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It’s Speaker John A. Boehner who is known for public weeping, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid came close to waterworks last week, as the chamber heaped praised on departing Senate insider and GOP floor staffer David Schiappa, the secretary for the minority.
“I’m not much for, um,” Reid paused, grimaced and gazed down at his tightly clasped hands, “being very emotional, but if there were ever a time I felt like shedding a tear it was in saying, as I did, goodbye to David.” Then the Nevada Democrat quoted William Shakespeare, observing that parting with Schiappa, who has worked in the Senate for 29 years was, indeed, “such sweet sorrow.”
Reid wasn’t the only senator to wax poetic while paying tribute to Schiappa and wishing him well in his new endeavor as the vice president of the lobbying outfit Duberstein Group Inc.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., paraphrased “Roots” author Alex Haley. “When an old person dies, it’s like a library burning down.” Saving the speech from sounding like a eulogy, Alexander acknowledged that Schiappa is “neither old, nor dying,” only walking out the door with volumes of wisdom, knowledge and experience that were especially helpful to a Senate brimming with first-term members.
“With his leaving after 30 years, a number of volumes from the Senate library are going out the door. We won’t have that wisdom, that experience, or that knowledge that has been so valuable to us, and that has been especially important to the Senate where nearly half the members are in their first term,” Alexander said. “This is an institution that depends on precedent, understanding and respect of its strengths over a long period of time.”
Like the secretary of the Senate, the sergeant-at-arms, the chaplain and the parliamentarian, the majority and minority secretaries are actually elected officers of the Senate. Schiappa’s successor, Laura Dove, was elected Aug. 1. Dove had worked under Schiappa, among others, during her previous stint with the Senate. She’s also literally a member of the Senate family — she’s the daughter of former Parliamentarian Robert Dove.
Schiappa is the latest on a long list of veteran staffers to leave in recent years, raising questions about institutional memory.
“Dave Schiappa is a prime example of an institutionalist, whose deep knowledge serves to connect the present-day Senate with traditions rooted in time. If properly understood, those traditions will be honored, and will bring esteem upon the body,” said Martin B. Gold, the author of “Senate Procedure and Practice” and a former senior aide to multiple GOP leaders.