The Senate on Thursday demonstrated the widespread appeal of Ronald Reagan, as senators from across the political spectrum paid tribute to the former president who was born 100 years ago this Sunday.
Republicans, Democrats, and one Independent senator highlighted moments of Reagan's life and presidency today in a two-hour tribute that is expected to be followed by a similar tribute in the House on Feb. 9.
Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who sits on the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission, began the Senate’s tribute by highlighting Reagan’s commitment to eliminate nuclear weapons.
“Young adults today grow up without the fear of nuclear war in the back of their mind, and students tomorrow will work to achieve President Reagan's dream of a world without nuclear weapons,” she said.
Feinstein also highlighted Reagan's ability to work across the political aisle, and said his respectful nature is in lesser quantity today than it was years ago. “You would not have seen him giving a speech like some do today, calling his opponents' names or giving out generalized insults,” she said. “Dignity and wit were his weapons of choice.”
Republicans who followed focused on his ability to revive the sagging American economy by focusing on individual freedom and lower taxes.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) said Reagan knew that “the road to greatness was through an individual’s effort, not through expanded government.”
“He cut government spending,” she said. “He reduced government regulation. He ended the practice of wage and price controls. He passed tax cuts for all Americans. He famously noted that government's first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) lamented that today, Americans are faced with “whining” that the nation cannot reduce spending, and said the United States needs to rediscover Reagan’s approach. “That's what we need to return to,” he said.
Others remembered Reagan's ability to inspire. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) recalled a speech Reagan gave in 1975 in Georgia.
“People came to hear a positive message about America,” Isakson said. “He uplifted people who needed uplifting, and he did it with a message of belief in ourselves, belief in our country, pride in America, defense through strength … those messages that were so clear of Ronald Reagan.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Reagan's remarks inspired him when during his days of captivity in Vietnam, and were “a tonic to men who had come home eager to put the war behind us.”
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) praised Reagan for his commitment to the values of faith, flag and family, and stressed Reagan's role in winning the Cold War.
“The optimism, moral clarity and confidence that President Reagan radiated inspired a generation, and they are precisely the ideals that we need today to rekindle and re-inspire the current generation of Americans,” he said.
Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who served in the Reagan administration and was Reagan's secretary of the Navy, said it was “truly an inspiring time in my life” to have worked with Reagan. “He knew how to inspire our countrymen.”
In remarks this morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said it is now “widely acknowledged by both sides of the aisle that Ronald Reagan was a great man and a great president. You could almost say we are all Reaganites now.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who was last to speak today, said Reagan's appeal goes beyond politics. “Ronald Reagan loved his country. But I think this country loved him even more.”
—This story was updated at 4:11 p.m.