Franken was first elected to the United States Senate
, defeating incumbent Republican
Senator Norm Coleman
by a narrow margin of 312 votes out of nearly three million cast. He was a popular Senator and easily won reelection in 2014
over Republican challenger Mike McFadden
. On December 7, 2017, after several accusations of sexual misconduct, Franken announced his intention to resign from the Senate.
Early life and education
Franken was born on May 21, 1951, in New York City, to Joseph Franken, a printing salesman, and Phoebe Franken (born Kunst), a real estate agent. His paternal grandparents emigrated from Germany
; his maternal grandfather came from Grodno
; and his maternal grandmother's parents were also from the Russian Empire
Both of his parents were Jews
, and Franken was raised in a Reform Jewish
The Frankens moved to Albert Lea, Minnesota
when he was four years old.
His father opened a quilting factory, but it failed after just two years. The family then moved to St. Louis Park, Minnesota
, a suburb
Franken graduated from The Blake School
in 1969, where he was a member of the wrestling team.
He attended Harvard College
, where he majored in political science
, graduating cum laude
with a Bachelor of Arts
His older brother Owen is a photojournalist
, and his cousin Bob
is a journalist for MSNBC
Franken began performing in high school, where he and his longtime friend and writing partner Tom Davis
were known for their comedy.
The duo first performed on stage at Minneapolis's Brave New Workshop
theater, specializing in political satire
They soon found themselves in what was described as "a life of near-total failure on the fringes of show business in Los Angeles."
Saturday Night Live
On Weekend Update
near the end of Season 5
, Franken delivered a commentary called "A Limo for a Lame-O
". He mocked controversial NBC
president Fred Silverman
as "a total unequivocal failure" and displayed a chart showing the poor ratings of NBC programs. As a result of this sketch, Silverman declined Lorne Michaels
's recommendation that Franken succeed him as producer, and Franken left the show when Michaels did, at the end of the 1979–80 season.
Franken returned to the show in 1985 as a writer and occasional performer. He has acknowledged using cocaine
and other illegal drugs while working in television, and stated that he stopped after John Belushi
died of an overdose.
In 1995, Franken left the show in protest over losing the role of Weekend Update
anchor to Norm Macdonald
In 1995, Franken wrote and starred in the film Stuart Saves His Family,
which was based on his SNL
character Stuart Smalley. Franken became depressed as a result of the film's critical and commercial failure. Stuart Saves His Family
has an aggregate rating of 27% on Rotten Tomatoes,
but received favorable reviews from The Washington Post
and Gene Siskel
Franken signed a one-year contract in early 2004 to host a talk show for Air America Radio
's flagship program with co-host Katherine Lanpher
, who remained with the show until October 2005. The network was launched on March 31, 2004. Originally named The O'Franken Factor
but renamed The Al Franken Show
on July 12, 2004, the show aired three hours a day, five days a week for three years. Its stated goal was to put more progressive views on the public airwaves to counter what Franken perceived as the dominance of conservative syndicated commentary on the radio: "I'm doing this because I want to use my energies to get Bush
unelected," he told a New York Times
reporter in 2004.
Franken's last radio show on Air America Radio was on February 14, 2007, at the end of which he announced his candidacy for the United States Senate
Political activism prior to election
According to an article by Richard Corliss
published in Time
magazine, "In a way, Franken has been running for office since the late '70s." Corliss also hinted at Franken's "possibly ironic role as a relentless self-promoter" in proclaiming the 1980s "The Al Franken Decade" and saying, "Vote for me, Al Franken. You'll be glad you did!"
In 1999, Franken released a parody book, Why Not Me?,
detailing his hypothetical campaign for president in 2000. He had been a strong supporter of Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone
and was deeply affected by Wellstone's death in a plane crash shortly before the 2002 election
. Wellstone was a mentor
and political and personal role model for Franken, who stated his hopes of following in Wellstone's footsteps.
Franken said he learned that 21% of Americans received most of their news from talk radio
, an almost exclusively conservative medium.
"I didn't want to sit on the sidelines, and I believed Air America could make a difference", he said.
In November 2003, Franken talked about moving back to his home state of Minnesota to run for the Senate. At the time the seat once held by Wellstone was occupied by Republican Norm Coleman
. At a 2004 Democratic presidential campaign event, Franken tackled a man who was allegedly threatening other attendees and heckling Governor Howard Dean
In 2005, Franken announced his move to Minnesota: "I can tell you honestly, I don't know if I'm going to run, but I'm doing the stuff I need to do in order to do it."
In late 2005, he started his own political action committee
, Midwest Values PAC
. By early 2007, the PAC had raised more than $1 million.
Franken initially supported the Iraq War
but opposed the 2007 troop surge
. In an interview with MSNBC'
s Joe Scarborough
he said that he "believed Colin Powell
", whose presentation at the United Nations
convinced him that the war was necessary, but that he had since come to believe that "we were misled into the war" and urged the Democratic-controlled Congress to refuse to pass appropriations bills to fund the war if they did not include timetables for leaving Iraq. In an interview with Josh Marshall
, Franken said of the Democrats, "I think we've gotta make President George W. Bush
say, 'OK, I'm cutting off funding because I won't agree to a timetable.'"
Franken favors transitioning to a universal health care
with the provision that every child in America should receive health care coverage immediately. He objects to efforts to privatize Social Security
or cut benefits, and favors raising the cap on wages to which Social Security taxes apply.
On his 2008 campaign website, he voiced support for cutting subsidies
for oil companies, increasing money available for college students, and cutting interest rates
on student loans
During the 2008 election, New York state officials asserted that Al Franken Inc. had failed to carry required workers' compensation insurance
for employees who assisted him with his comedy and public speaking from 2002 to 2005. Franken paid a $25,000 fine to the state of New York upon being advised his corporation
was out of compliance with the state's workers' compensation laws.
At the same time, the California Franchise Tax Board
reported that the same corporation owed more than $4,743 in taxes, fines, and associated penalties in the state of California for 2003 through 2007, because the corporation did not file tax returns in the state for those years.
A Franken representative said that it followed the advice of an accountant who believed when the corporation stopped doing business in California that no further filing was required.
Subsequently, Franken paid $70,000 in back income taxes
in 17 states dating back to 2003, mostly from his speeches and other paid appearances. Franken said he paid the income tax in his state of residence, and he would seek retroactive credit for paying the taxes in the wrong states.
Franken campaigning for the U.S. Senate in 2008
On July 8, 2007, Franken's campaign stated that it expected to announce that he had raised more money than his Republican opponent, Norm Coleman
, during the second quarter of the year, taking in $1.9 million to Coleman's $1.6 million,
although in early July 2007, Coleman's $3.8 million cash on hand exceeded Franken's $2 million.
In late May 2008, the Minnesota Republican Party
released a letter about an article Franken had written for Playboy
magazine in 2000 titled "Porn-O-Rama!" The letter, signed by six prominent GOP women, including a state senator and state representative, called on Franken to apologize for what they called a "demeaning and degrading" article.
His campaign spokesman responded, "Al had a long career as a satirist. But he understands the difference between what you say as a satirist and what you do as a senator. And as a Senator, Norm Coleman has disrespected the people of Minnesota by putting the Exxons
ahead of working families. And there's nothing funny about that."
On June 7, 2008, Franken was endorsed by the DFL
In a July 2008 interview with CNN
, he was endorsed by Ben Stein
, a noted entertainer, speechwriter, lawyer and author known for his conservative views, who generally supported Republican candidates.
Stein said of Franken, "He is my pal, and he is a really, really capable smart guy. I don't agree with all of his positions, but he is a very impressive guy, and I think he should be in the Senate."
During his campaign, Franken was criticized for advising SNL
creator Lorne Michaels
on a political sketch ridiculing Senator John McCain
's ads attacking Barack Obama
in the 2008 presidential election
Coleman's campaign reacted, saying, "Once again, he proves he's more interested in entertainment than service, and ridiculing those with whom he disagrees."
Preliminary reports on election night, November 4, were that Coleman was leading by over 700 votes, but the official results, certified on November 18, 2008, had Coleman leading by only 215 votes. As the two candidates were separated by less than 0.5 percent of the votes cast, the Minnesota Secretary of State
, Mark Ritchie
, authorized the automatic recount provided for in Minnesota election law. In the recount, ballots and certifying materials were examined by hand, and candidates could file challenges to the legality of ballots or materials for inclusion or exclusion. On January 5, 2009, the Minnesota State Canvassing Board
certified the recounted vote totals, with Franken ahead by 225 votes.
On January 6, 2009, Coleman's campaign filed an election contest
, which led to a trial before a three-judge panel.
The trial ended on April 7, when the panel ruled that 351 of 387 disputed absentee ballots were incorrectly rejected and ordered them counted. Counting those ballots raised Franken's lead to 312 votes. Coleman appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court
on April 20.
On April 24, the Minnesota Supreme Court agreed to hear the case
Oral arguments were conducted on June 1.
On June 30, 2009, the Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously rejected Coleman's appeal and said that Franken was entitled to be certified as the winner. Shortly after the court's decision, Coleman conceded.
Governor Tim Pawlenty
signed Franken's election certificate that same evening.
Franken was reelected to a second term in 2014. He won the August 12 primary election, in which he was challenged by Sandra Henningsgard, with 94.5% of the vote.
He won the general election against the Republican candidate, Mike McFadden
, with 53.2% of the vote.
Franken meeting with Vice President Joe Biden
in May 2009
Franken was sworn into the Senate on July 7, 2009, 246 days after the election.
He took the oath of office with the Bible
of late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone
, whose old seat was set aside for Franken by Senate leaders.
A video of Franken at the Minnesota State Fair
on September 2, 2009, engaging in a discussion with a group of Tea Party protesters
on health care reform, began circulating on the Internet and soon went viral
The discussion was noted for its civility, in contrast to the explosive character of several other discussions between members of the 111th Congress
and their constituents that had occurred over the summer.
Citing the case of Jamie Leigh Jones
, Franken introduced a limit to the arbitration policy of the 2010 Defense Appropriations bill that withheld defense contracts from companies that restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault
, battery, and discrimination cases to court. It passed the Senate in November 2010, 68 to 30 in a roll-call vote. https://www.franken.senate.gov/?P=Issue&Id=211
In May 2010, Franken proposed a financial-reform amendment that created a board to select which credit rating agency
would evaluate a given security. At the time, any company issuing a security could select the company that evaluated the security.
The amendment was passed, but the financial industry lobbied to have it removed from the final bill.
Negotiations between the Senate and House
, whose version of financial reform did not include such a provision, resulted in the amendment's being watered down to require only a series of studies being done on the issue for two years.
After the studies, if the Securities and Exchange Commission
had not implemented another solution to the conflict-of-interest problem, Franken's solution would go into effect.
In August 2010, Franken made faces and hand gestures and rolled his eyes while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
delivered a speech in opposition to the confirmation of Elena Kagan
to the U.S. Supreme Court
Franken's actions prompted McConnell to remark, "This isn't Saturday Night Live
After Kagan's confirmation, Franken delivered a handwritten apology to McConnell and issued a public statement saying that McConnell had a right "to give his speech with the presiding officer just listening respectfully."
The National Journal
reported in 2013 that Franken supports the National Security Agency
's data mining programs, believing they have saved lives, and that "I can assure you, this is not about spying on the American people."
When Franken declared his intention to seek reelection in 2014
his seat was thought to be a top target for the Republicans because of his very slim margin of victory in the previous election. But Politico
reported that his high approval rating, his large campaign fund, and the Republicans' struggle to find a top-tier candidate meant he was a "heavy favorite" to win reelection,
and Franken won the race comfortably.
The Associated Press
has noted that contrary to expectations, Franken has not sought out the media spotlight: "He rarely talks to the Washington press corps, has shed his comedic persona and focused on policy, working to be taken seriously."
In interviews he has expressed his desire to be known for a focus on constituency work, keeping his head down, and working hard.
Franken has been an effective fundraiser for the Democrats.
By late 2015, his political action committee had raised more than $5 million in donations.
In 2016, his PAC raised $3.3 million.
According to The Star Tribune
, Franken has been able to "draw crowds and donations across the country".
Sexual misconduct allegations
On November 16, 2017, conservative
media personality Leeann Tweeden
alleged in a blog post and an interview with her radio station, 790 KABC
, that Franken kissed her on a 2006 USO
tour during a rehearsal for a skit. She wrote, "I said 'OK' so he would stop badgering me. We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth."
She said she pushed him away, feeling "disgusted and violated".
Franken was also photographed appearing to place his hands above or on her breasts while she was asleep on an aircraft wearing body armor
and a helmet.
In response Franken said, "I certainly don't remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann ... As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn't. I shouldn't have done it."
A few hours later, Franken issued a longer apology,
which Tweeden accepted.
On November 20, 2017, a 33-year-old woman named Lindsay Menz accused Franken of touching her clothed buttocks while they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair
In a statement responding to the allegation, Franken said, "I take thousands of photos at the state fair surrounded by hundreds of people, and I certainly don't remember taking this picture. I feel badly that Ms. Menz came away from our interaction feeling disrespected."
On November 22, 2017, Huffington Post reported that two additional women who insisted upon anonymity said that Franken had subjected them to very similar misconduct during political events in 2007 and 2008 (before he took office), incidents Franken also said he did not remember.
Franken issued another apology on November 23, 2017, stating, "I've met tens of thousands of people and taken thousands of photographs, often in crowded and chaotic situations. I'm a warm person; I hug people. I've learned from recent stories that in some of those encounters, I crossed a line for some women — and I know that any number is too many."
On November 30, 2017, Jezebel
reported that another anonymous woman said that after she was a guest on Franken's radio show in 2006, Franken leaned in toward her face during a handshake and gave her "a wet, open-mouthed kiss" on the cheek when she turned away.
That same day, an army veteran named Stephanie Kemplin told CNN that Franken held the side of her breast for 5 to 10 seconds "and never moved his hand" while posing for a photo with her during a 2003 USO tour in Iraq.
On December 6, 2017, Politico reported that an anonymous former Democratic congressional staffer said, and Franken denied, that Franken had tried to kiss her (but failed to do so) as she exited the studio after an interview on his radio show in 2006.
The same day, another former Democratic congressional staffer, Tina Dupuy
, wrote a piece in The Atlantic
alleging that Franken squeezed her waist while posing for a photo at a presidential inauguration party in early 2009.
Senate leaders Mitch McConnell
and Chuck Schumer
sent Tweeden's accusations to the Senate Ethics Committee
for review, a decision supported by members of both parties, including Franken himself.
On November 30, the committee announced that it was investigating allegations against Franken.
Some liberal groups and commentators, including the Indivisible movement
and Sally Kohn
, called on Franken to resign because of the allegations.
On December 6, more than two dozen Democratic senators called on him to resign.
On December 7, 2017, Franken announced that he will resign his Senate seat
and also made comparisons to Republican politicians, saying he was "aware of the irony" that President Donald Trump remains in office despite the comments Trump made in the Access Hollywood tape
released a month before his election, and that the Republican Party supports Roy Moore
's Senate campaign
despite the many allegations of harassment and molestation against Moore.
The following are works authored by Al Franken.
- Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations (Delacorte Press, 1996) ISBN 0-385-31474-4
- Why Not Me?: The Inside Story of the Making and Unmaking of the Franken Presidency (Delacorte Press, 1999) ISBN 0-385-31809-X
- Oh, the Things I Know!: A Guide to Success, or Failing That, Happiness (Plume Books, 2003) ISBN 0-452-28450-3
- Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right (Dutton Books, 2003) ISBN 0-525-94764-7
- The Truth (With Jokes) (Dutton Books, 2005) ISBN 0-525-94906-2
- Al Franken, Giant of the Senate (Grand Central Publishing, 2017) ISBN 1455540412
|2008 Minnesota U.S. Senate Democratic–Farmer–Labor primary election|
|DFL||Priscilla Lord Faris||74,655||29.72%|
2008 Minnesota U.S. Senate election
|Republican||Norm Coleman (incumbent)||1,212,317||41.983%|
|Margin of victory||312||0.011%|
|2014 Minnesota U.S. Senate Democratic–Farmer–Labor primary election|
|DFL||Al Franken (incumbent)||182,720||94.50%|
2014 Minnesota U.S. Senate election
|DFL||Al Franken (incumbent)||1,053,205||53.15|
|Margin of victory||202,978||10.24%|
Franken met his wife, Franni Bryson, in his first year at Harvard. In 2005, they moved to Minneapolis
Together they have two children. Their daughter, Thomasin,
has degrees from Harvard
and the French Culinary Institute
; she is the director of extended learning at DC Prep, an organization in Washington, D.C.
, that manages charter schools
Their son, Joseph, works in the finance industry.
Franken is a second cousin of the actor Steve Franken
, known for his appearances in the television series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis
In 2013, Franken received the Stewart B. McKinney Award for his work fighting homelessness.