December 7, 2016 - Issue: Vol. 162, No. 176 — Daily Edition114th Congress (2015 - 2016) - 2nd Session
TRIBUTE TO PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA; Congressional Record Vol. 162, No. 176
(Senate - December 07, 2016)
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[Pages S6767-S6769] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] TRIBUTE TO PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA Mr. REID. Madam President, I apologize to Senator Boxer and Senator Mikulski. They are going to give their final speeches, but I would like to have this opportunity to speak a few words about President Obama. Of course I will be here for their full speeches. It is hard to imagine today, but it wasn't that long ago that Barack Obama was a little-known Illinois legislator with a very unusual name. I still remember the first time I heard that name. I was in the House gym, where Members congregated, and one of the people I shared the room with was Abner Mikva, a longtime Illinois Congressman, an appellate court judge, and President Clinton's chief legal officer. I had known that Republican Senator Peter Fitzgerald decided not to run for reelection after one term. Judge Mikva turned to me and said he knew the perfect person to fill that open seat. I said: Who could that be? He said: Barack Obama. I said: What? He said: Barack Obama. I said: Who? What kind of a name is that? He said: He is one of the most talented people I have ever met in all of my years. That said a lot to me, even though at that time I smiled and left the room. It didn't take long, though, before I understood what Abner Mikva said to me. Barack Obama won that election in the Senate. He came from nowhere, a man with an unusual name, but once he was here, it was obvious he was the real deal. His ability to communicate was, and is, stunning. I can remember one of the first floor speeches he gave here in the Senate on George Bush's policy regarding the Middle East war. It was eloquent, thoughtful, powerful. I was so impressed that following his speech--there had been a quorum call--his seat was way back there, and I [[Page S6768]] walked up to him and I said--he was sitting, I was standing looking over him, and I said: Senator, that was really terrific. That was really good. I will never forget his response. Without hesitation, without any braggadocio, no conceit, but with humility, he looked up to me and said: I have a gift. It wasn't a boast; it was a fact. I have never met anyone with the ability to communicate as well as Barack Obama. Whether it is in his writing, speaking to huge crowds of tens of thousands of people or small crowds, or someone on a one-on-one basis, he is without equal when it comes to communicating. His reputation was well known even before he came to the Senate. He had written a book--a bestseller called ``Dreams from My Father''--a decade before arriving here in the Senate. Like his 2006 book--also a bestseller--called ``The Audacity of Hope,'' this book was full of lyrical and insightful writing. In ``Dreams from My Father,'' he outlined the remarkable story of his life we have all come to know. Born in Kenya in faraway Africa was his father. His mother was from Kansas. He was raised by his grandparents in Hawaii. His mother and grandparents set positive examples for him. They pushed him to always do better, to be the man he was born to be. That upbringing would serve him well. Barack Obama went to some of the most elite schools in the world. He was an undergraduate at Columbia, where, of course, he was an honor student, then Harvard Law School. He graduated with distinction. He made history as the first African American to be elected president of the Harvard Law Review. Just to be a member of the Harvard Law Review-- having gone to law school myself--is significant, but he was the No. 1 guy in that very prestigious law school. Even then, his reputation for bringing people together and his gift of communication were renowned. He continued to excel after law school. He became a professor of constitutional law at one of America's great law schools. He became a community organizer, as he has spoken about a lot. He became an Illinois State senator before giving one of the most dramatic convention speeches in American history at the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston. Throughout it all, his ability to communicate and connect with people fueled his ascendancy. Those skills made Barack Obama a terrific Senator, and they have greatly benefited our country over the past 8 years. In just a few weeks, Barack Obama will finish his term as the 44th President of our great country. He will be leaving office. I don't know if I am leaving with him or if he is leaving with me. I guess I leave a few days before he does, but we are leaving together. I cannot think of a better person with whom to leave public service than Barack Obama. For 8 years I was his point man, and it has been an honor and an effort of pleasure. What this man accomplished, despite unprecedented obstruction from the Republicans, is remarkable. History will remember President Barack Obama's many accomplishments. I don't want to get the Presiding Officer in trouble, but it was because of her and two other Republican Senators that his first congressional session was remarkably historic. We wanted to do more, but this good woman presiding over the Senate today said: Enough is enough. We had to retract some of the things we wanted to do. It was hard, but I do say this: It would not have happened but for the Presiding Officer. President Obama saved the country from economic collapse, ushering in a new era of growth. Since 2010, the economic recovery has added more than 16 million private sector jobs. Median household incomes have risen significantly. The unemployment rate is now 4.6 percent. In some States, like the State of Nevada, it is more than 14 percent. President Obama brought the American auto and manufacturing industries back from the brink of collapse with unique programs--Cash for Clunkers--and more than 800,000 new manufacturing jobs since 2010. The auto industry has added almost 700,000 jobs since 2009. Domestic production of automobiles doubled from below 6 million units per year to 12 million per year in 2015. President Obama brought health care to tens of millions of Americans through the Affordable Care Act. Every day, we learn how important this bill has been. We heard from the very conservative American Hospital Association today that doing away with ObamaCare would bankrupt the hospital industry. We would lose over the next few years almost $200 billion. Through the Affordable Care Act, 21 million more Americans now have affordable health care. The uninsured rate is at an all-time low, and 92 percent of Americans now have coverage. Insurance companies cannot deny coverage and charge more to cover people with preexisting conditions. How many of us have gone out to our home States and had people with tears in their eyes say: You know, Debbie has been sick since she was a little girl with diabetes, and now, for the first time in her life, she can have health insurance. Insurance companies can't discriminate anymore against anyone because of their gender. All women were discriminated against before. Every American with insurance has access to preventive care without cost sharing. That means no copays for immunizations, cancer screenings, contraceptive coverage for women, diabetes screenings, or blood pressure and cholesterol tests. President Obama held Wall Street accountable. He signed into law the most comprehensive Wall Street and financial reform legislation since the Great Depression. His administration established a new watchdog to help protect consumers from unfair financial practices. He signed legislation into law that protects homeowners from mortgage fraud. President Obama took more action to protect our planet from a changing climate, including the historic Paris Agreement. I met yesterday with Native Alaskans. It was scary to talk to a Native Alaskan woman. In her town of 800, people are having trouble getting in and out of the town. She told me the animals are confused because the seasons are changing. The caribou have traveled for 20,000 years, we believe, 3,000 miles to migrate every year. They walk in single file, not in large herds jammed together. She said they are having such difficulty. They used to be able to walk over the ice. They can't. There is no ice. They have to swim. President Obama made the largest investment ever in renewable energy. He tripled wind power and increased solar power by 30 times, creating more than 200,000 jobs in solar alone, with hundreds of thousands more jobs in the next few years. President Obama protected more than 260 million acres of public lands and waters. That includes more than 700,000 acres in Nevada with one order that he signed called the Basin and Range National Monument, a place where John Muir came looking around for special places in America. He camped in hills in the Basin and Range. Hopefully, some day every Senator can go to this magnificent place in the desert. It has taken 40 years to build. One man has done it, a famous artist by the name of Michael Heizer. It is called the City. It is stunning. When I talk about 40 years, it wasn't work done on weekends. It was days, weekends, overtime, and large contingencies of people he directed. This magnificent thing in the middle of the desert is now protected forever. President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have made our Nation's children a top priority. In 2010, President Obama signed a bill into law to fight child hunger and improve school meals to ensure children receive the nutrition they need to have healthy, successful futures. President Obama made strides on education. Our Nation's high school graduation rate is the highest in the history of our country. He reformed student loan programs, increased Pell grants, made student loan repayment more affordable, and expanded loan forgiveness for graduates who enter public service professions. President Obama granted deferred action to immigrant youth who would have qualified under the DREAM Act, bringing nearly 800,000 young people out of the shadows. President Obama made our country more inclusive. He signed the repeal of [[Page S6769]] don't ask, don't tell. He signed Executive orders protecting LGBT workers. Americans are now free to marry the person they love, regardless of their gender. As Commander in Chief, President Obama brought bin Laden to justice. These are just a few aspects of President Obama's storied legacy, and it is still growing--what a record. It is a legacy of which he should be satisfied. America is better because of this good man being 8 years in the White House. I am even more impressed by who he is as a person than who he is as President. He is a man of integrity and honesty. I have learned so much from him. I have never heard Barack Obama denigrate anyone, ever. There have been times he could have. Perhaps, I thought a negative word should have been said and I suggested that to him, but he would never take it. No, he wouldn't do that. That is Barack Obama. Above all, I admire the attention he has given his family. He may be President of the United States, but nothing gets in the way of his family. He is a terrific husband to Michelle and an outstanding father to Sasha and Malia. He arrives home for dinner with his family virtually every night he is in Washington. He goes to their plays and games. President or not, he is a husband and a father. His devotion extends to his staff as well, and he has had a terrific staff working for him. I can't mention all of them, but I will mention his present Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough. He and I have a very close relationship. Close relationships come with a lot of difficulty sometimes. It has been tough, but we tried to work through it together. Pete Rouse is one of the nicest people I have ever known. He also worked with the President very closely. He was his chief of staff as Senator, and, of course, a chief adviser when he was in the White House. Rahm Emanuel, now the leader of Chicago, IL, was former Chief of Staff, and is currently mayor of Chicago. He is a man known for his bluntness and his productivity as a Member of Congress and as Chief of Staff. Alyssa Mastromonaco was former Deputy Chief of Staff and I hope that I had something to do with the romance that wound up with her marrying my chief of staff, David Krone. These are just a few of the incredible people I have had the pleasure of working with. They are all wonderful. Then there is President Obama's Cabinet--a Cabinet of quality. That includes my friend, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, a wonderful man and a terrific public servant, a man of substance like no other ever known. After 8 years leading the country, President Obama is leaving office on a high point. When he first took office, our country was in an economic free fall and hemorrhaging jobs. Now the country is experiencing the longest streak of private sector job growth ever. We have the lowest unemployment rate in nearly a decade. After 8 years of President Obama, we are now as a country on a sustainable path to fight climate change and grow renewable energy sources. We are more respected around the world. We reached international agreements to curb climate change, stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and we are on the path to normalizing relations with our neighbor Cuba. Our country has made significant strides in nearly every way. There is no doubt that the United States is better now than we were 8 years ago, and we have Barack Obama to thank for that. Thank you, President Obama, for being the person you are. ____________________