Senator Blunt says Truman's legacy has been a guide

By Mike Genet
The Examiner

In his 10 years as a U.S. senator from Missouri, Roy Blunt has occupied the Capitol office where Harry Truman worked in his 10 years as senator and 82 days as vice president. 

That wasn’t automatic upon election, Blunt said, and former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats could have taken that office before Blunt, based on seniority. But Coats offered it to a grateful Blunt. 

'I don't know that anybody made as many consequential decisions that quickly,' U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt said of President Harry S. Truman's first months in office in 1945. On Friday, Blunt accepted Truman Public Service Award from the city of Independence. At left is Independence Mayor Eileen Weir.

“It’s been beneficial for me to feel like I’ve lived with Truman,” Blunt said Friday as he accepted the Harry S. Truman Public Service Award, presented annually by the city of Independence. Blunt announced a few months ago he would not seek a third term in 2022. 

The senator noted his admiration for Truman’s ability to handle the many far-reaching matters he encountered when President Franklin D. Roosevelt died in April 1945 and Truman suddenly had to pilot the United States through the final months of World War II and then transition to recovery and peacetime. Those events included helping shape the post-war world at the Potsdam Conference, the formal launch of the United Nations and the decision to drop the atomic bomb to end the war. 

“I don’t know that anybody made as many consequential decisions that quickly,” Blunt said, adding that when elected officials like himself and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Kansas City), who sat next to Blunt at the ceremony, make decisions, they’re often relying on others’ expertise. Truman, who’d largely been kept in the dark by Roosevelt, had to act more independently. 

“Those were decisions President Truman had to make by himself … one right after the other,” Blunt said. 

Truman’s years of self-study ultimately prepared him for the job, Blunt said, and since Truman’s eyesight dissuaded him from athletics (lest he break valuable glasses), “his sport became history and reading.”  

He recalled a conversation once with Truman’s daughter, Margaret. 

“She said she never saw her dad sit down at home without a book,” Blunt said. 

Independence Mayor Eileen Weir said Blunt, a former history teacher, has been a “friend and partner” to the city in part by helping to secure federal funds for the Truman Presidential Library and Museum as well as the Truman National Historic Site, which is scheduled to have a new visitors center in Independence in the coming years. Those projects will help the city be able to continue telling Truman’s story “for generations.” 

The city normally holds the award ceremony at the Truman Library, which is near reopening after two years from a lengthy renovation project and then the pandemic, but hosted a quickly arranged affair this year at the Uptown Market, owing to Blunt’s tight schedule, Weir said. 

Last year’s winner, former Sen. Claire McCaskill, accepted the honor in a virtual ceremony. 

Previous Public Service Award honorees include former presidents Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton; senators McCaskill, Jack Danforth, John McCain (posthumously) and Bob Dole; veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; and notable women such as Coretta Scott King, Margaret Truman Daniel, Mother Clara Hale and Mary Jean Eisenhower and former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. 

The city’s Special Recognition Award went to the Medical Reserve Corps of Greater Kansas City, which greatly aided the city and provided thousands of hours of volunteer service throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, including COVID testing and vaccination efforts. 

Blunt touched on a few subjects after the ceremony: 

INFRASTRUCTURE BILL: Blunt said senators and President Biden are “working hard” on that legislation, and he said it would be in “everybody’s best interest” that it be rolled out in a bipartisan way. The infrastructure bill could include everything that both sides agree on, Blunt said, and the president could pursue additional objectives from his proposal on his own. 

“We make too many mistakes when we make bills bigger than they need to be,” Blunt said. 

JAN. 6 COMMISSION: The senator did not cast a vote last week when the U.S. Senate did not approve the bipartisan Jan. 6 commission. He attended the reopening of the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Visitor Center in Republic that day. Blunt had previously said it would be “too early” for such commission investigating the origins and causes of that day’s riot.  

A joint report from the Senate Rules Committee, where Blunt is ranking member, and Homeland Security Committee, which would include recommendations about that day going forward, is due soon. Starting the Jan. 6 commission, Blunt said, likely would “hold us back from making some decisions now.” 

DESIRED SUCCESSOR?: Blunt said he had not yet decided whether he would endorse a potential successor from the announced candidates for his Senate seat next year, but that “in all likelihood” he would let Missouri primary voters decide. Asked if he anticipated candidates would seek his endorsement, he said, “I would hope so,” if he’d made friends well enough during his time as senator.