Schumer Floor Remarks On Senator Claire McCaskill

December 19, 2018

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding Senator Claire McCaskill.

Mr. President, now I return to the floor to conclude saying goodbye to members of our caucus who will not be returning to this chamber next year. Last, but certainly not least, to me and to so many of us, is my dear, dear friend the Senator from Missouri, as she says it – Claire McCaskill.

It should come as a surprise to anyone that the Senator from Missouri found her way into politics. She got her start early. Growing up in a family actively involved in government and politics, Claire was not given the option to avoid the subjects of national debate. When Claire was seven years old, she was sent door-to-door on Halloween saying, “Trick or treat, vote for JFK.”

Soon, politics wasn’t just a passion-passed-down but a passion of her own. In high school, Claire launched a stealth campaign to become homecoming queen. In the tradition of her school, the football team picked the winner, so Claire befriended all the lineman – doing small favors, arranging dates – knowing there were more of them than any other position. Guess what – she won – not because she skated by on popularity, although she was always popular, but she put in the work. She was tenacious; she was tactical, qualities she’d take from high school politics into the politics of the wider and older world.

That’s how, as a Democrat in a state that was already becoming more conservative during her youth, Claire would go on to represent Missouri at nearly every level of government. As a prosecutor, in the state house, as state auditor, and eventually for twelve amazingly wonderful and productive years as Senator.

Now, I was chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee in 2005. Claire was just coming off a difficult loss in the governor’s race, after which she “drank a lot of red wine and ate too many cookies” by her own, typically frank, admission. I had heard so much about her that I flew to London to meet with Claire and her dear husband Joe about a possible Senate race. Almost immediately I was struck by the force of her personality. She’s a whirlwind. As Claire’s mother Betty Anne said of her, “Integrity, independence, and guts – that’s what Claire McCaskill is made of.” And everyone, everyone who meets Claire can see that from the get-go. By the end of dinner, I was so eager for Claire to run that I did something I almost never do, I paid for dinner.

And I’ve never been more glad that I did, because Claire became an exceptional Senator, and one of my closest friends – not just here in the Senate, but in real life. A moderate at heart, Claire had a knack for finding compromise between our two parties – a theme among many of our departing members. She worked across the aisle, with Senator Collins of Maine, to protect seniors from financial scams. She worked to fight for victims of opioid addiction, taking on the big pharmaceutical companies that were funneling money to organizations to promote their own dangerous products. And, in the tradition of her political idol, Harry Truman, she took a seat on the Armed Services committee and fought fiercely for our veterans and our military. Her hearings on the waste, fraud, and abuse of military contractors ushered in long-overdue reforms to military contracting, increasing transparency and accountability. Almost every issue that Claire got her teeth into she never let go and always succeeded. She’s amazing as a senator.

And of course, Claire wasn’t just pragmatic; one of the reasons we love her – she’s both pragmatic and principled and combines those two in a unique way. I’ll never forget the vote on Dreamers. Claire was seated in the seat back there. She was a more junior member. She knew that voting to bring the Dreamers home to a pathway to citizenship and living here in America could mean the end of her election, she said it to me. But she said, “I cannot vote against them.” We walked down the aisle together, tears streaming down her cheeks, and of course, she voted yes.

The Senate has its fair share of dealmakers. It has its fair share of principled fighters as well. But rarely, rarely, rarely is a Senator so adept at both – but that is our Claire McCaskill.

We’ll miss far more, of course, than Claire, the Senator. So many us will miss Claire, the person. When she has something to say to you, she does not hold back. Believe me, I know. I’ve been called just about every name in the book by Claire McCaskill. And each time it rang true but I didn’t mind it because it was done, I know, with affection and a desire to make me better and do a better job. And I can say this, whatever job I’m doing here as Leader, is in significant part because of Claire McCaskill’s loving but pointed criticisms. I’ll miss them so much.

She’s amazing. I’m not the only one she criticized, and I’m not the only one she criticized using the words that came right to her mouth. They say they used to keep a swear jar on her desk in the Missouri legislature. I’d be surprised if they didn’t keep a few and line up the whole desk with them.

But just as much as Claire can sometimes criticize you in a pointed way, she can also make you laugh. She says her father insisted on two things, that she learn the rules of football and how to tell a good joke. That she did, and more than that, she can tell a good joke at her own expense. That’s just one of many reasons she was so well-liked in this chamber by both Democrats and Republicans. It’s rare you can find someone who speaks her mind so directly and yet be so loved – that’s one of the wonderful uniquenesses of this wonderful lady, Claire McCaskill. After – and I’m not the only one who felt that way – after her farewell address in this chamber, the line of Senators to say a few words about Claire was long and wasn’t just on our side of the aisle.

Now, I could go on about Senator McCaskill for quite a while, but I’m sure she is ready to tell me that I am getting long-winded. So let me close with this. When Claire was nine years old, her father took her to the annual Jackson Days dinner in Springfield, Missouri to hear the big political speeches on offer that year. After all, this was a famous venue that had hosted giants of American politics; William Jennings Bryan, Harry Truman, and JFK. Well, guess who delivered the closing address at the Jackson Days dinner this year? Claire McCaskill – whose impact on her state and her country, along with the Senate and on so many of us, belongs in the same category as those distinguished names, and will live on just as long.

Claire, we are going to miss you so; I will, the Senate will, Missouri will, America will. I wish you and Joe and your wonderful family all the happiness in your next endeavors.