Schumer Floor Remarks Bidding Farewell To True Champion Of The American West Retiring New Mexico Senator Tom UdallDecember 8, 2020
Washington, D.C. — Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor regarding retiring Senator Tom Udall (D-NM). Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:
As we approach the end of the Senate session, I have the unhappy task of bidding farewell to Senators who will be concluding their time in this chamber. Within an hour, our friend—our dear friend—and dear colleague Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico will give his final speech here on the Senate floor.
For the past twelve years, Senators have been lucky to work with a legislator of Sen. Udall’s caliber, someone who possesses a mastery of public policy, who is practical as well as principled. You always know where Sen. Udall stands on an issue, but you also know he’s always willing to sit with you, and work with you, until you find common ground. And because of these qualities, Tom will leave this chamber as a supremely accomplished legislator, a fierce defender of the environment and a true champion of the American West.
Now, a lot of politicians get described as wunderkinds for getting elected at a young age. But you’d be hard pressed to find someone who got their start in politics earlier than Tom. He made his debut at the plucky age of five: hoisting campaign signs from the back of his family’s convertible during his dad’s first bid for Congress.
Public service runs deep in the veins of a Udall—it might be called the sap of the Udall family tree. Alongside his father, Tom looked up to his uncle Mo, who succeeded his father in Congress and ran for President as one of his generation’s great environmental advocates. Not too long ago, the Senate Roll Call featured two Udalls, Tom and cousin Mark. Even now, our colleague from Utah, Senator Lee, is a second cousin of the Udall clan.
But ultimately, it was Tom’s dad who taught him a lifelong love of the political process. During the years Stewart Udall served as Interior Secretary, Tom would watch from the living room as his dad sat at the dinner table, surrounded by Democrats and Republicans alike—both sides, at dinner, working together.
Those memories left a mark. And Tom would spend his time in Congress trying to do much the same.
Tom’s work with Senator Vitter led to one of his greatest accomplishments in office: the first major revision of the Toxic Substances Control Act in forty years. At the time, it was the most significant environmental law to pass Congress in over 20 years.
Tom also had become one of the Senate’s leading authorities on tribal policy, co-sponsoring over a quarter of the bills that passed through the Indian Affairs Committee on their way to being signed into law. Legislation to improve tribal access to affordable health care and funding to support Native American language preservation programs and boost support for Native American entrepreneurs all bear the Udall stamp.
And when it comes to protecting our environment and public lands, no one—no one—commands greater respect than the senior Senator from New Mexico.
Tom helped increase funding for the Department of the Interior by 25 percent, including billions to protect our national parks and expand our wildlife preserves. Through the Great American Outdoors Act, Tom helped secure permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation fund—a fund that his dad helped establish over forty years ago.
One of Tom’s favorite authors, Wallace Stegner, once wrote: “Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed ... We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.”
Well, Tom did a whole lot more than “look in” – he preserved, he conserved, he expanded that great American wilderness for generations hence.
These highlights, impressive as they are, are only the tip of the iceberg. Over his twelve years in office, Tom’s legislative accomplishments ran the gamut of consumer protection, conservation policy, climate change, the protection of Tribal nations, and, more recently, a principled stand against the current administration’s attempts to rollback critical environmental protections.
Through it all, Tom has been unendingly civil, decent, kind. He has deep friendships, real friendships, long-lasting friendships, in our caucus and across the aisle. He prefers to solve problems, no matter who gets the credit, sometimes resisting the urge to make a splash in public.
Tom is as down to earth as they come. There is just no artifice about him. He’s as decent a Senator, and a man, as you could find. Other Senators will attest to these qualities, I’m sure, but so will his staff—a tribute that’s perhaps even greater. The respect and loyalty that Sen. Udall commands from those who work for him, day-in and day-out, is something extraordinary.
We don’t know when a Udall will next grace these halls with their presence. But I do know this: the country needs more leaders like Tom.
Sen. Udall once said that his father and his uncle were lifelong role models because they had the right mix of inspiration and perspiration. He said, “they were both visionaries, but they also were do-ers.”
I can think of no better description of Tom Udall himself. A visionary, but also a do-er.
Tom: As you move on to the next chapter in your life, I wish you and Jill the very best of luck on the road ahead.