“During his distinguished career, Denis has approached each and every job with the spirit of respect, honesty, collaboration, and a willingness to make himself accessible to his colleagues and his team. He is deeply committed to supporting the workforce at the VA and I want our veterans to know he will do two things so well: he will listen and he will get things done for you.”
WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar delivered remarks on the Senate floor in support of Minnesota native Denis McDonough, Secretary of Veterans Affairs nominee. Klobuchar urged her colleagues to confirm McDonough, assuring them that he will “honor the promises that our country has made to our veterans and their families.” Klobuchar highlighted McDonough’s background in public service, citing his work as the White House Chief of Staff and in the Senate. Following her remarks, the Senate voted 87-7 to confirm McDonough.
Madam President, today I rise in support of my friend and fellow Minnesotan, Denis McDonough, as President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Veterans Affairs. No one knows but you, the Senator from Illinois, Madam President, about how important this job is for our Veterans. Denis grew up in Stillwater, Minnesota, which is right near the Wisconsin border. He is the grandson of Irish immigrants, the son of devout Catholic parents, and brother to 10 siblings. He attended St. John’s College in Collegeville, Minnesota, and in addition to graduating Summa Cum Laude, he played safety on the very proud championship St. John’s football team.
I’ve been privileged to call Denis a friend for years and I know he will serve our country well as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. As he has done his whole life, he will honor the promises that our country has made to our veterans and their families. Denis’s commitment to our nation’s veterans was clear during his time as President Obama’s Chief of Staff, where he made sure that every decision impacting our service members, veterans, and their family members would be fitting of their sacrifices. Showing respect and gratitude to our nation’s veterans is not just something Denis prioritizes, it's a value for him. As we know from his time as President Obama’s Chief of Staff, he is an adept manager who understands how to tackle complex challenges throughout our government, which will be vital for the next secretary.
As we also know, the VA is facing a number of challenges, from helping veterans stay safe during the pandemic, to improving the quality of care for veterans around the country. These are not simple problems and these are not simple challenges. They will require, as you have shown, Madam President, true leadership and vision which have been the hallmark of Denis’s time in service. I also know that he will work tirelessly to find bipartisan solutions and I think you see that from the support that he has gotten throughout the country, as well as on the Veterans Affairs Committee where I was honored to introduce him when he started on this journey of Senate approval. It has never been more important than ever to unite our country and get that kind of support.
So much of our work with our veterans is about keeping our promises and showing respect not just inwards but in action. When other senators who don’t know Denis as well or are new to Washington, what they may see as time goes on, you will see the qualities of honor and loyalty in Denis’s commitment to his family, which also includes his family in Minnesota, so I know this firsthand. He has so many relatives that you can’t go anywhere without running into some McDonough. You see it in how he has treated everyone he has worked with. When he worked in the Senate, when he worked as President Obama’s Chief of Staff. I will also assure my fellow senators that he will listen to senators; he will have respect for the people that work here. You see it every day in how he always puts his country first. During his distinguished career, Denis has approached each and every job with the spirit of respect, honesty, collaboration, and a willingness to make himself accessible to his colleagues and his team. He is deeply committed to supporting the workforce at the VA and I want our veterans to know he will do two things so well: he will listen and he will get things done for you.
One of my favorite stories about Denis involves this: listening and then getting things done. We were having a lot of trouble up in Northern Minnesota with the iron ore mines closing down, as you all remember, kind of coming out of the downturn, it never really bounced back. Then we had the steel dumping going on from China and other countries (the illegal steel dumping) and that really spread through the country and led to the closure of many of our mines. We tried, we introduced legislation, and finally, I asked Denis to come up to Minnesota, because he was from our state, as President Obama’s Chief of Staff, and sit down with a bunch of mayors from Northern Minnesota, from Minnesota’s Iron Range. With workers, with mine owners. It was this long long table and nearly everyone had spoken. Near the end, there was this miner named Dan Hill. He was the last to go and he said, “Well, everything’s been said so I’ll just tell this story.” And he said that he was out of work and he said that his son had just graduated from pre-school and the teacher asked them at the graduation, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” And kids were saying all kinds of things - that they wanted to play basketball or they were going to fly an airplane and all kinds of cool things, and Denis’s son looked at the teacher and he said: “I want to be a miner like my Daddy.” At that moment, Dan Hill took this steelworker t-shirt that he had in his hand and he threw it across the whole long table. I remember sitting next to Denis thinking, “You were a football player. Catch the t-shirt!” He caught the t-shirt, and Dan Hill says, “Mr. McDonough, make it come true. Make it come true.”
Denis listened, but then he acted. He went back to Washington. He didn’t just light a fire under the Commerce Department to get them to do even more work than they were already doing on enforcing tariffs and going after this illegal dumping and bringing things to the International Trade Commission. He also looked at other agencies and he helped us, along with Sherrod Brown and so many others, to pass legislation that made a difference. All of this happened and Dan Hill got his job back. I invited Dan Hill to come to one of the last State of the Unions for President Obama. Denis invited Dan Hill to the White House and Dan Hill got to meet practically everyone surrounding the President. That is Denis McDonough. He listened, but he didn’t just say, “Oh I got there, I went, I tried my best.” He actually followed through through the minutia of government to get things done.
I’m going to end with the words of a poet who President Biden happens to love. Given Denis’s Irish roots, I can’t think of a better person to quote from today’s vote. It was Mr. Heaney, who once wrote, “Anyone with gumption and smart mind will take the measure of two things — what’s said and what’s done.” So Denis will not just say words to the veterans of this country, as your Secretary he will get things done. With that, Madam President, I ask my colleagues to support the nomination: Denis McDonough as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Thank you and I yield the floor.
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