment.” (!)

Big agendas for both House Commerce and HHS Reform at 2:45.

House in session at 12:15.

Full legislative calendar.

Brandon Stahl on major reform of Minnesota law signed by Dayton allowing child protection workers to review previous child abuse reports when considering how to respond to a new one. We were perhaps the only state in the country that had that asinine provision. New law arose out of Stahl’s reporting on tragic cases.

Mike Kaszuba on the Summit Academy Vikings Stadium bust.

Whoa there! After federal approval, Minn. lawmaker moves for moratorium on powdered alcohol, Abby Simons reports.

Big business, big labor spent big money to lobby the Legislature last year.

MinnPost on all the estate tax cutting proposals.

Washington and beyond

Netanyahu looks like he’ll have another term in Israel. Overnight the victory began to look more crushing.

Times on the continued thorny relationship between Bibi and Obama going forward.

Times on Jeb the WASP’s Catholic conversion.

Rep. Aaron Schock resigns. Washington all hot and bothered and aTwitter. Zero actual ramifications on the country.

Sex trafficking bill, high profile priority of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, made Jon Stewart last night as embodiment of Washington dysfunction; now in serious trouble. Allison Sherry has the latest.

Walker digital strategist has opinions on Twitter. About Iowa. Forced to quit. 

Sen. Klobuchar's long-supported human trafficking bill remains stalled

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: March 18, 2015 - 12:51 PM

WASHINGTON -- It's day five of stalemate in the U.S. Senate over Sen. Amy Klobuchar's long-supported human trafficking bill. 

On Tuesday, the bill stalled after it failed to get enough votes to even proceed to debate.

The measure, which extends help to victims of human and sex trafficking, is wholeheartedly supported by Republicans and Democrats and swiftly moved through the Judiciary Committee and was voted on in February. Both Sens. Klobuchar and Al Franken voted for it then.

At issue now is lanugage inserted by Republican lawmakers that prohibits trafficking victims from obtaining abortions or the Plan B pill with federal tax dollars. Republicans say it was in there from the beginning. Democrats, including Franken and Klobuchar, say it was intentionally opaque and they didn't see the language in the bill at first.

Neither Klobuchar nor Franken are now willing to support it until the language is removed. On the House side, GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen sponsored one of four bills that passed without the abortion language.

Klobuchar said late Tuesday: "We need to find a way to fix the provision so that we can get the bill passed."

No word on what she's doing to make that happen.