Perhaps Roll Call‘s Joannna Anderson doesn’t understand Senator Al Franken’s sense of humor, or perhaps she just can’t tell when Sen. Franken is saying something serious with a smile on his face. I doubt that the following exchange was meant in any way to be in jest.

Roughly 25 minutes into Thursday’s [Judiciary Committee] meeting, senators had finished debate but were still lacking the attendance level needed to officially advance legislation on child pornography victims and public access to government information. Then, Franken arrived to push attendance over the tipping point.

“You know, you guys are in the majority,” Franken teased GOP senators as he entered the room.

With a reporting quorum secured, Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, sought to quickly move ahead with the committee’s agenda.

But Franken pressed his point, telling Grassley, “No, I want to say something about this.”

“You know when we were in the majority … we had the responsibility to provide a quorum,” Franken said. “And I thought that you guys, your side, didn’t show up because you just resented being in the minority. But now I know … it’s just sheer laziness.”

Utah Republican Orrin G. Hatch interjected, “You did a very good job, I have to say. You did show up.”

Franken replied, “That’s all I wanted to say.”

Reportedly, everyone had a good laugh over this, and then the committee got down to business. But no more Republican members ever showed up and it was only due to Democratic attendance that the committee was able to conduct its business at all.

But while the GOP-led committee did ultimately rely on Democrats to get the final numbers it needed, the partisan divide was hardly drastic. In the end, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by a slim 6-5 attendance level. Though Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., — a would-be No. 7 — briefly ducked into the room after the meeting had adjourned.

At bottom, this was a simple honest observation by Sen. Franken. While in the majority, he had assumed that the Republicans’ refusal to attend committee hearings was part of a strategy of obstruction. Now that he’s in the minority, he realizes that it’s deeper than that. Many of their members simply don’t care about the actual job of being a U.S. Senator, which is to mark up legislation in committee hearings. They care so little about it, in fact, that they’re willing to let bills be marked up with Democratic majorities.

To be sure, the chairman won’t let this go so far as to allow the Democrats to hijack his bills by ramming home amendments that he opposes, but he has to take extra precautions and endure unwanted delays to avoid that happening because his colleagues are so disinterested in legislating.

If the Democrats were similarly disinclined to care about their jobs they would never provide a quorum for their opponents and make their work easier to conduct. But the Democratic senators are actually interested in marking up bills on “child pornography victims and public access to government information.”

Just for a moment, think about why Al Franken chose to sit down and concentrate on the business at hand rather than leaving until some Republican senators showed up to provide the needed quorum?

He sat down because he was reporting to work. He was ready to do his job. But he couldn’t help but make a wisecrack about the work ethic of his colleagues.

He made an astute observation.

But it wasn’t a joke.

[Cross-posted at Progress Pond]

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at