Heard on the Hill

Alan Simpson Is No Longer the Tallest Senator, and He’s OK With That

Newest senator, Alabama’s ‘Big Luther’ Strange, is 6 feet 9 inches tall

Former Sen. Alan Simpson, seen above speaking to Washington Sen. Patty Murray in 2011, has lost his record as tallest U.S. senator to Alabama’s Luther Strange. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Sen. Alan Simpson was surprised to hear that he’d lost his title as the tallest senator in modern history. 

“What son of a bitch did that?” he asked when reached by phone Thursday afternoon.

But upon learning that Luther Strange, Alabama’s newly appointed senator, had claimed the honor, the Wyoming Republican was happy to step aside.

“Oh, that’s quite a name right there,” Simpson said. “How tall is he?”

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Strange is 6 feet 9 inches tall, two inches taller than the record Simpson set when he was in the Senate.

“Oh, Jesus. Well, tell him he’s got me beat hands-down. Not only was I 6 feet 7 inches, but I’m shrinking. Now that I’m 85, I’ve shrunk to 6 feet 5 inches. I’m willing to relinquish that title with great energy and spirit,” Simpson said. 

Strange, 63, was appointed Thursday morning to replace newly confirmed Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Known as “Big Luther,” he received a basketball scholarship at Tulane.

Alabama Sen. Luther Strange played basketball at Tulane University. (Courtesy Luther Strange Facebook page)
Alabama Sen. Luther Strange played basketball at Tulane University. (Courtesy Luther Strange Facebook page)

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At 6 feet 11 inches tall, former Maryland Democratic Rep. Tom McMillen, a retired NBA player, has been the tallest member of Congress. But Simpson had held onto the Senate record, rising above two Democrats, former West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller (6 feet 6½ inches) and former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley (6 feet, 5 inches), another former NBA player. 

Height is a great advantage in the Senate, as it is in life, Simpson said.

“I could always sit near the back of the chamber and you could spy the guys whose jaws were getting tense, and you knew who was going to start firing bombs and you could go over and say, ‘Just relax,’” he recalled.

It also allowed Simpson to peep over his colleagues’ shoulders, he joked, to see what was on their desks. 

Simpson couldn’t think of any areas in the Senate where that kind of height was an impediment. But having hit 6 feet 7 inches in high school, he acknowledged that it took some time for him to grow into it. 

“When you’re a kid and you’ve got zits all over you, it’s embarrassing, but as I got older and the zits disappeared and I had beautiful hair, which I have none of now, it’s a comfort,” Simpson said.

It doesn’t matter what you look like — the height “makes you feel good,” the former senator said, encouraging this 6-foot-tall reporter to embrace her height.

But he cautioned not to laud it over people. 

“Sometimes little guys — and I don’t mean this in a denigrative fashion — I was 6 feet 7 inches in college and played football and basketball, and especially when I was drinking beer, which I did quite frequently in college, people would come and say, ‘You’re a pretty big shot, aren’t you?’ You had to handle that,” he said. 

As for Strange and his new title, “He’s going to love it,” Simpson said.

Strange with his predecessor, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on Capitol Hill in 2014. (Courtesy Luther Strange Facebook page)
Strange with his predecessor, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on Capitol Hill in 2014. (Courtesy Luther Strange Facebook page)

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