Schumer Floor Remarks Bidding Farewell To Profile In Courage For Our Times Alabama Senator Doug Jones

December 9, 2020

Washington, D.C. — Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor regarding retiring Senator Doug Jones (D-AL). Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks:

Sadly, I return to the floor today to say farewell to another member who will conclude his time in the Senate at the end of the term: the junior Senator from Alabama, Doug Jones.

We all know Doug came to the Senate as a storied courtroom lawyer and US Attorney, but fewer people know about his more humble origins. Doug was born and raised in Fairfield, Alabama, just outside of Birmingham, the son of a steel worker, the grandson of a coal miner. When he was nineteen year old, he spent his summer working at the local cotton tie mill—ten hours a day, six days a week.

One day, a freak accident sent a bit of shrapnel flying his way, and he came within inches of losing an eye.

Several stiches later, Doug went right back to work, early evidence of a stubborn streak. Only at the end of the summer did Doug decide it was time to focus a bit more on his studies.

That same work ethic—that sometimes stubborn work ethic—followed him his entire life. He brought it next to law school.

On the one occasion Doug decided to skip class—it wasn’t to throw a pigskin around the quad or engage in some extracurricular activities with friends, no—Doug skipped class to attend the trial of the Klansman ringleader of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, a tragedy that had shaken the conscience of a nation.

A young Doug Jones was moved by the disposition of justice in that trial, but he was left with the impression that other members of the conspiracy had escaped the reach of the law.

Only a scriptwriter could have imagined that twenty-four years later, that law school truant would become the US Attorney in Alabama; and that his office would uncover the evidence to bring charges against two more Klan members involved in the bombing; and that, forty years after that awful crime, Doug Jones would win the conviction of the remaining conspirators, delivering a long-delayed yet righteous justice.

History would repeat itself a few years later, when Doug would again find himself at the center of events. Doug was eating breakfast one day just blocks away from scene of the bombing of the All Women Health clinic. He took charge that day and made sure that investigators and first responders worked together in perfect unison. Doug would later go on to secure the indictment of Eric Rudolph, the perpetrator of that heinous bombing, as well as the Olympic Park bombing two years earlier.

Of course, not every one of Doug’s cases involved matters of life and death. The US Attorney’s office once prosecuted local officials for trying to steal an election by bribing absentee voters with cash, beer, and a little liquor for good measure. Now, if only the defendants had known about Doug’s affinity for bourbon.

Kidding aside, those years revealed for Doug something profound about public service and government: you can have the best laws in the world in principle, but it takes dedicated effort to make the law work for everyone in practice. To take our ideals—of justice and equality and fairness and opportunity—and make them real, in the everyday lives of our fellow citizens.

Doug brought that revelation with him to this chamber. He worked with his trademark determination to finally repeal the widow’s tax. He helped pass legislation to permanently fund Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He’s worked across the aisle to combat veteran suicide, strengthen the VA, and support our military bases—so important to the great state of Alabama.

Not every issue would be so easy or so bipartisan, especially for a new Senator facing a difficult re-election. But every time Doug Jones approached a politically sensitive vote and I marveled this, he was untroubled. He would do what he always did. He’d act on principle. He’d vote his conscience. Politics be damned.

President Kennedy had a phrase for Senators whose abiding loyalty to their conscience triumphed over all personal and political considerations. He called them profiles in courage. Doug Jones is a profile in courage for our times.

But before I get carried away with too many grand compliments, it’s important to remind colleagues that Doug Jones, as a human being, that is a joy to be around.

Just ask his good friend, the Senator from Montana. More than once, Doug would catch Senator Tester giving an impassioned speech on the floor, and think to himself—I bet you he didn’t turn his phone off. Let me give him a ring and see what happens.

Just take a look at Doug’s office, festooned with memorabilia of every particular: Crimson Tide footballs and keepsakes from his favorite bands. You can go see his rocking chair—one of those Southern-veranda, sweet-tea-drinking chairs—and baseballs signed by Presidents, statesmen, and most impressively to this Yankees fan, Joe DiMaggio.

If Doug Jones has one hobby besides hunting, it’s autograph hunting. He has managed to collect a signature on a baseball from every Senator in this chamber today, including its newest member. The Junior Senator from Arizona was sworn in only a week ago, but five seconds after he lifted his hand from that Bible, there was Doug to congratulate him, furnishing a clean baseball, ready for Mr. Kelly’s John Hancock.

That is Doug Jones: someone who never let the immense pressure of this job change who he is. Someone who has made life a joy for everyone in our caucus. And he’s someone who understands that at the end of the day, we get sent to this chamber to make life better for our constituents, to do it courageously, even when the odds are not in our favor. 

I’ll end with one final story. Several years ago, Doug was asked to participate in a stage adaptation of his favorite work of fiction, To Kill a Mockingbird, which of course includes his literary icon, another great Alabama lawyer, Atticus Finch.

Hearing Doug’s life story, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was ripped from the pages of that Harper Lee classic. So perhaps it was fate that one day Doug would be asked to play a part in that story. There was just one hiccup: Doug was asked to play the judge.

So he never got to deliver that passage, shortly after the death of Mrs. Dubose, when Atticus explains to his son that real courage is not a man with a gun in his hand, “[real courage Atticus said is] when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. You rarely win…but sometimes, sometimes, you do.”

Doug has spent his time in the Senate, indeed his whole life, embodying the courage that Atticus describes. The story of the 16th Street bombings is a reminder of the fact that even against tremendous evil and seemingly impossible odds, if you are dogged and determined and see it through no matter what, sometime you do win, and justice prevails.

So while Doug didn’t get to play Atticus Finch that weekend at the Virginia Samford Theatre in Birmingham, that’s ok: it’s already the role of his lifetime.

Doug has said many times that it is the greatest honor of his life to fill the seat of his mentor, Senator Howell Heflin. Doug: you upheld the honor of that seat. And you’ve set an example for every Senator who will follow in it.

Whatever the next chapter of your life may bring, the entire Senate Democratic family wishes you and your family the very, very best and politely requests that you do not call us when we’re in the middle of giving a speech.

I yield to my friend, the very distinguished and wonderful, wonderful, wonderful junior Senator from the great state of Alabama.