Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (D-KY) just bid an emotional farewell to his friend and colleague, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who is retiring after announcing in 2018 that he would not run for re-election.
An emotional McConnell reminisced about his half-century friendship with Alexander as he spoke from the Senate floor Wednesday, the Daily Caller reported. He lauded Alexander as “one of the most brilliant, most thoughtful and most effective legislators any of us have ever seen.”
The pair met in 1969 through Alexander’s mentor Sen. Howard Baker (R-TN) who either “suspected our paths might cross again later or he just saw two serious young guys in need of some livelier social lives,” McConnell said. “Now this may shock you, Mr. President, but I’m afraid young Lamar Alexander and young Mitch McConnell did not go crazy and paint the town red. But I’ll take a five decade friendship any day.”
McConnell went on to describe the many achievements of his friend. He remarked how Alexander championed causes with bipartisan support during his 18 years in the Senate, such as shifting control over education back to the states, combating the opioid epidemic, and the 21st Century Cures Act which McConnell called the “single most important law” enacted by the 114 Congress. “It’s paving the way for more innovation and faster innovation to benefit patients who have no time to waste. Another Lamar Alexander production,” McConnell said.
“I myself have leaned on Lamar’s wisdom for many years, but I think I leaned just as much on his optimism, his can-do spirit, his ability to look on the bright side and then discern how some more hard work could make it brighter still,” McConnell went on to say as he held back tears. “So I’m going to miss our regular dinners, even with our weeknight scheduling and official one drink limit.”
McConnell had to stop to compose himself when speaking about what the absence of his friend and colleague would mean going forward. “You’re leaving this body and those of us in it, and the nation it exists to serve, stronger and better because you were here,” McConnell concluded about Alexander.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also spoke fondly of Alexander and his bipartisan approach. When Alexander made his own parting statement, he urged that the work he started still proceed without him. “Our country needs a U.S. Senate to work across party lines to force broad agreements on hard issues,” he said, according to WBIR-TV. “Creating laws that most of us have voted for and that a diverse country will accept.”
Republican Senator-elect Bill Hagerty, former U.S. Ambassador to Japan, will succeed Alexander in representing Tennessee in the U.S. Senate. Judging from the way his colleagues spoke about the retiring senator, Hagerty has a tough act to follow.