Mike Johnson

Address Upon Assuming Speakership of the U.S. House of Representatives

delivered 25 October 2023, Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.

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[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Thank you all. First, a few words of gratitude. I want to thank Leader Jeffries. I do look forward to working with you on behalf of the American people. I know we see things from very different points of view, but I know that in your heart you love and care about this country and you want to do what's right. And so, we're going to find common ground there, all right?

I want to -- I want to express my great thanks for our Speaker Emeritus, Kevin McCarthy. Kevin has dedicated over two decades of his life to selfless public service, 16 of those years in this House. And you would be hard-pressed to find anybody who loves this institution more or has contributed more to it. He is the reason we're in this majority today. His impact can never be overstated, and I -- I want to thank him for his leadership, his friendship, and the -- the selfless sacrifice that you and Judy have made for so many years. You -- You helped build it, Kevin, and we owe you a great debt of gratitude.

I want to thank the dedicated and overworked staff of this beleaguered House. They accept praise so stoically. But -- But Ms. -- Ms. Susan Cole, our House Reading Clerk, and -- yes, yes. Listen, all -- all the clerks and all the staff, you know they're terribly overworked. This has been a grueling process, but they have served an integral role in keeping our Republic, and we thank them for that service. I know we all do.

I want to thank my dedicated wife of almost 25 years, Kelly. She's not here. We couldn't get a flight in time. This happened sort of suddenly. But we're going to celebrate soon. She spent the last couple of weeks on her knees in prayer to the Lord, and she's a little worn out. We all are.

I want to thank our children, Michael and Hannah and Abby and Jack and Will. All of our children sacrifice. All of them do, and we know that. And there's not a lot of perks to being a -- a Member of Congress's kid, right? And so, I want to thank all your families as well for what they endure and what they've had to endure for the last few weeks. We've been here a while.

I -- yeah.

I -- I want to thank my faithful mother, Jeannie Johnson, who bore me at the age of 17, and my brothers Chris and Josh and my sister Laura and all their families and all of our extended family. In Louisiana, family's a big deal, and we got a bunch of them.

I especially want to thank all the extraordinary people of the great state of Louisiana. We have never had a Speaker of the House hail from our state, and so they've been lifting us up. I -- I thank the -- the people of Louisiana for the opportunity to serve you in Congress, and I am humbled by your continuous support. We will make you proud.

To my colleagues, I want -- I want to thank you all for the trust that you have instilled in me to lead us in this historic and unprecedented moment that we're in. The challenge before us is great, but the time for action is now, and I will not let you down.

I want to say to the American people on behalf of all of us here, we hear you. We know the challenges you're facing. We -- We know that -- that there's a lot going on in our country, domestically and abroad, and we are ready to get to work again to solve those problems, and we will. Our mission here is to serve you well, to restore the People's faith in this House, in this great and essential institution.

My -- My dad -- it was mentioned my dad was a firefighter. He was an assistant chief of the fire department in my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, a little town in northwest Louisiana.

On September 17th, 1984, when I was 12 years old, he was critically burned and permanently disabled in the line of duty. All I ever wanted to be when I grew up was the chief of the fire department in Shreveport. But after the explosion on that fateful day he nearly died, and it was a long road back, and it changed all of our life trajectories.

I'm the oldest of four kids and -- and my dad -- he lived with pain all the rest of his life, for decades more, and I lost my dad to cancer three days before I got elected to Congress. Three days. And he wanted to be there at my election night so badly. I'm the first college graduate in my family -- this was a big deal to him.

And so several weeks after that it was early 2017 -- 2017 -- it was my freshman term and -- and it -- it fell to me to be in the rostrum one night to serve here as Speaker Pro-tem. I thought that was a big deal until I figured out that's what you do for freshman late at night. And I -- I want to -- I think if my memory serves Ms. Jackson Lee was -- was winding down one of her long, eloquent speeches and not -- not that I was not enraptured by her speech but I -- I looked up -- looked up at the top and -- of the chamber, there -- and I saw the face of Moses staring down. And I just felt in that moment the weight of this place, right, the -- the history that is revered here and the future that we are called to forge. And I really was just kind of almost overwhelmed with emotion.

It occurred to me in that moment it had been several weeks and I had not had an opportunity yet to grieve my Dad's passing and -- and I just had this sense that -- that somehow he knew. And I had tears come to my eyes and I was standing here and I'm wiping them away and then it suddenly occurs to me the late night C-SPAN viewers are going to think something's very wrong with the new, young congressman from Louisiana. It -- It wasn't Sheila's speech. I'm sorry I...just knew in that moment that my...dad my, father would be -- would be proud of me and I felt that he was.

And -- And I think all of our parents are proud of what we're called to do here. I think all the American people at one time had great pride in this institution; but right now that's in jeopardy. And we have a challenge before us right now to rebuild and restore that trust. This is a -- a beautiful country. It's the beauty of America that allows a -- a firefighter's kid like me to come here and serve in this sacred chamber where great men and women have served before all of us and strived together to build and then preserve what Lincoln did refer to as the "last best hope" of man on earth.1

We stand at a very dangerous time. I'm stating the obvious. We all know that. The world is in turmoil. But a strong America is good for the entire world. We -- We are the beacon of freedom and we must preserve this grand experiment in self-governance. it still is. We're only 247 years into this grand experiment and we don't know how long it will last. But we do know that the Founders to take -- the Founders told us to take good care of it.

I want to tell all my colleagues here what I told the Republicans in that room last night: I don't believe there are any coincidences in a matter like this. I -- I believe that Scripture, the Bible, is very clear that -- that God is the one that raises up those in authority. He raised up each of you -- all of us. And -- And I believe that God has ordained and allowed each one of us to be brought here for this specific moment, in this time. This is my belief.

I believe that each one of us has a huge responsibility today to use the gifts that God has given us to serve the extraordinary people of this great country -- and they deserve it -- and to ensure that our Republic remains standing as the great beacon of light and hope and freedom in a world that desperately needs it.

It was in 1962 -- in 1962 that -- that our national motto "In God we trust" was adorned above this rostrum. And if you look at the little guide that they give tourists and constituents who come and...visit the House, if you turn in there to about page 14 in the middle of that guide it tells you the history of this. And it says very simply, these words were placed here above us; this motto was placed here as a rebuke of the Cold War era philosophy of the Soviet Union. That philosophy was Marxism and Communism, which begins with the premise that there is no God. This is a critical distinction that is also articulated in our nation's birth certificate. We know the language well, the famous second paragraph that we used to have children memorize in school. And -- And they don't do that so often anymore, but they should.

G.K. Chesterson [Chesterton] was the famous British philosopher and statesman, and he said one time: "America is the only nation in the world that is founded [on] a creed." "And," he said, it's listed with almost "theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence."2 What is our creed? "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal" -- not born equal, created equal -- and they are "endowed" by the -- the same inalienable rights -- with the same "[un]alienable rights," -- "life," "liberty," "pursuit of happiness." That is the -- That is the creed that has animated our nation since its founding, that has made us the great nation that we are.

And we're in a time of extraordinary crisis right now  and the world needs us to be strong. They need us to remember our creed and our admonition. Turmoil and violence have rocked the Middle East and Eastern Europe. We all know it. And tensions continue to build in the Indo-Pacific. The country demands strong leadership of this Body, and we must not waver.

Our -- Our nation's greatest ally in the Middle East is under attack. The first bill [H.R. 6126] that I'm going to bring to this floor in just a little while will be in support of our dear friend Israel, and we're overdue in getting that done. We're going to show not only Israel but the entire world that the barbarism of Hamas that we have all seen play out on our television screens is wretched and wrong, and we are going to stand for the good in that conflict.

We -- We have a catastrophe at our southern border. The Senate and the White House can no longer ignore the problem. From Texas to New York, wave after wave of illegal migrants are stressing our communities to their breaking points. We -- We know that our streets are being flooded with fentanyl and all of our communities, children, and even adults are dying from it. The status quo is unacceptable, inaction is unacceptable, and we must come together and address the broken border. We have to do it.

The skyrocketing cost of living is unsustainable, and Americans should not have to worry about how they're going to feed their family every week because they can't afford their groceries anymore. Everybody in this room should think about this. Here's the stats: Prices have increased over 17% in the last two years; credit card interest rates are at the highest level in nearly three decades; and mortgage rates are now at a peak we haven't seen since 2001. We have to bring relief to the American people by reigning in federal spending and bringing down inflation.

The -- The greatest threat to our national security is our nation's debt, and while we've been sitting in this room -- that's right -- the debt has crossed almost 33.6 trillion dollars. In the time that it's going to take me to -- to deliver this speech it will go up another 20 million in debt. It's unsustainable. We have to get the country back on track. Now, we know this is not going to be an easy task and tough decisions will have to be made. But the consequences if we don't act now are unbearable. We have a duty to the American people to explain this to them so they understand it well, and we are going to establish a bipartisan debt commission to begin working on this crisis immediately, immediately.

We all know that we also live in a time of bitter partisanship. It was noted, and it's been on display here today, right? When our people are losing their faith in government, when...they're losing sight of the principles that made us the greatest nation in the history of the world, I think we got to be mindful of that. We're going to fight. We're going to fight vigorously over our core principles, because they're at odds a lot of times now in this modern era. We have to sacrifice sometimes our preferences because that's what's necessary in a legislative body. But we will defend our core principles to the end.

In his Farewell Address -- thank you. In his Farewell Address, President Reagan explained the secret of his rapport with people, and -- and I like to paraphrase his explanation all the time. He said, you know they call me the "Great Communicator" but I really wasn't that. He said, I was just communicating great things.3 And they're the same great things that they've guided our nation [sic] since its founding. What are those great things? I call them the seven core principles of American conservatism. But let me concede to you all, I think it's really, quintessentially, the core principles of our nation. I boil them down to:
[1] individual freedom;
[2] limited government;
[3] the rule of law;
[4] peace through strength;
[5] fiscal responsibility;
[6] free markets;
[7] and human dignity.

Those -- Those are the foundations that made us the extraordinary nation that we are. And you and I today are the stewards of those principles, the things that have made us the freest most powerful most successful nation in the history of the world the things that have made us truly exceptional. In this time of great crisis, it is our duty to work together, as previous generations of great leaders have, to face these great challenges and solve these great problems.

I will conclude with this: The job of the Speaker of the House is to serve the whole Body, and I will. But I've made a commitment to my colleagues here that this Speaker's Office is going to be known for decentralizing the power here. My Office is going to be known for Members being more involved and having more influence in our processes and all the major decisions that are made here for predictable processes and regular order. We owe that to the People. That's right. And I want to make this commitment to you, to my colleagues here and on the other side of the aisle as well: My office is going to be known for trust and transparency and accountability; for good stewardship of the People's treasure; for the honesty and integrity that is incumbent upon us all of us here in the People's House. Our system of government is not a perfect system. It's got a lot of challenges. But it is still the best one in the world, and we have an opportunity to preserve it.

Last thing I'm going to say is a message to the rest of the world. They have been watching this drama play out for a few weeks weeks. We've learned a lot of lessons. But you know what: Through adversity, it makes you stronger. And -- yeah. And -- And we want our allies around the world to know that this Body of lawmakers is reporting again to our duty stations. Let the enemies of freedom around the world hear us loud and clear: The People's House is back in business. Thank you. Thank you.

We will do our duty here. We will serve you well. We will govern well. And we'll make you proud in this institution again. We're going to -- We're going to fight every day to make sure that is true. I look forward to the days ahead. I genuinely believe in my heart that the best days of America are still ahead of us.

God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Thank you.

1 Extended quotation: "Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We -- even we here -- hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free -- honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just -- a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless." [emphasis added; source: https://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/congress.htm]

2 Chesterton, G.K. (922). What I Saw in America. Extended quotation: "America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just."

3 Extended quotation: "And in all of that time I won a nickname, "The Great Communicator." But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: it was the content. I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn't spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation -- from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries." [Source: https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/

Original Audio and Video Source: C-SPAN.org

Text Note: Transcription and editorial work by Michael E. Eidenmuller

Audio Note: AR-XE = American Rhetoric Extreme Enhancement

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Page Created: 11/6/23

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