Oklahoma's junior U.S. Senator was shown the respect of the most senior lawmakers in Washington today.
An emotional Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) received a long round of applause and numerous accolades from his colleagues on the Senate floor this morning. The tribute came after Coburn delivered a heartfelt farewell speech, the culmination of 16 years in Congress, the last ten of which the conservative Republican has served in the Senate.
Sen. Coburn, an obstetrician from Muskogee, fought back tears at several points during the speech, which focused less on past accomplishments than on future possibilities.
"We do not have one problem we can't solve," said Sen. Coburn about the challenges facing the country, "there's nothing too big for us."
Dr. Coburn spent considerable time in his 25-minutes speech recalling the words and intentions of the founding fathers. He called on his colleagues to embrace compromise, saying that's what the founders envisioned, and what they did.
"As senators, we have to follow this example," Coburn stated. "I've not always done that -- I admit that freely to you. I should have."
Within some Washington circles, Dr. Coburn earned the nickname Dr. No for his famously stubborn and sometimes lone opposition to spending measures he considered unnecessary. His annual 'Wastebook' was a favorite of fiscal conservatives, and he was especially critical of earmarks and the pork barrel projects that many senators try to secure for their states..
In his speech, Coburn read the Senate oath aloud to drive home a point.
"Your state isn't mentioned one time in that oath," Sen. Coburn reminded his colleagues. "Your whole goal is to protect the United States of America, its constitution and its liberties -- it's not to provide benefits for your state, that's where we differ."
Coburn offered an apology to those he had offended over the years, and said he never intended to upset anyone. He says he just believes very strongly in the constitution -- specifically, Article 1, Section 8.
"I believe the enumerated powers meant something," Coburn said, in a halting voice. "They were meant to protect us against what history says always happens to a republic: they've all died."
Senator Coburn thanked his family, his staff, and, lastly, thanked each member--
"For the privilege," said Coburn, "[and] for having been able to work for a better country for us all...I yield the floor."
Several of Coburn's colleagues -- Republican and Democrat -- spoke after he finished, offering the highest praise for his integrity and commitment.
Replacing Coburn in January will be outgoing Congressman James Lankford.