The Death of Greatness in the Senate

Roz Liston

Island Now Column
By Jerry Kremer

In the midst of the recent impeachment trial of President Trump, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts criticized one of the House prosecutors for his political statements. Roberts referred to the sitting members of the U.S. Senate as “the world’s most deliberative body.” Roberts may be a man who understands history, but today’s Senate is anything but deliberative and many are an embarrassment to the nation.

Let us start with Kentucky’s junior senator, Rand Paul. At a time when the health of every citizen is under threat, Paul visited the Senate gym, the dining room and party meetings but failed to tell his colleagues that he was awaiting the results of his test for the coronavirus, which turned out to be positive. Once Paul’s idiotic conduct was discovered, several of his colleagues who were in close contact with him were forced to go into self-confinement, crippling his own party’s ability to pass any legislation. Republican Senator Paul is an eye doctor, but that is no guarantee that he is a competent one.

Rand Paul has plenty of company when it comes to senatorial blunders. His fellow senator, Richard Burr (R-NC), who is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was found to have dumped his stock portfolio shortly after he was allegedly briefed in January on the threat of a pandemic. Burr claims he got his information from the media but weeks later in February he co-authored an article telling the world how the country was prospering with no health scare warnings.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has done nothing to make the Senate a respected legislative body. He brags frequently that he has personally killed hundreds of bills that came over from the House and calls his deliberative body a “legislative graveyard.” This is the same man who pledged that he would make President Barack Obama a “one- term president” just days after Obama’s induction.

In case you were wondering whether the U.S. Senate was ever a deliberative body, permit me to tell you about some of the people who have served in the past who were a credit to that body. Let’s start with Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-Ill), who served as minority leader from 1959 to 1969. He has been called the most effective minority leader in history who put aside partisan politics to help pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Despite bitter opposition from some of his party, he helped write the law and provide the votes for its passage.

While he courted his share of controversy, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass) won the label as the “liberal lion of the Senate” respected by both sides. He helped create the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, helped lower the voting age to 18 and wrote the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. He pushed for peace in Northern Ireland and fought against both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. He worked closely with many Republicans, including the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz).

History was made in 1949 when Margaret Chase Smith (R-Me) was elected to the House. She was the first woman to serve in both houses and placed in nomination for the presidency in 1964. She was the longest serving woman in the Senate and was not reluctant to take on the establishment. She battled Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wis) and challenged his ” McCarthyism.” She helped recruit other women to run for Congress and left an indelible imprint on that body.

Most New Yorkers will remember Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He represented our state for 24 years. The Democrat was a diplomat, sociologist and was an adviser to President Nixon. He helped shape numerous programs to meet the needs of the poor and was the scholar of the U.S. Senate. He chaired the Senate Finance Committee and pushed through major tax programs for the middle class. His memory will be enshrined in the new Moynihan Station in Manhattan.

Last year, the Senate said goodbye to Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana, who was considered one of the body’s most brilliant foreign affairs expert. He was a friend to dozens of leaders around the world and helped educate the more conservative members about the need to maintain our alliances around the world, which made this country a stronger nation. He helped pass the Nunn-Lugar Act, which funded the removal of all nuclear weapons from Ukraine and deactivated 6,828 nuclear warheads in the former Soviet Union.
These are but a few of the people who made the Senate great. Many of the others still sitting are a disgrace to the nation.

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Roz Liston

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