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Is Franken an elf? Gift exchange brings Senate bipartisan cheer

While the mood may be icy when it comes to political sparring in Washington, there was a warm bit of good cheer in the U.S. Senate.  Minnesota's Sen. Al Franken, inspired by an old grade school tradition from his childhood, organized a Secret Santa gift exchange again this year.  The parties regularly tangle over government spending, but the senators did agree to a $10 spending cap for gifts. 

Aides say a bipartisan group of 60 senators participated by picking names, mostly across the aisle, keeping those identities secret and then delivering small presents at a gathering over eggnog and seasonal treats Monday night.

Frank Fey / U.S. Senate Photographic Studio

Sen. Al Franken, right, speaks with colleagues during the gift exchange.

Not just any fruitcake was served -- the Senate kitchen began making fruitcake a few months ago, giving the brandy enough time to soak the cake.  Due to fog that delayed some flights and therefore postponed Senate votes, some members were not able to attend the Monday party but were spotted exchanging wrapped gifts on the Senate floor late Tuesday.

Among the gifts given and received:

  • Sen. Franken received a VHS copy of the movie "Tunnel Vision" and a DVD of  "Harvard Beats Yale 29-29" from Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barasso.
  • Franken, in turn, gave Arkansas Republican Sen. John Boozman a mahnomin porridge kit from Hell's Kitchen, a popular restaurant in Minneapolis. Sen. Franken serves that breakfast porridge at his weekly breakfast with constituents.
  • Florida Republican Marco Rubio gave Godiva chocolates to Delaware Democrat Chris Coons. 
  • North Carolina Democrat Kay Hagan gave her state's famed peanuts to fellow Democrat Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.
  • New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte gave Hagan a book, "1,001 Gardens you Should See Before You Die."
  • Wyoming's Mike Enzi, R-WI, gave Virginia Democrat Mark Warner a George Washington University T-shirt and a book on bicycling.  Aides say Enzi "refrained from getting him a book on freestyle BMX tricks because of the safety issues Sen. Enzi works on."
  • Alaska Democrat Mark Begich presented a cookbook and wine from his home state to Missouri's Claire McCaskill.
  • Nebraska Republican Mike Johanns gave Nebraska wine to Florida Democrat Bill Nelson.
  • Johanns received a shirt for his undergraduate alma mater, St. Mary's University, from Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar.
  • Montana Democrat Jon Tester gave home state chocolates to Ohio Republican Rob Portman.
  • Portman gave Louisiana's Mary Landrieu a Cincinnati favorite, Graeter's Buckeye Blitz ice cream.
  • Arkansas Republican John Boozman gave Georgia's Saxby Chambliss Mason jar wine glasses.

In 2011, the participation was a bit better, with 62 senators exchanging gifts. This year, with much year-end business left to complete, senators may spend more of the holiday season together as the “fiscal cliff” looms.