tv U.S. Senate Sen. Mc Connell Tribute to Sen. Lamar Alexander CSPAN December 26, 2020 3:45am-4:01am EST
>> you're watching c-span, your unfiltered view of government, created by america's television companies as a public service, and brought to you today by your television provider. >> senator lamar alexander is retiring after the current term. the republican has been elected to three terms on capitol hill 18 years. mitch mcconnell gave an emotional tribute on the senate floor, recalling their early friendship as young senate staffers. now, mr. president, on a completely different matter, the senate reinvolves around people. one of our key duties involves the personnel we examine and
confirm. there are all the dedicated staff professionals who make this place go. today it is both my great honor and regrettable task to honor someone who secured our three parts of that senatorial triple crown. the senior senator from tennessee, the chairman of the committee on health, education, labor, and pensions, lamar alexander. lamar first set foot here as a talented young staffer. decades later he appeared before us as a super-successful former governor and university president with a nomination to the cabinet. and for the past 18 years, the other 99 of us have gotten to serve along one of the most impactful senators in modern american history. i have known lamar for more than 50 years. we first met in 1969 when i was working for a freshman senator
named marlo cook, and he worked down in the executive branch. we met at the suggestion of his previous boss and mentor, senator howard baker. either he suspected our paths might cross again later or he just saw two serious young guys in need of some livelier social lives. now, this may shock you, mr. president, but i am afraid young lamar alexander and young mitch mcconnell didn't go crazy and paint the town red. both of us headed back home to continue our careers. it was already clear that a bright future likely lay in store for him. lamar's reverence for public service started early. i believe he was about ten years old when his father, himself a longtime local official, took him to meet his congressman, howard bake sr., the father of
his future boss hand him a dime. i think lamar was hooked then and that. decades later when lamar announced his 1996 presidential run be, he was in his hometown of merriville. his people began with a story about his mother. she lovingly described his upbringing as lower middle class and she had taken umbrage to that. after all, lamar had a library card and music lessons. in her words, quote, everything you needed that was important, end quote. and i'd certainly add loving parents to the list. this son of two educators grew up steeped in the importance of schooling. he'd later reference his mother's work in recallly childhood education -- in early childhood education by saying he is probably the only secretary of education in history -- in history -- who spent five years
in kindergarten. that passion would remain throughout lamar's career. his cutting-edge focus on improving opportunities and reforming education benefited tennessee hugely in the 1980's. and our whole nation during his time in president bush 41's cabinet. but that's not the only way he has honored his roots. you couldn't walk across the entire state of tennessee in a plaid shirt and serve more years as governor in the history of the state without becoming entirely intertwined with the place. every corner of the state is better for his service. his groundbreaking work to bring home good-paying auto jobs has paid dividends. so has his major focus on infrastructure and better roads. but alas, mr. president, even building a statewide and then
national reputation does not always -- always -- translate into honest-to-goodness celebrity status. i understand that following lamar's governorship, a stretch of highway in merriville was fittingly named the lamar alexander parkway to honor him. i further understand that sometime later lamar was driving on that very road and stopped for breakfast. when it was time to pay for his food, he handed over his credit card. the woman on the other side of the counter glanced at the name on the card and back at lamar. hey, she said. were you named after this road? now, as a man of faith, i'm certain that lamar knows luke chapter 4. no prophet is accepted in his hometown. apparently neither are statesman to be reckon their own highway.
-- recognized on their own highway. here in the senate, too, lamar's impact has been massive and the convictions that fueled it have been straightforward. he starts with a very firm framework. the right-of-center principles that ronald reagan used to build america and beat communism. the federal government isn't meant to take over our states, neighborhoods, or our lives. but lamar's career has also confirmed that conservative governance is not a contradiction in terms. there are genuine public goods it is the government's job to secure -- public roads, public lands, public education, certain aspects of public health. he's dedicated himself to making those things better and stronger, especially for those who need opportunity the most. this vision alliance with the
greatest traditions of the republican party and indeed of american history. government that is limited but effective and smart. a system where power stays close to the people and working families can thrive and prosper. these principles made our colleague a nationally known leader long before he was sworn in as a senator. but i say they've reached full flourishing with chairman alexander's astonishingly effective leadership right here in this body. students, families, and teachers benefit every day from the every student succeeds act. chairman alexander's historic bipartisan makeover following no child left behind. one report called it the largest devolution of federal control to the states in a quarter century. millions of medically vulnerable americans also have their champion in our friend from tennessee.
the overwhelmingly bipartisan cures act was the single most important law of the entire 114th congress. it's paving the way for more innovation and faster innovation to benefit patients who have no time to waste. another lamar alexander production. his leadership was instrumental in the landmark legislation we passed two years ago to combat the opioid epidemic. just this year, he was the driving force behind the great american outdoors act, the senate's historic project to secure our parks and public lands for generations to come. now, the list doesn't end there. there have been other education wins like permanent funding for historically black colleges and universities and simplifying the student loan process. there have been laws like the music modernization act which lamar hammered out with our former colleague, senator hatch, a legislative duet from two
musical virtuosos in their own rights. senator alexander knows about 50 different issues as well as most senators know three or four. he is hands-down one of the most brilliant, thoughtful, and most effective legislators any of us have ever seen. he likes to say this about the senate. it's hard to get here. it's hard to stay here. so while you are here, you might as well try to accomplish something. well, mission accomplished. and then some. if you reviewed senator alexander's resume on results without knowing the man, you might suspect he arrived as an established hotshot and threw his weight around. but even as lamar has mastered the levers of power here, his character has never been captured by washington. lamar remained clear that he has just been on loan from tennessee the whole time.
so we have had more than just a master legislator to call upon. we have been blessed with sober, honest, deliberate statesman, someone who cares as much about serving this institution as the near-term results he can wring out of it. from daily conversations to committee business to the most dramatic moments on the floor, whether in the minority or the majority, lamar has taken pains to treat his colleagues exactly as he would hope to be treated in their shoes. he's worked to build consensus in a consensus-based body. he has cherished and defended the senate the framers designed. and it's no exaggeration to say lamar alexander is one of the most brilliant people i have met in my life. his mind is a steel trap.
i understand he likes to keep his staff experts locked around a conference table for long sessions, turning a complex issue over and over until they have arrived at the best path forward for the country and the most precise, concise way to communicate it. mastery of policy, mastery of the english language, and i can't forget to mention my friend's good cheer. lamar really does live by the motto he inherited from his good friend and fellow ten indiana, the late author alex haley -- find the good and praise it. mr. mcconnell: i myself have leaned on lamar's wisdom for many years, but i think i have learned just as much on his
optimism, his can-do spirit, his ability to look on the bright side. and then to discern how more hard work can make it brighter still. so i am going to -- i'm going to miss our regular dinners. even with our week-night scheduling and official one-drink limit. like i said, mr. president, we weren't exactly party animals in our 20's either.
but here's something else that never changes, how reassuring it is to be weighing a thorny question and see lamar alexander sitting across the table. you know, the senate can be all-consuming. it's not our colleagues but our spouses and loved ones that all get folded into the extended family around here. so, look, i'm grateful that it turned out mitch mcconnell was not the most important young person that lamar alexander met during his first stint in washington, not by a mile. honey alexander is a remarkable woman. she is a force of nature and an
incredible partner for lamar. she raised a young family in the governor's mansion for eight years. she charmed and impressed more voters during lamar's various campaigns than lamar himself. and she devoted her own career to public health and philanthropy. they shared love and mutual respect. honey is just about the finest in-law the senate could ever have. so elaine and i are grateful to call her our friend as well. so as much as i'm dreading life in the senate without my brilliant friend, even i can begrudge him the silver lining. the most distinguished public servant has more than earned the right to spend more days fly fishing or walking trails in the smokies, more mornings walking up in blackberry farm, and a much larger share of his time with honey and their family. now, about six years ago, it fell to lamar to eulogize his
friend and mentor, howard baker. here on the floor, he quoted another senator who said that when he came to the senate, there was howard baker, and then there was the rest of us. well, my friend for 18 years has been lamar alexander, and there has been the rest of us. so i'm sorry that in a few more weeks, -- he is going to wish the rest of us well. but you are leaving this body and those of us in it and the nation it exists to serve stronger and better because you were h mr. alexander: mr. president, i