Sen. Barbara Boxer of California bid farewell to Congress on Wednesday after 33 years as a liberal champion, choking up as she read a letter from jazz great Sonny Rollins thanking her for “making life beautiful” for the people she’s represented.
“What he said is all I wanted to do, make life beautiful for people,” Boxer said in her farewell speech on the Senate floor. “I didn’t always succeed … I can honestly say that I never stopped trying.”
Former House colleagues of Boxer including Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco came to the Senate to pay their respects. Notably absent was California’s senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, who Boxer battled this week over Feinstein’s measure to send more water to farms south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, potentially harming fish and delta habitat.
Feinstein and Boxer, both Democrats, have been U.S. Senate colleagues for 24 years.
“Final week of the year unfortunately always means a full schedule,” said Feinstein spokesman Tom Mentzer when asked why she was absent for the farewell.
Boxer, in her remarks, thanked Feinstein for supporting her when she first ran for Senate, although Boxer appeared to make a reference to the California water fight when she quoted Pelosi’s advice from two nights ago telling her “don’t agonize, organize.”
Boxer thanked her husband, Stewart Boxer, for giving her “the best political name ever.” Among the people who Boxer lauded in her farewell speech was Anita Hill, who accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during his 1991 confirmation hearing of sexual harassment.
“Anita Hill, you showed us all we should never be afraid to take on the powerful,” Boxer said.
Boxer expressed pride in accomplishments such as funding for AIDS prevention and creation of California wilderness areas. She lamented that the environment has become such a partisan issue, far from the days when Republican President Richard Nixon signed into law the Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act.
Boxer, though, spoke of her success in working on infrastructure legislation with Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who wrote a book on global warming called “The Greatest Hoax.”
“Our word is our bond to each other,” said Boxer, who is the top Democrat on the committee.
Inhofe paid tribute to Boxer in his own speech after her farewell.
“There are no two people in this body who are further apart from each other than Barbara Boxer and Jim Inhofe,” Inhofe said. “And yet we have something beautiful.”
Boxer said retirement from the Senate is sweet because “this has been a dream to be in a profession that I think is noble, no matter how beaten up it gets.”
“I’m also so fortunate to be going home to a state that believes in everything I believe in,” Boxer said.