Mikul­ski calls for ci­vil­ity dur­ing farewell speech


The Bal­ti­more Sun

— Sen. Bar­bara A. Mikul­ski, de­liv­er­ing an emo­tional farewell speech on the Se­nate floor Wed­nes­day af­ter four decades in Congress, called for a re­turn to ci­vil­ity in pol­i­tics, and vowed to con­tinue serv­ing Maryland as a pri­vate cit­i­zen.

Sur­rounded by Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can se­na­tors who came to hear her fi­nal ma­jor ad­dress, Mikul­ski re­called her early years in the male-dom­i­nated Se­nate and thanked vot­ers for al­low­ing a gro­cer’s daugh­ter from High­land­town to rise to the high­est lev­els of power on Capi­tol Hill.

“It is time for me to say good­bye to elected of­fice, but not to ser­vice,” said Mikul­ski, 80. “For me, no is­sue was too small to take up and no cause was too big for me to take on.”

Mikul­ski, who de­clined to seek re-elec­tion this year for a sixth Se­nate term, will re­tire when a new Congress is sworn in next month. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a fel­low Demo­crat, won the elec­tion last month to suc­ceed her.

Mikul­ski — the long­est-serv­ing mem­ber of Congress in state his­tory and the long­est-serv­ing woman in con­gres­sional his­tory — pointed to her work on health care, science and pay eq­uity as among her most sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ments. She also noted her ef­fort to ex­pand the num­ber and in­flu­ence of fe­male law­mak­ers.

The farewell speech is a tra­di­tion for re­tir­ing se­na­tors, but Mikul­ski, the top Demo­crat on the Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, said that in her case it was a mis­nomer. In­stead, she and her staff re­ferred


to the ad­dress as a “sum­ming-up speech.”

Congress is ap­proach­ing a dead­line Fri­day to ap­prove govern­ment fund­ing, giv­ing Mikul­ski a fi­nal task and the like­li­hood of con­sid­er­able floor time in her last days in of­fice. Democrats are an­gered that Repub­li­cans have in­serted lan­guage into a pend­ing short-term fund­ing bill that would ex­pe­dite the con­fir­ma­tion of re­tired Ma­rine Corps Gen. James Mat­tis fol­low­ing Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s ex­pected nom­i­na­tion to serve as de­fense sec­re­tary.

To be con­sid­ered, Mat­tis would need a waiver from a 1947 law that re­quires de­fense sec­re­taries to be re­tired from the mil­i­tary for at least seven years. Mat­tis re­tired from the Ma­rine Corps in 2013.

In a state­ment af­ter her speech, Mikul­ski said she is “deeply dis­ap­pointed” that the leg­is­la­tion to keep the govern­ment funded through April does not in­clude ad­di­tional money for a pro­posed new head­quar­ters for the FBI.

Bring­ing the project to Maryland has been a ma­jor goal of Mikul­ski’s fi­nal year in of­fice.

Mikul­ski steered clear of those is­sues on the Se­nate floor Wed­nes­day as she basked in trib­ute speeches de­liv­ered by mem­bers of both par­ties.

“Ev­ery­one knows this: She is tough,” Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell of Kentucky said. “Good luck stop­ping her once she puts her mind to some­thing.”

Sen. Ben Cardin, who will suc­ceed Mikul­ski as Maryland’s se­nior se­na­tor in Jan­uary, said the state is “los­ing one of the great gi­ants and ad­vo­cates” for its is­sues.

Mikul­ski, a for­mer so­cial worker elected to the Bal­ti­more City Coun­cil in 1971 and to the House five years later, re­called her suc­cess­ful ef­forts in Congress to get the Bethesda-based Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health to in­clude women in clin­i­cal tri­als. Women’s health care was a sig­na­ture is­sue. Dur­ing the 2010 de­bate over the Af­ford­able Care Act, she in­serted pro­vi­sions to en­sure that in­sur­ers would cover pre­ven­ta­tive care for women.

She pointed to the Lilly Led­bet­ter Fair Pay Act, a mea­sure that makes it eas­ier for women to sue em­ploy­ers for equal pay — the first bill signed into law by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in 2009 — as well as leg­is­la­tion that en­sured se­niors would not go bank­rupt pay­ing for a spouse’s nurs­ing home care.

Mikul­ski also pointed to her work to se­cure fund­ing to re­pair the Hub­ble Space Tele­scope — she called it “the rich­est con­tact lens in world his­tory” — af­ter sci­en­tists dis­cov­ered that its op­tics could not be fo­cused sharply af­ter its launch in 1990. She has also pushed for fund­ing for its suc­ces­sor, the James Webb Space Tele­scope, which is also be­ing man­aged by the NASA God­dard Space Flight Cen­ter in Green­belt.

Mikul­ski is among the most lib­eral mem­bers of Congress and has served as a sharp-tongued spokes­woman for Demo­cratic causes. Be­hind the scenes — par­tic­u­larly since her el­e­va­tion on the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee — she has won praise from mem­bers of both par­ties for work­ing across the aisle.

The most no­table man­i­fes­ta­tion of that ap­proach is her ef­fort to bring women of both par­ties to­gether for reg­u­lar, pri­vate din­ners — meet­ings that be­gan more than two decades ago, when Mikul­ski and then-Sen. Kay Bai­ley Hutchi­son, a Texas Repub­li­can, started work­ing to­gether on leg­is­la­tion to help women save for re­tire­ment.

Mikul­ski also brought new and vet­eran fe­male se­na­tors of both par­ties to­gether for a meet­ing in her Capi­tol hide­away at the start of each new Congress.

“We knew we would never be a cau­cus, be­cause we were not uni­form in our views or the way that we voted,” Mikul­ski said. “But what we wanted to be was, No. 1, a zone of ci­vil­ity, where we’d treat each other with re­spect.”

Mikul­ski im­plored col­leagues to con­tinue on in that spirit and not “judge one another be­cause we have a party la­bel; I’m so sick of that.”

Sen. Su­san Collins, of Maine, a fel­low mem­ber of the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, was one of the Repub­li­cans who came to lis­ten to Mikul­ski’s speech.

“I have learned so much from her,” Collins said. “I’ve come to know her as a fighter, as a trail­blazer and as a per­son of such in­tegrity.”

Mikul­ski has not said what she hopes to do with her time af­ter leav­ing the Se­nate, other than say­ing she wants to find work that al­lows her to con­tinue to serve.

“My plan is not a job de­scrip­tion, it’s a life de­scrip­tion,” Mikul­ski said.

She said she hopes to learn some­thing new, give some­thing back and make new friends ev­ery day.

“I’ve learned that the best ship you can sail on in life is some­thing that’s called friend­ship.”


Sen. Bar­bara Mikul­ski (D-Md.), the long­est-serv­ing woman in the Se­nate, for­mally nom­i­nated Hil­lary Clin­ton for pres­i­dent in July. As she leaves the Se­nate, she urged the re­main­ing House and Se­nate mem­bers to work to­gether.

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