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Public Statements

Tribute to Senators

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

TRIBUTE TO SENATORS -- (Senate - October 02, 2008)


Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, with the end of a session fast approaching, it is time once again to say farewell to some of our favorite colleagues in the Senate. And today that includes our friend, the senior Senator from Nebraska.

Chuck Hagel's long record of service is well known to many. What some may not know is that that record of service long predates his time in Washington.

Responsibility was thrust upon Chuck at an early age. A fourth generation Nebraskan, Chuck became the man of the house at the young age of 16 after the death of his father.

And he accepted the responsibility head on, working hard to support his mom and younger brothers.

But even then working hard was nothing new to Chuck Hagel, who had taken his first job delivering papers at the age of 7.

As a young man, Chuck answered the call and volunteered to serve in Vietnam, and Chuck's fellow soldiers turned to him for leadership.

One of the soldiers who served right alongside Chuck was his younger brother Tom. By coincidence, the Hagel brothers ended up in the same unit and rode together in the same armored personnel carrier.

In a defining act of heroism, Chuck once dragged his brother out of that carrier after it had struck a landmine and burst into flames. The blast left Chuck badly burned and ruptured both his eardrums. Yet despite serious injuries to himself, he brought his brother through enemy fire to safety.

After returning home from Vietnam, Chuck worked his way through college and got his first taste of Washington working for Omaha Congressman John McCollister.

Later, Chuck would show his drive and his leadership in the business world. Taking a risk, he sank his entire savings into a business venture that eventually paid off.

And then, 12 years ago, he took another gamble. And we are glad he did.

A political newcomer, Chuck defeated Nebraska's sitting State attorney general in a primary, and then a popular incumbent governor in the general election for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

I will note, Mr. President, that the governor he beat is now the junior Senator from Nebraska. And in a sign of Chuck's character and commitment to the people of Nebraska, the two former rivals have worked in tandem on many issues for the good of the people of their State.

I know Senator Nelson would agree that Senator Hagel's departure is a great loss for this Chamber and for the people of the Cornhusker State.

Chuck's advocacy for the people of Nebraska was reaffirmed 6 years ago when the voters sent him back to Washington for a second term.

In a sign of his effectiveness and his popularity, he won reelection to the Senate by the biggest margin Nebraska has ever seen.

The one-time political newcomer trounced his opponent, winning 83 percent of the vote--and all 93 counties in the State.

In two terms in the Senate, Chuck has earned the respect of his colleagues and risen to national prominence as a clear voice on foreign policy and national security. He has consistently fought to expand free trade, particularly with Vietnam.

Chuck's stature as a leading voice in foreign affairs has earned him a reputation, in just 12 years in the Senate, as one of Nebraska's great statesmen. This is a tribute to his intelligence, hard work, and devotion to a country that he has served his entire adult life.

Elaine and I have enjoyed getting to know Chuck, Lilibet, and their family over the years. I know Chuck's a proud dad. And his kids should be proud of their dad.

Chuck, it has been an honor, and a pleasure, to serve with you. We all wish you well in whatever future endeavors you choose to take on.

I am confident that, even though Nebraska is known as a flat State, whoever succeeds Charles Timothy Hagel in the U.S. Senate is going to have a very steep hill to climb.


Mr. President, one of the great sticking points for the framers of the U.S. Constitution was how small States would be represented in the new Government.

In the end, the compromise that gave small and big States equal representation in the U.S. Senate broke the logjam, paved the way for ratification, and became one of the most distinctive--and best--features of our democracy.

It has ensured that the interests of all Americans, including those who live in remote or secluded corners of the country, are felt in the halls of power. And, throughout the life our country, it has meant that men and women who understood those interests and who could communicate them with clarity and purpose would always have a central place in the U.S. Senate.

For nearly two decades, Larry Craig has been that person for the people of Idaho--a fierce advocate and an effective legislator who understands the needs of his State, and always delivered.

The grandson of a homesteader, Senator Craig was born on a ranch north of Boise and attended public schools. He graduated from the University of Idaho in 1969 and may have been its most prominent alumnus before the world got to know the current Governor of Alaska a few weeks ago.

After college, Senator Craig served in the National Guard, worked as a farmer-rancher, and was elected to the Idaho senate in 1974. Seven years later, Idaho voters sent him to Washington.

After a decade in the House, they sent him to the Upper Chamber. And he has been fighting their battles here in the Senate ever since.

One of his favorite targets over the years are the Western lands policies favored by big city environmentalists but opposed by the native Idahoans who cherish and live off the land.

He fought revisions of the Mining Act of 1872, and a Clinton-era proposal to introduce grizzlies into Idaho's Bitterroot Range.

Over the years, he's fought anyone who tried to impose rules and restrictions on land use that natives oppose. Those battles heated up in the wake of the Supreme Court's 2005 Kelo ruling. And over the last 3 years, he's fought hard to protect the private property rights of farmers and ranchers, who have been left especially vulnerable by the Court's Kelo decision.

Senator Craig took a lead role in the Farm Bill debate over the last 2 years, making sure it included funds to support specialty crop producers in Idaho, one of the Nation's top producers of specialty crops, and about one-third of the Nation's potatoes. And he played a vital role in smoothing the way for the bill's final passage earlier this summer.

As chairman of the Public Lands and Forests Subcommittee, Senator Craig fought to reform the Nation's Forest Service, which drastically reduced the timber harvest on public lands during the Clinton Administration, cutting into the livelihoods of Idahoans in small towns across the State.

For municipalities that couldn't recoup the losses from lost timber revenue, Senator Craig reached across the aisle and worked with Senator Wyden to find compensation that helped them cope. It was a characteristic gesture of bipartisan work, and one he's employed repeatedly over the years.

He's been a strong defender of free trade.

As chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, he sponsored a bill that would enable seniors to buy State-approved long-term care policies.

And he has been a good friend to our Nation's veterans, serving as chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee.

A new tower at Boise's airport would not have been built without Senator Craig's help. Neither would the new VA clinic that opened in Caldwell just last year. In a long Senate career, Senator Craig has fought with clarity and conviction for Idahoans. Along the way, he has been a friend of veterans, children seeking a home through adoption, and thousands of American farmers and ranchers, particularly those in the Pacific Northwest.

And, along with three other Senate colleagues who've moved on, he entertained us as a member of the Singing Senators.

With Senator Craig's retirement, the last of the Singing Senators will have left the building.

And the people of Idaho will have lost one of their greatest champions.


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