Among the 13 Senators sworn in last January, Sen. Marco Rubio is the only one who has yet to speak on the floor.
“It is not to address the nation or constituents but to address colleagues,” Ritchie said. “It’s to establish who they are, what they’re interested in and how seriously they should be taken.”
Senators use their maiden speech as an opportunity to set the tone for their term in office. Speeches are typically noncontroversial, and they address the issues Senators believe to be most important and pay homage to the lawmaker’s predecessor and state.
But the decision of when to deliver a maiden speech was never governed by concrete rules, only by custom.
“It used to be a couple years, then a couple months, then a couple weeks, and now it seems like it’s a couple days,” Ritchie said.
In recent years, the practice of waiting to deliver a maiden speech has slowly withered away.
Then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) gave her maiden speech on the topic of health care on Feb. 13, 2001, a little more than a month after she was sworn in. Then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) gave a more impromptu speech on counting Ohio’s electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2005, just two days after he was sworn in.
Heye said there’s no reason for Rubio to give a speech until he’s ready.
“He’s not rushed,” Heye said. “He’s really learning how the Senate operates before doing so.”
The delay has certainly heightened expectations for the speech.
“Of course, everybody’s always interested in the first time that a new Member sits up to speak and what they’re going to speak about,” Ritchie said. “Not everybody is successful in their maiden speech, but it helps to take your measure and to see what issues are particularly important to you.”
Freshmen Use Rite of Passage to Speak Their Minds
The maiden speech is a rite of passage in the halls of the Senate: It’s the first time a freshman Member speaks on the Senate floor.
Although the tradition has changed, the Senate still takes it very seriously. In the past, Members have discussed domestic and foreign policy, retold family stories and given stemwinders on pet issues.
Below are excerpts of maiden speeches from 12 freshman Senators sworn in earlier this year. (Florida Republican Marco Rubio and Nevada Republican Dean Heller have not yet given maiden speeches.)
“Henry Clay’s great compromise was over slavery. One could argue that he rose above sectional strife to carve out compromise after compromise trying to ward off civil war. Or one could argue that his compromises were morally wrong and may have encouraged war, that his compromises meant the acceptance during his 50 years of public life of not only slavery, but the slave trade itself. ... Today we have no issues that approach moral equivalency with the issue of slavery. Yet we do face a fiscal nightmare and potentially a debt crisis. Is the answer to compromise?”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.