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Extension of Remarks

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. ISAKSON. Mr. President, I wish to take just a minute to address 48 extraordinary hours in my life -- (Senate - June 28, 2005)


Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, first, I extend my thanks to the majority leader for his exceptionally generous remarks about my service here, and I also want to take this opportunity to thank him for the extraordinary leadership he has provided over the last 2 1/2 years. It has been a great pleasure working with the Senator from Tennessee almost every day as I try to assist him in conducting a chorus on our side that is occasionally slightly off key but, generally speaking, singing the same tune.

To my good friend and colleague from Kentucky, we share the same constituency. We have similar views on how America ought to be led. It has been a distinct pleasure, I say to my friend from Kentucky, to be associated with him, to enjoy his own electoral success, which has been quite extraordinary given the rather limited number of Republicans who have been elected to the Senate from our State. I thank him for his incredible, generous remarks.

Mr. President, I stand here today with a bit of disbelief. Forty-one years ago, as a young man long on desire but short on achievement and certainly devoid of connections, I met the man I considered to be one of the greatest Senators in Kentucky's history and certainly the greatest in my adult lifetime, John Sherman Cooper. I was 22 years old, had just graduated from the University of Louisville, and was intent--absolutely intent--on getting a Senate internship as the first step up what I hoped would be the ladder to a life of accomplishment.

Senator Cooper reached out and lifted me up to that first rung. He took me on as an intern in his office, and this was at a time when many Senators did not have internship programs at all. He gave me a chance to do that. I had the pleasure of being the only intern in the office and to stay for the entire summer--June, July, and August. So he became my boss, and he also became my mentor, and he became my friend. In fact, he was the first great man I ever met.

Now I stand in the same Senate Chamber as Senator Cooper, the longest serving Republican Senator in Kentucky's history, until yesterday. I am filled with gratitude for his helping hand, gratitude for Senator Cooper, and for a country where there are no limits to one's success.

Senator Cooper served for 7,479 days. My fellow Kentuckians elected him to this body five times. But Senator Cooper had a most unusual record of service. It was not unbroken, nor was he elected to a full 6-year term until his fifth race for the Senate. In fact, to serve his nearly 21 years he stood for election seven times. He won five and he lost two. He also lost a race for Governor before World War II. But he was never afraid to put himself before the people of Kentucky and be judged. He knew who he was and he knew where he stood. To borrow a phrase, he had the courage of his convictions.

To most Kentuckians, Senator Cooper was our emissary to places of power. I viewed him with simpler eyes. He was my hero. I learned more from him than from anyone else I have encountered in all of my years in public life. He taught me how to be a Senator. And he taught everyone who knew him the value of integrity, forthrightness, and moral character.

Senator Cooper stood fast for what he believed was right, no matter how large the opposition and no matter what the cost, even if that cost might mean his seat in this Chamber. When President Andrew Jackson said, ``One man with courage makes a majority,'' he was talking about John Sherman Cooper.

I saw that firsthand during my summer here in Washington in 1964. That was the summer of my internship in the Senator's office. It was also the summer of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and we all remember what a dramatic struggle that bill was.

Until that point, the Senate had been, for the most part, a graveyard for civil rights bills since reconstruction, courtesy of the filibuster. But as my generation was keen to say at the time, things were a-changing.

By mid-June of 1964, the Civil Rights Act had been debated in the Senate for 57 days. One Senator filibustered against it by speaking on the floor for over 14 hours. But not John Sherman Cooper.

Senator Cooper had advanced equality for every American citizen for his entire public life. In the 1930s, as county judge of Pulaski County in south central Kentucky, he felt moved to help his African-American constituents who were hit hard by the Great Depression just as much as his White ones who were equally devastated. He was known to take money out of his own pocket to buy a meal for a starving family of any color. In the 1940s, he was one of the first Kentucky circuit court judges to seat Blacks on juries.

In 1963, he tried to pass a bill barring discrimination in public accommodations. It was filibustered, just like all the others. He was determined that the 1964 Civil Rights Act would not meet the same fate.

Senator Cooper's office was besieged with mail from thousands who opposed the bill. Some just were not ready for this measure, although I am proud to say that things have come a long way since then.

Despite the considerable opposition back home, Senator Cooper never wavered. Steadfastly and with clear vision, he worked to get the votes to break the filibuster.

I must admit, seeing him stand his ground was a bit exciting for a young man. But I wondered how he could hold fast against such forceful opposition. So perhaps crossing the line of decorum between Senator and staff that existed in those days, I asked him one day: How do you take such a tough stand and square it with the fact that a considerable number of people who have chosen you have the opposite view? His answer is one I will always remember.

He said, ``I not only represent Kentucky, I represent the Nation, and there are times you follow, and times when you lead.''

From that one simple statement, I learned first-hand what I had never learned in school. Senator Cooper followed the Jeffersonian model of representative democracy: Put succinctly, the people elect you to exercise your best judgment.

He did not think a leader was someone who wet his finger and stuck it in the air to see where popular winds blew. He believed that even if voters don't agree with every position a leader might take, they would see that leader trying to do the right thing, they would respect that, and they would support him, or disagree with him and vote him out.

Senator Cooper believed that a leader should stand up for what he thought was right, regardless of the opposition, or the cost.

I think he stuck to this principle so firmly because he learned it the hard way. As I said, his career was filled with many peaks, but also a few valleys.

In 1939, he made his first bid for statewide office with a run for Governor, but did not even win the primary. He won his first statewide race in 1946, in a special election to fill a partial term in the U.S. Senate. But when he ran to hold the seat in 1948, the same electoral wave that propelled President Truman to a surprise second term, producing that famous ``Dewey Defeats Truman'' headline, also swept Senator Cooper and many other Republicans out.

It probably did not help that Kentucky's other Senator, Alben Barkley, the majority leader and a beloved Kentucky figure, was Truman's running mate.

Senator Cooper won his seat back in 1952, again for a partial term, when Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower sat atop the ticket. But he lost the seat in 1954, when he ran against the one Kentucky politician more popular than he, Alben Barkley, now a former Vice President running to return to the Senate.

He came back in 1956 to win his old Senate seat, and this time he held it until retirement in 1973. So he had three partial terms before ever being elected to a full term.

In 1966, his last election, he set a record for the largest margin of victory for a Republican in Kentucky history, a record that held for nearly 40 years until one of his former interns broke it in 2002.

Senator Cooper's peers on both sides of the aisle respected his wisdom and gravitas. But he was defeated by Senator Everett Dirksen for Republican leader in 1959, by a vote of 20 to 14--not exactly a cliffhanger as leadership races go.

Senator Cooper knew the bitterness of loss as well as the sweetness of victory. It is a sign of the respect he commanded, from both parties, that after every loss a new door opened, often as an important diplomatic assignment on behalf of the President of the United States.

After his defeat in 1948, President Truman asked him to serve as a delegate to the newly formed United Nations, alongside Eleanor Roosevelt. After his 1954 loss, President Eisenhower appointed him Ambassador to India, a crucial post, as this newly independent country was weighing whether to align with the free world or the Soviet bloc.

After his retirement from the Senate, President Ford called him back into public service to be America's first ambassador to East Germany. With all this diplomatic experience, I think Senator Cooper brought a perspective to foreign-policy issues that the Senate may have otherwise lacked.

As Senator Cooper's intern, I also had the pleasure of meeting his charming wife, Lorraine. Their marriage was proof of the old adage that opposites attract. Where he was soft-spoken, unpretentious, and humble, she was vivacious, full of good humor, and very much a member of high society. She threw many Washington parties, and in fact even though it was not a Washington party, I think I had my first glass of champagne courtesy of Lorraine Cooper.

Lorraine was not a native Kentuckian, and few would have mistaken her for one. When Senator Cooper ran in 1956, some of his aides recommended he campaign without her. He would hear none of it. Lorraine marched through every small, rural Kentucky town in her pinwheel hat and brocade dress, carrying a silk parasol and an emerald-studded cigarette holder, and they loved her.

At a diner in Berea, in central Kentucky, a woman admonished Lorraine for smoking at the lunch counter. ``Listen,'' Lorraine replied. ``I'm supporting the state's most valuable crop.''

The first Tennessean who was majority leader of the Senate, Howard Baker, likes to tell the story about Lorraine Cooper. Right after he was chosen Republican leader, the phone rang and it was Lorraine Cooper on the phone. She said: Howard, do you have time to see me?

He said: Well, of course.

So Lorraine Cooper got an appointment, came up to the Senate, walked into his office and sat down and she looked at him. She said: Now, Howard, do you have any money?

Senator Baker said: Yes.

She said: You need new clothes.

Then she got up and walked out.

Senator Cooper was a confidante to Presidents. He and Lorraine were the first dinner guests of John F. Kennedy after the latter's election to the Presidency in 1960. I know my good friend, Senator KENNEDY of Massachusetts, has said that his brother the President thought very highly of Senator Cooper, as did he.

Senator KENNEDY once said that Senator Cooper ``always brought light to the problem, rather than heat.'' What a wonderful description of this kind, thoughtful, wise and honorable man.

Let me add to Senator KENNEDY's description that Senator Cooper showed the same compassion and courtesy to the Kentucky farmer, to the Capitol Hill intern, or to the destitute of the Third World, as to the powerful and the mighty.

I know this from personal experience. One day in August 1965, I returned to Senator Cooper's office after completing my internship one year before. I was then a law student, having finished my first year at the University of Kentucky College of Law.

I was waiting to see Senator Cooper when suddenly he appeared and motioned for me to follow him. We walked together from his office in Russell 125 to the Capitol Rotunda, where I saw more people, and more security, than I had ever seen before. Then Senator Cooper told me what was happening: President Johnson was about to sign the Voting Rights Act that Senator Cooper had worked so hard and courageously to pass in 1965.

Sure enough, the President of the United States emerged. Every good biography of President Johnson describes him as a larger-than-life man, with an imposing physical presence. Let me testify right now that they are correct. President Johnson seemed to tower a head taller than anyone else in the room. He had a huge head, massive hands, and a commanding figure that immediately filled the Rotunda.

I was overwhelmed to witness such a moment in history, and moved that my hero, at the spur of the moment, had brought me to witness it.

I stayed close to Senator Cooper for the rest of his life. When I first won election to this body, Senator Cooper was retired and living in town. He invited me to stay at his home when I came to town to be sworn in. He would regularly come to my office to visit.

Harry Truman once said, ``If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.'' It doesn't sound like he had a very pleasant introduction to Washington. Mine could not have been more different. Senator Cooper gave me, as a new Senator, the gift of his 20-plus years of experience. We remained close, even as his health began to falter near the end of my first term.

John Sherman Cooper died in 1991 at 89 years old. Kentucky lost a leader, and the Senate lost a valued friend. Somewhere in a small town in Kentucky, a young boy or girl eager to enter public service lost a hero. I lost all three.

If not for John Sherman Cooper, I would not be here today. If not for him, all of the lives he touched--the farmer and the businessman, the indigent and the rich, the white and the black, the powerful and the least among us--would have a little less justice, and slightly narrower horizons.

I stand here 2 days past the 7,479 days that grand gentleman graced this floor. To a kid whose dreams and ambitions greatly outstripped his means of ascent, I cannot begin to describe how that feels. It's humbling, and bittersweet. He looms in my memory. But I think of him today just as I first did on that bright day in 1964, a giant among men and a role model for life.

Thank you, Senator Cooper. You gave me more than I can ever repay.

I yield the floor.

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