During Tuesday's debate on the Senate's immigration bill, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) took to the floor and launched into an almost 13-minute speech in support of the bill crafted by the bipartisan "Gang of Eight."
That's not the news. The fact that Kaine delivered it in Spanish is, because it's the first time a senator has delivered a full speech on the floor of the Senate in a language other than English.
"I think it is appropriate that I spend a few minutes explaining the bill in Spanish, a language that has been spoken in this country since Spanish missionaries founded St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565," Kaine explained in la lengua de Cervantes. "Spanish is also spoken by more than 40 million Americans with a huge investment in the result of this debate."
"Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, spoke Spanish in brief statements on the floor in 2003 and 2005, and former Senator Mel Martinez, Republican of Florida, did the same in 2005.
"Mr. Kaine, who learned Spanish when he lived in Honduras and helped run a Roman Catholic school with Jesuit missionaries, said he had started planning the speech six weeks ago and had written it with the help of two staff members who speak Spanish.
" 'I think people were probably surprised,' Mr. Kaine said. 'One of my people got a call by a Latino staffer in the House and said, "I have waited 20 years to see this happen." ' "
Roll Call dug through its archives and found that Sen. Martinez spoke in Spanish in 2005. It was his first-ever Senate floor speech and he was encouraging colleagues to support the nomination of Alberto Gonzales, who went on to become the first Latino attorney general.
"I will do it in a respectful way, because I know we are an English-speaking country," Martinez, who is Cuban-American, told the paper at the time. "But I think to resonate ... saying a few words in Spanish will be a good thing."
It's worth noting that when a senator wants to deliver remarks in another language, it requires unanimous consent. Kaine asked and received the consent and he also entered an English translation of his speech into the congressional record.