Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Farewell to Retiring Senators

Posted on September 24, 2008

Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, Senator Pete Domenici, who is retiring from the Senate this year after serving since 1972, once said to me that we don't say goodbye in the Senate very well. As a matter of fact, we don't say hello very well either. We have a little orientation program, but we abruptly arrive and leave. We leave in the midst of a lot of turmoil and discussion with very little time to say goodbye. Yet in between that arrival and leaving, we have very intense personal relationships. We virtually live with each other. We see each other often for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We see each other more than we see our families. So when there is a time for saying goodbye, we look for ways to say it a little better. There are five Members of our body, all of them Republicans, who have announced their retirement for this year. While I won’t be speaking at length about them here today, I want to recognize their service. I will do it in the traditional way in the Senate, which is to start with seniority. By "seniority," I mean from the time I have known them. I first met John Warner 40 years ago, in 1968. I was a young lawyer, and he was head of United Citizens for Nixon. I went to work for him in Washington, DC, at the Willard Hotel. He had been an advance man for President Nixon in 1960. He had been a businessman who was a striking figure, as he still is. I remember one of my assignments was to recruit a Mississippi chairman, and I found an outstanding young man named Thad Cochran who became chairman of Citizens for Nixon in Mississippi. Then we went to Indianapolis for the national meeting of our organization, and the mayor of Indianapolis was Richard Lugar. John Warner was 17 years old and enlisted in the Navy in World War II. He served as a marine officer in Korea. He was appointed by President Nixon as Under Secretary of the Navy in 1969 and became Secretary. He has served in this Senate since 1978 with distinction. He has added civility, a sense of institution, and perhaps his greatest continuing contribution has been his expertise and independence and leadership on matters of military affairs which he has discharged in a bipartisan way with Senator Levin for many years. Senator Domenici from New Mexico has been here since 1972. That is a long time. He arrived as a young man. He had been a chairman of the Albuquerque City Commission, a math teacher, a baseball player. It was unusual for a Republican to be elected to the Senate from New Mexico. He has served with distinction all that time. He was the first Republican chairman of the Budget Committee. He has been a leader in a renaissance of nuclear energy in this country which is so important because of its low cost and because it is clean. A great many people, including myself, are concerned about global warming. Well, 70 percent of our carbon-free electricity in the United States comes from nuclear energy. Senator Domenici, more than almost anyone, has been behind the revival of interest in nuclear energy. He has truly been one of the most consequential Senators of the last half century. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska is like the rest of us Senators. We are all accidents. None of us could have guessed we would be here. It is hard to plan your way into the Senate because we come from all different directions. Senator Hagel, who is Nebraska's senior Senator, is retiring after only two terms in the Senate, but he has had a full life so far, starting a business or helping to start one that became a public company. While we have a great many patriots in the Senate, men who are honored for their service in the military -- such as Congressional Medal of Honor winner, Senator Inouye; Senator Stevens, who flew the first plane to land in Beijing after World War II ended; Senator McCain, whose story is well known, while he never discusses it –- Senator Hagel's heroism and service serving side by side with his brother in Vietnam is one of the most fascinating, heroic stories of any Member of the Senate. With that sort of independent background, you can imagine he brought to this body a sense of independence, a great knowledge of the world. Along with Senator Lugar on this side of the aisle, he understands the world better than almost anyone, and he works hard at it. He has been independent in his views, willing to criticize those he thought were wrong, including those in his own party. He has written recently an excellent book about the future of our party. We will miss Senator Hagel. Senator Larry Craig has been in the Congress for a number of years. He served three terms in the Senate. I believe Senator Craig's great contribution is in the area of energy. He and Senator Domenici have been a team in advocating for nuclear power. They have been leaders in the Senate in understanding energy and its details, particularly over the last few years as issues of energy and the environment have become the most fascinating and important issues we have to deal with in many respects. Senator Craig has made a great contribution. I especially appreciate his courtesies. When I was just elected to the Senate, I had worked here before as a staff member many years ago, but I didn't understand what it was like to be a Member. Senator Craig took a long hour with me on the telephone just explaining to me about committee assignments. I have always been grateful for that. Finally, there is Senator Wayne Allard. We have two veterinarians in the Senate. When Wayne Allard goes back to Colorado, we will have one. Senator Allard told the people of Colorado if he was elected that he would serve two terms. He has, and he is keeping his pledge. He has been a strong and vigorous advocate of military preparedness. He is a member of the Armed Services Committee. He has been a member of the Appropriations Committee. One of Senator Allard's great contributions in the last couple of years was to take a job that many others probably wouldn't have wanted and plow into it. When the Capitol Visitor Center, which is almost open, was being worked on and running over budget and had some problems, Senator Allard, through his chairmanship of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, was able to jump into that and provide a great service. I say to all five of those Senators, we will miss them. We are grateful for their service. I know people must look at the Senate in many different ways. Let me conclude by telling a story about how some teachers look at it. We have a tradition in the Senate of making a maiden address. It is kind of a funny name, but we still call it that. We pick the subject of most interest to us. My subject was to put the teaching of U.S. history and civics back in its proper place in the school curriculum so our children would grow up learning what it means to be an American. There is not too much the Federal Government can do about that, but what we were able to do is to begin summer academies for outstanding teachers and students of American history. One group of those teachers was here in July, one from each State. I brought them on the Senate floor early one morning. I took them to Daniel Webster's desk, which is occupied by the senior Senator from New Hampshire right here by me. I took them back to that part of the Senate where Jefferson Davis's desk is, occupied by the senior Senator from Mississippi, and told them the story of how the marks in the desk are because a Union soldier came in during the Civil War and started chopping on it with his sword. His commanding officer came in and said: Stop that. We are here to protect the Union, not to destroy it. This Chamber is full of history, full of our country. Anyone who stands on this floor and sees the engravings of "In God We Trust" or "E Pluribus Unum" and gets a sense of what has happened here has respect for it. The teachers had that respect. When we got to the end of our visit, one teacher said to me, I think it was the teacher from Oregon: Senator, what would you like for us to take home to our students about our visit to the Senate floor? I said: I hope you will take back that each of us takes our position a lot more seriously than we take ourselves. We understand we are accidents, that we are very fortunate and privileged to be here, that each of us reveres our country, and we respect this institution. I can only speak for myself, but I think it is true of Senators on both sides of the aisle that we get up every day thinking first of how we can make a little contribution before we go to bed at night that will help the country be a little better off than it was in the morning. That means serving in the Senate is a very great privilege. I hope you will take that back to your students. I don't know what they see on television or read in the newspaper about the Senate, but that is how we feel about the privilege we have to serve here. To these five Senators -- Warner, Domenici, Craig, Hagel, and Allard -- we say goodbye. They are members of our family. We appreciate their service. We know they have believed it has been a very great privilege to serve in the Senate. For us it has been a great privilege to serve with them. I yield the floor.