Al Franken - Humanizing Congress in "Giant of the Senate" - Extended Interview

Extended - June 1, 2017 - Al Franken 06/01/2017 Views: 85,910

Sen. Al Franken weighs in on President Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate deal and talks about maintaining civility with members of Congress in "Giant of the Senate." (19:22)

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Please welcomeSenator Al Franken.

(cheering and applause)

-Welcome to the show.-Thank you.

What a day to have you on.

Ugh, it's a depressing day.

I was in Paris, uh,for the conference.

And this is a dis--this is terrible.

Our leadership in the worldis at stake.

This is so bad in so many ways.

This is-- climate change

is the existential crisisof our times.

You're-you're so right aboutrenewable energy jobs

are not just the jobsof the future,

-th-th-they're the jobs now.-Right.

Uh, you know,I have three grandchildren.

And, uh, I don't want them,50 years from now, saying,

"Grandpa, you were aUnited States senator,

"you knew climate changewas real,

"why didn't you do anything?

And also,why are you still alive?


I, uh...

I will be, uh...

You don't want that onyour shoulders, I get it.

-Let's, um...-I'll be 116 then.

Is there anything that couldhave been done

to maybe make this agreementmore watertight?

Some people say,"Well, this is Obama's fault,

:because he should have goneto Congress

"and got Congress behind him

-and-and voted on this,instead of just..." -No.

We would not have hadan agreement then.

This was amonumental achievement

getting the entire world,minus Syria and Nicaragua,

and now us.

This is very depressing.

You know, there are 1.5 billionpeople in China

choking on their fumes.

I want to be ableto sell them technology

from the United Statesto stop this.

And instead of us having toimport technology from China.

They're spending,like, $360 billion

on climate re--on energy efficiency,

renewable energy,energy storage.

That's what we should be doing.

We want to be leadersof the world.

We're, uh, we're givingthat away, our leadership.

This is a sad day,this is a sad day.

When you look at green energyand you look at the ideas,

the thing that Donald Trumpsaid today, repeatedly,

-was that this is gonnacost America money. -No.

This would have cost the U.S.$3 billion over ten year

to be part of this treaty,and it would have put

a chokehold on industryin America.

Absolutely not.

This is where the jobs are.

He doesn't knowwhat he's talking about.

And if you talk about...

(cheering and applause)

Look it.

You know, Superstorm Sandy,

that cost us $60 billion.

And that's because sea levelhad risen,

and when that happensstorm surges

-cause that much more damage.-Right.

We're having the wildfiresin the west,

the seasons are-are longer,

the fires are more intense.

Uh... this is allbecause of climate change,

and it's just gonna get worseand worse and worse.

And the people who know thisbetter than anyone

are the Defense Department.Because they know that

this is a-a... the number-one threat

to our national security.

We are going to havehundreds of millions

of climate refugees in Africa,

in-in Asia, in Bangladesh.

And if you think Syria...

the refugee problem was badfrom that, this-this is...

this is destabilizing. Thisis gonna destabilize the planet.

And the... the U.S. military,

which expends more energythan any other institution,

has been investingin algal fuel.

They know... they knowwhat this is about.

So if you were to lookat the situations

Donald Trump is in now--

uh... looking at hispulling out of the P...

Paris Climate Treaty or Russia:

what do you think is worse?

Well, Russia happened.

Uh, in terms of the, uh,interference on our election,

and that was...if that hadn't happened,

I think that Hillary'dbe our president

and we wouldn't havepulled out of this,

so they're actually related.

That's an interestingway to see it.

Well, I... I havean interesting mind.

-Whe-When you...-I-I... I'm sorry.

-Let's-let's talk... -That whyI'm a giant of the senate.

Let's talk about, uh...

Let's talk about Russiafor a second,

-before we get into the book.Um... -Oh, yes.

Russia is all over the newsright now-- most news.

Um... if you lookat the Russia story,

there are some people who say,"Why is Russia a story?

"It seems likethere is no direct evidence

"linking the Trump campaignto colluding with the Russians.

This just seems to bea whole lot of smoke."

There's a saying.

Where the... where-wherethere's smoke, there's fire.

Now, I know that's... thatmight be an American saying.

-I'm not sure if that's truein South Africa. -Well...

We go, "There's ju... therecould just be a lot of smoke."

Okay, well,that's a different...

Like, someone could be smokinga pipe and then there's no fire.

-It's just, like, smokeeverywhere. -No, no, there was

-a fire when they started...-Sometimes it's just, like,

the-the cigarette lighterin the car--

there's no actual fire,there's, like, lots of smoke.

But I get what you're saying.I get what you're saying.

I mean, this is a cultural...We agree on Paris,

but we don't agree on this.I... I can... But-but...

No, no, I... Look, uh,we have a special prosecutor.

We will find this out. But...

We have a special prosecutorbecause of you,

-I should mention.-Well, I...

-No, no, no, that's true.-(cheering, applause)

That is true.

You... you were the person

who asked Jeff Sessionsthe questions

that got him to recuse himself.

Yes. Uh, but... he didn'tactually answer my question.

He answered another question.He pivoted from my question.

I asked him, "Would you recuseyourself," basically,

and he said... uh, he answereda different question,

-which, he said,"I had never met... -Right.

with any, uh, Russiansduring the campaign,"

which was not true.And because that came out,

like, 70 days later, then he recused himself.

Now, uh, a lot of peoplekind of credit m... me

with all of that.Uh, a lot of people say that,

"Franken, he's playingthree-dimensional chess."

Yes, I've heard that phrase.

Yes, and "He's four movesahead of everyone else."

I've heard that too.

Yes. And, uh, so that's whatwas going on in that-that...

I... I knew Sessions

wouldn't answer my question,

he would answer an entirelydifferent question.

That was a... that was-that wasa stroke of genius.

Here-Here's something I-I wonderif you thought of as well:

did you know that, uh,Sessions

would be in a situation where itwould come up

that he may have lied aboutanother meeting

that people are now talkingabout?

I mean, I saw your... yourletter that you wrote

out on Facebook, talking aboutwhy you had, uh,

written to the FBI, asking themto investigate Sessions.

If it comes outthat Jeff Sessions

had another meeting...

-Yes.-that he also forgot about...

-Very forgetful meetings.-I...

They have collective amnesia,these, uh, Trump people.

They-they forget these meetings.

With Kislyak, specific...He's, like...

-he's a forgetful guy.-Yeah, uh, uh...

-Uh, Jared Kushner has forgottenmeetings with him. -Uh-huh.

I... Maybe he's got, like, a...(muttering)

"Forget that you had meon the show."

-Uh, but... -If-if we wereto find that out though,

wh-where do you thinkthe U.S. should take it?

Where does the special prosec...Where should Jeff Sessions

-take it on his own?-Well, if-if that...

That would be incrediblydisturbing if it's true,

if he had another meeting,and, uh, Senator Leahy--

Pat Leahy-- and I did writea letter to the FBI

to have 'em investigate that.And the importance of that

is they can't investigate,uh, perjury,

uh, to a Senate committee

unless, uh, Congress asks themto do that.

So that was part of the purposeof that-that letter.

And we-we shall see.We have a-a special prosecutor,

and, uh, I think we have theright guy there, Bob Mueller,

and I believe he'll getto the bottom of this. Uh...

-All right, let's, uh...-We'll find out if there's fire.

-We'll find out.-Where that smoke is. Yeah.

I still say that it's smoke.


Well, let's-let's move on.Smoke. Um...

-Let's talk about health care.-Mm-hmm.

The Senate is goingto be rewriting the, uh,

American Health Care Act?

It, uh, has been describedas a turd,

which was interesting,because you talk about how,

back in the day,when you wrote on SNL,

you would oftentimes haveto polish a "sketch turd,"

you know?And we know this in comedy,

where, like, it's not workingand you have to try

-and make it work. -It's kurd...uh, turd polishing.

-Turd polishing, yes. -That'srewriting a sketch that...

-(clears throat)is never gonna be great. -Yes.

-But you have to make it...-You have to try.

-You have to try.You do-do your best. -So...

so if there is a turd nowthat is, uh, you know,

at the-the feet of the Senate,they have to polish

-this health care turd.-This is a bad health care bill.

-Is that your way of sayingthat? -Yeah. Yeah, that's what

-I was going for.-Uh, what-what the, uh...

(chuckles)what-what the, uh...

what the House passed is awful.

It's-it's terrible, and it would, uh...

It has an $880 billion cutto Medicaid,

which, by the way,Trump said he would never do.

And it just happens to havea $900 billion tax cut

for, uh... basically, therichest people in-in America.

-Right. -And, uh, it would really hurt people.

Uh, people would lose care.

23 million people,according to CBO,

would, uh, lose their coverage.

-Uh, I-I...-Well-well, isn't it true

that they wouldn't losetheir coverage?

It's just 23 millionfewer people would be insured

because some people would chooseto no longer be covered?

No. That's not it.People would be priced out.

Uh, c-certainly,older Americans,

from 50 to, uh, 65

would see their, uh, premiumsjust skyrocket.

Uh, peoplewith preexisting conditions

would not be protected.And with Medicaid,

the people who benefittedfrom Medicaid expansion...

I'll give you an example.I was in Perham, Minnesota,

at a rural hospital.We had a round table.

And, uh, a woman therewas crying. And she said,

"If they do this,my mom won't be able

"to have her home health care.And my husband and I both work.

And we won't know what to dowith-with our mom."

And, uh, this is a...

this is a cruel, cruel plan.

And we should be working on,

uh, fixing the exchanges,shoring them up,

having a public optionso that everybody has an option

to, uh, in every countyof th-this country.

-Mm-hmm.-And, uh, we should be...

I have a comprehensive billto-to check the price

of pharmaceuticals, uh,

that is affecting everyone inthis country. Everyone knows it.

We pay more for pharmaceuticals

than any other countryin the world,

and we createabout half the pharmaceuticals.

We should be ableto reimport from... from Canada.

We can do that safely.

We know how to do that.

We should not givetax deductions

to, uh, uh,pharmaceutical companies

for taking ads to, uh...We're...

The only other countryis New Zealand that does that.

So, we're with New Zealand,Syria and Nicaragua.


You're buildinga new world order. I like it.

The four of us can do a lot.


Uh, there...

We-we should be addressingthe problems

that we havein the Affordable Care Act

and keeping the protections

for peoplewho have preexisting conditions.

Those people will be priced out,

uh, if these states are allowedto have waivers,

which is what that bill does.

How likely is that to happenin all honesty?

Well, the Senate is workingon a bill,

but the Senate isn't workingon the bill.

The, uh, 13 Republican Senatorsbehind closed doors

are working on a bill that's...

Well, I don't thinkthey'll be able to get one

that 50 Republicanswill agree to.

Uh, well, we should be doingthis in the normal order.

We should be doing thisin committee, in the HELP...

uh, Committee of Health,Education, Labor and Pension

on which I sit.

That's wherewe should be doing it.

And, also,on the finance committee.

We should do... we shoulddo this in the proper way.

Do you thinkthat you would, uh...

you would proposeharsher mandates

or harsher penalties for peoplewho wouldn't join?

Because that seemed to be oneof the failings of health care

is that not enough peoplejoined in.

A lot of people foundthat it was cheaper

to not have health careand just pay the penalty.

Actually, those penaltieswere increasing,

and that was part of it.

We have to find a wayto make sure

-that healthy young people,uh, sign up. -Right.

I mean, as it is,we got people up to age 26

being able to be coveredon their parents' plans,

but we have to make surethat the risk pools, uh,

that these insurance companiesare covering

-are-are not sickerthan they should be. -Uh-uh.

And part of that isgetting those people in.

That's why you need the mandate.

If-if you can't discriminate

against peoplewith preexisting conditions,

if that's one leg of the stool,well, that means

that the other legof the stool is a mandate,

because, otherwise,

you wouldn't get insuranceuntil you have something.

-Right. -And then,the third leg of the stool

is providing the subsidiesfor people who can't afford it.

And that's whatthe three-legged stool is,

and we have to keep that,and that's why

we've had 20 millionmore Americans have insurance.

That's why, uh, this...

this has beena tremendous achievement.

We have to fix the shortcomingsin-in the Affordable Care Act.

You-you talk a lotin the book

about the nuts and bolts,the making of the sausage

behind the scenes in the Senate,which I...

which I reallyenjoyed reading about,

because you... you give it, um,you know, a personal spin.

A lot of people don't thinkof senators and congressmen,

congress people as-as humans,right?

-(laughter) -And what's niceis, in the story,

-we-we hear...-(laughter)

What's nice is, in the book,is we-we hear the stories

of-of you as people,as friends.

I found it strange, though, thatyou talk about being friends

with people like Jeff Sessions.

Uh, uh, Jeff Sessions, uh,

who I gave a hard time, uh,

on duringhis confirmation hearings.

I told him the day before,"Eat your Wheaties."

I warned him. Um...

We... Uh, his wife knita baby blanket

for my first grandson.

-Aw. Aw.-(laughter)

Yeah, I mean, I-I get that,but then, like,

you know,some people would be like,

"Yeah, and he's pushing for,

you know,maximum sentencing for..."

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well,that's why I voted against him

-and why I gave him a hard time.-Oh, okay, okay. -(laughter)

But it's hard to hate a guy, uh,

who... wife knit a...a baby blanket.

Why not hate the guyand then like his wife

for knitting the baby blankets?

Oh, that's whatI should've done.

No, let me ask you, like,this is... this is something

that-that confuses me,and I find it sometimes unique

to American politics.

Oftentimes I hear politiciansin America saying,

"We have to get along.

We are friends,we work with each other."

But I go,"Are you really friends?"

Like, do you see these peopleas friends,

when you arefundamentally opposed?

You have to be collegialand you have to be friendly.

You... It's a workplace.

There are a hundred senators.

Oh, you don't haveto be friends at work.


I... You should seewhat's going on back there.


Whew, do those peoplehate each other.

No. have to be collegial,

uh, you have to be...

you can't be a toxic coworker.

-Uh-huh. -That's why I wrotethe chapter on Ted Cruz.

-Because he is kind of...-(laughter)

uh, the...

the Dwight Schrute...

-(laughter)-of... of the Senate.

(applause, cheering, whooping)

Uh... you know, he's...

he's the guywho microwaves fish.

-(laughter)-You know, in the lunchroom.


-(laughter, groans)-uh...

and-and I wrote... about him

because, uh, everybody else...

-to get something done,to get people done... -Right.

Get people done.To get, uh, things done,

uh, you have can't be a li...

-your word has to be good,that's the first thing. -Okay.

Your word has to be good.

And you have to be collegial.

It's... it is like a small town.

You got a hundred peoplein this town.

There's no percentagein making enemies,

unless... except for...


-(laughter) -Um... the thingyou should know about Ted Cruz,

I actuallyprobably like Ted Cruz

more than mostof my colleagues like Ted Cruz,

-and I hate Ted Cruz.-(laughter)

-(applause, whooping)-That-that says a lot.

So, here's-here's one thingI would propose,

and I don't knowif this is realistic.

I go: It feels like America,and Americans,

don't have that same attitudewhen it comes to politics.

So, many Americans don't go:

"We should get alongto get something done."

And then oftentimes they lookat their representatives

and they go,"They hate each other,

we're doing the same thing."

But you're going:Baby blankets and knitting.

Don't you think there should be,like, a day in the Senate

and in Congressjust where you say, "Hey,

"this is, like,a friendship day.

We show you that,we shake hands, we hug..."

Well, I actually havea secret Santa

-I do every year.-Oh, really?

Yeah. Where Republicansand Democrats...

You pick a name from the hat,and you...

You have to have to do--

I get, usually,about in the 60s,

I get about 60-some.

There are some that don't wantto do it, for some...

-one reason or another.-Is one of them Ted Cruz?

Uh, Ted has done...has participated

-Oh, wow, look at that. -inthe secret Santa, yes, he has.

What did he send people? Coal?

-(laughter) -Uh... actually,one of the best gifts

uh, that people have gottenis from Joe Manchin

of West Virginia.

He takes this very hard coal,and somebody has sculpted...

uh, sculpts an elephant and a...and a donkey.

Oh, that's sweet.You use coal to show

all the things it's killingin the world; that's nice.

-(laughter)-I like that.

Well, at least... at leastyou're doing something.

I could chat with you forever,but luckily, I've got the book.

Thank you so muchfor being on the show.

-Thank you for having me.-(cheering, applause)

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate

is available now.

Senator Al Franken, everybody.

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