WASHINGTON – Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) criticized HBO “Real Time” Host Bill Maher for using a racial slur on his show, saying that white people “can’t use that word in any context.”
Maher joked that he was a “house n—–” in a conversation with Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) on his Friday show. Franken was scheduled to appear on the next show to promote his new book Giant of the Senate but canceled.
“I think you can’t use that word. I mean, you can use that word, I think, if you are African-American in a certain kind of context. You can’t use that word in any context if you are white. I mean, you just can’t. Now, so I would criticize Bill and I did condemn him for doing that. He’s a friend of mine,” Franken said during a book discussion with CNN anchor Jake Tapper on Tuesday evening at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue.
“I was going to be on the show this coming Friday and I said no. And the guest on that show is – he does a monologue and then he comes to the first guest – and I think they have Michael Eric Dyson, who is a professor at Georgetown who is African-American. I think that’s probably a more productive conversation than me and Bill talking about comedy or something and the limits of discourse, or me just criticizing him for doing that,” he added.
Franken said he does not fault Sasse for not condemning Maher while on-air after the host used the term.
“He’s in a different environment with an audience around, you know, I think I probably would have been comfortable enough in that setting to say something then and there, but I don’t fault Ben at all,” he said.
Franken also said Kathy Griffin made a “monumental mistake” by posing for a photo with a fake severed head of President Trump.
“That was unbelievably wrong and out-of-bounds, what Kathy did,” he said. “Kathy has done USO shows and Kathy is a funny comedian and a generous person in all kinds of ways, and she just made this monumental, monumental mistake, and that was an incredibly inappropriate image and that should not be in our national discourse. I called her and told her it was a terrible mistake.”
Franken said Griffin has lost her sense of humor, and recommended she take some time off then return with an appropriately named tour.
“She apologized for it and she begged for forgiveness and she’s devastated by it. I think her strong suit, any good comedian’s strong suit, which she is, is your sense of humor,” he said. “And she just lost it and I think she needs to take some time off and come back with an ‘I effed up tour.’”
Franken was asked where he thinks the FBI’s Russia investigation is going to end up.
“We have Bob Mueller as the special prosecutor, thanks again to me, and he’s the right guy. And so, you know, we’ll see where the facts lead and then we will see if they lead to there was no cooperation between the Trump campaign or some people in the Trump campaign were cooperating – and the question will be, when did the president know and when did his son-in-law tell him? I mean, it could go there, you see, because his son-in-law, you see, didn’t report some things – meetings he had,” he said.
“They’re not acting like people who have nothing to hide, that’s all I’m saying, you know, and that’s just from 66 years of observing human nature. So, I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s just my gut,” he added.
Franken speculated that the reason congressional Republicans have not turned on Trump is because they are “afraid” of being challenged from the right in the primaries.
“There may come a time where it’s unsustainable for them to be where they are but that hasn’t happened yet. You know, his base is staying with him,” Franken said of Trump. “It’s very hard for us all to watch this and go like, ‘Don’t you all see this is not ordinary behavior?’ This is not the norm for a president or for a human being.”
Franken weighed in on speculation that he might run for president in 2020. He said that many people probably think he could win given his career in entertainment, but stressed that he is not running.
“Yeah, I’ve thought about it, and the conclusion I came to is I’m not going to do that. I don’t want to do that,” Franken said. “Since Trump has become president there’s a lot of people who go like, ‘well you could be president’ and I go like, ‘well, I know I’m better in your eyes and a lot of people’s eyes than Donald Trump,’ and you were in the entertainment business and he was in the entertainment business.”
Franken said his showbiz experience is different since Trump was in a reality show where he played a version of himself.
“That’s near a human cannonball. I mean, a human cannonball is in the entertainment business,” he said.
During the discussion, Franken revealed that he sought advice from Tamera Luzzatto, Hillary Clinton’s former chief of staff, before he arrived in the Senate.
“She just said be a workhorse, not a showhorse, and don’t do national media and show up at your hearings early, have good questions, be prepared and that’s what I did. I did that,” he said. “We built our own de-humanizer, our staff, to make sure I wasn’t funny but I could be funny with my colleagues.”