Prepared Floor Remarks by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
On Becoming the 91st Senate President Pro Tempore
Friday, January 25, 2019
Mr. President, I come to the floor today to offer a few reflections in these opening days of the 116th Congress.
On January 3rd, I was honored to be sworn in as the 91st Senate President pro tem. As many of you may know, I love history. I studied to be a history teacher. And I’ve devoted six decades of my life to public service where maybe I’ve helped make a little history along the way.
I’ve represented the people of Iowa as a legislator since 1958. At age 25, as the youngest legislator in the Iowa State House, I never dreamed that one day I would be named a constitutional officer in the United States Senate.
For the last 38 years, it has been my great privilege to serve and represent the people of Iowa as a United States Senator. And it is with great pride on behalf of my home state that I step into this leadership role and follow in the footsteps of my predecessors as president pro tem of the Senate.
In fact, one of those predecessors is from my home state. It was one hundred years ago that Iowa Republican Senator Albert Baird Cummins became the 68th Senate President pro tem. He served in that role from 1919 to 1925.
In my nearly four decades here in the Senate, I have served alongside seven Presidents pro tem. This list includes Senator Thurmond, of South Carolina; Senator Stennis, of Mississippi; Senator Byrd, of West Virginia; Senator Stevens, of Alaska; Senator Inouye, of Hawaii; Senator Leahy, of Vermont; and Senator Hatch, of Utah. Each served with honor and distinction, bringing their own style and substance to the office. When Senator Byrd was elected to this office, he noted that “the election of a Senator to the Office of the President pro tempore has always been considered one of the highest honors offered to a Senator by the Senate body.” I am proud to join the ranks of this impressive and respected group of public servants and legislators.
Article I of the Constitution directs that a President pro tem be chosen by the Senate. The President pro tem serves as the President of the Senate when the Vice President is unavailable and serves a number of other ceremonial and ministerial functions.
I appreciate the support of my colleagues in electing me to this position. In Federalist 62, James Madison considered it a virtue that Senators have a “more advanced age and a longer period of citizenship.” Traditionally, the President pro tem has also served as the senior statesman of the Senate. He stands up for the values that make the Senate the world’s greatest deliberative body. Perhaps that’s why it’s customary for the Senator of the majority party with the longest record of continuous service to become president pro tem.
When you’ve been here as long as I have, you learn some valuable lessons. You learn that you’ve got to work hard, put your constituents first, and stand up for your principles. That’s how you get reelected by the way.
Because the Senate is not a majoritarian body, you also learn that to get anything important done, you have to seek consensus and develop relationships on both sides of the aisle. And you have to learn the art of negotiation and bipartisan compromise.
You also learn that it’s not enough to pass laws, you’ve also got to make sure they’re followed and that taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately. The humorist Will Rogers once said that about all he could say for the United States Senate is that it opens with a prayer and closes with an investigation.
In my experience, that’s not always a bad thing, because it’s by conducting oversight and investigations that we hold the executive branch responsible to taxpayers—no matter which party is in power.
That’s why I’ve always dedicated a significant amount of resources to oversight, even as a new senator. And that’s why when some have suggested that agencies should only respond to the oversight requests of committee chairmen and ranking members, I’ve fought back hard.
I believe that every Senator has a duty to the taxpayers who sent them here to take an active part in Congressional oversight efforts. The Supreme Court observed in Watkins v. United States that “the power of Congress to conduct investigations is inherent in the legislative process.” Oversight helps us to write better bills and be wiser with taxpayer dollars.
It’s also how we make the agencies accountable to the American people. Over time, as the government has grown in size, Congress has delegated more and more power to the executive branch. Some of that delegation is necessary for government to function efficiently. But there is an inherent danger whenever Congress delegates power to the executive branch—especially its legislative authority.
When they drafted the Constitution, the Founders of our nation were rightfully concerned that those in power would be tempted to abuse it to favor their own interests. To prevent this, the Founders divided power among three branches of government, setting up a system of government in which, to paraphrase James Madison in Federalist 51, “ambition [is] made to counteract ambition.” It is through this system of checks and balances between ambitious branches of government that our fundamental liberties are protected.
Concentration of too much power in the executive branch upsets the careful balance of separated powers envisioned by the Founders. As legislators, it is our duty, as the Founders intended, for us to protect and defend the interests of our branch of government. So when we write laws, we must be careful not to cede too much authority to the executive branch. And we must make sure if we have delegated authority, that we conduct rigorous oversight to make sure it’s being used appropriately. It’s only through rigorous oversight that we make sure that the government of the people and by the people works for the people.
As President pro tem, I can assure my colleagues and my constituents that I will bring the same Iowa work ethic, decency and integrity to this job that I have cultivated throughout my years of public service. Like my predecessors, I will work to uphold the dignity and decorum of this body and to defend the Senate’s institutional interests. It’s what our Founders expected and the American people deserve.
Each member of the Senate is privileged to serve. I especially welcome the nine newest members of this body. They include 7 Republicans and 2 Democrats: Senator Blackburn, of Tennessee; Senator Braun, of Indiana; Senator Cramer, of North Dakota; Senator Hawley, of Missouri; Senator McSally, of Arizona; Senator Romney, of Utah; Senator Rosen, of Nevada; Senator Sinema, of Arizona; and Senator Scott, of Florida.
To my newest colleagues, and to those who’ve been around a while longer, I want you to know that that my door is open. And I look forward to working with each of you in the weeks, months and years ahead.
So with great honor and humility, I look forward to my service as President pro tem. Like my good friend and our most recent President pro tem, Senator Orrin Hatch, I look forward to opening the people’s business each day here in Senate. And then I will work the rest of the day to deliver on my commitment to find solutions to our country’s most pressing problems, to seek common ground with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and to exercise rigorous oversight over the other branches of government.
I thank my colleagues and I yield the floor.