Fresh off his highly publicized grilling of Sonia Sotomayor regarding fictional defense attorney Perry Mason, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has announced that he will be forming a Senate Detectives Fan Club Caucus.
Franken said the intent of the caucus was to raise awareness of television's and literature's great detectives and provide a forum for discussion over which were the greatest. He wants to hold monthly trivia nights, murdery mystery dinner parties and set up games of "Clue" on long nights when lawmakers must stay past dinner.
During Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination hearings, Franken noted that growing up they both watched the show with their families. Technically, Mason was a defense attorney, but every week with only one exception he would prove that his client was innocent as well as identify the guilty culprit. Although Sotomayor was deftly able to handle questions from GOP senators about her "wise Latina" comment, she failed to name the one instance in which Mason didn't win.
Caucuses are typically formed to raise awareness of issues as well as to advocate for legislation. Franken said that he wanted to garner support for a "Supercool Fictional Detectives Day" but Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn said he would filibuster any such attempt. "Tom said it was a frivolous waste of Congress's time, but we pass resolutions congratulating Pee Wee league teams. We even have a National Lighthouse Day on August 7," said Franken huffily.
Technically, there is only one officially recognized caucus in Franken's chamber, the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control. Franken's caucus would join the couple dozen other unofficial caucuses.
Because Franken is the most junior senator, his clout is minimal and it will be hard for him to distinguish himself legislatively, said Thomas Mann, a congressional scholar at Brookings Institute.
"He's one of hundreds of voices on the health care debate and he's at the very bottom of the totem pole," Mann said. "I can't say that a caucus to boost awareness of detectives who aren't even real will be consequential for the country but it's certainly a way he might be able to draw attention to himself.
Franken said he'd been polling other senators about who their favorite detectives are. A couple of female senators are attracted to other female detectives; Sen. Stabenow, D-Mich. cites Jessica Fletcher of the television series Murder, She Wrote, while Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said Agatha Christie's Miss Marple was her favorite.
Children can sometimes play a factor. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., the mother of tween twin boys, said that the tales of Encylopedia Brown and the Hardy Boys were favored books series during their childhood.
Columbo, whose namesake character was played most recently by Peter Falk, was a popular choice, cited by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
But it was a Brit, Sherlock Holmes, who garnered the most support, with ten votes, according to Franken's informal poll.
Yet no one would cop to liking Dame Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot as their favorite, "probably because of his ridiculous mustache and overall fussiness," said Franken.
Some newer detectives made the cut as well. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an Independent from Connecticut who caucuses with Democrat said that he liked Robert Langdon of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, both of which were adapted into movies with Tom Hanks playing the lead role.
And Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said that Dr. Cal Lightman of the new Fox series "Lie to Me" was his favorite. Lightman is based on the real life Paul Eckman, a pioneer in the study of emotions and facial expressions. A snide GOP aide said that if Kerry had half Eckman's ability to read emotion he might not have lost the 2004 presidential campaign so badly.
Franken is not the only freshman senator who wants to form a caucus that might have limited appeal. Sens. Roland Burris, D-Ill., and Ted Kaufman, D-Del., have apparently discussed forming a Senate Placeholders Caucus for lawmakers who -- either by choice or for other reasons -- will be ending their term soon. Burris and Kaufman, who replaced Barack Obama and Joe Biden by appointment after they assumed the presidency and vice presidency, have announced that they will not be running in the 2010 election to take over their seats.
Burris and Kaufman reportedly extended an invitation to Republican Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning, who announced that he would not be running for re-election due to insufficient funds. Bunning's fellow GOP Kentucky senator, Mitch McConnell, also the most powerful Republican of the Senate, had offered less than lackluster support for Bunning's reelection campaign.
An aide to Burris said that the invitation was not well received and that Bunning turned red, growled at them, and threw a stack of papers at him. "He is a baseball Hall of Famer so he can really throw," said the aide. "Kaufman got a vicious paper cut."