U.S. Sen Mark Pryor, who lost his re-election bid, delivered his farewell address Monday to the United States Senate, reflecting on 12 years of service and encouraging bipartisanship among his colleagues to help restore confidence in the political system.
Text of Pryor’s address:
Mr. President, thank you. I have to begin today by saying one thing – to GOD be the glory. And I will finish with that, too, but first, please let me offer a few words.
Since election night, I have had many Arkansans come up to me and thank me for my service. I appreciate that but I need to thank them for letting me do what I have done for the last 12 years. It sounds like a cliché, but it isn’t – serving in the United States Senate has been the greatest honor of my life. It truly has been. I have loved it and always done it with a cheerful heart. As I go back to my beloved Arkansas, I have to thank the people of Arkansas for allowing me to work for you. But, I must confess, I will miss waking up every morning and thinking, “How can I make a difference for Arkansas and America today?”
Those years were momentous in so many ways for our country and for our world. I had a front row seat to the making of history – and I hope I made a little of it myself. On a personal level, those years were filled with family, friends, a remarkable staff, my Senate colleagues and a whole series of rich once-in-a-lifetime personal experiences.
The LORD has given me two wonderful children who are now in college. I know that many of you in this room met them when they were in elementary school. I am very proud, and their mother is very proud, of Adams and Porter Pryor and I am very excited about their future. GOD has also brought an old sweetheart back into my life – Joi – with whom I attended the 6th and 7th grades. So, when I say GOD has brought me joy, I mean it! Literally. Many of you know my parents. Of course, I would be nothing without them. David and Barbara Pryor have touched so many lives and they continue to do so. For the last 8 years, I have lived with my brother David and Judith and Hampton Pryor when here in Washington. I will always be grateful for their love and hospitality. Scott and Diane and Devin Pryor are in New York and they have been an inspiration for me as well.
My staff is simply awesome. I love them all and they are all now my family, too. There are too many to mention, but words like “talent”, “commitment”, “public service” and “effectiveness” all come to mind whenever their names come up. I have said this many times about my staff – they tell me not to say this, but I will say it one last time – they do 99% of the work and I get 99% of the credit. So, I want to acknowledge them for a job well done. They should all hold their heads high for the difference they have made. Mister President, I ask unanimous consent that a list of their names be submitted to appear in the record.
And my colleagues: what can I say about them that hasn’t been said before…or maybe I should say, that they haven’t said about themselves before…? Politics is about people – not just the people out there, but also the people in here. The people The People elect. I have served with some giants – Robert C. Byrd, Ted Kennedy, Daniel Inouye and Ted Stevens are at the top of the list – but the truth is that every single Senator I have served with is a giant. I have served with about 175 other Senators so there are too many to single out, but I have made life-long friendships here and we have done a lot of good things together. That is what I will remember – all the personalities, all the times when we came together to do the right thing and all the successes we have had together. While in the Senate, I have had more than 70 initiatives signed into law – and almost all of them have been bi-partisan. Mister President, if there is no objection, I’d like to submit that list for the record. I don’t do many press conferences but I have always been first in line to work with any and all of my colleagues to get things done.
The Senate is a special place. On a personal level, we talk about the Senate Family and it is a family. When people mention the Senate to me, I think of the other Senators or of legislation, but usually the first thing that comes to mind is the people who work here: the parliamentarians, the clerks, the doormen, the capitol police. I am appreciative to other Senators’ staff and the committee staff – and to my House colleagues. But I have always been mindful of the people who really make this place run – the janitorial staff, the folks in the restaurants, the maintenance guys, the painters, the carpenters, the tech people, and the list goes on and on and on. All of them contribute to making the Senate what it is. We work here together. We go through life and budget cuts and the changing political winds together. There is a bond that we all feel because we have been in the Senate…together.
Please give me just a few minutes of your time on this next point. As great an institution as the Senate is, the Senate is broken. And the American people know it. In fact, this is an area where the American people are way ahead of Washington. People all around our nation look at Washington and they shake their heads. We sometimes cannot see the forest for the trees because we get bogged down in personalities or perceived wrongs. This isn’t a Barack Obama problem or a George Bush problem. In fact, all recent presidents have gone through periods of deep unpopularity. This is an all-of-us problem. The political environment today grinds the trust and confidence out of our system. Let me tell you, that is not good for anybody.
The Republicans have a great opportunity in 2015 and 2016. They have convinced the voters that they are the party who can govern. Now, it is time to turn off the rhetoric and time to turn on the governing. In the United States Senate, if the new Republican majority will run the Senate the way they have said it should be run, then that would be a very good start. If we replay the tape over the last 2 years, we will hear Republican Senators time and again clamor for an open amendment process and for “regular order.” They were caustic when the Democratic majority changed the Senate rules – a change which I did not support – so let’s change the rules back to what they were. Let us govern in the way we know we ought to. And, Democrats should help them govern.
The rules aren’t the problem around here. We are the problem. All 100 of us. Hyper-partisanship has gotten the best of us. When things get too partisan, good judgment and common sense go out the window. The biggest and most serious problem facing our nation today is the dysfunction in our political system in Washington. America has incredible potential, but we cannot reach it unless Washington starts to work again – for all of us. If we are to continue to be the greatest nation on earth, we must work together. That is, after all, the American way. That is our history. This country was created. This country was forged. The Great Melting Pot is just that – a melting pot. E Pluribus Unum actually means something – “out of many, one.” We have many differing viewpoints, many philosophies, many backgrounds and many priorities. So, we have the pluribus part down pat. That’s not the problem. No, the challenge comes with the unum.
From my perspective, I see the ultimate question as a question of loyalty. Who are we loyal to? I just mentioned that we have many different viewpoints, philosophies and agendas, but if we have different loyalties then we are a divided nation. That will only lead to bad things. When each of us take our oath of office, we swear allegiance to the Constitution, not a party…nor a President…nor an interest group. We don’t swear allegiance to those who pay for our campaigns or to a certain agenda. We need to hash out our differences in the Senate in committee and on the floor and then hash them out with the House, but at the end of the day produce legislation. That is the essence of the legislative branch. We also must exert our authority as Article I, the first branch of government. We have checks and balances and we cannot provide the check or the balance if we are not functioning. Making this place function is part of our oath of office.
One thing we should all remember – the Senate is bigger than us. You don’t have to look any further than your own desk to see that. Look inside at the names carved in the drawer. I see Senator Gronna elected in 1911 from North Dakota. Names like Everett Dirksen, George Mitchell, David Pryor, Joe Lieberman and Carl Levin. These men molded history. These are Senators who shaped world events. These Senators were good stewards of what our Founding Fathers created for us. We should be, too. Each one of us.
The Father of our Country had a lot to say about partisanship. In his farewell address, he warns us of the “continual mischiefs” and “ill-founded jealousies” caused by parties. We should take heed. It is the greatest mistake of our time to allow these prophesied mischiefs and jealousies to divide us and damage the American political character.
Abraham Lincoln once famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” That is so true and his voice is echoing down through the halls of history – to us. If we are divided, we cannot stand…and we won’t stand a chance in the future. Let Lincoln’s words be a clarion call to all members of Congress and that includes all Senators – look at what is happening to us. The Congress is getting more liberal and more conservative. Look at the wild swings in regulations that have occurred from Clinton to Bush to Obama. No wonder we are seeing a sluggish economic recovery. Washington is creating uncertainty and instability and the private sector cannot make investments or take risks with confidence. It should be the opposite – the federal government should be fostering economic growth. This country needs Washington to function. And that starts in this chamber.
One thing I like to say in meetings is this: don’t just bring me the problem, bring me the solution. So, I have identified a big problem this afternoon so it is fair of you to ask me for the solution. Regardless of your political philosophy, bi-partisanship is the answer. Let’s take off the red jersey and take off the blue jersey and let us all put on the red, white and blue jersey. Our nation’s challenges – large and small – require us to get on the same team. Team USA.
Remember I mentioned Abraham Lincoln saying that a house divided against itself cannot stand? Well, he was actually quoting an itinerant Jewish rabbi who said that about 2,000 years ago. Jesus was right then and he is right now. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Good government is good politics and, although there are short-term gains to be had by political division, the long term consequences are bad for the country. It is time for the giants of the Senate to emerge.
Jesus also offered us some more advice. Probably the most practical bit of wisdom that he left us here in Congress is called the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If we applied that around here, about three-quarters of our problems would vanish. Poof.
Impossible? Not at all. Most of us claim to have a Judeo-Christian faith. So, why not apply what we know to be true? The first step in this process is another one of Jesus’s admonitions – forgive one another. I know each Senator from time to time feels betrayed or let down or slighted or somehow wronged. We need to forgive one another and let the healing begin.
I am not trying to combine religion with politics. But, I think almost everyone in the world agrees that Jesus is one of the greatest moral teachers of all time. He has a lot to say about how we should treat one another. There are and there will be 100 Senators. Healing the Senate and getting it to function as it did for two centuries is up to each individual Senator. That means doing the right thing, but also persuading others to do the right thing. It isn’t about us. It is about our country and our children and grandchildren. It is about being good stewards.
In closing, let me say I loved my time with you. I will always remember you with fondness and I will always be cheering for you. I expect great things from you because I know you are capable of doing great things. GOD bless the Senate and the work we do here and GOD bless the United States of America. I yield the floor.