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Rare Franken Sighting on Cable News

( Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
( Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Al Franken could get national media attention whenever he wants it, but he seeks it so infrequently that when he does, his interests get a bigger megaphone, and Senate observers do a double-take at their TV screens.

The Minnesota Democrat’s a comedian by trade who made a living writing for “Saturday Night Live” and appearing in a number of feature films, but he’s eschewed becoming a celebrity senator. He usually only talks to reporters for Minnesota media outlets, but Monday afternoon he broke from the pattern by appearing on CNN and CNBC.

“Senator Franken’s primary focus is on his Minnesota constituents and consequently he talks most frequently with the Minnesota media. He does do interviews with national media on occasion, usually when the topic is a policy area on which he has a particular focus or expertise and he believes his interview can contribute to the initiative’s success — as is the case for reforming the credit rating industry, which played a key role in 2008’s financial meltdown,” Franken spokeswoman Alexandra Fetissoff said in a statement.

Franken’s pushing a proposal to replace a “pay-to-play” system for credit ratings — where financial institutions seeking credit ratings for mortgage-backed securities and products like bonds pay the ratings agencies — with a model in which ratings get assigned through a third-party board.

“Let’s say an investment bank created a financial product, say, subprime mortgage-backed securities and they wanted to get a rating on that,” Franken said on CNN. “So, it would go shop [at] two different credit rating agencies and make sure that they got a AAA, whoever they picked would give them a AAA.”

During an appearance shortly after that on CNBC, Franken said the the deal between banks and rating agencies is “like a figure skater who pays the judges in a skating competition to give her all tens.”

Franken, who will be attending a Securities and Exchange Commission round table on credit ratings Tuesday, says that he has significant support from outside the existing system. He offered an amendment to the 2010 financial regulatory overhaul along with Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker that was designed to bring an end to the current practice.

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