WASHINGTON - Al Franken, the "Saturday Night Live" alum, former radio host and current Senate candidate, laid a wreath in Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday before being honored for his 10 years of service with the USO entertaining U.S. troops abroad.
He called his USO experience "one of the best things I've ever done."
Franken, who is embroiled in a protracted legal standoff with Norm Coleman in the Minnesota U.S. Senate race, received the United Service Organizations' Merit Award for his service, which stretches back to the end of the war in Kosovo.
Franken's latest trip to Washington came a day after Coleman's appearance at a GOP luncheon meeting on Capitol Hill, where the Republican told reporters he is still considering taking his election lawsuit to federal court if Franken's 225-vote lead is upheld by a three-judge panel.
Franken, a DFLer, attended political briefings and a fundraiser luncheon but otherwise stayed away from the Senate, where he hopes to join the Democratic majority once the four-month-old election impasse is resolved.
Thirty-six of the nation's 98 living Medal of Honor recipients were on hand for the USO award ceremony, along with actress Renée Zellweger.
In an interview, Franken said his antiwar politics played no part in his work in Iraq, which he toured four times with the USO.
"Some of the troops knew I'd been a critic of the way we'd gotten into the war, and the way we were doing the war," he said. "But in a way, they didn't care. It just told them that everybody in the States supported them. It didn't matter what your politics were."
Franken acknowledged that his seven USO tours sometimes made for strange political bedfellows: "You go with a troupe of show people, so I usually would go with a bunch of right-wing country musicians, the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders and the Army band."
In the end, Franken said, he tried to pattern his comedy as much as possible after legendary entertainer Bob Hope, whose holiday USO specials became a staple of the Vietnam War. Asked what that meant, Franken described a typical "Army grub" joke about "eating five MREs [Meals Ready to Eat], and none of them seems to have an exit strategy."
Not unlike the Senate race.
Kevin Diaz • 202-408-2753