Maiden Speeches Finished … Almost
Sen. Tim Scott’s maiden speech on the Senate floor Monday afternoon concluded the process for senators serving in the chamber at the outset of the 113th Congress, but at least two are still ahead.
Speaking from notes, Scott spoke about his early life, including when he failed multiple classes in high school.
“As a freshman in high school, I failed out. I failed world geography — I think I’m the only United States Senator to ever fail civics. I also failed Spanish and English. Mr. President, when you fail Spanish and English, they don’t call you bilingual, sir. They do not. They call you bi-ignorant, because you can’t speak in any language,” Scott said. “That’s where I found myself, Mr. President.”
He then proceeded to discuss positive influences that turned around his high school career and the rest of his life, including John Moniz, a Chick-fil-A restaurant operator. After that, Scott’s speech went into a brief discussion of policy, including his support for a tax code overhaul and his conservative views about a smaller federal government.
Scott’s speech followed Democrats Brian Schatz of Hawaii (who gave his on June 11) and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico (his took place June 13).
This year’s maiden speeches have covered a wide array of national and local policy issues. Schatz, for instance, focused on efforts to grant federal recognition to Native Hawaiians. That’s been a longstanding policy priority of the Hawaii delegation and legislation to grant recognition came to be known colloquially as the “Akaka bill,” named for now retired Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii.
“Separate is not equal, and that is why I urge the federal government to treat Native Hawaiians fairly,” Schatz said. “It is long past time for the Native Hawaiian people to regain their right to self-governance.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., timed his maiden speech to come just before the Senate debated in earnest the immigration overhaul bill that he helped write as one of the bipartisan “gang of eight.” He referenced the immigration measure, also speaking in broad terms about the importance of a functioning Senate based on developing a consensus.
“I am a proud and unapologetic conservative, and a Republican, and I hope my votes will consistently reflect that philosophy. So I am not suggesting that we hold hands and agree on every issue, or even most issues,” Flake said. “There are profound and meaningful differences between the parties. But I want to spend more time exercising my franchise while debating the legislation itself, and less time on deciding whether such legislation should be debated on the Senate floor.”
Flake sought to emphasize the difference between the House, where he served more than 12 years, and the Senate.
“There is a time and a place for using supermajority rules to block legislation and/or nominees from coming to the Senate floor. There is a time and place for partisanship,” Flake said. “But not every time, and not every place.”
Scott’s maiden speech won’t be the last this year. Republican Sen. Jeff Chiesa was recently appointed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to serve until the October special election to replace the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg.
In addition, Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., will be sworn-in to the Senate in the coming days. Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine kicked off the maiden speeches for the 113th Congress on February 27.
The maiden speech is a longstanding Senate tradition. In a bygone era long before the introduction of TV cameras, a senator might wait years before speaking from the floor of the chamber. That’s no longer the case, with the South Carolina Republican’s speech concluding the process in early July.
Time for maiden speeches is ordinarily reserved on the Senate schedule in advance, although that is not always the case, either. When Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts made his maiden speech, it came mere weeks into his Senate tenure. That’s a point Richard Arenberg, a Tsongas staffer, recalled in an oral history interview with the Senate Historical Office.
“Somebody was making a speech about something and referred to Ethiopia or Somalia. He perked up and said, ‘I don’t agree with that. Come on.’ He drags me over to the floor. He stands up and gets recognition and he starts talking! Well, about five minutes into this address, all of a sudden you hear this bang as those twin swinging doors of the center aisle fly open and puffing down the aisle comes Ted Kennedy, at a trot. Because, as you know better than I, it was the tradition for the senior senator to introduce his junior colleague on the floor when he was about to make his maiden speech,” Arenberg explained. “Here was Tsongas making his maiden speech without any forewarning. Never mind to Ted Kennedy, without any forewarning to his staff or his speechwriter or anybody else.”