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

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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 
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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.

                          ____________________