-> Newt Gingrich Inaugural Address Opening of the 1995 Congress – January 4, 1995
Newt Gingrich Inaugural Address Opening of the 1995 Congress
January 4, 1995
Let me say first of all that I am very deeply grateful to my good friend, Dick Gephardt. I couldn’t help but — when my side maybe overreacted to your statement ending 40 years of Democratic rule — that I couldn’t help but look over at Bob Michel, who has often been up here and who knows that everything Dick said was true — that this is difficult and painful to lose, and on my side of the aisle, we have for 20 elections been on the losing side.
And yet there is something so wonderful about the process by which a free people decides things — that, in my own case, I lost two elections, and with the good help of my friend Vic Fazio, came close to losing two others. And I’m sorry, guys, it just didn’t quite work out. And yet I can tell you that every time when the polls closed and I waited for the votes to come in, I felt good, because win or lose, we’ve been part of this process. In a little while, I’m going to ask the dean of the House, John Dingell, to swear me in, to insist on the bipartisan nature of the way in which we together work in this House. John’s father was one of the great stalwarts of the New Deal, a man who, as an FDR Democrat, created modern America. And I think that John and his father represent a tradition that we all have to recognize and respect, and recognize that the America we are now going to try to lead grew from that tradition and is part of that great heritage.
I also want to take just a moment to thank Speaker Foley, who was extraordinarily generous, both in his public utterances and in everything that he and Mrs. Foley did to help Marianne and me, and to help our staff make the transition. I think that he worked very hard to reestablish the dignity of the House. And I think that we can all be proud of the reputation that he takes and of the spirit with which he led the speakership. And our best wishes go to Speaker and Mrs. Foley.
I also want to thank the various House officers, who have been just extraordinary. And I want to say for the public record that faced with a result none of them wanted, in a situation I suspect none of them expected, but within 48 hours every officer of this House reacted as a patriot, worked overtime, bent over backwards, and in every way helped us. And I am very grateful, and this House I think owes a debt of gratitude to every officer that the Democrats elected two years ago. Thank you.
This is a historic moment. I was asked over and over, how did it feel, and the only word thats [sic] comes close to adequate is “overwhelming.” I feel overwhelmed in every way, overwhelmed by all the Georgians who came up, overwhelmed by my extended family that is here, overwhelmed by the historic moment. I walked out and stood on the balcony just outside the Speaker’s office, looking down the Mall this morning, very early. And I was just overwhelmed by the view, which two men I’ve introduced and know very, very well — [indecipherable] of us know very, very well. Just the sense of being part of America, being part of this — this great tradition.
I have two gavels, actually. Dick happened to use one that — maybe this was appropriate. This is a Georgia gavel I just got this morning, done by Dorsey Newman of Tallapoosa, who decided that the gavels he saw on TV weren’t big enough or strong enough, so he cut down a walnut tree in his backyard, made a gavel, put a commemorative item [on it] and sent it up here. So this is a genuine Georgia gavel. I’m the first Georgia Speaker in over a hundred years. The last one, by the way, had a weird accent, too. Speaker Crisp was born in Britain. His parents were actors and they came to the U.S. — a good word, by the way, for the value we get from immigration.
And secondly, this is the gavel that Speaker Martin used. Now I’m not sure what it says about the inflation of Government, if you put them side by side, but this was the gavel used by the last Republican Speaker. And — And I want to comment for a minute on two men who served as my leader, and from whom I learned so much and who are here today.
When I arrived as a freshman, the Republican Party, deeply dispirited by Watergate and by the loss of the Presidency, banded together and worked with a leader who helped pave the way for our great Party victory of 1980, and a man who just did a marvelous job. And I can’t speak too highly of what I learned about integrity and leadership and courage from serving with him in my freshman term. And he’s here with us again today. Hope all of you will recognize Congressman John Rhodes of Arizona. Let me say also that at our request, he wasn’t sure he should be here at all, then he thought he was going to hide in the back of the room. And then I insisted that he come down front, somebody who I regard as a mentor. I think virtually every Democrat in the House will say is a man who genuinely cares about and loves the House and who represents the best spirit of the House, a man who I’ve under and who I hope as Speaker I can always rely on for advice; and who I hope frankly I can emulate in his commitment to this institution and in his willingness to try to reach beyond his personal interest and his personal partisanship. I hope all of you will join me in thanking for his years of service, Congressman Bob Michel of Illinois.
I’m — I’m very fortunate today. I have my Mom and my Dad are here. They’re right up there — Bob and Kit Gingrich. And I am so delighted that they were both able to be here. You know, sometimes when you get to my age, you can’t have everyone near you you’d like to. I can’t say how much I learned from my Dad and his years of serving the U.S. Army and how much I learned from my Mother, who is clearly my most enthusiastic cheerleader. My daughters are here up there [in the gallery] — Kathy Lovewith and her husband Paul, and Jackie and her husband Mark Zyler. And the person who clearly is my closest friend and my best adviser and who, if I listened to about 20 percent more, I’d get in less trouble, my wife Marianne, is there.
I have a very large extended family between Marianne and me. And they’re virtually all in town, and we’ve done our part for the Washington tourist season. But I couldn’t help — ’cause when I first came on the floor earlier, I went around and saw a number of the young people who are here — a number of the children who are on the floor, the young adults, who are close to 12 years of age. And I couldn’t help but think that sitting in the back rail near the center of…the House are my — one of my nephews, Kevin McPherson, who is five; and Susan Brown, who is six; and Emily Brown, who is eight; and Laura McPherson, who is nine. And they’re all back there — I think probably more than allowed to bring on, but they’re my nieces and my nephew. And I have two other nephews who are a little older who are actually up in the gallery.
I couldn’t help but think, as a way I wanted to start the Speakership and to talk with every Member, that in a sense these young people you see around you are really what, at its best, this is all about. Much more than the — the negative advertising and the interest groups and the — all the different things that make politics all too often cynical and nasty and sometimes frankly just plain miserable. What makes politics worthwhile is that the choice, as Dick Gephardt said, between what we see so tragically on the evening news and the way we try to do it is to work very hard to make this system of free, representative self-government work.
And the ultimate reason for doing that is these children, and the country they will inherit, and the world they will live in. I — we’re starting the 104th Congress. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about the concept, but for 208 years, we gather together — the most diverse country in the history of the world. We send all sorts of people. Each of us could find at least one Member we thought was weird. And I’ll tell you, if you went around the room the person chosen to be weird would be different for virtually every one of us. Because we do allow and insist upon the right of a free people to send an extraordinary diversity of people here.
Brian Lamb of C-SPAN read to me Friday a phrase from de Tocqueville that was so central to the House. I’ve been reading Remini’s biography of Henry Clay. And Henry Clay always preferred the House. He was the first strong Speaker. And he preferred the House to the Senate, although he served in both. Well he said the House is more vital, more active, more dynamic, more common.
And this is what de Tocqueville wrote (quote):
“Often there is not a distinguished man in the whole number. Its members are almost all obscure individuals whose names bring no associations to mind. They are mostly village lawyers, men in trade, or even persons belonging to the lower classes of society.”
Now, if you put women in with men, I don’t know that we’d change much.
But the word “vulgar” in de Tocqueville’s time had a very particular meaning. And it’s a meaning the world would do well to study in this room. You see, de Tocqueville was an aristocrat. He lived in a world of kings and princes. And the folks who come here come here by the one single act that their citizens freely chose them.
And I don’t care what your ethnic background — what your ideology. I don’t care whether you’re younger or older. I don’t care whether you were born in America or you’re a naturalized citizen. Every one of the 435 people have equal standing because their citizens freely sent them, and their voice should be heard, and they should have a right to participate. And it is the most marvelous act of a complex, giant country trying to argue and talk — and, as Dick [Gephardt] said, to have a great debate, to reach great decisions, not through a civil war, not by bombing one of our regional capitals, not by killing a half million people, not by having snipers — and let me say unequivocally I condemn all acts of violence against the law by all people for all reasons. This is a society of law and a society of civil behavior.
Here we are as commoners together, to some extent Democrats and Republicans, to some extent liberals and conservatives, but Americans all. Steve Gunderson today gave me a copy of the “Portable Abraham Lincoln.” He suggested there is much for me to learn about our party, but I would also say that it does not hurt to have a copy of the portable F.D.R. This is a great country of great people. If there is any one factor or acts of my life that strikes me as I stand up here as the first Republican in 40 years to do so. When I first became whip in 1989, Russia was beginning to change, the Soviet Union as it was then. Into my whip’s office one day came eight Russians and a Lithuanian, members of the Communist Party, newspaper editors. They asked me, “What does a whip do?” They said, “In Russia we have never had a free parliament since 1917 and that was only for a few months, so what do you do?” I tried to explain, as Dave Bonior or Tom DeLay might now. It is a little strange if you are from a dictatorship to explain you are called the whip but you do not really have a whip, you are elected by the people you are supposed to pressure — other members. If you pressure them too much they will not reelect you. On the other hand If you do not pressure them enough they will not reelect you.
Democracy is hard. It is frustrating. So our group came into the Chamber. The Lithuanian was a man in his late sixties, and I allowed him to come up here and sit and be Speaker, something many of us have done with constituents. Remember, this is the very beginning of perestroika and glasnost. When he came out of the chair, he was physically trembling. He was almost in tears. He said, “Ever since World War II, I have remembered what the Americans did and I have never believed the propaganda. But I have to tell you, I did not think in my life that I would be able to sit at the center of freedom.” It was one of the most overwhelming, compelling moments of my life. It struck me that something I could not help but think of when we were here with President Mandela. I went over and saw Ron Dellums and thought of the great work Ron had done to extend freedom across the planet. You get that sense of emotion when you see something so totally different than you had expected. Here was a man who reminded me first of all that while presidents are important, they are in effect an elected kingship, that this and the other body across the way are where freedom has to be fought out. That is the tradition I hope that we will take with us as we go to work.
Today we had a bipartisan prayer service. Frank Wolf made some very important points. He said, “We have to recognize that many of our most painful problems as a country are moral problems, problems of dealing with ourselves and with life.” He said character is the key to leadership and we have to deal with that. He preached a little bit. I do not think he thought he was preaching, but he was. It was about a spirit of reconciliation. He talked about caring about our spouses and our children and our families. If we are not prepared to model our own family life beyond just having them here for 1 day, if we are not prepared to care about our children and we are not prepared to care about our families, then by what arrogance do we think we will transcend our behavior to care about others?
That is why with Congressman Gephardt’s help we have established a bipartisan task force on the family. We have established the principle that we are going to set schedules we stick to so families can count on time to be together, built around school schedules so that families can get to know each other, and not just by seeing us on C-SPAN. I will also say that means one of the strongest recommendations of the bipartisan committee, is that we have 17 minutes to vote. This is the bipartisan committee’s recommendations, not just mine. They pointed out that if we take the time we spent in the last Congress where we waited for one more Member, and one more, and one more, that we literally can shorten the business and get people home if we will be strict and firm. At one point this year we had a 45-minute vote. I hope all of my colleagues are paying attention because we are in fact going to work very hard to have 17 minute votes and it is over.
So, leave on the first bell, not the second bell. Okay?
This may seem particularly inappropriate to say on the first day because this will be the busiest day on opening day in congressional history. I want to read just a part of the Contract With America. I don’t mean this as a partisan act, but rather to remind all of us what we are about to go through and why. Those of us who ended up in the majority stood on these steps and signed a contract, and here is part of what it says: On the first day of the 104th Congress the new Republican majority will immediately pass the following reforms aimed at restoring the faith and trust of the American people in their government:
First, require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also to apply equally to the Congress.
Second, select a major, independent auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of the Congress for waste, fraud or abuse.
Third, cut the number of House committees and cut committee staffs by a third.
Fourth, limit the terms of all committee chairs.
Fifth, ban the casting of proxy votes in committees.
Sixth, require committee meetings to be open to the public.
Seven, require a three-fifths majority vote to pass a tax increase.
Eight, guarantee an honest accounting of our federal budget by implementing zero baseline budgeting.
Now, I told Dick Gephardt last night that if I had to do it over again we would have pledged within 3 days that we will do these things, but that is not what we said. So we have ourselves in a little bit of a box here.
Then we go a step further. I carry the TV Guide version of the contract with me at all times. We then say that within the first 100 days of the 104th Congress we shall bring to the House floor the following bills, each to be given full and open debate, each to be given a full and clear vote, and each to be immediately available for inspection. We made it available that day. We listed 10 items.
A balanced budget amendment and line-item veto,
A bill to stop violent criminals, emphasizing among other things an effective and enforceable death penalty.
Third was welfare reform.
Fourth, legislation protecting our kids.
Fifth was to provide tax cuts for families.
Sixth was a bill to strengthen our national defense.
Seventh was a bill to raise the senior citizens` earning limit.
Eighth was legislation rolling back Government regulations.
Ninth was a commonsense legal reform bill, and
tenth was congressional term limits legislation.
Our commitment on our side, and this is an absolute obligation, is first of all to work today until we are done. I know that is going to inconvenience people who have families and supporters. But we were hired to do a job, and we have to start today to prove we will do it. Second, I would say to our friends in the Democratic Party that we are going to work with you, and we are really laying out a schedule working with the minority leader to make sure that we can set dates certain to go home. That does mean that if 2 or 3 weeks out we are running short we will, frankly, have longer sessions on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. We will try to work this out on a bipartisan basis to, in a workmanlike way, get it done. It is going to mean the busiest early months since 1933.
Beyond the Contract I think there are two giant challenges. I know I am a partisan figure. But I really hope today that I can speak for a minute to my friends in the Democratic Party as well as my own colleagues, and speak to the country about these two challenges so that I hope we can have a real dialog.
One challenge is to achieve a balanced budget by 2002. I think both Democratic and Republican Governors will say we can do that but it is hard. I do not think we can do it in a year or two. I do not think we ought to lie to the American people. This is a huge, complicated job.
The second challenge is to find a way to truly replace the current welfare state with an opportunity society. Let me talk very briefly about both challenges. First, on the balanced budget I think we can get it done. I think the baby boomers are now old enough that we can have an honest dialog about priorities, about resources, about what works, and what does not work. Let me say I have already told Vice President Gore that we are going to invite him to address a Republican conference. We would have invited him in December but he had to go to Moscow, I believe there are grounds for us to talk together and to work together, to have hearings together, and to have task forces together.
If we set priorities, if we apply the principles of Edwards, Deming and of Peter Drucker we can build on the Vice President’s reinventing government effort and we can focus on transforming, not just cutting. The choice becomes not just do you want more or do you want less, but are there ways to do it better? Can we learn from the private sector, can we learn from Ford, IBM, from Microsoft, from what General Motors has had to go through? I think on a bipartisan basis we owe it to our children and grandchildren to get this Government in order and to be able to actually pay our way. I think 2002 is a reasonable time frame. I would hope that together we could open a dialog with the American people.
I have said that I think Social Security ought to be off limits, at least for the first 4 to 6 years of the process, because I think it will just destroy us if we try to bring it into the game. But let me say about everything else, whether it is Medicare, or it is agricultural subsidies, or it is defense or anything that I think the greatest Democratic President of the 20th century, and in my judgment the greatest President of the 20th century, said it right.
On March 4, 1933, he stood in braces as a man who had polio at a time when nobody who had that kind of disability could be anything in public life. He was President of the United States, and he stood in front of this Capitol on a rainy March day and he said, `We have nothing to fear but fear itself.` I want every one of us to reach out in that spirit and pledge to live up to that spirit, and I think frankly on a bipartisan basis. I would say to Members of the Black and Hispanic Caucuses that I would hope we could arrange by late spring to genuinely share districts.
You could have a Republican who frankly may not know a thing about your district agree to come for a long weekend with you, and you will agree to go for a long weekend with them. We begin a dialog and an openness that is totally different than people are used to seeing in politics in America. I believe if we do that we can then create a dialog that can lead to a balanced budget. But I think we have a greater challenge. I do want to pick up directly on what Dick Gephardt said, because he said it right. No Republican here should kid themselves about it. The greatest leaders in fighting for an integrated America in the 20th century were in the Democratic Party. The fact is, it was the liberal wing of the Democratic Party that ended segregation. The fact is that it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who gave hope to a Nation that was in distress and could have slid into dictatorship. Every Republican has much to learn from studying what the Democrats did right.
But I would say to my friends in the Democratic Party that there is much to what Ronald Reagan was trying to get done. There’s much to what is being done today by Republicans like Bill Weld, and John Engler, and Tommy Thompson, and George Allen, and Christy Whitman, and Pete Wilson. There is much we can share with each other.
We must replace the welfare state with an opportunity society. The balanced budget is the right thing to do. But it does not in my mind have the moral urgency of coming to grips with what is happening to the poorest Americans. I commend to all Marvin Olasky’s “The Tragedy of American Compassion.” Olasky goes back for 300 years and looked at what has worked in America, how we have helped people rise beyond poverty, and how we have reached out to save people. He may not have the answers, but he has the right sense of where we have to go as Americans. I do not believe that there is a single American who can see a news report of a 4-year-old thrown off of a public housing project in Chicago by other children and killed and not feel that a part of your heart went, too.
I think of my nephew in the back, Kevin, and how all of us feel about our children. How can any American read about an 11-year-old buried with his Teddy bear because he killed a 14-year-old, and then another 14-year-old killed him, and not have some sense of “My God, where has this country gone?” How can we not decide that this is a moral crisis equal to segregation, equal to slavery? How can we not insist that every day we take steps to do something? I have seldom been more shaken than I was after the election when I had breakfast with two members of the Black Caucus. One of them said to me, “Can you imagine what it is like to visit a first-grade class and realize that every fourth or fifth young boy in that class may be dead or in jail within 15 years? And they are your constituents and you are helpless to change it?”
For some reason, I do not know why, maybe because I visit a lot of schools, that got through. I mean, that personalized it. That made it real, not just statistics, but real people. Then I tried to explain part of my thoughts by talking about the need for alternatives to the bureaucracy, and we got into what I think frankly has been a pretty distorted and cheap debate over orphanages. Let me say, first of all, my father, who is here today, was a foster child. He was adopted as a teenager. I am adopted. We have relatives who were adopted. We are not talking out of some vague impersonal Dickens “Bleak House” middle-class intellectual model. We have lived the alternatives. I believe when we are told that children are so lost in the city bureaucracies that there are children who end up in dumpsters, when we are told that there are children doomed to go to schools where 70 or 80 percent of them will not graduate, when we are told of public housing projects that are so dangerous that if any private sector ran them they would be put in jail, and the only solution we are given is, `Well, we will study it, we will get around to it,` my only point is that this is unacceptable.
We can find ways immediately to do things better, to reach out, break through the bureaucracy and give every young American child a better chance. Let me suggest to you Morris Schectman’s new book. I do not agree with all of it, but it is fascinating. It is entitled “Working Without a Net.” It is an effort to argue that in the 21st century we have to create our own safety nets. He draws a distinction between caring and caretaking. It is worth every American reading. He said caretaking is when you bother me a little bit, and I do enough, I feel better because I think I took care of you. That is not any good to you at all. You may be in fact an alcoholic and I just gave you the money to buy the bottle that kills you, but I feel better and go home. He said caring is actually stopping and dealing with the human being, trying to understand enough about them to genuinely make sure you improve their life, even if you have to start with a conversation like, “If you will quit drinking, I will help you get a job.” This is a lot harder conversation than, “I feel better. I gave him a buck or 5 bucks.”
I want to commend every Member on both sides to look carefully. I say to those Republicans who believe in total privatization, you cannot believe in the Good Samaritan and explain that as long as business is making money we can walk by a fellow American who is hurt and not do something. I would say to my friends on the left who believe there has never been a government program that was not worth keeping, you cannot look at some of the results we now have and not want to reach out to the humans and forget the bureaucracies. If we could build that attitude on both sides of this aisle, we would be an amazingly different place, and the country would begin to be a different place. We have to create a partnership. We have to reach out to the American people. We are going to do a lot of important things.
Thanks to the House Information System and Congressman Vern Ehlers, as of today we are going to be on line for the whole country, every amendment, every conference report. We are working with C-SPAN and others, and Congressman Gephardt has agreed to help on a bipartisan basis to make the building more open to television, more accessible to the American people. We have talk radio hosts here today for the first time. I hope to have a bipartisan effort to make the place accessible for all talk radio hosts of all backgrounds, no matter their ideology. The House Historian’s office is going to be more aggressively run on a bipartisan basis to reach out to Close Up, and to other groups to teach what the legislative struggle is about. I think over time we can and will this Spring rethink campaign reform and lobbying reform and review all ethics, including the gift rule.
But that isn’t enough. Our challenge shouldn’t be just to balance the budget or to pass the Contract. Our challenge should not be anything that is just legislative. We are supposed to, each one of us, be leaders. I think our challenge has to be to set as our goal, and maybe we are not going to get there in 2 years. This ought to be the goal that we go home and we tell people we believe in: that there will be a Monday morning when for the entire weekend not a single child was killed anywhere in America; that there will be a Monday morning when every child in the country went to a school that they and their parents thought prepared them as citizens and prepared them to compete in the world market; that there will be a Monday morning where it was easy to find a job or create a job, and your own Government did not punish you if you tried. We should not be happy just with the language of politicians and the language of legislation.
We should insist that our success for America is felt in the neighborhoods, in the communities, is felt by real people living real lives who can say, “Yes, we are safer, we are healthier, we are better educated, America succeeds.” This morning’s closing hymn at the prayer service was the Battle Hymn of the Republic. It is hard to be in this building, look down past Grant to the Lincoln Memorial and not realize how painful and how difficult that battle hymn is. The key phrase is, “As he died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.”
It is not just political freedom, although I agree with everything Congressman Gephardt said earlier. If you cannot afford to leave the public housing project, you are not free. If you do not know how to find a job and do not know how to create a job, you are not free. If you cannot find a place that will educate you, you are not free. If you are afraid to walk to the store because you could get killed, you are not free. So as all of us over the coming months sing that song, “As he died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.”
I want us to dedicate ourselves to reach out in a genuinely nonpartisan way to be honest with each other. I promise each of you that without regard to party my door is going to be open. I will listen to each of you. I will try to work with each of you. I will put in long hours, and I will guarantee that I will listen to you first. I will let you get it all out before I give you my version, because you have been patient with me today, and you have given me a chance to set the stage. But I want to close by reminding all of us of how much bigger this is than us. Because beyond talking with the American people, beyond working together, I think we can only be successful if we start with our limits.
I was very struck this morning with something Bill Emerson used, a very famous quote of Benjamin Franklin, at the point where the Constitutional Convention was deadlocked. People were tired, and there was a real possibility that the Convention was going to break up. Franklin, who was quite old and had been relatively quiet for the entire Convention, suddenly stood up and was angry, and he said: “I have lived, sir, a long time, and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men, and if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it possible that an empire can rise without His aid?” At that point the Constitutional Convention stopped. They took a day off for fasting and prayer. Then, having stopped and come together, they went back, and they solved the great question of large and small States. They wrote the Constitution, and the United States was created.
All I can do is pledge to you that, if each of us will reach out prayerfully and try to genuinely understand each other, if we will recognize that in this building we symbolize America, and that we have an obligation to talk with each other, then I think a year from now we can look on the 104th Congress as a truly amazing institution without regard to party, without regard to ideology. We can say, “Here America comes to work, and here we are preparing for those children a better future.” Thank you. Good luck and God bless you.