Sen. Levin tribute to Sen. Olympia Snowe

Friday, December 21, 2012

Mr. President, it is an unfortunate reality that the number of people in Washington working for bipartisan solutions is significantly smaller than the number of people claiming to do so or proclaiming the need to do so. Nearly everyone seeks the "bipartisan" label; fewer wear it comfortably or practice bipartisanship regularly.

That is one reason I am sad to see Olympia Snowe leave the Senate. Over three terms, Senator Snowe has represented the people of Maine with intelligence and, yes, moderation. Here’s how Time magazine put it in 2006, in naming Senator Snowe one of the nation’s 10 best senators: "Because of her centrist views and eagerness to get beyond partisan point scoring, Maine Republican Olympia Snowe is in the center of every policy debate in Washington." And I’ve been lucky to observe her work in those debates.

Start with her work on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, where she has served both as chairman and ranking member. As a member of the committee, I have appreciated her dedicated advocacy for small business. She has worked hard to support SBA's Microloan program and programs for women owned businesses. She has helped improve SBA’s trade and export finance programs; elevated the SBAs Office of International Trade and add export finance specialists to the SBA's trade and counseling programs; and established the State Export Promotion Grant Program, designed to increase the number of small businesses that export goods and services.

Senator Snowe also has been an enthusiastic supporter of our nation's manufacturers. As a former co-chair of the Senate Task Force on Manufacturing, she has worked to strengthen programs such as the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which helps American manufacturers research and develop new technologies, increase efficiency, improve supply chains and out-innovate our overseas competitors. American workers from Maine to Michigan and beyond are better off for her support of this vital sector of the American economy.

Beyond manufacturing, our states are linked in another way: the historical lighthouses that dot our shores. I was pleased that Senator Snowe joined me in offering the National Lighthouse Stewardship Act, which would help local governments or nonprofit groups preserve these prized structures for the appreciation of generations to follow.

I was also fortunate to serve with her on the Armed Service Committee, where she served as Chair of the Seapower Subcommittee. She was a strong advocate for the men and women of the Navy and Marine Corps, and worked diligently to ensure that the Department of the Navy had the people and hardware the Navy needs to defend our nation’s interests.

On these and other issues, Senator Snowe has worked across party lines for the good of her constituents and our nation. But I can think of no issue that better demonstrates her ability to reach beyond partisan interest than one of the most controversial issues of our time together here: the Iraq war.

I worked with Senator Snowe and a bipartisan group of senators who believed the status quo in Iraq was no longer acceptable and who worked together to chart a new course.

We joined together to advance our collective view that the primary purpose of United States strategy in Iraq should be to pressure the Iraqi political leadership to make the compromises necessary to end the violence in Iraq while accelerating the training of Iraqi troops to take responsibility for their own security.

We made clear that the open-ended commitment of U.S. forces to Iraq was over, thereby undermining the al Qaeda narrative that we were there as occupiers and signaling to the people and Government of Iraq that the time for political reconciliation had come.

As Senator Snowe rightly pointed out at the time, "The Iraq government needs to understand that our commitment is not infinite. Americans are losing patience with the failure of the leadership in Baghdad to end the sectarian violence and move toward national reconciliation." She continued, "It is imperative that Congress understands the importance of placing the future of Iraq’s independence in the hands of those who should want it most -- the Iraqi people and their government."

As members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Snowe and I also worked as part of the Committee’s effort to investigate the misuse of pre-war Iraq intelligence by policymakers.

Senator Snowe's support for the investigation and its findings, in the face of strong criticism from some in her own party, was important to bring transparency to the decision to go to war in Iraq and will help to ensure the American public is not similarly misled in the future.

Senator Snowe recently took another principled stand, in what will likely be her last vote as a member of the Intelligence Committee, when she was the only Republican member to vote to adopt the Committee's report on the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program. That report definitively shows that torture is not effective in eliciting intelligence and will hopefully significantly influence how our nation deals with the detention and interrogation of those we capture in the future.

Olympia Snowe's service has been of enormous benefit to the people of her state. She is rightly respected in this chamber, and around this country, as a leader who has not just talked a good game when it comes to bipartisanship, but has followed words with action, often at the cost of no little political discomfort for her. To the very end of her tenure here, she has fought, as she put it just last week on this, "to return this institution to its highest calling of governing through consensus."

I want to thank her for the many ways in which she has supported programs important to Michigan, and for the thoughtful approach she has brought to the many challenges we have faced together. As she returns to Maine, I wish Olympia and Jock every success in whatever endeavors may come. And I hope we can take to heart Senator Snowe's wise words as we seek to answer the challenges before us.