Madam President, I rise today to address this Chamber for possibly the last time as the senior Senator from the great State of Texas.
I have to say it is an ironic note that if I had given my farewell address last week, there would have been so much joy in the halls of the Capitol, ringing with the laughter and the anticipation of our season's happiest time. But in just one weekend, a sadness has set in with the news of a massacre of innocent children in Newtown, CT, followed by the loss of our wonderful colleague, Senator Danny Inouye.
So I will leave this extraordinary institution and experience with a heavy heart for those who have been lost in the last few days.
I want to thank the people of Texas for asking me to represent them in Washington. I want to thank the many people who have served on my staff for almost 20 years. I have to say I am touched that both benches on both sides of this room are filled with my staff members who have been so hard-working and so loyal and have produced so much in 20 years for our State and Nation, and I thank them.
I want to thank my colleagues and all the people who work here, the Senators, but also those who work behind the scenes to make our lives as good as they can be with the hard hours we all have; those who keep our buildings safe and clean, who work in the libraries, the shops, the cafeterias, and who guide tens of thousands of tourists through our Nation's beautiful Capitol each year.
I want to thank my husband Ray and our two children Bailey and Houston. They are 11 years old now, and so many of my colleagues who were here when I started bringing my children as babies have watched them grow up. The Senate isn't easy on families. They have sacrificed so I could serve the people of Texas, and I am grateful for their patience and generosity. They have loved coming to the Capitol—11 years for the children and 20 for my husband Ray. And I know my children's fondest memory, if I ask them what do they remember most about visits to the Capitol, is playing soccer in the Russell Building's hallways in the evenings when the coast is clear.
I would not be here today if it were not for my parents who gave me the gifts of strong values, unwavering support, and education to be whatever I wanted to be. I must say that my parents were surprised when they saw what I wanted to be. They would never have thought that their daughter, growing up in LaMarque, TX—a town of 15,000 good people—would think she could be a United States Senator. We had a wonderful public school system, and I am proud to say I am a product of public education. My public schools in LaMarque—which were excellent—and my University of Texas and University of Texas Law School prepared me to be what I could be.
It has been a privilege to walk these halls in the Capitol of the world's greatest and longest serving democracy.
I think back to the days that stand out in our memories. September 11, 2001, of course, is the one none of us will ever forget. We know exactly where we were the minute we knew there was a terrorist attack on America. And though we suffered a horrific attack, the strength, resilience, and extraordinary acts of kindness of the American people showed the world that attempts to destroy our way of life would never succeed. On that day, no one could get in or out of Washington and many communications networks were inoperable. So when the Pentagon was hit and the Capitol was evacuated, my staff and I walked one block to my home on Capitol Hill. Just as an example, the husband of my office manager worked in the section of the Pentagon that had been hit, so we were on the one phone that we had to hospitals, the police, anyone we thought might be able to tell us if he was safe. Thankfully, he was fine. But there were so many who waited for hours, who called hospitals, to hear from their loved ones. Sometimes the news was a relief and sometimes they waited in vain for good news.
I have to say it was an incredible moment when the Senators who could find each other, wherever they had gone from the Capitol, finally gathered late afternoon in the Capitol Police headquarters to talk to our leaders who had been taken to an undisclosed location. They said, We don't want anyone to come, but we were going to the steps of the Capitol to hold a press conference. We don't want anyone there because we don't know if it is safe, but we want to tell the press that we are going to open for business tomorrow and do the Nation's business, even though there was suspicion that the Capitol had been on the terrorists' list of targets.
Every single one of the Senators—and I think there were 60 to 70 who had made it to the Capitol Police headquarters—did come to the Capitol steps, as did Members of the House of Representatives. After the press conference was held by the leaders, all of the several hundred who had gathered spontaneously broke out singing ``God Bless America.'' That was a time that said this is the strength of our country and we will not be defeated.
As I exit the Senate, I am aware that we are divided as a legislative body and as a country. I do not think we have different goals—not here, and not in America—but we do have different ways of reaching them. Congress suffers a great deal of criticism for partisan acrimony. But while we may disagree politically and air our opposition in this Chamber, it is the conversation behind the scenes that cements and defines our relationships. I will leave the Senate knowing I have worked with men and women of great patriotism, intellect, and heart on both sides of the aisle.
I wish to thank my colleagues, Democrat and Republican, for the many wonderful years working together. We seconded one another at times and engaged in rigorous debate in others. Yet the American people should know that either way, we are collegial and we all understand that our States have different needs and there will be differences in priorities. But in the Senate, an adversary today will be an ally tomorrow. It is a rare occasion for acrimony to turn personal.
It would be my parting hope that this collegiality will not be lost. Protecting the rights of the minority has assured that every Senator's voice is heard and every State represented is heard, as intended by our Constitution. Open debate and open amendments are what differentiate the Senate from the House.
When our committees function, we pass bills in vigorous markups, we put the bills in shape for floor debate. If they don't go through committees and are not allowed floor amendments, the quality of the legislation suffers and mistakes are often made.
Let me give you some examples of how relationships can produce results.
During the anthrax scare, the Hart Building was closed for a month, which made it very difficult, of course, for Senators based there to do their work. So Senator Dianne Feinstein's staff joined in my offices in the Russell Building. My chief of staff at the time gave them full access. One of Senator Feinstein's staff members commented on that: A Republican office giving Democrats free rein? But my chief of staff said, They had full access because we trusted them.
Senator Feinstein and I have teamed up to pass important legislation—the Hutchison-Feinstein Overseas Basing Commission—that studied the training capabilities and costs of overseas military bases to determine their value compared to American bases. This resulted in consolidation and closures that brought thousands of troops back to the United States where training and rapid deployment were superior. We passed the Feinstein-Hutchison Breast Cancer Research Stamp bill that, through voluntary purchase, has raised $72 million for breast cancer research. That was Senator Feinstein's idea. And Senator Feinstein and I took the Amber Alert for abducted children nationwide, which has accounted for rescuing almost 600 children since its passage.
I remember when Senator Hillary Clinton stopped by with her chief of staff to wish me happy birthday the first year she was in the Senate. It was just a few months after she had arrived, and my staff was surprised—and possibly a bit star-struck—to see the former First Lady walk into the room. We went on to work together on Vital Voices, a global partnership dedicated to supporting and empowering women leaders and social entrepreneurs in emerging economies. We also teamed up with Senators Mikulski and Collins to assure public schools had the option to offer single-sex schools and classes, after I visited with Secretary of Education Rod Paige the Young Women's Leadership Academy in the Harlem area of New York City—one of the first and most successful pilot projects for girls' public schools, with which I know the Presiding Officer is very familiar.
I remember the time I invited Senator Barbara Mikulski to Texas, because she and I have worked together supporting NASA for so many years, and this year she has been chair and I ranking member of the Appropriations subcommittee funding NASA. We went to visit the Johnson Space Center because I wanted her to see the great work they are doing there. Then I took her to the Houston rodeo because I wanted her to see the Texas culture. Well, I am not sure the Senator who grew up in the inner city of Baltimore knew exactly how people would dress at the rodeo, but suffice it to say there were a lot of rhinestones and cowboy boots and big hair and big hats. Senator Mikulski whispered to me during this time, Kay, if we were here Monday and we went to the Chamber of Commerce, would these people look like this? And I said, Yeah, pretty much.
Senator Mikulski and I also teamed up to pass the Homemaker IRA, to make sure our stay-at-home moms and dads would have the same opportunity for retirement security savings that those who work outside the home have, and it has been a huge success. We also cosponsored the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. She is a skilled legislator and a dear friend.
Senator Jay Rockefeller has been an outstanding chairman of the Commerce Committee. We don't always agree, but as the lead Democrat and Republican we have worked hard to reach consensus, and we have gotten things done—the FAA bill, started the planning for the next generation of air traffic control systems; the highway bill; the NASA reauthorization that ensured we would keep the focus on our space program that has been instrumental in our national security and economic development, with tremendous help from Senator Bill Nelson, who is the only one among us today who has actually been into space.
In a Congress that has been marked by little progress, we have found a way forward. For some, that might not be something to take pride in. But we have served the American people by passing legislation that keeps the country running, and I am very proud of what we have been able to accomplish. Our Commerce Committee has been one of the most productive in the whole Congress. And I count him as a friend.
Maria Cantwell and Harry Reid and I have worked to address the issues of our State's taxpayers to have the same deductions as those who have income taxes, though we do not, and that parity has been so important.
Leader Mitch McConnell has guided our party and our conference through the past 6 years.
He is a gifted leader and one whom I have witnessed time and time again come up with strategies that have gotten things done in the right way.
Senator Jon Kyl and I have worked on immigration and death tax relief. Senator Lamar Alexander and I have championed the America Competes Act, so we would continue the priority of scientific research and that we would never fail to invest in research because it is the sequel for our economy.
I am very pleased the distinguished ranking member of the Judiciary Committee and the Finance Committee—Finance Committee now and Judiciary before—is also on the Senate floor. He has been a wonderful friend to me, helping me in my very first election when he was the rock star at my fundraisers in Texas. I thank Senator Orrin Hatch for his long membership in this body.
I have had the wonderful, good fortune to serve with two colleagues from my home State. First, Senator Phil Gramm, who was a wonderful mentor and colleague. They broke the mold after Senator Gramm. We always enjoyed our school rivalry—he being a Texas Aggie and me being a University of Texas alum—they like to call them hopeless Tea-sips, but we are proud Longhorns.
I have had a great relationship with my other Senator, who is soon going to be the senior Senator from Texas, John Cornyn. John Cornyn, I am very pleased to say, is going to get the opportunity that I have had all these years when people trip up and introduce me as the senior citizen of Texas. I turn that mantle over to my colleague, Senator Cornyn.
I am very proud he is going to be the deputy Republican leader in the next Congress. I know he is going to be a steady hand at the wheel as we try to steer the ship of state in the right direction. He has proven time and again that his steady leadership is the one that rises to the top. I thank him for being on the floor as well today.
In fact, I want to praise our entire Texas congressional delegation. We call it Team Texas. It is a spirit that holds our delegation together, Republicans and Democrats. I have noted that there are those in Washington who think Texans are a little too loud, and we have a little too much fun, but I can assure everyone that Team Texas' hearts are as big as our mouths.
It has been a long and wonderful 19-plus years. We hit the ground running, and we have never stopped. When I was first elected in a special election in 1993, we had two—actually four full planeloads of people flying up for my swearing in. Because it was a special election, we filled the entire gallery. Those rowdy Texans were so happy to watch my little swearing in ceremony. It was a great day for me, as well as my wonderful and loyal friends and supporters.
I started having weekly constituent coffees that first year because there were so many visitors from Texas and I wanted to make sure at least there was one time every week that any Texan who was here who wanted to see me could come and visit and was welcome. So every Thursday morning around 9 or 9:30, the person in charge of this first effort was the wife of a three-star general who volunteered her time in our offices. I think it was as much her handling of the event as the idea itself that has led many other Senators to take up this practice and get a chance to always visit with their constituents at least once a week if they were otherwise going to committee meetings or having to do their work and were not able to see everyone. I want to thank Gert Clark for putting her stamp on our Senate hospitality.
Some of the most powerful moments that will stay with me forever were spent with our members of the military. Visiting with them where they are in harm's way across the world is one of the most moving of all experiences. I will never forget the first time, in the early 1990s, flying into Sarajevo in an undercover C-130 that was disguised as a Red Cross delivery of peas—2,000 pounds of peas that we actually had on the C-130—and I have to say my good friend, Danny Inouye, was on that trip with us, as I look over at his empty desk with the white flowers, as was Senator Ted Stevens. We flew in to see our troops in Bosnia.
Later I went back to Bosnia to spend Easter with our troops where we had the most beautiful Easter sunrise service I have ever attended or ever will. It was in an open-air hangar with our service men and women who were deployed there. For the first time it was a Texas Guard unit that was in command of the base, and it was the first time since the Korean War that we had a Guard unit in command of an operation overseas. They did a great job, which led to many Guard units from other States also to take command of bases and operations.
I flew out of Baghdad—this was in the last few years—in another C-130 when there were no lights on the plane and no lights on the runway to make sure there was no clue to the enemy that we were leaving when they were firing missiles around the airport. Or the times I had visited Afghanistan, where the first time I visited with Senator McCain, our troops were sleeping on cots. There were probably 600 or 700 cots in an old Russian-built aircraft hangar, before anything had been brought in for living quarters for our troops. All of their belongings were under their cots, and that was all they had for that first mission into Afghanistan.
I have always been one who has such great respect and gratitude for our men and women in uniform. They put their lives on the line and pledge to give their all for our freedom. The power to wage war is an enormous one, and the weight of its responsibility should rest heavy on our shoulders.
I leave this Chamber proud to have worked to assure our men and women in uniform have the best training, the best equipment, and the quality of life to do the job we are asking them to do. Because of my deep respect for our Armed Forces, my first choice of committees when I came in 1993 was Armed Services, and I was honored to be the first woman in 20 years to chair a subcommittee on Armed Services. The woman before me was Margaret Chase Smith. As the only woman to chair the Senate Republican Policy Committee, I was pleased to be a part of Republican leadership for many years—again, the first since Margaret Chase Smith.
When I was first running for office I said I wanted to make things better for our sons and open for our daughters. I leave the Senate knowing that January will see the greatest number of female Senators in our Nation's history. I know the torch will be carried on by the next generation.
It is no secret that Texans have a particular sense of state pride. I am no exception. I have deep Texas roots. The Senate seat that I hold first belonged to Thomas Jefferson Rusk, my great-great-grandfather's law partner and good friend. They both signed the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico in 1836. That history reminds me every day that we must protect the freedom that so many of our ancestors fought to produce and retain. My colleague sitting on the Senate floor is in the Sam Houston line, and that is a proud line too. Thomas Jefferson Rusk and Sam Houston were the Commander in Chief and Secretary of War of the Texas Army when we fought for independence. It is so fitting that those two were our first two selected Senators when Texas became a State in 1845.
Each summer I take a week to tour one part of Texas on a bus. It has been so much fun. We did the first one, which was the El Camino Real de los Tejas that we had just passed a bill to designate as a national historic trail, and we went from the Louisiana border to the Mexican border. It took us a week on the bus. It was so great that we have done it every year since in a different part of Texas. It is my State staff's favorite week of the year as well.
I am one of the few to have had the opportunity and the absolute pleasure to visit all 254 counties in Texas. I have met Texans from all walks of life who have opened their homes, their businesses, and shared their stories.
I will be sad to leave, but it is time. I believe strongly that we should keep the lifeblood of Congress pumping. It is good to have new waves of legislators come in with fresh ideas and perspectives after every election. But while I believe that new generations should invigorate Congress, I also want to say a few words of praise for experience.
Knowing the history of an issue is essential to monitor progress. Knowing what an agency should be doing, knowing what was put in law and why allows for better oversight. The expertise of our longer serving Members is an essential part of good governance.
I hope some of the priorities I have championed will continue. Investment in science, technology, and higher education and encouraging more young people to study science, technology, engineering, and math, known as STEM, will make sure we are bringing forward those young minds with the creativity and the engineering background to create the economies for the future. It is so important. This has been the lifeblood of our economy, and it must continue.
Saving the manned space exploration program and ensuring the long-term future of NASA is an essential generator for our economy. Ensuring that stay-at-home moms and dads who worked so hard raising children and contributing to the community have spousal IRAs to save for retirement, and easing the marriage penalty by doubling the standard deduction—these are a few of the things I hope will continue to be championed as I leave.
It has been such an honor to serve in the Senate. I leave with the hope that the values that built America into the greatest Nation on Earth will be protected so that future generations will have the same opportunities we have had in this great country, opportunities for which our forebears sacrificed so much.
I yield the floor.