In what may have been his final remarks on the Senate floor, Democrat John Stennis of Mississippi said Friday that in "thinking over the years that have passed so rapidly" he's concluded the most needed quality in a lawmaker is the willingness to cooperate.
The end of the 100th Congress marks the end of Stennis' Senate career, dating to 1947. He will remain a senator until the 101st Congress convenes in January.At 87, he is the chamber's oldest member, its president pro tem and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The senator, who lost a leg to cancer in 1983, spoke from his wheelchair stationed next to the mahogany desk he used for much of his career. The desk once belonged to Jefferson Davis.
Stennis hailed the teamwork displayed over the last two years by Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., and Republican Leader Bob Dole of Kansas.
"I believe these two have proved the necessity of cooperation," Stennis said.
He then referred to a recent landmark of cooperation, the summit conference that was convened after the stock market crash last year to set spending limits and plot deficit reductions.
"In thinking over the years that have passed so rapidly one of the things that have given me renewed faith in our system is the summit conference last year in which members of the House, the Senate and the president met for many hours, day and night," he said.
"It gives me strength as I leave here," Stennis said.
Stennis, whose Senate career has spanned the terms of eight presidents, remains cheerful and upbeat.
He emphasizes that he is leaving the Senate only because of his age and health and would really have preferred to stay.
"He's talked about how he will miss the Senate but also about what he intends to do to stay be busy," said Rex Buffington, Stennis' press secretary. "He's promised that he will stay busy and productive; he just won't be sitting around."
He said that while Stennis has made no definitive plans, "he will look for opportunities to share his experiences, with young people in particular."
Stennis plans to return to his home in De Kalb, Miss., after closing his office here.
"He never admitted he moved away," Buffington said. "He's always said his home is DeKalb, Miss.
"He has not slowed down one bit," Buffington said of Stennis. "He has said for years that he was a straight furrow to the end of the row and as far as the Senate's row is concerned, he's still plowing."