Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Leadership announcement

Posted on September 20, 2011

Mr. ALEXANDER. Madam President, I thank my friend of 40 years, the Republican leader, for being here for these remarks I am about to make. I thank my colleague, Senator Corker, and several other of my Republican colleagues for, on very short notice, coming to the Senate floor for these brief remarks.

Next January, following the annual retreat of Republican Senators, I will step down from the Senate Republican leadership. My colleagues have elected me as Republican conference chairman three times, and I will have completed 4 years or the equivalent of two 2-year terms at that time. My reason for doing that is this, stepping down from the Republican leadership will liberate me to spend more time trying to work for results on issues I care the most about. That means stopping runaway regulations, runaway spending, but it also means confronting the timidity that allows health care spending to squeeze out support for roads, support for research, support for scholarships, and other government functions that make it easier and cheaper to create private sector jobs.

I wish to do more to make the Senate a more effective place to address serious issues. For 4 years in our caucus, my leadership job has been this: to help the leader succeed, to help individual Republicans succeed, to look for a consensus within our caucus, and to suggest a message. I have enjoyed that. However, there are different ways to offer leadership in the Senate, and I have concluded, after 9 years, this is now the best way for me to make a contribution.

It boils down to this: Serving in this body, as each one of us knows, is a rare privilege. I am trying to make the best use of that time while I am here. For the same reason, I plan to step down in January from the leadership, I will not be a candidate for leadership in the next Congress. However, I do intend to be more, not less, in the thick of resolving issues, and I do plan to run for reelection in the Senate in 2014.

These are serious times. Every American's job is on the line. The United States still produces about 23 percent of the world's wealth, even though we only have about 5 percent of the world's people. All around the world people are realizing there is nothing different about their brains and our brains and they’re using their brain power to try to achieve the same kind of standard of living we have enjoyed in the United States.

As a result of this, some have predicted that within a decade, for the first time since the 1870s, the United States will not be the world's largest economy. They say China will be. My goal is to help keep the United States of America the world's strongest economy.

There are two other matters that are relevant to the decision I am making that I would like to address. The first is this: When I first ran for the Senate in 2002, I said to the people of Tennessee--and they were not surprised by this--that I will serve with conservative principles and an independent attitude. I intend to continue to serve in the very same way.

I am a very Republican Republican. I grew up in the mountains of Tennessee and still live there in a congressional district that has never elected a Democrat to Congress since Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States. My great-grandfather was once asked about his politics. He said: I am a Republican. I fought for the Union, and I vote like I shot.

I have been voted five times by Tennessee Republicans to serve in public office. I have been elected three times by Senate Republicans as conference chair. If I could get a 100-percent Republican solution of any of our legislative issues, I would do it in a minute. I know the Senate usually requires 60 votes for a solution on serious issues, and we simply cannot get that with only Republican votes or only Democratic votes.

Second, by stepping down from the leadership, I expect to be more, not less, aggressive on the issues. I look forward to that. The Senate was created to be the place where the biggest issues producing the biggest disagreements are argued out. I don't buy for 1 minute that these disagreements create some sort of unhealthy lack of civility in the Senate. I think those who believe the debates in our Senate are more fractious than the debates in our political history simply have forgotten American history. They have forgotten what Adams and Jefferson said of one another. They have forgotten that Vice President Burr killed former Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton. They have forgotten that Congressman Houston was walking down the streets of Washington one day, came across a Congressman from Ohio who had opposed

Andrew Jackson's Indian policy and started caning him, for which he was censured. They have forgotten there was a South Carolina Congressman who came to the floor of the Senate and nearly killed, by hitting him with a stick, a Senator from Massachusetts. They have forgotten that another Senator from Massachusetts, named Henry Cabot Lodge, stood on the floor and said of the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson: I hate that man. They forgot about Henry Clay's compromises and the debates that were held during the Army-McCarthy days. What of the Watergate debates? What of the Vietnam debates?

The main difference today between the debates in Washington and the debates in history are that, today, because we have so much media, everybody hears everything instantly. If one would notice, most of the people who are shouting at each other on television or the radio or the Internet have never been elected to anything.

It would help if we in the Senate knew each other better across party lines. To suggest we should be more timid in debating the biggest issues before the American people would ignore the function of the Senate and would ignore our history. The truth is, the Senators debate divisive issues with excessive civility.

I have enjoyed my 4 years in the Republican leadership. I thank my colleagues for that privilege. I now look forward to spending more time working with all Senators to achieve results on the issues I care about the most--issues that I believe will help determine for our next generation what kind of economy we will have, what our standard of living will be for our families, and what our national security will be.