Senate Majority Leader Mitch Mcconnell gave a heartfelt farewell from the Senate floor on Wednesday, choking up during an emotional tribute to a “friend of 18 years,” outgoing Republican Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander.
“He is hands down one of the most brilliant, most thoughtful and most effective legislators any of us have ever seen,” McConnell said of his colleague in his bidding farewell remarks, saying the Tennessee lawmaker “knows about 50 different issues as well as most senators know three or four.”
The GOP leader, choking up several times during the 15-minute remarks, describing how he “leaned just as much on his optimism, his can-do spirit, his ability to look on the bright side and then discern how some more hard work could make it brighter.”
“I myself have leaned on Lamar’s wisdom for many years, but I think I have learned just as much from 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,” the Senate leader said.
“So I am going to,” pausing to compose himself, “I’m going to miss our regular dinners, even with our weeknight scheduling and official one-drink limit.”
McConnell said he “is dreading life in the Senate without his brilliant friend,” adding that he “cannot begrudge him the silver lining,” saying the “most distinguished public servant has more than earned the right to spend more days fly-fishing or walking trails in the Smokies.”
“I’m sorry that in a few more weeks it will just be the rest of us left, but you’re leaving this body and those of us in it and the nation it exists to serve stronger and better before you were here,” McConnell emotionally said towards the end of his remarks.
McConnell and Alexander’s friendship traces back to 1969, when they first met in Washington and the Senate Leader has never been shy about his friendship with Alexander, telling the New York Times shortly after Alexander’s announcement he would retire that he had sought out his guidance regularly.
“I seek his counsel on a weekly basis on a whole variety of issues,” McConnell said in January. “He’s my closest friend in the Senate.”
In December 2018, Alexander announced he would not be running for re-election in 2020. Alexander was honored by a bipartisan group of his Senate colleagues with about half the chamber in attendance for his farewell speech.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also wished a fond farewell to Alexander, saying the Tennessee lawmaker left “this chamber with a legacy that every senator would be proud of.”
“Now, Senator Alexander and I have not always agreed, but what an amazing and capable legislator and true statesman he has been,” Schumer said.
During his own farewell address to the chamber from the Senate floor, Alexander in his final message urged Senator to work across party lines to “create laws” that our “diverse country will accept.”
“Our country needs a United States Senate to work across party lines to force broad agreements on hard issues, creating laws that most of us have voted for and that a diverse country will accept,” Alexander said.
“When the presidency and at least one body of Congress was of different political parties, that offers an opportunity to share the responsibility or the blame for doing hard things,” he added, while also calling on senators to work toward bipartisanship and “stop blocking each other’s amendments.”
Alexander also warned against nixing the legislative filibuster, an idea backed by progressive activists and a growing number of Democratic lawmakers.
The Founding Fathers “created this cooling saucer for those passions that Washington talked about and the filibuster, the right to talk your head off, is the permanent tool we use to force broad agreements on tough issues that most of will vote for and that the country can live with,” Alexander said, adding that the “Senate doesn’t need a change of rules, it needs a change of behavior. And the behavior to change first is to stop blocking each other’s amendments.”