McConnell Honors “Iconic” Kansas Statesman Chairman Pat Roberts
‘My good friend the senior Senator for Kansas, Pat Roberts, is preparing to close out the longest Congressional tenure the Sunflower State has ever seen… Chairman Roberts has been a constant voice and a consistent champion for the men and women of this country who get their hands dirty, grow crops, raise livestock, and -- as our colleague likes to say - ‘feed a troubled and hungry world.’
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS):
“It’s both my honor and my unhappy duty to offer one more parting tribute to a distinguished Senator who will leave us at the end of the 116th Congress.
“My good friend the senior Senator for Kansas, Pat Roberts, is preparing to close out the longest Congressional tenure the Sunflower State has ever seen.
“When Pat arrived in Washington as a freshman House member, he was a young man among giants. Byrd. Stevens. Dole.
“But over the past four decades, the name “Roberts” has come to define its very own iconic brand of heartland statesmanship.
“Now, Pat is the first to admit he didn’t establish that name all on his own. He inherited it from another great Kansan.
“Charles Wesley Roberts was a Marine, a journalist, and leader in Republican politics. So get ready to experience some deja-vu.
“Because at age 16, our future colleague got to attend the 1952 convention that nominated Kansas’s own General Eisenhower. And that early taste of politics planted a seed.
“Pat earned his own Marine Corps commission. In fact he served with the first contingent to return to Iwo Jima where his father had fought 15 years earlier.
“Then he decided to ply another family trade. Like generations of Roberts men, including an abolitionist newspaperman three generations back, he took up journalism.
“Only then did Pat bring his talents here to Washington, to Senator Frank Carlson’s office. He impressed. And by the time his next boss, Keith Sebelius, announced his retirement, Pat was running out of excuses not to run himself.
“Campaigning in Kansas’s “Big First” district required countless road trips across nearly half the state. But listening to neighbors, building relationships, and earning trust came naturally.
“Pat’s district elected him no fewer than eight times. And the whole state sent him here to the Senate another four.
“Before long, every small-town diner in Western Kansas was filled with people who saw Pat not just as an elected official, but a trusted friend.
“The way I hear it, you walk into a restaurant or coffee shop with Pat, and you budget about 15 minutes for conversation before you even make it to a table.
“Many of those conversations revolve around one particular line of work. There’s a reason why no less an authority than Bob Dole would later dub this man Mr. Agriculture.
“When Republicans retook the House majority in 1994, they knew who had to chair the Ag Committee.
“The rest is history -- for our colleague, for his state, and for farmers and growers across America.
“The 1996 Farm Bill that Pat shepherded included Freedom to Farm, landmark legislation that set a new tone for the way American farmers would compete in a global market.
“Now, today we know that Pat would later become the only American ever to chair the Ag Committee in both the Senate and the House.
“But on this side of the dome, he tackled a few other assignments first.
“Pat had already helped clean up some ethics messes in the House, and so his discretion and integrity landed him on the Senate Ethics Committee. In short order, he was chairing it.
“Then came the Intelligence Committee gavel, and with it, more sensitive challenges.
“Our trusted Marine had to conduct oversight and ask hard questions in the wake of September 11th and the Iraq invasion. He oversaw essential reports and helped shape reform.
“But we couldn’t keep the Kansan away from his top passion for long. So it wasn’t long before Mr. Agriculture was chairing the committee with the most importance of all to his constituents back home.
“Chairman Roberts has been a constant voice and a consistent champion for the men and women of this country who get their hands dirty, grow crops, raise livestock, and -- as our colleague likes to say – ‘feed a troubled and hungry world.’
“Even in polarized times, the Ag Committee has largely remained a haven for bipartisan work. That’s partly the nature of an issue set where divisions tend to be more regional than ideological. “But it’s also because of the skilled, thoughtful, and genial consensus-builder we’ve had at the center of the dais.
“Two years ago, because of the Chairman, the farm bill conference report passed by the overwhelming margin of 87 to 13. That’s 87 votes for a farm bill.
“By my count, that was the eighth farm bill our colleague had a hand in. It turns out experience matters. Or, as our colleague likes to say, ‘it takes a long time to do big things.’
“That’s true of multi-year farm bills. It’s true of the advances Pat’s pushed forward on geopolitical issues like food security.
“It’s true of other important projects that our friend has taken under his wing, like his crusade to make certain that President Eisenhower received the monument he deserved here in Washington.
“This pandemic may have changed the unveiling ceremonies this year, but it’s only fitting that Ike persevered. That’s thanks to a quarter-century of work from Pat Roberts.
“There’s a reason the people of Kansas have rehired our colleague time after time, and it’s not just for his entertaining wit -- although I’ll have more on that subject in just a moment. It’s because when their Senator sees a way to strengthen his home state or his country, he keeps at it until it gets done.
“In short, Pat has spent decades making sure that it’s not just places like Manhattan, New York, but also Manhattan, Kansas, that get the attention and support they deserve.
“In fact, thanks to Pat, Manhattan, Kansas is the home for our nation’s historic, new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. He played the long game and spent years getting his state ready to make the pitch. This state-of-the-art research facility will come online at K-State, next to another important research facility that happens to be named Pat Roberts Hall.
“He’s looked out for Ft. Riley and its essential missions. He’s helped devastated communities like Greensburg rebuild after disaster. In every way imaginable, Kansas has had its champion.
“Pat’s voice has been a powerful presence in these halls. But in the rare moments when he hasn’t been getting results, that voice has been making us laugh.
“Pat is one of the best-humored Senators in a long time. Not “funny”– humorous.
“It’s not just Pat’s quick wit or his punchlines themselves that take the cake. The best part is just the unpretentious fearlessness with which he’ll go after a good laugh in almost any situation.
“It’s a daunting task to try to convey Pat’s winsome humor as a third party. It’s a package deal – the words, the voice, the expression all work together. But I’ll share just one example.
“Several years back, Pat and I were both attending a formal dinner honoring Bob Dole and Howard Baker. Pat had been asked to offer some remarks in Bob’s honor.
“Apparently he decided a conventional toast would not cut it. The fancy evening would need shaking up.
“Well, it so happened that Pat had recently attended Kennedy Center Honors that honored Neil Diamond.
So when Pat took the podium at that dinner, with that famous tune “Sweet Caroline” stuck in his head, he wound up leading the audience in the world premiere sing-along of his new, original cover song: “Sweet Robert Dole… Bob, Bob, Bob!”
A little unusual? Sure. But somehow, it was the perfect contribution.
Of course it brought the house down.
“So we have here a senior Senator from a state that expects greatness from its representatives.
“They gave America a young man from Abilene who led the fight against tyranny in Europe and became President. They gave us another son from Russell who fought in that fight, came home, became Senate Majority Leader, and ran for President.
“But let’s add one more name to that distinguished company. Historians certainly will. There’s a third Kansas statesman from Holton who belongs in that list.
“Eisenhower, Dole… and Roberts.
“In his own farewell speech, Pat quoted his first boss in Washington, Senator Carlson. He said ‘There are no self-made men or women in public office; it is your friends and family who make you what you are.’
“Well, more than all the bills he’s passed, above all the outcomes he willed into reality, Pat says his family is his ‘crowning achievement’.
“So I must conclude by thanking Pat’s ‘magnolia blossom,’ Franki, for her generosity in lending Pat to us all these years, and everything she’s done to make it possible. And the Senate thanks their three kids, and eight grandchildren for making do with less of our colleague’s time than they deserve.
“Pat, we know we’re going to laugh less without you. I’m afraid we might not get as much done.
“But you have made us better for knowing you, the Senate better for having you, and Kansas and your country so much better for your devoted service.
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