There’s an entire generation that may remember U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd for his performance in the Saturday Night Live ‘Laser Cats’ sketch when he filled in at the last minute for George Clooney, but that’s not how the longest serving Senator from Connecticut wants to be remembered.
“To this day people go, ‘You were great in Laser Cats,’” Dodd said in an interview Tuesday afternoon in his Washington D.C. office. Dodd appeared in the sketch with his long-time friend and Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels.
Click here to watch the episode of Laser Cats featuring Dodd.
But Dodd obviously doesn’t want to be remembered for his TV appearance, he said he wants to be remembered for contributing to significant issues and representing the state of Connecticut well.
After his valedictory speech on the Senate floor Tuesday he was praised by his Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle for his friendship and his deep appreciation of the U.S. Senate, it’s traditions, rules, and history.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Dodd’s valedictory speech, which was mostly a message to newly elected Senators and praise for the Senate as an institution left him speechless. A rare occurrence for any politician.
He said Dodd was able to capture in his last speech what is unique about the institution.
In an interview earlier in the day Dodd called McConnell “one of the best politicians I’ve ever met in my life.”
“He’s a very tough negotiator, but when he makes a commitment he sticks with it,” Dodd said. He said the two helped write the Help America Vote Act together.
Dodd’s crowning accomplishment, which was mentioned by several of his colleagues in their farewells, may be passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which went into effect in 1993. The federal legislation provides employees job-protected unpaid leave if they or a member of their family suffer a serious health condition.
Connecticut’s soon-to-be senior Sen. Joseph Lieberman said that single piece of legislation has helped more than 50 million Americans. He praised the work Dodd has done and described him as a man who is passionate about what he believes in, but knows when partisanship should end.
“His word has been his bond,” Lieberman said.
But Lieberman also wanted his colleagues to know, half of whom were in attendance, that Dodd had a sense of humor too. He said Dodd tells a joke about how Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, grew up Baptist and converted once he discovered how much time he would need to spend at weekend events and meetings.
But the work is one thing Dodd said he will miss. He said Senators usually say they’ll miss the people and not the work, but Dodd said he would miss the work as well.
Two more recent pieces of legislation with Dodd’s thumb prints on them are national health care reform, which he played a lead role on when former U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy was diagnosed and later died from brain cancer—and financial services reform, which is referred to on Capitol Hill as the Dodd-Frank Act.
Dodd said he wrote about 50 percent of the Patient Affordable Protection and Care Act. And it was the first piece of legislation he passed which didn’t have a Republican co-sponsor, a statistic he wasn’t proud of.
“As I noted earlier, until last year’s health care bill, there had not been a single piece of legislation I had ever passed without a Republican partner,” said Dodd. “Of course, none of those victories came easily. The notion that partisan politics is a new phenomena, or that partisan politics serve no useful purpose, is just wrong.”
“From the moment of our founding, America has been engaged in an eternal and often pitched partisan debate. That’s no weakness. In fact, it is at the core of our strength as a democracy, and success as a nation,” Dodd said. “Political bipartisanship is a goal, not a process.”
“The history of this young democracy, the Framers decided, should not be written solely in the hand of the political majority. In a nation founded in revolution against tyrannical rule, which sought to crush dissent, there should be one institution that would always provide a space where dissent was valued and respected,” said Dodd. “E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one. And though we would act as one, the Framers believed that our political debate should always reflect, that in our beliefs and in our aspirations, we are, in fact, many.”
McConnell said even though there were a fair amount of individuals in the Senate chamber to say their good-byes, he believed Dodd’s valedictory speech should be shared with those who are not present.
As far as becoming chairman of the Banking Committee, Dodd said it was never his choice to even be placed on that committee.
“I’m not on the committee by choice, I was put on it,” Dodd said.
He said he worked on banking and consumer issues over the years “never knowing I’d end up on it in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.”
Dodd praised the now controversial Troubled Asset Relief Program passed in the twilight of Republican George Bush’s tenure as a moment in time when 75 of 100 Senators stepped up and did what was right, despite the political consequences.
“Politics today seemingly rewards only passion and independence, not deliberation and compromise as well,“ said Dodd. “It has become commonplace to hear candidates for the Senate campaign on how they are going to Washington to shake things up—all by themselves.”
“May I politely suggest that you are seeking election to the wrong office. The United States Senate does not work that way, nor can it, or should it,” said Dodd. “Mayors, governors, and presidents can sometimes succeed by the sheer force of their will. But there has never been a Senator so persuasive, so charismatic, so clever, or so brilliant that they could make a significant difference, while refusing to work with other members of this body.”