Richard Nixon photo

Remarks at a Reception Honoring Speaker McCormack.

May 26, 1970

President and Mrs. Johnson, Mr. Speaker, all of the distinguished guests here in the Caucus Room today:

It is my privilege to do what the Speaker usually does for the President of the United States in those great joint session ceremonies. The Speaker presents the President of the United States to the Congress.

It is my privilege to present the Speaker to you. But before doing so, I would like to tell you why that word tutelage apparently was used. That is where I got the rapier tongue that you have all heard about.

In introducing the Speaker, one historical note, perhaps, should be made. As all of you who studied the House of Representatives in our American system are aware, we had a Speaker before we had a President. The Speaker is the oldest elected office that this country has. Speaker [Frederick A. C.] Muhlenberg from Pennsylvania was Speaker of the House for a month before George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States.

So today we in truth honor the first office and, I think, in honoring John McCormack, we honor the first man in the first office in this country today--the Speaker of the House.

And now if I could be permitted a personal reference with regard to the Speaker. He is a man I learned in the years I was in the House and in the Senate, and as Vice President, who is able to carry the partisan burden effectively and well. I respect that, I understand it. All of you respect it and understand it.

He was a skillful debater, a very effective one, and one who strongly represented his point of view, sometimes differing from the point of view that I might have had or some of the rest in this room have.

He also was a man, however, of great honor. And in this body in which we have served, whether in the Senate or the House, we appreciate that. We appreciate the fact that we can have differences, and yet that within those differences we can have personal relationships which remain warm and friendly, built on mutual respect.

I recall an incident that the Speaker probably has forgotten because this probably happened in his life many times to new and young Congressmen of both parties who came to Washington.

In the year 1948, when I was a freshman Member of the House of Representatives, I had a very great responsibility, to carry on the floor of the House a bill. Jim Wadsworth, I remember--all of you who are older Members will remember him-the distinguished Congressman from New York, a former Senator,1 was presiding in the Committee of the Whole. I, sitting in the position usually reserved for the Majority Leader, was carrying the bill. What the bill was is not material. What, to me, was something I will always remember is that at the conclusion of a very spirited debate, the then Minority Leader, the man who was sitting on the other side, John McCormack, came over to me and he said, "That was a good job, young man."

1James W. Wadsworth, Jr., served in the Senate from 1915 to 1927 and in the House from 1933 to 1951.

You know, a young Congressman remembers that when he hears it from a man who is his senior in his own party. He never forgets it when he hears it from a man who is his senior in the other party.

I always remember John McCormack for that kindness many, many years ago. There is something else that I admire him for and for which I think we all owe him very great respect today. It has been my privilege, as has been the case of other Presidents, to have the Speaker from time to time for breakfast at the White House, along with Carl Albert, to consider some of the legislative matters.

Every time I have had the Speaker there he only has a cup of coffee. Now, I don't suggest that I appreciate that because it saves on the White House budget. But the reason is something that, to me, tells us something about the Speaker.

As you know, Mrs. McCormack has not been well. Speaker McCormack always gets up early, very early in the morning, so that he can have breakfast with Mrs. McCormack. To me that tells us a great deal about John McCormack.

This man, a fine, strong partisan, a fair presiding officer over the House of Representatives, but this man who is kind to his political opponents and respects them, even though he disagrees with them, and this man also who has such great affection for his family, for his wife.

I think all of this touches us on an occasion like this and I wanted to share these two impressions that I have of the Speaker going back over the past 20 years.

Tomorrow at a luncheon at the White House we will honor him again. But there is not room for all of you. There will be just 100 there. I am very proud, however, that I could join with all of the Members of the House and many Members of the Senate in representing you and presenting to you the man that we honor today.

My colleagues in the House, my colleagues in the Senate, a man we respect, a man for whom we have affection, a man who has presided over this House of Representatives with such fairness over the years, a man who through those years has always thought of his country above his party when the great issues were concerned: the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Note: The President, who was introduced by House Majority Leader Carl Albert, spoke at 5:53 p.m. in the Longworth House Office Building.

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

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