Mini-Episode: Al Schools Andy
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Andy calls his friend Al Franken and they ramble about holding people accountable, bearing witness, Zach’s burden, and being a grandparent during the pandemic. Mostly, they talk about ways Andy can do a much better job. The episode is dedicated to the memory of George Floyd and healing the city of Minneapolis.
Keep up with Andy on Twitter @ASlavitt and Instagram @andyslavitt, and find Al Franken at https://alfranken.com/ and on Twitter and Instagram @alfranken
In the Bubble is supported in part by listeners like you. You can become a member, get exclusive bonus content, ask Andy questions, and get discounted merch at http://lemonadamedia.com/inthebubble/
Check out our fantastic show sponsors this week!
- Teladoc provides access to certified doctors from the comfort and safety of home. Register now at https://www.teladoc.com/
- Kinsa Health is a public health company dedicated to stopping the spread of illness through early detection and early response. Check out their health app and smart thermometers at kinsahealth.co and visit healthweather.us to see leading indicators of future COVID-19 hotspots.
Here are some other important resources from today’s show:
- Hear Al Franken and his many wonderful podcast guests here: https://alfranken.com/listen
- Find the George Packer article “We Are Living in a Failed State” here: https://bit.ly/2XeOeGP
- Read guidelines about how to #opensafely from Andy and 21 other health leaders at www.Open-Safely.US and check out their recent op-ed in USA Today here: https://bit.ly/2XHM1Th
- Learn more about The Lincoln Project here: https://lincolnproject.us/
- Read Al Franken’s book, Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right: https://amzn.to/2ZNdxl6
- Trying to remember what Simpson-Bowles was all about? Take a dive into the reporting archives: https://wapo.st/2AnU3Zu
- Check out Shaun the Sheep for a laugh you can share with your kids: https://www.shaunthesheep.com/
- See a clip of Gov. Burgum of North Dakota talking about face masks here: https://bit.ly/3dsyyWp
[00:44] Andy Slavitt: Hi, it’s Andy Slavitt. Welcome to In the Bubble. We have a special episode dedicated here to the people of Minneapolis and the people around the country that have been long suffering from the shock waves that have hit this city this last week in Minneapolis. And they’ve been hitting the country at least since I’ve been alive in the 1960s. George Floyd was murdered this last week in Minnesota in a widely seen video that, to the shock and horror of Americans, shook us to the core and where we thought we developed to the country, where we thought we’ve been as a country. And the days that followed, continuing even into this weekend, have demonstrated so much of what is hurtful and what is broken about our country. And right now, as I record this, our city is a mess. Our police department is untrusted. And we are really having to do, a lot of us, individual soul searching. Many of us, I think, may feel like there’s little we can do to affect the situation with what happened to George Floyd, other than asking for justice. But others remind us that there are things we can do in our own lives to increase justice and awareness and support and success for people of color and people who are suffering. So in this Minnesota episode today, recorded earlier with Al Franken, it was recorded before the murder and before the riots. And so we won’t allude to those things, but it is fitting that we’re talking to one of Minnesota’s former senators, who loves the state so dearly, on a day like today. And with that, I will bring you a conversation with Al Franken.
[03:03] Al Franken: Hey, Andy. Hey, Zach.
[03:07] Andy Slavitt: Looking good, Al.
[03:10] Al Franken: Well, I really would like a haircut. But
[03:12] Andy Slavitt: Who’s most qualified to give you a haircut?
[03:15] Al Franken: No one I’m sheltering with.
[03:16] Andy Slavitt: I thought Lana would be the best person to give me a haircut. It turned out it was our 21-year-old son. He was much more confident. He had clippers and he just kind of went straight at it. Lana was much more trepidatious.
[03:27] Al Franken: See, I can’t do clippers. They need scissors. And no one knows — I’m thinking of giving it to myself because that way I can’t blame anyone but me.
[03:42] Andy Slavitt: It’s a good head of hair, if you don’t mind me saying so.
[03:45] Al Franken: Thank you. I notice you’re wearing a hat.
[03:49] Andy Slavitt: Yeah. I’m at that day right where I should be getting a haircut. I’m going to toss you some questions. Maybe even Zach will jump in, and see if he’s got some questions to ask you. The truth is, I represented in the introduction that you and I were friends. You willing to verify that?
[04:14] Al Franken: Yeah.
[04:15] Andy Slavitt: Would you categorize it as good friends? Casual friends?
[04:18] Al Franken: A good friend. And also, you’ve been in the most frequent guest on my podcast. You’ve been on three times.
[04:30] Andy Slavitt: You have a great podcast.
[04:32] Al Franken: Well, thanks. Thanks. Had a good one last week with Steve Schmidt. Really interesting. And Krugman this week. I don’t want to promote my podcast on your podcast.
[04:47] Andy Slavitt: We should absolutely do that. Nobody listens to this podcast, so it doesn’t matter. You can promote anything you want. We have 11 listeners. They’re all female relatives of mine.
[04:59] Al Franken: Did you get a bump for the Tina Fey?
[05:02] Andy Slavitt: Yeah, we had 15 listeners. No, no, this podcasting thing is fun. And the reason I ask about friendship is because I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to ask you. You are so many things. You’re kind of a Renaissance guy. Former U.S. senator, one of the most iconic TV personalities. When I think of you increasingly, I think “he’s my friend.” And I think about that in the context of the pandemic and people’s relationships being kind of severed or rebuilt or just different because of the social distancing and everything. And we’ve managed to stay in good touch. I think people are using Zoom more. Are you finding yourself isolated or you find yourself connected to your friends?
[05:54] Al Franken: There are friends that I’m talking to all the time. I like talking to friends on the phone. I just like that. And then there’s Zoom. I did a Zoom for Alan Zweibel, for his birthday party. He was one of the original writers on SNL. He wrote for, you know, Garry Shandling, Curb Your Enthusiasm, he’s a very successful comedy writer. And so we had all these people on, you know, Rob Reiner and Billy Crystal and Marty Short. And every one of them knew to frame their head like I am, which is the top of your head, kind of you give yourself a haircut with the top of the frame. And there are so many people, like I do so many Zooms and some people are like, their head is like — or they’re far away. You go no, no, no.
[06:57] Andy Slavitt: You get a lot of chin. You get a lot of chin from a lot of people where you get the low camera angle.
[07:03] Al Franken: Yeah, but so it was very funny because I’ve done a lot of Zooming, but this was the first with like all showbiz people and every one of them knew how to frame their face.
[07:16] Andy Slavitt: Do show business people have like Zoom specialists or something?
[07:20] Al Franken: Well, they’re using a lot of Zoom to do TV now, obviously. Right.
[07:24] Andy Slavitt: Yeah. SNL has done a pretty nice job of it.
[07:27] Al Franken: I was thinking, because I see you right now where you do a lot of your MSNBC or CNN interviews, right? So I’m not very good with the computer. And MSNBC doesn’t use Zoom. What did they use? What do they use?
[07:44] Andy Slavitt: They use Skype.
[07:45] Al Franken: They use Skype. And I’m not good with Skype for some reason. So I did it over at my daughter’s. And she does want to do it anymore because it’s a pain to help me. So I have to go in this truck. They drive a truck. You sit in the truck isolated.
[08:05] Andy Slavitt: So you literally go to a truck that they take around for people who can’t work Skype?
[08:10] Al Franken: I guess so. It’s really irritating to me because my daughter doesn’t want to bother with me. It was a little tense. That the first time.
[08:25] Andy Slavitt: Let’s be be honest here. You gave me some feedback on some of my TV appearances.
[08:30] Al Franken: I did. I did. You’ve been on since this started a lot, right? And so I was seeing you a lot and I’d text you. And you’ve gotten a lot better.
[08:42] Andy Slavitt: Yeah, well, because I’m thinking about it constantly. But cracks me up is, you know, if people will see me on TV and sometimes it’ll be, you know, someone I’m in communication with, like my mom. And sometimes it will be someone who, like, hasn’t seen me in 10 years. And everybody sends you a very complimentary note. You were great on TV. And then Al sends me that “you know, you look like you’re angry.” Like you give me notes and I’m like, that’s a real friend.
[09:10] Al Franken: And also, like, early on when you’d be out, like they’d have four or five other people on, you’d be in this nine split or something. And they can only come to one-ninth of the time or one-sixth of the time. But you’re on camera. You don’t know when you’re on camera, not because they’ll cut to the split, but you were not conscious at all that you could be on camera. So I texted you that. If you’re in a split, if there are a lot of people there, just assume you’re always on camera. So don’t look like a sourpuss when other people are talking. It looks like you don’t like them or that you’re rude or something like that. And you’re not that. You’re not that. That’s not you.
[09:55] Andy Slavitt: You also sent me some notes on some of the episodes we’ve done because you’re a much more experienced podcaster. But you were kind enough to send me some notes on some really horrible questions that I asked a couple guests. So I’m paranoid on this interview now that I’m going to ask you a really horrible question.
[10:15] Al Franken: OK. So the horrible question I called you on was you opened with Tina Fey and asked her how Sarah Palin was feeling or what she would be saying. And that’s just friggin’ terrible to put your guest on the spot right away. She’s got to come up — she just wants to talk to you. She’s doing you a big favor. She’s, you know, Tina Fey. And you immediately throw a beanball at her head.
[10:50] Andy Slavitt: So I’m by the way, I knew it the minute I asked the question.
[10:54] Al Franken: As soon as it left your hand, you’re going like I can get thrown out of the game now. Duck. The question would be like, what does Stuart Smalley think? What thoughts does he have for everyone during this pandemic?
[11:09] Andy Slavitt: Should I ask you that?
[11:11] Al Franken: No! No, don’t. I mean, at least I’d be a little bit more prepared than Tina was for the stupid question you asked open with her.
[11:24] Andy Slavitt: It’s tempting, but I won’t ask you back. So you’ve had a lot of guests on your podcasts talking about the Coronavirus. Larry Brilliant is an amazing scientist and he’s working on the tracking and tracing regime. You’ve interviewed me, a noted expert as well, of course. And you’ve interviewed lots of other good people. So when you were in the U.S. Senate, you were famous for interrogating and interviewing witnesses in a unique way. I would say, in a way that distilled the B.S. out pretty quickly and got to the punch lines probably better than anybody that most people have ever seen do this in the U.S. Senate. And I’m just going to lay claim to that statement. I don’t think a lot of people would disagree.
[12:15] Al Franken: Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say. I do miss that. I think I’ve been missed in a few hearings particularly.
[12:23] Andy Slavitt: And I want to get to that in a second. I want to ask you, though, like when you pull up the different fragments from different experts you’ve talked to about Coronavirus, about the time we’re living in, about the challenges, when you distill it, what have you learned and what do you think are the most important and most resonant points for us all to be talking about?
[12:45] Al Franken: Well, there’s an incredible number of things that people are talking about that are important. I haven’t aired it yet, but George Packer, who wrote this piece in The Atlantic on just sort of what the weaknesses in our country have been exposed by this. And he called us a failed state, not in the sense that Belarus or Somalia or something like that is a failed state. But talking about just first of all, how kind of ineffective our political system has been. A lot of that, I think, is just this president who, you know, normally if something like this happens, a crisis, you have some kind of coherent approach, national approach. And that comes from usually a coherent president and that we don’t have. But our political parties are so tribal now and things are so divided. And part of that — I had Steve Schmidt on. And one of the questions I asked Steve was what took you so long to leave the Republican Party?
[13:59] Andy Slavitt: So, Steve, just for people who don’t know, he was a McCain adviser.
[14:02] Al Franken: He was his campaign manager, he’s now part of the Lincoln Project. He’s one of the leaders of the Lincoln Project.
[14:09] Andy Slavitt: Spend a second on what the Lincoln Project is?
[14:10] Al Franken: It’s a number of former Republicans. I think they’re all former, or maybe not. Maybe George Conway is still a Republican. They call themselves the Lincoln Project because obviously Lincoln was the first Republican president. And Schmidt was John McCain’s campaign manager. I first introduced him as he became kind of known as the guy who recommended Sarah Palin to him, but he has almost completely lived that down. And his first thing was, “oh, I hope so.” I love the guy and he’s extremely articulate. A friend of mine, Elizabeth Drew, wrote for The New Yorker, said ask him how he got so articulate. And so I did. And he said, well, I don’t know if I am. But later, when I pressed him on why it took him so long to leave the Republican Party. And it was actually for a surprisingly kind of private reason. He basically grew up Catholic, and he lost his faith because of the pedophilia. And he said the Republican Party was the only other institution that he cared about that he was connected to his whole life. So he said, I’m going to be the last one off the boat. And he couldn’t be the last one. But he waited till ‘18. But I had Krugman on. And part of the reason I was asking Schmidt about this was Krugman has written this book Arguing with Zombies.
[15:52] Al Franken: And the basic premise of this is these zombies are Republicans. I know you try to be extremely bipartisan. You partner with people like McClellan. And that’s very, very commendable. That’s what you should be doing. But when I was there, Republicans were not operating in good faith. And part of what George Packer talked about, what’s been exposed is, one, how our politics don’t work. And I do believe that the fault of that largely — and I have reason to have contempt for a number of my Democratic former colleagues — but the Republicans have not been operating in good faith.
[16:36] Al Franken: When the 2017 tax cut, which I knew was going to increase the deficit by a trillion bucks. And I’d go on the floor and just for the hell of it, because they knew it didn’t make a difference, but I’d argue with my colleagues, my Republican colleagues. I’d say this is going to increase the deficit. They got oh, no, no. They increase economic activity. And I go your own CBO, Congressional Budget Office, you picked the Congressional Budget Office. It’s a Republican Congressional Budget Office. They say it’s going to — no, no, no, no. And during Obama, they really cared about deficits. They didn’t care about deficits during W. Cheney said deficits don’t matter anymore. But, boy, they you know, they really oh, we had the sequester. We had to do all this because they wanted Obama to lose. So anyway, sorry to get on a tear.
[17:32] Andy Slavitt: No, no, no. I mean, in Minnesota and I think in many parts of the country, there’s a lot of people that would, quite frankly, love for you to be their U.S. Senator again. And part of it is calling people on stuff. And I’ve witnessed it. I’ve witnessed it in a hearing at Indian Affairs with you. I’ve witnessed it when you’ve had lobbyists come to present and try to talk to you. I’ve witnessed it where as other senators, whatever they believe, they’re polite to one another to the point where they’ll just let them get away with ever they’re saying. And they let it lie. And one thing I think people really found unique about you, and really miss, is you just wouldn’t let people get away with saying stuff that they knew was either in bad faith or wasn’t true or was harmful. You just put it out there and you make it very obvious.
[18:24] Al Franken: Well, you know, I have a bit of a temper. And I hate it when people lie to me. I just hate it. You know, I wrote a book called Lies and Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, in 2003. And at that time, you didn’t call people liars, even though everyone knew they were lying. And that was largely about Fox, but it’s also about Bush and tax cuts and those kinds of things. I was taught not to lie. I was taught that was very basic. And I Moynihan said you’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. And man, oh, man, I just — it just makes me angry when people lie, or when they’re just clearly not being honest and sincere. May not be a lie. But, you know, we had early on in Obama, we had a kind of a moderate democrat, I won’t say who it is, and the supposed moderate Republicans. We had a meeting on deficit and Simpson-Bowles, that’s what serious people were going to balance the budget wanted, Simpson-Bowles.
[19:55] Al Franken: So I’m in this meeting and I’m listening to them and we’re still not out of the Great Recession yet. And they’re talking about making cuts to the budget, talking about making cuts to Social Security. And at a certain point, I guess they are about 10 to 15 of us. And I just called out and I go, “you guys don’t care about deficits! You didn’t care about deficits with W. You just want Obama to lose. You don’t want the economy to recover.” Well, I was not invited to that one again.
[20:30] Andy Slavitt: People wonder, like, why don’t more people — like I know regular Americans who are not elected officials, they sit there and they hear that story. They say, why don’t more people say that? And then you just hit the punch line, which is, I was not invited back again to that gentlemen’s club conversation.
[20:48] Al Franken: Listen, I did want to be brought back to this group because it was ridiculous.
[20:51] Andy Slavitt: Yeah. But the serious underlying question is, why don’t more people do it? I mean, you have this sense, maybe it’s a romanticized view, that when the country was created, we had these citizen legislators that were there to represent us, represent farmers, represent people in cities.
[21:13] Al Franken: Comedians. We need more comedian legislators.
[21:17] Andy Slavitt: There are a lot of comedians in the first constitutional Congress, I’ll have you know.
[21:20] Al Franken: Ben Franklin actually never made it. He was funny.
[21:24] Andy Slavitt: Who do you think the funniest of the founding fathers was?
[21:29] Al Franken: If Franklin is considered a family father, we had a very funny founding father. How is he not a founding father, for God’s sake.
[21:42] Andy Slavitt: Speaking of Ben Franklin. That’s where Zachary is going to be headed to the Ben Franklin school, University of Pennsylvania. Zach actually told me he has a question for you. Can you bear a question from Zach?
[21:57] Al Franken: I would love a question from Zach. Zach, you’re doing a great job on the podcast. I love the facts you come up with. I love the research you’re doing. I love that you’re not trying to come off as anything other than an 18-year-old boy. I like that. You don’t you don’t try to, like, dress it up and go like I’ve got some kind of the announcer voice. You don’t do that. You just sound like a kind of a bored 18-year-old suffering his dad. Go ahead.
[22:32] Zach Slavitt: Yeah. Who do you think’s the funniest U.S. senator now?
[22:34] Al Franken: The funniest. Wow. You know who was the funniest? Was Lindsey Graham. By the way, that’s not saying much. I mean, it’s not saying much. The funniest U.S. senator. But Lindsay, I remember once during the early part of the primary when he was so anti-Trump, I was actually in the bathroom, Senators’ bathroom. And I said to him, you know, Lindsay, if I were a Republican, I’d vote in the primary, I’d vote for you. And he said, that’s my problem. So many of his jokes were about how cynical he was. And so I remember once we were going on Christmas break or holiday break. And he says to me, are you going anywhere for sun? And I said, yes, actually might take my family, Puerto Rico. And immediately, without a beat, he goes like, do two fundraisers, one for the pro-state people, one for the anti-state people. They never talk to each other. And I was like, oh, that’s hilarious.
[25:52] Andy Slavitt: We call this podcast In the Bubble. I think there’s probably a lot of meanings to it. Lana named it, which I think makes it in itself a good name. But, you know, we’re talking about life during a very special period in kind of all of our collective memories. Kind of everything is a little bit changed. The world that we’ve defined for ourselves becomes either even more so or we have to find different ways to get out of it. You know, you live blessedly near your awesome grandchildren. You already mentioned your daughter. You’ve got another child, your son’s in New York, you have grandkids there. So I think there’s an element of who you see, how you stay healthy, how you connect to people, how you see your grandkids, how you make sure that everyone’s staying safe, that everybody in the country can relate to and is going through right now.
[26:48] Al Franken: I’m really lucky because I know a lot of grandparents who can’t see their grandchildren. And we’re two blocks away from my daughter and her family, her husband. And they have a six-year-old and three-year-old. And they’re just endlessly great, unless they melt down in which they’re horrible. But they’re hilarious. And they’re also I get to see them grow day-by-day in terms of the way they’re thinking, my grandson developing his sense of humor and just watching — a story I tell sometimes is Shaun the Sheep is a claymation cartoon that these Brits made. And it’s really funny and it’s really sophisticated. But kids love it and we watched the all of them. There were six seasons of them. There’s a movie. My grandson, he would laugh so hard when he started laughing, he’d stand up. He’d get off the couch and stand up because the first few times this happened, he fell off the couch. So he was preempting his falling off the couch. And my granddaughter, who is three, she’s getting some of it. And some of it is just her laughing because her brother’s laughing. But the laughter of children. And then also I put them to bed a lot. And I sing to them. And I sing three songs, I sing Brokedown Palace, The Grateful Dead. I sing Sweet Baby James. And then I sing Ripple, another Dead song. And God Almighty, I just love doing that. And they want the same songs every night. That’s lovely.
[28:46] Andy Slavitt: I mean, it could have been such where the circumstances were different and you couldn’t see them. Because if the kids were going out. Or if your daughter was a nurse and had to be a lot more careful. So what you’re doing is you’re all kind of isolating together, if you will.
[29:06] Al Franken: Basically the day before, everyone knew they had the shelter. If they listen to you. I was there. I see them all the time anyway. So it was no different seeing them the next day. And also we provide childcare and help with homeschooling and stuff, so it works for everybody. But yeah, we’re very careful, obviously. And because I’m old, I just had my 69th birthday.
[29:40] Andy Slavitt: Happy birthday. So you’re the kind of person who, generally speaking, cheers people up. You’ve got a great sense of humor, obviously. You see the funny situations and everything, but there’s been a plenty of unfunny situations. But we’ve had a few conversations recently where, like, maybe I laugh, but it’s really serious stuff. Both on the podcast and then just just talking regularly.
[30:11] Al Franken: Yeah, I’ve been furious. This is so sad. This is so sad. And, you know, I made the mistake of watching — the reason I got to tell you, hey, you know, smile when you’re on TV, is that I watch too much TV. I watch too much cable news. So seeing you go — and I’m texting you while you’re on. So I made the mistake right when it was at its peak in New York of watching like an hour special with CNN ran on the emergency room at a hospital in Brooklyn. And that was the most terrifying. And then MSNBC had one, same thing, but it was Italy.
[31:06] Andy Slavitt: Did you think it was a mistake to watch?
[31:08] Al Franken: No, I don’t think it was a mistake to watch it, but it was so frightening to see, and so devastating to understand what people who are dying of this, what that death is like, and the isolation. And I was talking, like you were, to emergency room doctors or nurses who would say, like, you know, normally we would go into somebody’s room or we’d go to them and spend time with them because they were really sick and we’d comfort them. That was part of our job. But now you just get away from them as fast as possible. And the fact that we didn’t have the PPE is crazy. And I got very mad at a Minnesota company listening to your podcast when you were talking to Mark Cuban. And just the idea that there is any profiteering. You know, after Pearl Harbor, you know, Roosevelt didn’t say, OK, the states got to individually figure this out. And this guy, this is such dereliction of duty. And it just gets worse every day. So, one, I’m furious, and two, it’s all heartbreaking. It’s all heartbreaking.
[32:33] Andy Slavitt: Yeah, I mean, for those of you who didn’t listen to that episode with Mark Cuban, we talked about a company here. They have since reformed their ways. And in many ways, it’s a little bit of a less than what you used to do in Washington Al, which is you just call it out. I mean, with apologies to how this sounds, I’m not really here to make friends with corporations or anybody else. I don’t prize my role as an “insider,” to the extent that I even would have such a label. You didn’t either. And then you realize you get pissed off at people when you see it up close. And I don’t understand how people just sit on that stuff and don’t, like, scream about it. And, you know, I had people telling me, oh, you’re going to get sued. I’m like, really? Now I’m the one that should be feeling nervous with this shit going on?
[33:23] Andy Slavitt: It was unrelated to this, but I’d seen you after you had visited an Indian reservation here in Minnesota. We were actually in person so I could see the look on your face. And when you say that you get angry, there is a passion of emotions that you funnel into kind of what do we do about it? But like, I worry that people are just afraid, they’re skipping that step. Al, is what I guess I’m worrying about. Like, are we bearing witness to the fact that we’ve just lost 100,000 lives? Have enough people seen these scenes from these hospitals? Like with Vietnam, you could see you see the reporting on the frontline, on 9/11, we saw that plane hit that building hundreds of times, thousands of times. It’s seared into our memory. I feel like 100,000 people are just gone. And we haven’t been able to mourn them. We haven’t buried them.
[34:17] Al Franken: There are people who are saying, you know, most of the people dying are old. You hear this, right? And I’ve heard people go, I how dare people say that? And my answer to that is imagine for a second, if this were primarily hitting kids. Imagine that. But I just hope we don’t get inured to all this death. And I worry about this transition. #OpenSafely is very helpful. And, you know, you’ve been a leader on this. But #StayHome and #OpenSafely. And thank you for that. You really have. You really have. There’s no question about that. You have stepped up. A number of people have. And thank God. But it just is infuriating to me that we didn’t have we didn’t have hearings right away. You didn’t have to be a brain surgeon to know that we have Zoom, and just right away start having hearings, and having hearings on why we aren’t having testing. What the hell was going wrong with the testing and why we aren’t doing contact tracing?
[35:33] Andy Slavitt: So Al, I had, a week apart two Hill hearings recently. And the one that was further away, it was a few weeks ago. This was a House hearing. People were really looking for answers. It was a bipartisan hearing. There were bipartisan witnesses. Everybody was asking the same types of questions. People really wanted to know, it was quite encouraging. Not a week later, which was probably last week, I did another hearing and it was completely different. And it may have been that the people were different, it was a different committee, but I don’t think that was entirely 100 percent it. I got berated by a representative who said to me, stop with the public health nonsense, start doing things to fix the economy. You know, you are part of the problem. And I said, I think I am doing things to fix the economy. Getting people to feel safe again is what it’s going to take to fix the economy. But what I felt like I was listening to, quite honestly, were talking points.
[36:35] Andy Slavitt And you know, that feeling when you’re a witness and people are having a conversation with you. And when people, which I think was the first example. And then the more recent one, I felt like, OK, somebody, either the White House or leadership, got the talking points out to people finally. And said it’s time to start getting on the president’s agenda, which is open the country at all costs. And look, as you’ve just said, I’m not opposed to opening the country. We’ve got to live with this virus. We can’t hide from it. We have to live with it safely. But we have reared back, it felt like, into this familiar posture, which I really regret.
[37:13] Al Franken: Well you know, early on, after he spent six weeks or two months not responding to this, I heard a lot of people say, look, we’ve got to not refer to that. Just don’t talk about that. Let’s just pick up where we are and fix us. Responsible people did that. You did that. But the thing is, he’s making the same mistake over and over and over again, because he can’t admit making a mistake. So he has a mental health issue. We’ve never seen this stuff before. Just yesterday, he said awful stuff about Hillary Clinton using a word that’s just awful and accused Joe Scarborough of murdering — it’s appalling to have this crisis, which is the worst crisis since World War II. And it’s a global crisis. For God’s sakes, it’s a global crisis. And it used to be that the United States was the indispensable country in the world. We led on Ebola. The CDC led on Ebola. We were in Liberia. We’ve lost that in this three years.
[38:36] Andy Slavitt: The line I’ve been trying to ride, Al, and not always successfully, and you said it exactly how I would say it, which is we’ve got to navigate from where we are, not where we wish we were. And so I haven’t been as much energy on how we got here. Again, I haven’t been perfect at it because I have spent some energy on it. But I completely, 100 percent agree with something you just said, which is we are about to make the same mistake twice. It’s one thing to sit here in January and February and say this thing isn’t real. It’s another thing to sit here in May and say we’ve defeated it. It’s gone. And so I feel like the role I have to play is not play politics, but hold people accountable for saying things that could potentially be harmful to people, physically harmful to people. And I feel like that is a statement and that is an approach. You know, they broke up the task force. And as imperfect as everything was, is having people on it every day is good. And it’s a hard job. And I have some empathy for the people who are working on this and the federal government because it’s a hard crisis. And as long as they were seeking help and as long as I could help, I was willing to overlook other issues to get that done. And I have no apologies for that, because I think people’s lives are at stake. But now I think it feels like we’re going to the exact same situation, predictably probably related to the election, probably because the stock market is back up. And it’s hard now because if I sit here or you sit here and we both say, hey, the president is doing something irresponsible, you sound partisan. Or the president’s supporters, they’ll sit here and go, oh, you’re just taking a shot at the president or you don’t care about this or that or the other. We’ve got ourselves a little bit of a pickle, little bit of a trap.
[40:20] Al Franken: Yeah. Yeah. And you’ve been very studiously bipartisan in this. And, you know, here’s a guy who did something useful, I thought, the governor of North Dakota. It was beautiful what he said. He was just basically telling people, wear masks. Watch that clip. And you could play that clip on this podcast. Play it right now.
[40:48] Governor Doug Burgum: If someone is wearing a mask, they’re not doing it to represent what political party they’re in, or what candidates they support. They might be doing it because they’ve got a five-year-old child who’s been going through cancer treatments. They might have vulnerable adults in their life who currently have Covid and are fighting. And so, again, I would just love to see our state, as part of being North Dakota smart also being North Dakota kind, North Dakota empathetic, North Dakota understanding.
[41:23] Al Franken: I mean, you could hear the emotion, if you watched it, you could see the emotion. That’s what people should be. We should be human beings. For God’s sake. So, you know, and DeWine — there’ve been so many responsible Republicans.
[41:40] Andy Slavitt: Absolutely. Look, I promised this audience that I had no idea what this conversation was going to go because you and I basically were just going to get on the phone and talk like we just did now. And I promised people when I started this podcast that you would get a chance to listen to me talk to some of the people I talked to on a regular basis. You’re without a doubt, one of the favorite people that I talked to for many reasons, because I admire you.
[42:04] Al Franken: I like it because you try to be funny sometimes.
[42:08] Andy Slavitt: I try and I fail. And I laugh at your jokes because I always have. And now I get to hear them in person.
[42:15] Al Franken: You don’t always fail. That’s the thing. You don’t always fail. Well, that’s nice. It’s at the lowest percentage of anyone I know.
[42:24] Andy Slavitt: That’s good. But I think I’ve told Al this before, I always feel the need to try to be funny when I talk to him, which I try to do too much anyway. And then when I’m done talking, whoever I talk to next, I still try to be funny, and sometimes it’s completely inappropriate. You have that effect. If you’ll take the compliment for a moment, in this state for sure, you are one of the icons and you will be one of the all-time icons. And for people who know you, you’re just a wonderful, sweet, great guy.
[42:59] Al Franken: I loved serving the people of Minnesota. I miss it. I really wish I was there. I got to tell you. It was a great honor to serve the people of Minnesota. And I also was very passionate about the job. And there’s stuff I did that I’m very, very proud of. And I just, you know, I really wish I had been there during this, but I’m not.
[43:33] Andy Slavitt: Who’s going to win the state of Minnesota in the election in November.
[43:35] Al Franken: I know that Trump is in the state big time. He’s put a lot of — he’s on the ground. But I believe Minnesota is going to keep going to stay on the roll. We haven’t gone for a Republican since ‘72. Longest run of not going for a Republican of any state in the country. And I believe that a lot of people didn’t turn out last time. We did win. I mean, Hillary did win. It was a point and a half. I know Trump is targeting it. And I believe that we’ll take that state. I also believe that will pick up a few seats in the state Senate. That’ll give Governor Walls both the House and the Senate in the state legislature. And he’ll be able to do the kinds of things that we were able to do with Dayton and a Democratic legislature.
[44:26] Andy Slavitt: We also voter mail fraud on our side.
[44:29] Al Franken: Oh, yeah. Oh, that is a huge — I mean, obviously. You know, I had Marc Elias on, he’s sort of the lead lawyer for the Democrats. He was my lawyer during the recount. Still my lawyer, actually. And boy, you know, an election during a pandemic. I mean, you saw what the Supreme Court did in Wisconsin. That was unconscionable.
[44:55] Andy Slavitt: And we’ve just started to see the data now, because the data is just fresh, and hospitalizations are indeed spiking in Wisconsin from right after the election.
[45:05] Al Franken: That was amazing what they did. And they didn’t have to take that case at all. It’s so rare to take a case. And the district court, which was the trial court, had decided it, the circuit court had decided it. And for them to take that, it’s very scary because that was five-four completely along party line. And, you know, that’s part of the reason I said the Schmidt, how come you’re still Republican? He helped get Alito and Roberts through. That was part of his job. And Roberts, that’s Shelby County basically completely disempowering the Voting Rights Act. And this court has decided, five-four that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over state gerrymandering? That’s ridiculous. An election during a pandemic is going to be very — and with Trump and Barr. This is very frightening.
[46:05] Andy Slavitt: Buckle your seat belts, man. This is going to be crazy. Was this good?
[46:11] Al Franken: Yeah. Yeah, it’s good. Well, this is fun.
[46:21] Andy Slavitt: Thank you, man.
[46:28] Andy Slavitt: Well, that was Al. Just great to talk to him. I think this was an example, like our conversation with Amy Klobuchar and Phil Murphy, of just using this podcast to record some of the regular old conversations I have here. Sometimes people just talking is really what life is about and what explains life well. And Al is someone who is always great to talk to. And I think he demurred in the face of me trying to compliment him. But truly, he was an incredible public servant and he’s a great friend and good friend of the family and so is Frannie. So thanks so much for listening. We have a conversation coming up on Wednesday, which is unlike any conversation that we’ve had before. And I think it is going to be really worth listening. It’s with Sinéad Burke and Dennis Heaphy. Now, if you haven’t heard of Sinéad Burke, you should Google her right away. She was on the cover of Vogue magazine. She was the first little person to grace the cover of that magazine. She’s an incredible person. Dennis Heaphy is a friend of mine who lives in Boston, who is quadriplegic and is one of the, I think, most thoughtful spokespeople for people in disability community. And we’re really gonna be talking about how under attack people with disabilities and other illnesses are during this coronavirus crisis. So if you didn’t get enough seriousness in this conversation with Al, you are probably going to get it on Wednesday. And I promise you it will be quite rewarding and I look forward to it. In the meantime, thanks everybody, for listening. And we’ll talk to you soon.
[48:15] Andy Slavitt: In the Bubble is a production of Lemonada Media. Niccole Galteland is our producer and Ivan Kuraev is our editor. Music is by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill. Zach Slavitt is our co-producer and my co-host. You can find out more about our show on social media @LemonadaMedia. And you can find me on social media at @ASlavitt on Twitter, @AndySlavitt on Instagram. If you liked what you heard today, tell your family and friends, but tell them at a distance. For now, stay safe. Share some joy. We’ll get through this together. And #StayHome.