This afternoon, Chris Coons was sworn in as a member of the United States Senate. I have met him several times -- Chris is a good man (and a fellow alum of my alma mater), and he will do the First State and the Nation proud.
But we cannot let this moment pass without acknowledging the man he is replacing. When Ted Kaufman was named on November 24, 2008 to fill the vacancy created by Joe Biden's election to Vice President, the first word of David Waldman's front-page story said it all: Who?
We knew that he was Biden's own chief of staff and that he lectured at Duke Law, but that was about it. To say I was skeptical is an understatement:
I hate placeholders
What's the incentive for Kaufman to vote in his state's best interests for the next two years? What recourse is there if he's plum loco? If he never shows up but just draws a salary?
The lesson here is that sometimes I should shut the hell up and learn a little something before spouting my fool mouth off.
Because, as it turns out, Ted Kaufman was a hell of a Senator for the brief time alloted. I should have recognized this from his first floor speech, on the stimulus bill:
Job creation and job preservation must be our goal. Jobs, jobs, jobs. Every job lost is another blow to our economy, losing productive work, spending power, and the revenue that supports the education, health care, roads, water, police, and fire protection provided by our State and local governments. Every job lost is truly a human tragedy, for the man and woman who loses the dignity of work, and the families thrown into turmoil.
Turns out, he really liked that floor -- according to C-SPAN, the only Senators who spoke up more than him the past two years were party leaders.
More than anything, Kaufman decided to use his short time in the Senate to push for the toughest financial regulation possible. As a March 2009 piece in Politico noted,
Back in his Senate days, the vice president had such a cozy relationship with Delaware’s banking interests that his critics called him Sen. Joe Biden (D-MBNA).
It would be hard to slap that slur on Sen. Ted Kaufman.
Kaufman may have been Biden’s handpicked replacement, but he’s taking a very different tack than his predecessor did when it comes to dealing with big-time financial firms.
As in threatening their execs with incarceration.
It was Kaufman, with Sen. Sherrod Brown, who led the fight to break up the big banks. Kaufman pushed early and often for Elizabeth Warren to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, fought to end abusive short-selling and time and time again returned to the Senate floor to demand structural change to Wall Street.
The best thing I can do from here is excerpt Kaufman's own farewell speech:
The Senate is a magnet for those who feel called to public service. It is the destination for countless improbable journeys. Our constitutional Framers would have been relieved to see their noble experiment working – to know that in the Senate today serve a farmer from Big Sandy and a realtor from Cobb County, a Mayor from Lincoln and a former Army Ranger from Cranston, a social worker from Baltimore and a doctor from Casper.
All of them are here for the same reason – because they love this country and their communities dearly and want to give back. Their paths of public service may have been different in their first steps, but they converged here, and this is what continues to sustain my faith in the United States Senate.
Here, this leg of my own improbable journey comes to an end. Though I leave the Senate as a member, I will not be leaving the Senate behind. I will continue to teach about the institution to my students and encourage them to pursue their own paths in public service. I will continue to speak out on issues that I worked on here, because that important work – as always – goes on.
We need more Senators like Ted Kaufman, who didn't have to spend one hour of his Senate tenure worried about his next fundraising call, and could devote all his efforts to figuring out what Delaware and the nation needed, and fighting like hell for it.
[For what it's worth, Kaufman will continue to chair the Congressional Oversight Panel for TARP, a position previously held by Elizabeth Warren.]
Also scheduled to be sworn in today are Joe Manchin (D-WV) to the United States Senate, replacing appointed Sen. Carte Goodwin, and Martin Stutzman (R, IN-03) and Tom Reed (R, NY-29) to the House, filling the vacancies created by the resignations of Reps. Mark Souder and Eric Massa, respectively.