Weather Forecast


Senate Democrats hint they may seat Franken before court action

Judge Kurt Marben of Pennington County listens Wednesday to arguments by attorneys for Al Franken and Norm Coleman on whether a three-judge panel can consider a Coleman challenge to the U.S. Senate election results. Staff photo by Scott Wente

ST. PAUL - Al Franken may be a U.S. senator before a Minnesota election lawsuit is resolved.

"Al Franken will soon be the next senator from the great state of Minnesota," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday. "The bipartisan Minnesota state Canvassing Board has counted all votes and certified Al Franken the winner."

Reid's statement came while Franken's attorneys were trying to convince judges to throw out Norm Coleman's election challenge. Coleman argues not all votes were counted.

Reports from Washington indicate that a meeting between Reid and Franken Wednesday included a discussion of Franken's committee assignments. That was not among items Franken's campaign staff said the two would talk about.

Franken Communications Director Andy Barr hinted that if offered, Franken will take a spot in the Senate ahead of a court resolution to the race.

"I think that's answered by the fact that he said that he understands and respects the Senate's decision," Barr said.

The Senate ultimately decides who will be seated.

Coleman was in Washington Wednesday, too, addressing Senate Republicans, conducting national media interviews and meeting with fund-raisers.

Coleman's GOP allies warned against trying to seat Franken before Coleman's contest is complete.

"If Al Franken truly believes he won this election, he should respect the laws of his state and allow this legal review to be completed," said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman.

Coleman's first term in the Senate ended earlier this month, leaving Minnesota short one of its two U.S. senators. Minnesota's governor and secretary of state say they cannot certify a winner until a court decides Coleman's legal challenge to the returns.

The Coleman-Franken contest was the secondary buzz in Washington Wednesday, a day after Barack Obama took all the headlines as the new president.

The Hill, a newspaper that covers the Capitol, reported that the two Minnesota Senate hopefuls "nearly crossed paths in the Capitol Wednesday during meetings with their party's leadership."

The newspaper reported that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said every one of his GOP colleagues thinks "the Minnesota Senate race will be decided in Minnesota and not in Washington."

Reid, on the other hand, told Washington reporters that Coleman's legal battle will be tough.

"There's no way that Coleman can win this," Reid said. "The numbers just aren't there."

In a St. Paul courtroom, an attorney for Franken told three judges that Coleman's lawsuit challenging the election result - which gave Franken 225 more votes - is flawed because the court has no authority to consider Coleman's arguments.

The U.S. Constitution and state and federal laws limit what a state court can consider in an undecided U.S. Senate race.

The judges only can determine who won the most "legally cast" ballots, Franken attorney David Burman said. He called Coleman's attempt to have the court review thousands of absentee ballots and explore other ballot issues "a fishing expedition."

The three-judge panel is precisely where ballot disputes must be settled to determine which candidate gained the most votes in the election, Coleman's attorney countered.

"We believe that now is the time and here is the place - this court - for this long election process to be concluded," Coleman attorney Jim Langdon said.

State Canvassing Board members, who certified the election results, and a Supreme Court justice said some ballot issues raised during the statewide recount were better left for an election contest, Langdon added.

Pennington County District Judge Kurt Marben, who led the hearing, said the judges would take the arguments under advisement. There is no deadline for a decision, but the court has scheduled a trial to begin Monday.

The hearing was trumped by developments in Washington.

Early Wednesday afternoon, CNN reported: "A Democratic source close to Franken added that the two would not discuss provisionally seating the Minnesota Senate hopeful, and that the meeting was to focus on the latest Senate business."

Later reports from Washington news organizations indicated committee assignments were being discussed.

The Huffington Post reported that Coleman dined with fellow Republicans in the Capitol's LBJ Room.

"Coleman will be spending the day, he said, doing one-on-one interviews with Washington-based reporters to update them on the situation in Minnesota," the Post reported

CNN indicated Coleman retained his sense of humor when asked about being a former senator and, possibly, the next senator: "I'm a Jewish kid from Brooklyn, but I think I know what purgatory is."