Tom Harkin

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin joined the President's Forum Series on Monday, November 14 at 4:30 p.m. in the Vandervort Room.

In 1974, Harkin was elected to Congress from Iowa's Fifth Congressional District. In 1984, after serving 10 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, he challenged an incumbent Senator and won. Iowans returned him to the Senate in 1990, 1996 and again in 2002. In November 2008, Harkin made history by becoming the first Iowa Democrat to win a fifth term in the U.S. Senate. He retired from the U.S. Senate in January 2015.

As a young senator, Harkin was tapped by Senator Ted Kennedy to craft legislation to protect the civil rights of millions of Americans with physical and mental disabilities. Harkin knew firsthand about the challenges facing people with disabilities from his late brother, Frank, who was deaf from an early age. What emerged from that process would later become Harkin’s signature legislative achievement — The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA legislation changed the landscape of America by requiring buildings and transportation to be wheelchair accessible, and to provide workplace accommodations for people with disabilities. To preserve the intent of the ADA after several court rulings weakened its standards, Harkin and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the ADA Amendments bill to ensure continuing protections from discrimination for all Americans with disabilities. It was signed into law in September 2008.

Harkin has also worked to advance collaborative research in paralysis and to improve quality of life for those living with paralysis, including by creating a Clinical Trials Network to measure the effectiveness of rehabilitation therapies. His Christopher and Dana Reeve Act, named after the actor and his wife, became law in March 2009.

Harkin also led the fight to lift restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, which shows promise for new treatments of conditions like Parkinson's, spinal cord injuries and juvenile diabetes. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order lifting those restrictions.

Harkin has served as chair of the Senate panel that funds medical research and as a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, he crafted the prevention and wellness title of the health reform bill, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In September 2009, Harkin became chair of the HELP Committee.


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