Departing Cochran 'optimistic about the future' of U.S.

Sen. Thad Cochran (Source: Cochran's Office)
Sen. Thad Cochran (Source: Cochran's Office)(WTOK)
Published: Mar. 22, 2018 at 3:04 PM CDT
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Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi has given a farewell speech in the U.S. Senate, where he's the longest-serving current member of Congress.

The 80-year-old Cochran is retiring April 1 because of poor health. He says he's "optimistic about the future of our great nation."

Cochran served in the House six years before joining the Senate in 1978.

Colleagues paid tribute to Cochran Thursday at the U.S. Capitol, repeatedly praising the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman for being civil while working across party lines.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky says Cochran "wrote the book on composure under pressure."

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York says Cochran sought his support for Gulf Coast projects after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Years later, Cochran helped the Northeast after Superstorm Sandy.

Sen. Cochran's remarks, which will be submitted into the Congressional record, appear below, as submitted by his office:

Mr. President, I appreciate the opportunity to express my deep gratitude for the honor given to me by the people of Mississippi to represent them in Washington.

I leave the Senate with confidence that our enduring Constitution guards our country from human error, empowers our citizens to achieve greatness, and shines as a beacon of freedom and liberty for the world.

I am optimistic about the future of our great nation, and in the United States Senate’s role in determining that future.

While in Congress, I have served with nine presidents during times of conflict and peace. We have debated policies from trade to taxes to terrorism. We have engaged in heated arguments. But even in full disagreement, I believe all our motivations begin at the same point: the sincere desire to serve our states and country.

No one remains in the House or Senate who was here when I first took office in January 1973. But I am particularly thankful for the friendship and leadership of the Senior Senator from Vermont, Mr. Leahy. He and I have fought side by side with each other; and sometimes face to face against each other, always with friendship and respect.

I am also grateful to have served with honorable Senators from my own state. My colleague, Senator Wicker, has been a friend and a strong and effective advocate for our state. We have worked together not only in the Senate, but also when he served as a U.S. Representative. Former Majority Leader Trent Lott, continues to be a voice in our national conversation. And the late John C. Stennis provided a witness to integrity when I first joined this body. His signature is above my signature at this desk.

It is a tradition in the Senate, like school children used to do, to sign the drawers of our desks. Senator Stennis signed this desk drawer. He noted the beginning of his service in 1947 and added a dash. He never filled in the date signifying the end of his Senate service in 1989. Perhaps there is symbolism there—that our service does not end when we depart this chamber.

I have been honored by this body to serve as Chairman both of the Appropriations and Agriculture committees. I'm thankful to my colleagues, past and present, and to the committee staff for assisting in crafting responsible funding priorities for our country; and for developing strategic agriculture policy to ensure the best use of our natural resources to provide affordable and healthy food for our citizens and people around the world.

I thank my talented and dedicated staff, many of whom have worked for many years in service to our country. All of us in this body know we could not achieve our priorities without exceptional staff. I have staff members who have served the Senate since my first term. I have one staff member, Doris Wagley, who was already in the office working the very first day I showed up for work in the House of Representatives in 1973. Whether they have been here for 45 years or a shorter tenure, I am grateful for their good assistance.

I ran my first Senate re-election campaign in 1984 largely on constituent service. I will always be proud of my state staff for their work on behalf of Mississippians. State staff help us keep our promises to our veterans, find opportunities for small businesses, ensure the elderly or infirmed receive care, and cut through bureaucracy. I'm sure members of your state staffs, like my staff, have hearts for their fellow citizens regardless of their political affiliation.

All our citizens have the right to be heard and to have a voice in their government. I believe our job as their servants is not to tell others what to think or tell others what to do. Our job is to represent them. I have endeavored to do that the best way I possibly could. And now the time has come for me to pass the power granted by the people of Mississippi, the power of service, to someone else.

When John Sharp Williams of Mississippi left the Senate, he delivered a farewell speech at a dinner organized by the Mississippi Society of Washington. It is sometimes called the “Mockingbird Speech.” While I do not share some of the cynicism of that speech, there are sentiments I can appreciate. Here is an excerpt of that speech given March 3, 1923:

“I am going back to Yazoo City and to my old home on a rural free-delivery route. I want to get up again each morning as I hear the rooster’s crow… and as night and the time for bed approaches, I will listen to the greatest chorus of voices that man ever heard, music that will charm me and make me ready for repose, the voices of my mockingbirds trilling in the trees. And in that way I want to live the rest of my life, and when the end comes, I hope to be carried out of the house by my neighbors and laid to rest among my people. Now, some may say that is not a very wonderful future, all of this I have mapped out for myself, but I say there is merit in calm retirement… Perhaps it is a sign that I ought to retire, for retirement brings repose, and repose allows a kindly judgment of all things.”

I will now return to my beloved Mississippi and my family and friends there. I will miss this stately Chamber and this city. I won’t miss power or politics. I will miss people—you, my colleagues. I will treasure your courtesy and kindness. And I trust if your travels bring you to Oxford, Mississippi, you will not hesitate to visit and join me for a refreshment on the porch. We can listen to the mockingbirds together.

Thank you.