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Politics

Who Is Sen. Al Franken? How the Former SNL Star Has Become the Trump Administration's Most Acerbic Critic

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Alex Brandon/AP

Well over a month in Donald Trump‘s presidency, Democratic Sen. Al Franken is still not backing down on his harsh criticism of the now-commander-in-chief.

Franken, Minnesota’s junior senator, has been a staunch opponent of Trump‘s platform and policies, and strongly questioned the president’s cabinet nominees during confirmation hearings – namely, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has just now come under fire for lying under oath in one such hearing about meeting with the Russian envoy twice last year.

Sessions has since recused himself from any investigations into the president’s campaign, while still maintaining that he’s done nothing wrong.

Many have turned to Franken, 65, in the wake of the news for reaction. “I am very troubled that his response to my questioning during his confirmation hearing was, at best, misleading,” he wrote on Facebook last week, adding, “The American people deserve to know the truth about what happened between Russia and the Trump team, and I believe we need thorough and impartial investigations to get to the bottom of it.”

Franken, who was in attendance at the 2017 presidential inauguration, has, at times, injected his signature comedic levity into his disdain for Trump, joking during an appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher last month about the Republican sentiment about the president’s actions thus far.

“Well there’s a range in what they will say,” Franken said. “And some will say that he’s not right mentally, and then some are harsher. No, that’s not fair. That was cheap. There are some who I guess, don’t talk to me. I haven’t heard a lot of good things and I’ve heard some great concern about the president’s temperament.”

Just on Sunday, Franken couldn’t hold back his laughter as he addressed Trump’s latest claims that President Obama wiretapped the Trump Tower during the 2016 election.

“That’s just ridiculous,” he said on This Week, adding, “This is just a distraction, to distract from this very, very serious interference by a foreign power on our democracy and the question of whether Trump world – his campaign, his business associates – had anything to do with it and colluding with them.”

Franken further urged from Trump to finally release his tax returns, “if anything,” stating, “We don’t know what the Russians have on Donald Trump.”

RELATED VIDEO: Watch: Natasha Stoynoff Breaks Silence, Accuses Donald Trump of Sexual Attack

The senator’s outspokenness and hard questioning of Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during the hearings has many feeling that he’ll take the forefront leading up to the 2020 election. Wrote CBS News’ Will Rahn in January, “Franken – no amateur at such things – is better equipped than any Democrat to sink to Mr. Trump’s depths and come up the winner.”

As Business Insider notes, there’s already a grassroots movement started to present Franken as the next Democratic candidate for president. Draft Al Franken 2020 says in its site description, “Over the next three years, we hope to convince as many Americans as we can — and even Senator Franken himself — that he is the best choice for president in 2020.”

Franken, a Minnesota native and Harvard University alum, was first elected to the Senate in 2008, and then re-elected in 2014. In addition to sitting on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Franken also serves on the Judiciary Committe, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Committee on Indian Affairs.

Not unlike the president, Franken has television experience: he was one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live when the long-running sketch series debuted in 1975. He stayed with the show – appearing onscreen frequently – until 1980, and returned after a five-year break in 1985. He ultimately left the show in 1995.

Fred Hermansky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

Despite spending the years that followed working as a political satirist and a progressive Air America Radio host – he even penned a book about his own faux-election as president in 1999 – Franken has worked hard to ditch his comedic persona since taking office (which initially followed an automatic recount and an election contest).

He told the New York Times, “I think the people of Minnesota get that I came here to be their senator and do the work and legislate.”

A pre-Election Day poll conducted by Morning Consult found that Franken had a 60 precent approval rating among his constituents.

Announcing his candidacy in 2007 after campaigning for fellow Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Franken stated, “Americans have never backed away from challenges. And Minnesotans have always led the way. Our state has sent strong, progressive leaders to Washington—from Hubert Humphrey to Walter Mondale to Paul Wellstone, and now to Amy Klobuchar. Minnesota’s public servants might not always look and sound like typical politicians, but they stand by their principles and lead by their values.”

He added, “That’s the kind of leader I think we need more of these days, and that’s the kind of Senator I’ll be.”

Still, his comedy background still follows. Asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper last month if there’s “ever a time where you hear this buzz, and you’re at home, and you look in the mirror and you say to yourself, ‘I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it people like me. Maybe I should be president?’ ”

Responded Franken, “No.”