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Associated Press, Published July 08 2009

Franken sworn in as Minnesota senator

WASHINGTON – Al Franken became a senator Tuesday, completing the transformation from comedian to politician.

The Minnesota Democrat’s swearing-in marked the end of an eight-month political and legal struggle and drew thunderous applause and a standing ovation in the Senate chamber. His presence gives Democrats 60 votes, enough to thwart possible Republican filibusters.

Vice President Joe Biden administered the oath to Franken, slapped the former “Saturday Night Live” performer on the back, then embraced him in a full hug. Former Vice President Walter Mondale, a Minnesota native and former senator, accompanied Franken, and he was introduced by fellow Minnesotan and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

“I think it was Al who told me that the third year of his campaign would be the best,” Klobuchar said. “He was right.”

Last week the Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Franken’s favor after a protracted recount battle.

His opponent, former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, conceded shortly after the ruling.

In the staid Senate, there were plenty of signs something unusual was afoot. The Senate Gallery, rarely full even with dozens of summer tours, was packed with onlookers. After Franken took the oath of the Senate, the gallery erupted in a round of applause that continued for several minutes.

Before the swearing-in, Franken learned one truism of the Senate: Nothing ever runs quite on time. Several senators read lengthy remarks from a Homeland Security bill as anticipation built for his arrival. Franni Franken, his wife, smiled broadly and seemed to shift nervously in her seat in the gallery.

Then, about 15 minutes later than scheduled, Klobuchar began her introduction. She said Franken would be a champion of average Minnesotans and played up his middle-class bona fides.

“He’s demonstrated to Minnesotans that he takes his new job seriously,” she said.

She added that he carried “the same passion as Paul Wellstone,” the late Democratic senator who had been famous for his populist roots. Franken took the oath on a Bible that belonged to the Wellstone family.

Franken exchanged hugs with most of his Democratic colleagues and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent.

He acknowledged a section of the Senate Gallery, waving to his wife and children while behind him his friend Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, gestured with his hands to raise the roof, prompting a fresh burst of cheers.

Democrats were quick to praise their new colleague. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., called Franken “dedicated and serious-minded.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said, “Al Franken is very smart, extremely smart.”

The hullabaloo that accompanied Franken’s swearing-in was in some ways a contrast with the image the former comedian is trying to project as a serious-minded senator. Since moving back to Minnesota in 2005, Franken has sought to tone down his image as an irreverent performer and satirist and cast himself as workhorse and policy wonk.

Franken said in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday that while he is still garnering attention for his career as a comic, he expects the publicity to die down once he is able to establish himself in the Senate.

“I think they’ll get to used to the idea that I’m a senator, that I’ve kind of changed careers,” Franken said. “I just don’t think it will take that long. They’ll see what I do and what I say. Mainly I’m going to put my head down and get to work.”

Democrats said Franken will assume seats on the Senate Select Committee on Aging, the Committee on Indian Affairs, the Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions. Reid said Tuesday that Franken will not join the HELP committee until after the health care bill goes through the budget markup process.

Franken’s most pressing business will be the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. He told the AP that he would like to serve as a “people’s proxy” on the committee.