Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the flood of the U.S. Senate in honor of Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who this weekend became the longest-serving U.S. Senator from Kentucky. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“For a quarter of a century, the State of Kentucky was represented in the United States Senate by a fine man and outstanding legislator, Wendell Ford. Senator Ford was known by all as a moderate, deeply respected by both sides of the aisle for putting progress ahead of politics. He was not flashy; he did not seek the limelight; he was quietly effective and calmly deliberative.
“In 1991, Senator Ford was elected by his colleagues to serve as Democratic whip, the number-two position in the caucus. For eight years, he struck the perfect balance as an advocate for Kentuckians and also a national Democratic leader. When Senator Ford retired from the Senate in 1999, I had the honor of replacing him as Democratic whip.
“Wendell Ford is not only a genuine Kentucky legend, he is a wonderful man, and I continue to enjoy his visits back to Washington, D.C. Until this week, Senator Ford was the longest-serving United States Senator in the history of his State of Kentucky.
“Now, that honor belongs to my friend, the Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell.
“Senator McConnell came to the United States Senate two years after I came to Congress. In 1984, he was elected to the United States Senate in a historic election still famous for its advertising – the most memorable of the spots featuring some real blood hounds.
“Although he won that first race by a razor-thin margin, he quickly became a leader among his Republican colleagues. Senator McConnell chaired the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee during the 1998 and 2000 election cycles, as Republican whip following the 2002 midterm elections, and now, as the Republican Leader since 2007.
“I became the Democratic whip in 1998, and have been the Democratic leader since 2005. Our careers in the United States Senate have been quite similar.
“It is well-known that in our respective positions as Minority and Majority Leader, Senator McConnell and I disagree at times. But behind the scenes, in the places where cameras do not record our discussions, we are not only friends but determined partners in the legislative process. That doesn’t mean we always see eye-to-eye, but in the words of President-elect Obama, we are able to disagree without being disagreeable.
“We respect each other’s commitment to making our country stronger, and I think we have a special understanding of the unique challenges of keeping our respective caucus together and striving toward the same goals.
“At the University of Louisville, Mitch McConnell has worked with faculty to create a center for public service, to educate and prepare a new generation to answer the call of public service. A little more than a year ago, Senator McConnell invited me to be his guest at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville. After a terrific program with young and aspiring academics, he presented me with a Louisville Slugger baseball bat, with my name inscribed on the ‘sweet spot.’
“On that day at the McConnell Center, Mitch and I spoke frankly and openly about the joys and difficulties of our jobs. I told the students an old story about President Lincoln, who was often criticized by his supporters for being overly solicitous of the members of the Confederacy. President Lincoln’s response to this sentiment was to say, ‘Am I not destroying my enemies by making friends of them?’
“Senator McConnell and I both understand that only through friendship and mutual respect can we find common ground, achieve common goals and reach for the common good of the American people.
“Landra and I are pleased to call him and his lovely wife, Elaine Chao, friends. Elaine, of course, is a national leader in her own right, having served for eight years as our nation’s Labor Secretary, and also formerly as Director of the Peace Corps.
“I congratulate my friend, the Republican Leader, a Kentuckian whose love of his state and its university athletic programs are well known, and who now adds the distinction of being the longest-serving United States Senator from the State of Kentucky to his long and impressive career.”