DC – Nevada
Senator Harry Reid made the
following statement today on the floor of the Senate. Below are his
remarks as prepared for delivery:
"On the Fourth of July of the year 1851, the legendary
statesman Daniel Webster, himself a former United States Senator, laid the
cornerstone for the Senate Chamber in which we now gather. 'Be it known,'
he said, 'that on this day the Union of the United States of America stands
"Today marks the 150th year that this chamber has
housed the United States Senate. When Vice-President John Breckinridge
gaveled the 34th Congress open in this chamber in 1859, our republic had a
population one-tenth what it is today. With just sixty-four members, each
Senator enjoyed a little more legroom. These desks – many of them
original from the country's earliest days – served as the primary working space
for most members.
"The first session held here 150 years ago began just as it
has today, with the Vice-President of the United States administering the
Oath of Office to new members. Today, nine Senators join what I believe
is the greatest legislative body the world has ever known. I extend my
warmest welcome and congratulations to:
Mark Udall of Colorado;
Tom Udall of New Mexico;
Mike Johanns of Nebraska;
Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire;
Mark Warner of Virginia;
Jim Risch of Idaho;
Kay Hagan of North Carolina;
Jeff Merkley of Oregon;
Mark Begich of Alaska.
"To the profound challenges we face, these nine men and
women bring vast judgment and experience at all levels of government and public
service. I am confident that every one of them will serve their states
and our nation with distinction.
"Two years ago, this inaugural day of Congress heralded a
new majority for Democrats in both the Senate and House of Representatives –
but in the Senate, it was a tenuous majority. We began with 51
Democrats. The illness to Senator Tim Johnson and the crowded Democratic
primary field left us oftentimes short of an outright majority, and far short
of the 60 votes needed to prevent filibusters and move legislation
forward. While we made substantial progress in the 110th
Congress, the partisanship of divided government too often ruled the day.
"What a difference an election makes. Since 2006,
Democrats have achieved a net gain of 14 Senate seats. We return to work
for the 111th Congress with a strong majority that will soon reach
59 seats. And just two weeks from today, Barack Obama will become the 44th
President of the United
"We are ready to answer the call of the American people by
putting the past eight years behind us and delivering the change that our
country desperately needs. We are grateful to begin anew with a far more
robust Democratic majority.
"But both parties learned an important lesson over the past
two years: When we allow ourselves to retreat into the tired, well-worn
trenches of partisanship; when we fail to reach for common ground; when we are
unable, in the words of President-Elect Obama, to disagree without being
disagreeable, we diminish our ability to accomplish real change.
"So I say to my Republican colleagues: With American troops
fighting two wars overseas, we are in this together.
"With the American people suffering a staggering economic
crisis here at home, we are in this together.
"With the middle class struggling to make one paycheck last until the next one
comes, we are in this together.
"With health care, college tuition and retirement more
expensive and harder to reach than ever, we are in this together.
"With our climate in crisis and energy prices rising and
falling unpredictably, we are all in this together.
"Some may fear the depth of the challenges we face.
But I remind them that adversity is no stranger to our country. Yet in America
and in this Senate chamber, we have never failed to persevere and prosper.
"In this chamber, our union came unraveled and was mended;
great wars were declared and peace was celebrated; our most fundamental
freedoms were challenged, upheld and expanded. In this chamber, we passed
Roosevelt's New Deal; Truman's Fair Deal;
Kennedy's Great Frontier; and Johnson's Great Society. We outlawed child
labor, brought electricity to the western frontier; ensured a college education
for those who serve in uniform; and passed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights
"There is no question that the challenges ahead of us are
staggering. But I have never been more confident that if we renew our
commitment to bipartisanship, the 111th Congress will be a
tremendous success. In the coming days, my fellow Democrats and I will
introduce our legislative priorities for this new Congress. As we
continue to develop our legislative agenda, we look forward to developing a
dialogue between both sides of the aisle.
"This day marks not just the 150th year of this
Senate chamber, but also the 50th year of Senator Robert Byrd's
service – and prior to that, six years in the House of Representatives.
"It is no secret that when it comes to reverence for this
institution and our Constitution, Senator Byrd has no rival. For our nine
new members sworn today and for all Americans, I offer a few of Senator Byrd's
words, which he delivered to a meeting of new Senators in 1996:
'After 200 years, [the Senate] is still
the anchor of the Republic, the morning and evening star in the American
'It has weathered the storms of
adversity, withstood the barbs of cynics and the attacks of critics. It
has provided stability and strength to the nation during periods of civil
strife and uncertainty, panics and depressions.
'In war and peace, it has been the sure
refuge and protector of the rights of states and of a political minority.
And, today, the Senate still stands – the great forum of constitutional
"Today a new chapter of history begins. Each one of us
has the honor of taking part in writing it. As that work starts, the
words of Daniel Webster return to mind: 'be it known that on this day, the
Union of the United States
of America stands firm.'
"As my colleagues are aware, two Democratic United States
Senate seats – one from Illinois, the other
– are currently vacant. I will briefly address those two unusual
"First, the Illinois
seat left vacant by President-Elect Barack Obama. Although I do not know
Mr. Burris personally, he has served the State of Illinois in elective office for many
years. Mr. Burris and his advisors were welcomed at the Capitol this morning by Sergeant At Arms Terry Gainer, a long-time friend of his from Chicago. They then had a gracious meeting with the Secretary of the
Senate, Nancy Erickson, and Senate Parliamentarian Alan Frumin, who informed
them that Mr. Burris is not in possession of the necessary credentials from the
State of Illinois.
"A court case in Illinois
is pending to determine whether the Secretary of State, Jesse White, is
obligated to sign the certification. We are awaiting that court
decision. If Mr. Burris takes possession of valid credentials, the United
States Senate will proceed in a manner that is respectful to Mr. Burris while
ensuring that there is no cloud of doubt over the appointment to fill this
seat. I also understand that Mr. Burris may give testimony to Illinois
State Assembly impeachment proceedings against Governor Blagojevich, and we
await that proceeding as well.
"Turning to the State of Minnesota: I know a little bit about close
elections. I have been through two – lost the first by 524 votes, and won
the second by 428 votes.
"The Senate race in Minnesota
was exceptionally close – one of the closest in history. The bipartisan
state canvassing board and Minnesota's
elections officials have done an exemplary job handling the recount.
There have been no allegations of partisanship or unfairness from either side.
"Even close elections have winners. After all votes
have been fairly counted, Al Franken is the certified winner by the State
Canvassing Board and he is the Senator-elect from Minnesota.
"Democrats will not seek to seat Senator-elect Franken
today. We understand the sensitivity on both sides to an election this
close. This is a difficult time for former Senator Coleman and his
family, and he is entitled to the opportunity to concede this election
graciously. But we cannot let this drag on forever.
"I hope that former Senator Coleman and all of our
Republican colleagues will choose to respect the will of the people of Minnesota. They
have chosen a new Senator, Al Franken, and his term must and will begin soon."