A notoriously liberal, pain-in-Republicans’-neck, four-term senator, Barbara Boxer, has some advice for those she’s leaving behind as she ends her more than three-decade career on the Hill: Be honest with each other.
Oklahoma GOP Sen. James M. Inhofe, a reliable Republican hawk, and Boxer have had an odd-couple working relationship for the past decade, swapping the chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, based on whose party controlled the Senate.
“We really like each other. And I think, also, what’s important is we know how strongly we feel when we oppose each other, but we never surprise each other by going around someone’s back and sneaking something into a bill,” Boxer said. “We would never do that.”
“There are no two people in this body who are further apart from each other than Barbara Boxer and Jim Inhofe, and yet, we have something beautiful,” Inhofe said after Boxer’s farewell address on the Senate floor last week.
“I’ve told her many times she has every right to be wrong, but you know, on the things that are really important, we did manage to get things together,” he added.
Boxer was first elected to the House in 1982 and elected to the Senate during the so-called Year of the Woman in 1992, one of four women elected to the chamber that year.
The California Democrat said she has a list of “1,000 accomplishments” for when she is asked what she is most proud of, including an after-school bill, protecting women from violence, protecting victims of rape in the military, AIDS funding, helping veterans and recommending Supreme Court justices.
Her legacy issues include her work on the environment, from protecting California wilderness to providing clean drinking water and stopping offshore drilling.
Boxer has spent her last two years as Environment and Public Works ranking member fighting for policies such as reducing carbon dioxide emissions and updating regulations on toxic chemicals.
She plans to continue her advocacy work in retirement, saying, “The arena for me will not be the Senate, but in some ways, it’s more exciting because I’m unplugged and I’m uncensored.”
Boxer battled over environmental issues the most with Inhofe, who once famously declared climate change to be “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated against the American people.”
“There’s an awful lot of hate around here, around this place, and it’s so unnecessary. You can disagree with someone and love ’em anyway,” Inhofe said in his tribute to Boxer.
Boxer said, “You shouldn’t give up trying to find where there’s common ground,” pointing out that she and Inhofe have found that on infrastructure.
“We have really been able to forge a fabulous working relationship on that, and it’s just paid huge rewards for the American people. In the worst times, when one party can’t even look at each other, we’ve been able to show that we can trust each other on those issues,” she said.
As she leaves the Senate, in what some Democrats might consider the worst of times, she has some advice for her colleagues who will be navigating through “uncharted waters” with President-elect Donald Trump.
“Face the fact that your heart is broken, face the fact that you’re disturbed, face that fact that you’re angry,” Boxer said of the hard feelings after the election. “Get over it. Get back on your feet and get in the arena.”
She said this year’s election was something we’ve never seen because “this presidential candidate moved very far away from the Republican establishment.”
While Republicans and Democrats are facing a great divide right now, Boxer recalled how she and Inhofe were able to “pick the issues we feel there’s been a walking away from an American value.” That’s where they were able to find “a sweet spot.”