Thomas Richard “Tom” Harkin is an American politician who served as a United States Senator from Iowa from 1985 to 2015. A member of the Democratic Party, he previously served in the United States House of Representatives from 1975 to 1985.
Born in Cumming, Iowa, Harkin graduated from Iowa State University and The Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. He served in the United States Navy as an active-duty jet pilot (1962-67). After serving as a Congressional aide for several years, he made two runs for the U.S. House of Representatives, losing in 1972 but winning in 1974. He went on to serve five terms in the House.
Harkin won a race for U.S. Senate in 1984 by a wide margin. He was an early frontrunner for his party’s presidential nomination in 1992, but he dropped out in support of eventual winner Bill Clinton. In September 2009, Tom succeeded Senator Ted Kennedy in becoming chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Tom believes that to serve in this capacity was to carry on the legacy of Senator Kennedy, who dedicated his life to ensuring that our economy works for all Americans, guaranteeing every child the opportunity to pursue a quality education and, of course, the cause of his life: access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans.
Tom’s brother, Frank, was deaf since childhood, so Tom knows firsthand the challenges facing Americans with disabilities. He authored the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, the landmark legislation that protects the civil rights of more than 54 million Americans with physical and mental disabilities. He’s also led efforts to improve educational opportunities for children with disabilities.
On January 26, 2013, he announced his intention to retire from the Senate after completing his fifth term in 2015. When he left the senate in 2015 he was the most senior junior senator after serving for 30 years and the sixth most senior senator over all.