- Ruby Wallau/Daily
By Shoham Geva, Daily News Editor
Published December 12, 2014
Repeated throughout the many tributes Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) received on the floor of the U.S Senate Friday after his formal farewell speech Friday was one phrase — the characterization that Levin was a ‘senator’s senator’.
Those two words, said senator after senator who rose to speak, meant several things about the retiring 36-year veteran of the body — integrity, strength of character, intelligence and attention to detail, among other qualities.
“There are no sharp elbows, “ said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) of Levin. “There is no heated rhetoric. There is, frankly, no star power on cable T.V. No one is dying to get Carl in front of a camera because he will say something incendiary or he will pick a fight… Carl is methodically doing the grind-out work of legislating. He has the tools of a great Senator — intellect, integrity, good manners and an unsurpassed work ethic.”
In his farewell address, Levin spoke to several of those ideals. He thanked his staff and colleagues and touched on his hopes for increased cooperation between the two parties in the future, as well as took several policy stances.
Referencing a quote from former U.S. President George Washington, which described the Senate as the deliberative legislative body, Levin called protection of minority rights one of the chamber’s most important responsibilities.
“Protections for the minority make the Senate more than just a place to slow things down; those protections make it a place where we work things out,” he said. “It is those protections that force compromise that is essential to unifying and governing our country.
He urged the incoming Senate to embrace bipartisanship, but said he wasn’t leaving due to frustration with gridlock and applauded the work of the committees he has served on.
Both the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which Levin has chaired, and the Armed Services Committee, which he currently chairs, have seen high levels of bipartisanship cooperation on bills and investigations.
“Many foresee a continuation of polarization and partisanship in the Senate, and say it is naïve to suggest that the next Congress might come together, break out of gridlock and accomplish great things,” he said. “But I know the Senate can do better because I have seen it happen with my own eyes.”
Levin also addressed income equality, pushing for several measures including increased investment in education and workforce training programs.
“This isn’t just about economic data,” he said. “It’s about our nation’s heart and soul. This growing gulf between a fortunate few and a struggling many is a threat to the dream that has animated this nation since its founding, the dream that hard work leads to a better life for us and for our children.”
Emotional at the end of his speech, Levin told the chamber the Senate’s progress would come by working together, not by one person’s individual impact.
“No leader alone, no single senator, neither party by itself, can determine the Senate’s course,” he said. “But together, the members of this body can move the Senate forward, and in doing so, help move forward the nation we all love.”
Nonetheless, many who spoke after Levin applauded the individual impact he’s had.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) highlighted Levin’s impact on multiple state and national issues, including in Detroit, both with the auto bailout and on securing federal funding for the M1 Rail transit project, a proposed streetcar line for the city.
“If you’ve been to Detroit recently, you’ll know that the city’s in the midst of a spectacular comeback — I believe the most spectacular comeback in modern history ” Stabenow said. ”And everywhere you look, you see evidence of Sen. Carl Levin’s hard work.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who served on the Armed Services Committee with Levin, spoke more broadly to his experiences on the committee as a first-term Senator.
“I watched and observed — I didn’t say a whole lot at first because junior members aren’t supposed to. I watched, and I learned,” Manchin said. “And I saw the system the way I imagined it probably was twenty, thirty, forty years ago, when it did work. I saw the Senate. And I’m thinking, why can’t the rest of the Senate work the way the Armed Services Committee works? And there’s one reason — we don’t have enough Carl Levin’s.”