WASHINGTON — Al Franken -- the former comedian who won a bruising, eight-month vote recount and court battle in Minnesota -- arrived on Capitol Hill on Monday, a day before he was to be sworn in as a new Democratic member of the Senate.
But Franken immediately downplayed the importance of his vote in the Senate.
"A lot has been made of this number 60," Franken said. "The number I'm focused on is the number two. I see myself as the second senator from the state of Minnesota."
Franken's victory would seem to hand Democrats their long-desired 60-vote supermajority -- counting the two independents who caucus with them. Sixty votes would allow Democrats to defeat any Republican filibuster attempt and clear the path for legislation on energy, healthcare, immigration and other issues.
But it isn't likely to play out that way.
For one thing, two Democrats, Sens. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, are sidelined by serious illness, casting doubt on their availability for roll-call votes.
For another, several moderate Democrats are expected to have reservations about the energy legislation, which will seek to cap industrial carbon emissions, and the healthcare bill, which is expected to contain a government-sponsored insurance plan that would probably draw opposition from insurers and business groups.
That means a handful of Republican votes could be necessary to pass any sweeping piece of legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) intimated as much at an event Monday welcoming Franken, saying Republicans would have an opportunity to help shape the agenda.
"Democrats aren't looking at Sen. Franken's election as an opportunity to ram legislation through the Senate," Reid said. "In turn, Senate Republicans must understand that Sen.-elect Franken's election does not abdicate them from the responsibility of governing."
Reid and Franken met for about 20 minutes to discuss upcoming Senate business, which is expected to include an intensive focus on the healthcare bill. Franken will be formally sworn in today in the Senate chamber.
Franken's committee assignments ensure that he will be thrown into the middle of two of the highest-profile debates in Congress.
He will work on healthcare as a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. As a member of the judiciary committee, he will participate in the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, set to begin next week.
Franken will take over the office vacated by Norm Coleman, the outgoing GOP senator from Minnesota.