WASHINGTON—As an era of Republican control of Congress wound down toward adjournment this week, there was so much to say—and so much time spent saying it.
While unfinished legislation stacked up, retiring and defeated lawmakers consumed hours each day in the House of Representatives and the Senate saying their goodbyes before relinquishing the spotlight.
Their farewell speeches ranged from funny to angry, from weird to poignant, and sometimes a little of each.
Early Friday evening, retiring Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., broke into tears as he gave his farewell, then said dramatically: "Mr. Speaker, I relinquish my time—forever."
About a minute later, Thomas had the microphone in his hand again.
Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, chose to eulogize the more than 150 soldiers from his state who've died in Iraq and Afghanistan. A short, slightly hunched man, DeWine stood as the last senator in the chamber one night, reading tributes to fallen troops from their spouses and friends. Finally the lights went out and guards locked the door.
"The problem is, I'm not going to be here in January, so I've got to do `em now," DeWine said as he rode an elevator in the deserted Capitol. He was defeated in last month's election after 12 years in the Senate and eight in the House. "I want people to know about these soldiers. By giving the speech, it becomes a permanent record."
Rep. J.D Hayworth, R-Ariz., took a more lighthearted approach.
Swept from office in last month's anti-Republican backlash, he wanted colleagues to remember him as the same self-effacing yet over-the-top orator who rode the Republican revolution into Congress in 1994.
"Given my reputation, according to Washingtonian magazine, as only the second-biggest windbag in Congress, I am bucking tonight to go a little further afield," he said.
He offered a tortured comparison of himself to Babe Ruth, saying he'd "maintained the skinny legs but, alas, not the ability to hit the long ball besides in a metaphorical fashion here on the floor."
Hayworth recalled how the legendary Davy Crockett, after losing re-election to the House, said, "You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas," only Hayworth replaced the "h" word with the phrase "nether region," which left some listeners momentarily confused.
"I have seen on this floor, and in this institution, acts of incredible kindness. I have also seen acts of unspeakable pettiness. None of us suffer from a shortage of self-esteem," he said. Finally he choked up as he thanked his family, and his colleagues gave him a standing ovation.
Sen. Mark Dayton of Minnesota was a rarer breed: a Democrat offering parting words. Stepping down after a single six-year term, he used his farewell speech to attack the war in Iraq, which he opposed from the start, as well as the Republicans' legacy.
"I leave the Senate with strong feelings of frustration and disappointment," Dayton said. "I have been unable to pass most of what I believe was most important to Minnesota, to our country, and to the world."
Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., a lightning-rod conservative whom voters rejected this year after 16 years in Congress, said of his parting, "I know that there are many ears that are listening that are applauding at this moment for that."
But if Santorum was bitter, he let it go, thanking God and speaking repeatedly of his "gratitude." Momentarily setting aside his usual swagger, he reached out to his wife and six children, with whom he hopes to make up for lost time and attention.
"It's amazing how you think you're doing certain things well and then you have the opportunity to spend a little more time doing those things and you realize how insufficiently well you did them in the past," he said.
"The phrase from the Bible that just is ringing in my ears is the scales falling off the eyes. Over the last month or so, I've had a lot of scales fall from my eyes. Everybody here recognizes, because you live it, how difficult this life is, how public everything we do and say are."
Retiring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who recently abandoned his hopes of running for president, told colleagues that about two months ago he'd slipped into the chamber alone on a Sunday afternoon to carve his name into his desk, as tradition dictates.
"As you open these drawers, as many of us do when we are sitting here listening and debating, you tend to look at the names that are there," Frist said. "I see Robert Taft at the bottom of this drawer, Hugh Scott, Everett Dirksen, Howard Baker, Bob Dole, Trent Lott and the list goes on.
"And with the quiet here, you begin to reflect a little bit. But then all of a sudden you start thinking, as you are carving your name into that drawer, that there aren't very many things that you leave that are permanent around here."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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