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Remarks at a Luncheon Honoring Speaker McCormack

May 27, 1970

Mr. Speaker, President Johnson, Mr. Vice president, Mr. Chief Justice, all of the distinguished guests who are here for this occasion:

We wish that time permitted everyone here to say what he would like to say about the Speaker, and even under the rules of the House that might have been possible, because I figured it out that with approximately 100 of the elite--and you are the elite, believe me; you should have seen the words I received from those who were not invited to this luncheon but 100 of the elite are here, and each of you should speak, but even under the rules of the House, literally interpreted, we would not be out of here until 4:00.

I have just been informed that the House Members have to get back for a couple of votes and the Senate Members just have to get back.

But we do not want to keep either the House or the Senate from their very important responsibilities, so I have taken upon myself the very difficult choice of selecting those from this assemblage who would speak for all of us.

I naturally have turned to those who have known the Speaker the longest, those who served with him who are no longer in the House, and those who have served under him and with him who are presently in the House.

It will be bipartisan, of course, bipartisan because those who respect this Speaker are not numbered or certainly designated by their party affiliation. We all cherish his friendship and that will be evident from the remarks that you will hear.

So now under the rules of the House, which the Speaker will enforce, if I will not, each will be recognized.

[At this point the President introduced Representatives Emanuel Celler of New York and Leslie C. Arends of Illinois, and former Representatives Howard W. Smith of Virginia ( 1931-1967) and Charles Halleek of Indiana (1934-1969) for brief remarks. The President then resumed speaking.]

Now we come to one who has served with the Speaker and one who has been intimately associated with him over many, many years and one who presided in this house with such great dignity and great courage immediately prior to the time I have had the privilege to be here.

I think we are very fortunate that President Johnson came all the way from Texas up here to honor the Speaker today.

President Johnson.

[At this point former President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke. The President then resumed speaking.]

I have the privilege to make the presentation to the Speaker, a presentation which inevitably, as you will see, has the gavel, but which also has an inscription which I think summarizes some of the things that have been said so eloquently by those who have spoken before on this program.

In thinking of this moment, however, I believe it is well for all of us to realize that like so many moments in this great room, we are here on an occasion that never happened before, and probably will never happen again.

The Speaker has been honored--the Speaker as a man and as an institution-at dinners at the White House for many, many years. But this is the first occasion in which a Speaker who has been honored has served longer continually in that particular position than any Speaker in the whole history of the United States, and who, next to Sam Rayburn, held the office of Speaker longer than any man in the history of the United States.

What a distinguished record that is. It is something that should be honored in this room, where last night we honored a President, and over the years, kings and queens and emperors and various leaders in all walks of life.

I think President Johnson stated my sentiments very well, and perhaps it is not unexpected that our views about the Speaker would be somewhat the same because of the position that we held.

Perhaps I can put it this way: I asked the Speaker to submit a list of names to be included and he chose all of you, the ranking Members of the House and of the Senate, also some of the people in the administration, the elected officials, the Chief Justice, very, very few people otherwise from family, Lew Deschler,1 without whom no Speaker could preside over that House--I don't think he could, at least.

It is also significant that the Speaker asked, in addition to his present friends and colleagues and former friends, the former Secretary of State, Dean Acheson. I think I know the reason he wanted him here, because he was a friend, but also because the Speaker, based on my conversations with him over the years, and particularly over the past 16 months, speaks of those times when he spoke to President Roosevelt, President Truman, President Eisenhower, President Kennedy, President Johnson about domestic policies and also about foreign policy.

He did not agree with all Presidents, even Presidents of his own party, completely. But in this area of foreign policy, he had an enormous interest, an enormous concern, and over and over again he has told of incidents in which there were foreign policy matters where he talked to the President and gave the President his views on what he, as a man and as a leader of his party, felt was best for the country.

I think that on this occasion, Republicans and Democrats can be very proud of the service the Speaker has rendered in that esteemed office that he has held. We can be proud of all his other characteristics that have been so eloquently described. We can be particularly proud of the fact that here is a man who meets the qualifications that President Johnson so eloquently described.

I will show you the plaque and then I will read the inscription and then propose the toast to the Speaker.

"Presented to John W. McCormack, Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States, May 27, 1970."

My inscription: "He has been Speaker of the House of Representatives for a record number of consecutive years. His actions have always expressed unsurpassed devotion to country. When the lines are drawn on the great national issues, John McCormack stands not as a son of Massachusetts, not as the leader of a political party, but as an American." To the Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, you are recognized under the rules of the Senate.

1 Lewis Deschler, Parliamentarian of the House of Representatives.

Note: The President spoke at 2:25 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

The remarks of former President Johnson and Speaker McCormack are printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 6, pp. 698 and 700).

Richard Nixon, Remarks at a Luncheon Honoring Speaker McCormack Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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