McConnell Tribute to Departing Colleague Chairman Mike Enzi

‘Even by the high standards of this place, the course charted by the Senator whom I have to send off this morning stands out… Mike has been directly responsible for the passage of more than 100 bills. He’s become a go-to leader on everything from budget, tax reform, and the deficit to AIDS relief and workplace safety… We’re so glad you brought your mind and your heart here to this body. Thank you for sharing your gifts with the country you love.’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY):

“My colleagues here in the United States Senate are, to put it mildly, an impressive bunch.

“That always makes it a challenge to pay adequate tribute when one leaves our ranks.

“But even by the high standards of this place, the course charted by the Senator whom I have to send off this morning stands out.

“The senior Senator for Wyoming, Chairman Mike Enzi, has accomplished enough in one career to fill two. He has seemingly glided from business success to military service to local government to state politics to the United States Senate, where he’s built a remarkably productive legislative record.

“Mike’s prolific career began in a small town. In fact, Gillette, Wyoming was so small when Mike and his wife, Diana arrived and stood up a family business, the town still carried the less-than-flattering nickname of “Dirt.”

“But new discoveries in the American energy business were in the course of changing everything.

“A major oil and gas boom meant more people. More people meant more sales at Mike’s N-Z Shoes store. (That’s the letter “N” and the letter “Z”)  Mike could have just sat back and cruised.

“But Mike saw Gillette struggling to keep up with the growth. Basic services were lagging. And nearly everyone who encountered him in town, or in Junior Chamber meetings, concluded this up-and-comer had real leadership talent. 

“I understand the final prod into public service came from no less a Wyoming statesman than our own former colleague, Senator Alan Simpson.

“They’d crossed paths. Alan had heard Mike speak. And he took the promising young man aside to tell him rather pointedly that his town sure did need a good mayor.

“To be precise, Mike tells us the phrasing was typically blunt Alan Simpson: “Put your money where your mouth is.”

“Our future colleague took it under advisement. But Mike almost didn’t survive long enough to announce his campaign.

“The way he told it on the floor last week, when he worked up the courage to relay that suggestion to Diana on their long drive home, she almost swerved right off the road.

“Fortunately, they were unharmed. The more they talked, the more they liked the idea of making a difference. So at the ripe old age of 30, this up-and-coming businessman ran for mayor and won.

“On his watch, what could’ve been a municipal disaster became an economic golden age for Gillette. It didn’t take long for the town’s fortunes to become the talk of political minds around Wyoming. After a few years off, the former Mayor Enzi was representing his neighbors as State Representative, and then State Senator. 

“And just like water seeks its own level, talent tends to seek its best outlet. So after squeaking out a close primary victory over his now-fellow Senator for Wyoming, Senator Barrasso, Mike packed his bags for Washington in late 1996, and this body gained — at the time — its only trained accountant. 


“Now, Mike knew that if he was going to properly serve his beloved state, he’d need fellow Wyomingites working alongside him. People who shared his no-nonsense affection for careful planning and thrift in government.

“One of his best decisions was persuading his longtime collaborator, the one-time Town Manager of Gillette, Flip McConnaughey, to move to Washington and be chief of staff.

“Mike says he initially had 500 applications for that job but none of them was the one he wanted. The experienced salesman had to pitch his long-time friend on the opening. It worked. 

“From Gillette to the Senate, Flip was Mike’s secret weapon — not just a staffer, but as Mike tells it, a true partner in service for many years. When Flip passed away much too soon in 2016, this entire institution felt the loss.

“Mike’s staff likes to say he has a whole collection of useful hats he can wear to approach Senate business: the perspective of a mayor, or a small business owner, or a state legislator, or an accountant, or a Wyomingite.

“Well, that hasn’t just been a winning combination for the people of Wyoming. It’s benefitted the entire nation.

“Mike’s trade secret has been what he calls “the 80/20 rule.” Across all the issues he tackled, he insists about four-fifths of the subject matter is potential common ground, ripe for progress. You just can’t let the controversial 20% blow everything up. 

“Well, that approach made our colleague from Wyoming downright prolific.

“Mike has been directly responsible for the passage of more than 100 bills. He’s become a go-to leader on everything from budget, tax reform, and the deficit to AIDS relief and workplace safety.

“His sober, prudent approach -- not to mention his practical experience keeping the books and making payroll -- made Mike exactly the sort of person taxpayers hope are managing their dollars. 

“He’s used budget resolutions to steer the federal government toward more sustainable fiscal health. He helped shepherd the first major overhaul of the federal tax code in a generation. He’s kept a watchful eye on the unintended consequences of legislation, such as his recent work to help relieve Main Street lenders from the one-size-fits-all burden of Dodd-Frank.

“Back when Chairman Enzi was steering the HELP Committee, his Democratic counterpart was Ted Kennedy. A fastidious small-government guy from Wyoming and the liberal lion from Massachusetts. Call it the 80-20 rule’s final exam.

“But they passed it. They worked together to create bipartisan outcomes on things like worker safety, pension reform, and mental health parity.

“To be clear, there has been no lack of conservative conviction in Mike’s career.

“Just ask our Democratic colleagues about the times their debates with Mike landed in the 20 percent where the gloves came off. This is the Senator one broadcaster in 2013 dubbed ‘the Paul Revere of Obamacare.’

“But Mike never lost sight of the mission. He kept up the hunt for common ground.

“Autism research. Vocational training. Carrying the torch on PEPFAR, the historic fight against AIDS in Africa.

“Mike’s insatiable appetite for making a difference brought some interesting characters into his life. It turned out quite a few high-profile celebrities were happy to meet with one of this body’s chief champions on the AIDS issue.

“But let the record reflect that East Coast, Washington D.C. life never spoiled Mike. I heard from a reliable source that after wrapping up one meeting with Bono, the world-famous front-man of U2 and a leader in the fight against AIDS, Mike cheerfully offered the following parting remark to the well-established superstar:

Well… good luck with the band!’


“If you’ve seen Mike in action around the Senate -- devouring details, mastering issue after issue -- it’s hard to imagine him making time for much of anything outside his work.

“But you’d be badly mistaken. Because one of the worst-kept secrets around the Capitol is that Mike is one of the very warmest members of the Senate family.

“See, as we prepare to bid him farewell, Mike’s colleagues may miss his wise leadership on legislation…

“But I suspect the loss will be greater for future classes of Senate pages, who’ll be denied the pizza and ice cream parties Mike threw to celebrate their successes. The staff at a favorite nearby Mexican restaurant will miss a couple who, along with the Barrassos and the Grassleys, spent years ranked among their most devoted weekly visitors. 

“More than anything, I know the dedicated staff of the Senate who don’t get thanked enough -- from the Parliamentarian’s office to food services to the Capitol Police -- will miss the massive annual holiday cookie parties orchestrated by Field Marshall Diana Enzi.

“Diana has organized the production of hundreds of dozens of baked treats every year. Mike is more like her assistant in this endeavor.

“Their unstoppable tradition of giving back to our colleagues, even this year, encapsulates just what kind of hearts this couple shares.

“And we know these labors of love come on top of Diana’s own important work, like her longtime focus on clearing landmines in Eastern Europe.

“Now, I don’t mean any of this to guilt Mike into staying. Because Mike always has his head on straight; his plans laid; his priorities lined up. So he knows that even on our best days, the Senate can’t hold a candle to the joys of the next chapter he and Diana have planned.

“It turns out that the man whose Senate website includes a page of “Grandfatherly advice” is looking forward to more free time for delivering that advice to his own grandkids, in person.

“And I understand there are still several states in which Mike has yet to cast a line. One of the Senate’s most intrepid anglers will no longer have to plan around this body’s schedule as he seeks to correct this oversight.

“So Mike, while all of us here are sorry to see you go, I know our colleagues join me in wishing you ‘tight lines.’

“We’re so glad you brought your mind and your heart here to this body. Thank you for sharing your gifts with the country you love.”

Related Issues: Tributes