Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tx)
delivered 31 May 1989
Plug-in required for flash audio
[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]
House Chair: The Chair recognizes the distinguished Speaker of the House.
Speaker Wright: Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that I may be heard on point of personal privilege.
House Chair: The distinguished speaker is recognized for one hour.
Speaker Wright: Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that I may provide and extend my remarks and that I may include extraneous matter.
House Chair: Without objection, so-ordered.
Speaker Wright: Mr. Speaker, for 34 years I have had the great privilege to be a member of this institution, the people's House, and I shall forever be grateful for that wondrous privilege. I never cease to be thankful to the people of the 12th District of Texas for their friendship and their understanding and their partiality toward me. Eighteen times they have voted to permit me the grand privilege of representing them here in this repository of the democratic principles. Only a few days ago, even in face of harsh news accounts and bitter criticisms, they indicated in a poll taken by the leading newspaper in the district that 78 percent of them approved of my services and that includes 73 percent of the Republicans in my district, and I'm very proud of that.
And you, my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, I owe a great deal to you. You have given me the greatest gift within your power to give. To be the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives is the grandest opportunity that can come to any lawmaker anywhere in the Western world. And I would be deeply remiss if I didn't express my sincere appreciation to you for that opportunity. I hope that I have reflected credit upon the people of my district who know me best, perhaps, and upon the people of this House who, next to them, who know me best.
I am -- I am proud of a number of the things that we've done together while you have let me be your Speaker. I am proud of the record of the 100th Congress. Many people feel that it is the most responsive and most productive Congress in perhaps 25 years. And all of you who were here in that Congress had a part in that. Many of the things we did were truly bipartisan in character.
Together, we made it possible for great leaps forward to be made in such things as our competitiveness in the world. Together, we fashioned the beginnings of a truly effective war on drugs. To stamp out that menace to the streets and schools and homes of our nation. We began the effort to help the homeless. We still have work to do to make housing affordable to low income Americans so that their won't be any homeless in this country. We did things to help abate catastrophic illness, and to provide welfare reform legislation, clean water legislation, and a great many other things that I shall not detail. For your help, your great work, and for permitting me to be a part of this institution while that was happening, I thank you. And I shall forever be grateful for your cooperation.
And I love this institution. I want to assure each of you that under no circumstances -- having spent more than half of my life here, this House being my home -- would I ever knowingly or intentionally do or say anything to violate its rules or detract from its standards.
Now all of us are prone to human error. Speaker of the House is, in fact, the chief enforcer of the rules of the House and it's really a wonderful thing that any member of the House may at his will bring question against any other member -- and under our rules that has to be looked into -- and I have no quarrel with that, nor any criticism of people who serve on the committee on Standards. It's a thankless job, and we have to have such a committee.
For over a year, well, just about a year, I have ached to tell my side of the story. That to which I have to respond keeps changing. But today, silence is no longer tolerable; nor for the good of the House is it even desirable. And so without any rancor and without any bitterness or any hard feelings toward anybody, I thank you for indulging me as I answer to you and to the American people for my honor, my reputation, and all the things I've tried to stand for all these years.
For the past year, while the committee on standards has had these matters under advisement, I have ached for the opportunity to speak. Almost daily I besought them to let me come and answer whatever questions they had on their minds. Finally, on the 14th of September, they gave me one day in which to do that. I gratefully went and spent the whole morning and the whole afternoon answering as candidly and as freely as possibly I could any question that anyone would ask and I believe when I left everyone was reasonably well satisfied.
Suffice to say that the five original charges that had been lodged were dropped, dismissed. In their place, however, came three additional charges. Well, some said 69. Well, the 69 are merely a matter of multiple counting of the three. And in April, the committee said, well, they thought there was some reason to believe that rules may have been violated in these three basic areas. I owe it to you and to the American people to give a straightforward answer on those three areas. I'm convinced that I'm right; maybe I'm wrong.
I know that each of us, as Benjamin Franklin suggested, should be careful to "doubt a little of his own infallibility," but before those charges were issued as fast leaks, filtered out almost daily, tarnishing my reputation and by inference spilling over on the reputation of this institution, I pleaded for the privilege to come and answer those questions before charges were made. Under the rules that was not permitted to me and they were formally made.
And so let's -- let's look at them, one by one, dispassionately. The committee has raised these three basic questions. It doesn't say that their is "clear and convincing proof" that I violated the rules. It doesn't say that they know I violated them. It just says they have some reason to believe I may have. And for these last few weeks I've been trying to find that and get an opportunity to address it. Now is the day -- I'm going to do it now.
The three questions are these:
Did my wife Betty's employment, at 18,000 dollars a year for some four years, by a small investment corporation which she and I formed with friends of ours, George and Marlene Mallick, and the attendant benefits of that employment -- the use of an apartment when she was in Fort Worth on company business and the use of the company-owned car -- constitute merely a sham and a subterfuge and a gift from our friend, Mr. Mallick? Was Betty's employment and those things related to it a gift?
You've read in papers the suggestion made by committee counsel that I may have received up to 145,000 dollars in gifts from my friend, Mr. Mallick. Half of it, 72,000, was Betty's income, Betty's salary. The other half involved the use of a car and the use of an apartment on a per diem basis. Now, whether it's right or wrong, let's look at it. Betty's employment. Was that a gift?
First question I should like to -- I suppose you might be asking, Why -- why was Betty working for the corporation? Why -- why did we put her to work at 18,000 dollars a year? The answer is really very simple. She was the only one of the four of us who had the time and the inclination to look into the investment opportunities that our investment corporation was created to explore. George Mallick, my partner, was too busy looking after his own interests; he had business interests of his own. Marlene Mallick was raising a family. I was busy being a member of Congress and majority leader. I didn't have any time to spend on it. Betty alone, among all others, had the time and the opportunity and the experience and the desire to give effort and energy to exploring and promoting investment opportunities.
She did indeed perform work, and it paid off for the little corporation. She did it well. She studied and followed the stock market on regional stocks -- buying and selling -- some of them I have brought into the corporation that I'd owned personally -- my personal estate. She advised us of when was a good time to sell and when was a good time to buy. And the corporation made some money on those regional stocks, not a lot of money by some people's standards, but we made some money.
Betty paid for her salary several times over. She maintained very frequent contact with a drilling company, that was drilling a series of gas wells, exploratory gas wells in West Texas in which each of the four partners had an interest, having borrowed money from the corporation in order to do that. She visited the site of drilling and maintained contact with the company for us in that instance. She went to New York and studied the gem stone business and the corporation made an investment in gem stones -- made some money on that. She looked into the possibility of the corporation [undecipherable] building apartment complexes for young people, but concluded that the interest rates were unfavorable. Betty spent a considerable amount of time studying the wine culture industry, which was then just getting started in Texas, and she made an economic study that concluded it was too speculative for a little corporation of our type. She looked into other prospective investments such as a small, limited partnership in the movie Annie and the prospective venture in sulfur extraction, but advised against both of those investments and it's lucky for us that she did because people invested in it and lost money.
Now I want to include for printing in the record affidavits from several business people who know from their personal experience and attest to the work that Betty did in this regard, and it will appear in the record at this point an affidavit by Pamela L. Smith, one by K. F. Schnider, one by John Freeman, one by Luis A. Ferris Jr., and one by J.D. Williams -- all attesting to their personal knowledge of these things that Betty did in working for the corporation for 18,000 dollars a year.
The outside counsel employed by the committee that suggested that Mrs. Wright's employment somehow amounted to a gift -- I don't know why but he assumed that the services she rendered couldn't have been worth 18,00 dollars a year. How he concludes that she didn't perform duties is to me a mystery. On page 20 of the statement of alleged violations, you'll find a very strange suggestion based on a statement that (quote) "There was no evidence either supporting or establishing that the money paid to Mrs. Wright was in return for identifiable services or work products." Now, frankly, I don't know exactly what Mr. Phelan means by "work product."
You want so many pages of cancelled short-hand notes? So many pages of typed manuscript? She wasn't a carpenter. Is a woman's mental study and her time and her advice not to be counted as a work product? How the committee could conclude that there was no evidence that Betty performed duties is very puzzling to me. They don't offer any evidence that she did not. When I was before the committee that wasn't one of the things that were being considered. They didn't ask me to go into any elaborate detail, as I have just done, to tell of the things that she did. They assumed, assumed that there was no evidence.
Ah, but there was evidence! The two people of whom questions were asked aside from myself, Mr. Mallick himself, and Pamela Smith, both testified that she did work. Mr. Phelan report says that they couldn't identify but maybe twelve days in the whole four-year period in which she worked. That's an inaccurate representation of what they said. Pamela Smith, both in this affidavit and in her testimony before the committee, clearly said she saw Betty there from five to seven days every month, and on weekends. And she spoke of her knowledge of her doing work in Washington and New York and elsewhere. So, there's evidence.
Well, is one to conclude that my wife's services to our little corporation were worth less than 18,000 dollars a year? It's not worth it? For most of her adult life, Mrs. Wright has been a business person. She's been an officer in a large hotel, an officer in a successful real estate and construction firm, a professional staff person on a congressional committee. She was making more than 18,000 dollars when she worked at the congressional committee.
And here's the irony, the supreme irony. In nineteen hundred and seventy six, when I was elected majority leader, Betty voluntarily left her job as a professional staff person on the committee, so as to avoid any criticism of this institution or of her husband on the ground that we both were on the public payroll. How many colleagues in the House and the Senate do you know whose wives are on the public payroll doing good work? And you know, Betty didn't want to be the cause for even unfounded criticism. She was legally entitled to continue. She had not [undecipherable] that job before our marriage, but she chose to leave to save the institution and her husband from unwarranted criticism. That's the kind of person she is.
Now, it just seems to me that there isn't any justification at all for anybody's even raising a question about whether she earned 18,000 dollars a year. Should a member of Congress have to prove that his wife earned that much money? Bear in mind, this money was not paid by Mr. Mallick; the money was paid by the corporation of which Betty and I were half owners -- half ours, anyway.
Now, in addition to her salary as a gift, outside counsel contends, in his summing up 145,000 "gifts," that Betty had the use of a company car. That's -- That's true -- she did. For the first three years, it was used largely by Mr. and Mrs. Mallick. It wasn't Mr. Mallick's car. It was the company car. The company bought and paid for it. We owned half of it. The next four years Betty had most of the use of it.
Now, I've done what I can to resolve any doubt. I want to do the right thing, the honorable thing. I bought and paid for that car out of my personal funds. The trustee of my blind trust, at my instruction, paid the corporation full book value for the car on the day Betty first started driving it on company business, through the whole time she had it in her possession, plus interest! The interest amounted to about 9,000 dollars. What more can I do? Does that make it right? [undecipherable]
Now concerning the apartment, Betty and I have been more than anxious to do what's right and honorable about that. We didn't think there was anything wrong with paying a per diem rate. The apartment was not held out for rent to anybody else. It wasn't owned for rental purposes. The Mallick family didn't want anybody else in the apartment. They owned about five apartments in this apartment unit--complex--area. They held them out for their employees, for their family. Wouldn't have been anybody in the apartment paying any amount of money at all if they hadn't permitted us when we were in town -- and Betty was doing company business -- to occupy the apartment. We paid on a daily basis for our use of that apartment.
Meanwhile, in an effort to resolve any doubt, last year I told Mr. Mallick that I didn't like the situation being criticized. He said, well, Ralph Lotkin, the committee counsel, said that it was all right. It was in the paper -- printed in the paper four years ago, the Fort Worth newspaper -- a statement quoting the chief counsel of the committee on standards, Mr. Lotkin, saying he didn't see anything improper with it. I relied on that.
Nevertheless, last year I said to George Mallick, I said, "I want to buy the apartment, George. I'll pay you for it." I did. I paid the amount suggested and appraised by two real estate persons in Fort Worth, 58,000 dollars. Now if anybody thinks that's too low a price I'll sell it to you today for 58,000 dollars.
Well, I just wanted to clear the air, and remove doubts, and say, if we made a mistake, we've done what we can to set things right. I -- I don't think we violated any rules. I think you're entitled to know that. My respect for you leads me to want to tell you that.
The second alleged violation continues on the assumption that Betty's employment and these little benefits that she had were gifts. And then it further assumes that George Mallick, our friend and business partner, had a direct interest in influencing legislation, which would make it illegal for us to accept gifts from him.
Now how do they arrive at that suggestion? I've known this man for more than 25 years. He's been my friend, good, decent, hardworking man of Lebanese extraction. His father had a wholesale grocery store there. His grandfather came with a wagon, a cart to Georgia. He's been successful, moderately so. Never once in all the years I've known this man has he ever asked me to vote for or against any piece of legislation. Not once. That's not the basis of our friendship -- not how our relationship goes. You have friends like that. They don't ask for anything. All they want is to be a friend. Not one time has he ever asked me to intercede with any administrative agency of government in behalf of him, or of any institution in which he has interest. Not once, not once.
So how do they say that he had a direct interest in influencing legislation? Well, on page 58 of the committee report, it is suggested that simply because he was in the real estate business, that he had some oil and gas investments, the committee might "infer," -- that's the word -- the committee might infer that he could be deemed a person with an interest of a direct nature in legislation. The committee suggests he might have an interest in the tax code. Well, who doesn't? You know, I mean every taxpayer's got an interest in the tax code. Everybody who ever expects to receive social security has an interest in the social security code. All people have an interest of some kind in the results of legislation, don't they? That's not were talking about. We're are talking about whether or not they have a direct interest in trying to influence the course of legislation.
Now where would you go to find out what that means -- if somebody wanted to associate with you some way and be in business with you some way back home in a legal, perfectly legal way -- whether he had an interest in the legislation or not? Who would you consult if you were in doubt about it? I wasn't in doubt, but suppose you were. Wouldn't you think you'd consult the publication of the committee? Or consult the people that wrote the rules?
Well, the people who wrote the rules don't think George Mallick had an interest in legislation. David Obey was the chairman of the committee that drafted those rules. He asserts clearly, unequivocally, emphatically, unambiguously, both in an affidavit that he wrote and a report he wrote for The Washington Post that [the rule] doesn't fit George Mallick's case. He doesn't have an interest in legislation as defined under the rules, the rules that David and his committee wrote.
Harold Sawyer, former Republican member from Michigan, who served on that committee along with David Obey, says the same thing. I have here an affidavit from Mr. Sawyer in which he states exactly that same conclusion. And there's an affidavit of Donald F. Terry, who was currently -- is employed now by the commitee on small business, but was a staff member on the commission on administrative review, which was charged in 1976 with the responsibility for drafting new rules for the official conduct for the House. Most of what he refers to has to do with the question of book royalties. Now I shall come to that next, but in these matters these three people, who had a great deal to do with writing the rule, say that's not what they intended when they wrote the rule. I offer these for printing in the record.
Where else might you turn if you were in doubt? Might you not possibly go to the commitee itself and see what advisory opinions it has given? Here is the publication the committee sends to all of us to tell us what is and is not legal. Each year we receive this as instructions for filling out our financial disclosure statement. Appendix E is an advisory opinion number 10, which defines who has a direct interest in legislation under the law. It says that "If the member does not believe that the donor of the gift has a distinct or special interest in the congressional legislative process which sets him clearly apart from the general public," well, "then the member should feel free to accept such gifts." That's the official advice from the committee given to every member. And then it defines in the summary who has an interest in legislation as prohibited under the rule.
Four classes, that's all: registered lobbyists -- George Mallick's not a registered lobbyist; somebody who employs a registered lobbyist -- George Mallick never did that; somebody who directs or operates a political action committee -- George Mallick has never done that; or, finally, any other individual which the member knows -- not should know or ought to suspect or ought to infer -- but which the member knows has a distinct and special interest in influencing or affecting the legislative process. Not just somebody who's got an interest financially in the outcome of legislation -- not at all! Somebody that you know has a direct or special interest in influencing the outcome of the legislative process, which sets that individual apart from the general public. Well, that was just simply not the case with George Mallick. And so he had no direct interest in legislation, any type that anybody could define.
Now we have motions before the committee -- to set that aside, set aside that presumption of a man's having a direct interest in legislation if you haven't got a reason to believe he has. The only thing that they have suggested is that in 1986 his son borrowed money from a savings and loan to build a little shopping center of his own, wholly apart and foreign to any investments that Betty and I had -- nothing to do with them, at all -- his son, and that in 1987 the lending institution had to foreclose.
You know, but the period when Betty was employed, presumably as a gift, was 1981 to 1984. Now, he couldn't have known in '81 and '84 that his son was going to borrow money in '86, and the thing go bad in '87, and economic decline make it impossible to pay off his note on time. He couldn't have known that. And anyway, would you stretch the thing to the point of saying that just anybody who has a member of his family that owes money to a bank or a savings and loan is forbidden? Of course you wouldn't. That covers more than half the the citizens in the country.
The people who wrote the rules don't believe that he's covered. The people who have been interpreting the rules that don't believe he's covered. And, so I think under all reasonable circumstances that motion ought to be agreed to, ought to be agreed to -- if rules mean anything, if we're not just going to turn the whole thing on its head and change the rules by whim every time we turn around.
Now the only other basic question -- just one that remains in the statement of alleged violations -- concerns the sale of a book, a little book now you'll recall, "Reflections of a Public Man," which I wrote and which was sold sometimes in bulk quantities. The people who took it and gave it away to other people -- students, newspapers, public officials, and members of their organizations. And I wanted them to. You know, I wanted to get the widest possible distribution of the -- of the book. A book that you write is kind of part of you. You think of it as a child almost. It's probably not great literature, but I like it. Marty Toulch [sp?] in the New York Times, John Silber, President of Boston University, Jim Lehrer of McNeil/Lehrer Report, and Dr. Tucker, Chancellor of TCU, all said nice things about it, and I appreciate that.
Now, the contention of the committee, as I understand it, is that this book project, to publish that book -- on which I got three dollars and a quarter for every book that sold -- was a kind of a sham and a subterfuge itself and an overall scheme for me to exceed and violate the outside earning limitations of a member of Congress.
Do -- I mean, do you think that I'd do something like that? The purpose of the book -- three dollars and a quarter is what I got out of it and I didn't get any advance -- the purpose of the book was to publish something that could be sold at a small price and get wide distribution. If -- If monetary gain had been my primary interest, don't you think I would have gone to one of the big Madison Avenue publications, the houses there that give you a big advance? Hey, I know people who received advances before a single book sells from those big companies -- twice and three times as much as I got in total sales of those books.
If there had been a scheme to get around outside earning limits, that's what I might have done. I hear that a woman author of a book called "Mayflower Madam" got 750,000 dollars in advance royalties. I don't know that to be true. Our former speaker, Mr. [Thomas P.] O'Neill [Jr., (D-Mass.)], is said to have received a million dollars for his excellent and readable book in advance before any of them were sold. I have read that a woman named Kitty Kelly has received as much as two million dollars in advance royalties for a book she's written on Nancy Reagan, which, as I understand it, is not even an authorized biography. Well so much for that.
It is true, I think, that people on my staff were eager to sell these books. They knew I wanted them sold. I've got to accept some responsibility for that if it was wrong, but the rule doesn't say it was wrong. It couldn't have been an overall scheme to avoid outside earning limits because the rules are clear. They're not equivocal. The rules expressly exempt royalty income. And that too is attested to by David Obey. And it's attested to by Donald Terry, who gives the rational and the expression. There wasn't any exception; book royalties were exempted. Now maybe they shouldn't have been. You know, maybe -- maybe somebody got the impression that buying a book was the price of getting me to make a speech. I never intended that impression. I never suggested that. I hope that friends of mine did not.
Of all the books that were sold, the outside counsel suggests that seven cases involved instances where individuals associated with organizations to which I made speeches bought multiple copies of the books and distributed them among members of the organization or others. Now I have not been permitted to see the copy of their testimony, so I don't know what exactly they said. I've asked people on my staff, did you tell these folks that they had to buy these books or I wouldn't make a speech? They said no, they didn't.
The total amount, as I figure, from all of those sales that it involved is about 7,700 dollars -- that's what I received. You know, I would do whatever be necessary, whatever was right. If those people were under the impression that I wasn't going to make a speech to them unless they bought a bunch of books, if they wanted their money, I'd give them that money. I don't want the money. That's not important. What's important is a person's honor and his integrity.
During that three-year period when the counsel says there are seven instances where I made speeches to groups and they bought copies of these books, seven groups, seven instances, I made at least 700 speeches for which I didn't get any honorarium. Didn't offer to sell anybody a book. Nobody had the chance to buy a book. Do you suppose if I'd done an overall scheme, I wouldn't have been a wider kind of an experience than that -- I -- I don't know. I'm just saying to you that I didn't intend to try to violate the outside earning limitations and I don't believe legally that I did. Some of the rest of you make a lot of speeches. How many speeches do you suppose you make that you don't get anything for? Most of us do.
Well, what can I do? One other thing about the books that I suppose needs elaboration. It involves the allegation in the statement of alleged violations that a man named S. Gene Payte -- P-A-Y-T-E, Gene Payte -- a reputable businessman in Fort Worth, paid for more books that he got from the publisher -- that they didn't deliver enough books to him. Now that's -- that's what was said in the report of the outside counsel. S. Gene Payte, upon reading that report, issued an affidavit that is not ambiguous at all. Here's what Mr. Payte says. I'll read, in part, this affidavit and put the whole thing in the record.
Now, here's what Payte says:
So this is a copy of that affidavit, which I should like to submit for the record -- together with a copy of a letter that was sent by the committee to Mr. Payte after he issued this affidavit, telling him he ought not to comment.
What do you think of that? A private citizen, a reputable citizen of my community, misquoted in a document published at public expense, sent widely to newspapers throughout the country, widely cited as authority, uncritically, assumed to be accurate. The citizen being misquoted issues an affidavit to straighten it out, so that he is not misquoted in the public record. And then he's warned by the committee that he might be held in violation and in contempt of Congress if he doesn't shut up. First Amendment rights supersede any rules of any committee. And any citizen of the United States ought to have the right to have him -- his own testimony correctly characterized and not be threatened or silenced by a House committee. Any House committee owes to the citizen of the United States that right and that privilege.
Well, those are basically the matters that pend before the committee and our motion to dismiss. Those motions could clear the air. Rules are important -- just like the -- the constancy of what a law means is important to a citizen, if they can resolve these particular legal issues as to what constitutes "direct interest in legislation" and whether or not book royalties are exempt, as the rules say they are. I think it's important for the motions to be ruled upon, and I earnestly hope that the committee will look at it from that standpoint and grant our motions.
Members are entitled to know what the rules mean and if they still mean what they meant when they were written and promulgated. Now maybe the rules need to be changed. If so, let's change them in a legal, orderly way. Let's vote on it. Let's vote to change them. Maybe the whole process needs some change and clarification. You know, we -- we may want to consider -- the House may want to consider -- establishing a House counsel to whom members can look for official advice and then rely on that advice. The rules of the committee itself might need some reconsideration. Having gone through this agonizing experience for about a year now -- I mean, almost every day there's a news story in a newspaper leaked, without any chance for me to know what's coming next and no chance for me to go to the committee and answer it and say, "Hey, wait a minute, that -- that's not correct; that's not right."
Maybe the committee -- as it's currently required to sit as kind of a grand jury and petit jury both -- ought to have a different composition, rather than those who issue the statement of alleged violations being the same people who have to judge them. I think it clearly is difficult to expect members who've publicly announced a reason to believe there's a violation to reverse their position at a hearing stage and dismiss charges against a member. Maybe once a report of alleged violations is issued, the committee rules ought to allow the member to respond expeditiously. You know, to deny a member the opportunity to reply quickly can cause serious political injury. It's unfair. Once alleged violations are announced, the committee ought to just immediately release to the member all the evidence that it could have to indicate that that's happened. In my case, for example, the committee has yet to release any witness testimony or documents that it obtained during the investigation.
Why hide the evidence? What's there to hide? This ought not to be the kind of proceeding in which strategic maneuvering be allowed to override fundamental relations of fair play. Now, I kind of -- I urge the abolition of the gag order too, which the committee said it forbids any witnesses who comes and makes a deposition from discussing publicly or telling his side of the thing. And I just suppose the charges which the committee concludes are unfounded should not be published and widely disseminated, as though they were true and bore the imprimatur of the committee's approval.
Well, there are other things you want to consider. I -- I'm not trying to give you a [sic] exhaustive list of what might happen. I -- I know there are others who have views that are equally relevant. You know, perhaps we want to consider a [sic] outright abolition of all honoraria and speaking fees altogether. Maybe we want to do that -- I don't know; it's up to the House -- in exchange for a straightforward, honest increase in the salary for members of all three branches of the government. It is intolerably hurtful to our government that qualified members of the executive and legislative branches are resigning because of the ambiguities and the confusion surrounding the ethics laws and because of their own consequent vulnerability to personal attack. That's a shame. It's happening.
And it is grievously hurtful to our society when vilification becomes an accepted form of political debate and negative campaigning becomes a full-time occupation; when members of each party become self-appointed vigilantes carrying out personal vendettas against members of the other party. In God's name, that's not what this institution is supposed to be all about. When vengeance becomes more desirable than vindication and harsh personal attacks upon one another's motives and one another's character drown out the quiet logic of serious debate on important issues, things that we ought to be involved ourselves in. Surely that's unworthy of our institution and unworthy of our American political process. All of us in both political parties must resolve to bring this period of mindless cannibalism to an end!! We've done enough of it!
[sustained applause lasting close to one minute]
I - I - I pray to God that we will do that and restore the spirit that always existed in this House.
When I first came here, all those years ago, 1955, this was a place where a man's word was his bond, and his honor and truth of what he said to you were assumed. He didn't have to prove it. I remember one time Cleve Bailey of West Virginia, in a moment of impassioned concern over a tariff bill, jumped up and made an objection to the fact that Chet Holliefield had voted -- in those days we -- we shouted our answers to the votes, and Holliefield was back there in the back and Bailey said, "I object to the gentleman from California vote being counted. He came down and voted late. He said he was not in the chamber when his name was called and therefore he's not entitled to vote."
It was a close vote. Speaker Rayburn grew red as a tomato and I thought he was gonna break the gavel when he hammered. He said, "The chair always takes the word of a member." And then because I was sitting over here behind Cleve Bailey, I heard other members come and say, "Cleve, you're wrong. Chet was back there behind the rail and I was standing by him when he answered; his answer just wasn't heard." And others said you shouldn't have said that. And Cleve Bailey, crusty old West Virginian, came down here and abjectly, literally with tears in his eyes, apologized, for having questioned the word of a member. Now we need that.
Have I made mistakes? Oh, boy, how many? I - I made a lot of mistakes. Mistakes in judgment, oh yeah, a lot of 'em. I'll make some more. Recently, let me just comment on this briefly, because it's such a sensational thing and injury's been done to me in this particular moment because of it. John, John Mack; many of you remember him, know him; I think a lot of you like him, respect him. I helped John one time in his life when he was about 19 years old, 20, I didn't know him, never had met him.
I didn't know the nature of the crime that he had been convicted of. I knew only that John Mack was a young man who my daughter had known in high school and my daughter was married to his brother, incidentally; that's how she knew about John. And she mentioned it to me. All I knew was that he'd been convicted of assault and that he'd served 27 months in a Fairfax County jail. Contrary to what's been published, I did not interfere with the court. I didn't suggest anything to the court. I didn't have anything to do with his sentencing. I really didn't under -- didn't know and didn't inquire. Maybe that's bad judgment. I didn't inquire as to the exact nature of the crime.
The sheriff's office in Fairfax County called and asked me if I would know of any job that I could help this young man get. They wanted to parole him. They said he said he'd been a model rehabilitative prisoner. And I gave him a job as a file clerk. You know, 9,000 dollars a year. After that he -- he really blossomed and grew and developed and those of you who know him can't conceive -- as I never could conceive when finally just two years ago I read in the newspaper -- the precise nature of that crime. It just didn't fit his character. Married and had two beautiful children, wonderfully responsible, and I think become a very fine person.
Now, was that bad judgment? Yeah, maybe so. It doesn't have anything to do with the rules but it's got all mixed up with it, and I don't think, though, that it's bad judgment to try to give a young man a second chance. Maybe I should have known more about it, but in this case I - I - I - I think -- I think he has turned out well and I -- I don't believe that America really stands for the idea that a person should ever -- forever be condemned. But I think maybe he ought to have a second chance. And that's what I thought in the case of John Mack, and good judgment or bad, I mean, that's -- that's it. And I -- I believe in giving somebody a second chance.
Have I contributed unwittingly to this manic idea of frenzy of feeding on other people's reputations? Have I -- Have I caused a lot of this? So maybe I have. God I hope I haven't. But maybe I have. Have I been too partisan? Too insistent? Too abrasive? Too determined to have my way? Perhaps. Think so. If I've offended anybody in the other party, I'm sorry. I never meant to. Would not have done so intentionally. Always tried to treat all of our colleagues -- Democrats and Republicans -- with respect. Are there things I'd do differently if I had 'em to do over again? Oh boy. How many may I name for you?
Well, I tell you what. I'm going to make you a proposition. Let me give you back this job you gave to me as a propitiation for all of this season of bad will that has grown among us. Give it back to you. I will resign as Speaker of the House effective upon the election of my successor. And I'll ask that we call a caucus on the Democratic side for next Tuesday to choose a successor. I don't want to be a party to tearing up the institution -- I love it.
To tell you the truth, this year it has been very difficult for me to offer the kind of moral leadership that our organization needs, because every time I've tried to talk about the needs of the country, about the needs for affordable homes -- both Jack Kemp's idea and the idea we're developing here -- every time I've tried to talk about the need for minimum wage, tried to talk about the need for daycare centers, embracing ideas on both sides of the aisle, the media have not been interested in that. They wanted to ask me about petty personal finances.
You need -- You need somebody else. So I want to give you that back. And we'll have a caucus on Tuesday. And then I will offer to resign from the House some time before the end of June. Let that be a total payment for the anger and hostility we feel toward each other. Let's not try to get even with each other. Republicans please don't get it in your heads you need to get somebody else because of John Tower. Democrats, please don't feel that you need to get somebody on the other side because of me. We ought to be more mature than that.
Let's restore to this institution the rightful priorities of what's good for this country. And let's all work together and try to achieve them. The nation has important business and it can't afford these distractions. And that's why I offer to resign.
I've enjoyed these years in the Congress. I am grateful for all of you who have taught me things and been patient with me. Horace Greeley had a quote that Harry Truman used to like: "Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident. Riches take wings; those who cheer today may curse tomorrow; only one thing endures --character." I'm not a bitter man. I'm not going to be. I'm a lucky man. God has given me the privilege of serving in this greatest institution on earth for a great many years, and I'm grateful to the people of my district in Texas. I'm grateful to you my colleagues -- all of you.
And God bless this institution.
And God bless the United States.
Audio and Image (Screenshot) Source: C-SPAN.org
U.S. Copyright Status:
This text and audio = Property of
Image = Public
U.S. Copyright Status: This text and audio = Property of AmericanRhetoric.com. Image = Public domain.