10.27.15

[BREAKING] Leahy Comments On The Milestone Of His 15,000th Vote In The U.S. Senate --

[As the dean of the Senate (its most senior member) Vermont’s U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D) Tuesday morning passed a U.S. Senate milestone when he cast his 15,000th vote.  Only five senators in history have cast more votes.  The vote occurred during a series of votes late this morning during Senate debate on the cybersecurity bill.  According to the nonpartisan website GovTrack, Leahy has sponsored more bipartisan bills than any other current member of this Senate:  Sixty-one percent of his bills have had both Democratic and Republican cosponsors, reflecting his longtime MO of building coalitions and getting things done, helping to make him one of the Senate’s most effective legislators.  In the previous Congress he was one of the youngest senators in recent times to rise to the level of President Pro Tem.  Following are some of Leahy’s reflections about the milestone:]

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
On Casting 15,000 Votes In The U.S. Senate
October 27, 2015

What a great opportunity and responsibility the Senate affords this senator from Vermont, day after day, to make things better for Vermonters, and for all Americans.  To strengthen our country and ensure its vitality on into the future.  To forge solutions in the unending quest to make ours a More Perfect Union.

Over the last 40 years, I have been blessed to be able to serve with some of the giants of the Senate: Mike Mansfield.  Howard Baker.  Walter Mondale.  Hubert Humphrey.  Bob Dole. Vermont’s own Bob Stafford.  And many, many others.   Marcelle and I have made close friendships, on both sides of the aisle.  Like Senator John Glenn and his wife Annie, Democrats, and Senator Cochran and Senator Lugar, both Republicans.  More than 370 Senators in all, from different walks of life and every corner of this Nation.  These different backgrounds, different stories, and different life experiences have helped make this institution the greatest deliberative body in the world. 

I cast my first vote in the Senate Chamber in 1975 on a resolution to establish the Church Committee.  The critical issues of the post-Watergate era parallel issues we face today – proof of the enduring fact that while the votes we cast today address the issues we face now, problems will persist, threats will continue, and improvements to the democracy we all revere can always be made.

As a newly elected senator I also had a front-row seat and a bit part in an historic effort, initiated by a Democrat – Senator Mondale of Minnesota – and a Republican – Senator Pearson of Kansas – to change the Senate’s earlier cloture rule, which had been abused for decades in thwarting the will of clear majorities of the American people on such crucial issues as civil rights reforms. 

That project might not sound difficult, but changing the way the Senate operates is something akin to trying to change the weather. 

Late – very late one night -- during that lengthy and difficult debate on that bill, Senator Mondale and Majority Leader Mike Mansfield enlisted me, a young whippersnapper, to play a role.  They asked me to stay on the floor one night around two in the morning to take the gavel as the presiding officer.  They expected that a lot of tight rulings were coming up.  But I felt the honor of the calling drain away as Leader Mansfield explained that they needed someone big, and who was still awake, to be in the chair for those rulings.  Sometimes a senator is no more than a conscious body in the right place at the right time.  

But votes among the 15,000 that I have been proud to cast on behalf of Vermonters come quickly to mind today.  Some specific to Vermont and some national and some global.  Writing and enacting the Organic Farm Bill, the charter for what has become a thriving $30 billion industry.  Stronger regulations on mercury pollution and combating the effects of global warming.  Emergency relief for the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Irene.  Adopting price support programs for small dairy farmers.    Fighting for the privacy and civil liberties of all Americans.  Supporting the Reagan-O’Neill deal to save Social Security.  Nutrition bills to help Americans below the poverty line.  Bipartisan – strongly bipartisan – campaign reform in McCain-Feingold.  Patent reform.  Reauthorizing and greatly expanding and strengthening the Violence Against Women Act.  Opposing the war in Iraq, a venture that cost so many lives, and trillions of taxpayer dollars. And I was proud to be the first Vermonter to cast a vote, in the Armed Services Committee, to end the War in Vietnam.

Every significant legislative success I have had has been achieved through the often slow process of methodically building bipartisan coalitions.  Our breakthrough in the Senate Judiciary Committee just last week in beginning to come to grips with criminal justice reform is a fresh example of this.  So was enactment this summer of the electronic surveillance reforms in our USA FREEDOM Act.

Legislative work in a democracy in large part is the art of compromise.  Compromise is essential in assimilating and digesting competing points of view and competing interests, which are all the more diverse in a large and heterogeneous nation like ours.  We can keep faith with our core values as we listen to the perspectives of others.  Insisting on our way, or no way at all, is a surefire recipe for stalemate, to the great detriment of the entire nation and the people we represent.  As Winston Churchill once said: “The maxim, 'nothing avails but perfection,' may be spelled shorter: PARALYSIS.”

Some measure of self-restraint is essential for a legislative body in a democratic republic like ours to function.  Louis Brandeis once said, “Democracy substitutes self-restraint for external restraint.  It is more difficult to maintain than to achieve.”  He was right.  Self-restraint in a democracy is not an easy virtue.

In the previous Congress, as President Pro Tem I had the pleasure each day of accompanying Chaplain Barry Black to the podium, as he offered the morning invocation.  I like to think – maybe it’s more that I like to hope – that some of his inspiration rubs off on us, at least a little, each day.  One morning years ago, for instance, he said:  “Give them (the senators) the stature to see above the wall of prideful opinion.”

Fifteen thousand votes.  And you know what?  There is so much more work to be done.  We should restore the bipartisan campaign finance reform that so many in this body – Republicans and Democrats – supported.  We should restore the historic and foundational Voting Rights Act.  We should continue to fight to support our farmers, who give us food security and are the very fabric of this country.  We should fight against government overreach in the wake of national security threats.  We should do more to support our veterans and their families.  We should expand education opportunity for all.  We should act to rebuild the American middle class and to offer helping hands to lift all Americans out of poverty.  We should fund our roads and bridges.  We should pass appropriations bills – each year, every year.  These are not insurmountable goals.  But it will take goodwill and bipartisan cooperation to achieve them.

We 100 senators are but the public face of an institution that is supported by thousands of hard-working staff.  Our office aides and policy experts -- my own, of course, among the best in the Senate.  The Capitol Police, the folks who keep order and help to showcase this great building to millions of tourists.  These bright and dutiful Senate pages in the well of this Chamber.  All of them are part of the Senate family.

The Senate at its best can be the conscience of the Nation.  I have seen that when it happens, and I marvel in the fundamental soundness and wisdom of our system every time it does.  But we cannot afford to put any part of the mechanism on automatic pilot.  It takes constant work and vigilance to keep our system working as it should for the betterment of our society and the American people. And we can only do it if we start working together.

It is easy for politicians to appeal to our worst instincts and to our selfishness.  Political leaders serve best when they appeal to the best in us, to lift our sights, summon our will and raise us to a higher level. 

After all these years, I still get a lump in my throat as I arrive at this building, and walk out on this Floor, knowing its history, and taking part in its next chapters.  Senators have come and gone, but I have had one partner through these 15,000 votes: Marcelle.  She, and our three wonderful children and five beautiful grandchildren, are the bedrock, and the flywheel, of our family.

I am so grateful to my fellow Vermonters for the confidence they have shown in me.  It is a measure of trust that urges me on, and which I will never betray, or take for granted.  Reflecting on the past 15,000 votes reminds me about the significance every time we vote, why I feel energized about what votes lie ahead and how we can keep making a difference.

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