Remarks in the Chamber of the United States House of Representatives
Mr. Speaker, my colleagues in the House of Representatives:
I do feel very much at home in this House. My heart is truly in this House, because, as the Speaker has so very generously indicated, my first service in Government was here 22 years ago.
I have come here today for an unusual purpose, perhaps an unprecedented purpose. If it is, and can be expressed quite briefly, I want to express appreciation to the Members of this House, the Members on both sides of this aisle, for their support of a just peace in Vietnam.
Yesterday I was informed by a bipartisan group from the House of Representatives that over 300 Members of the House had joined in sponsoring a resolution 1 for a just peace in Vietnam along the lines of the proposals that I made in a speech on November 3.
As I saw that resolution, I realized its great significance, its great significance from an historical standpoint and its great significance in terms of the effect it might--and I believe could--have in hastening the day that that just peace may Come.
First, from an historical standpoint, if I could be permitted to reminisce for a moment, 22 years ago in this House, the breakdown on the Democratic and the Republican sides was approximately the opposite of what it is today. In the 80th Congress, it was 3 to 2 Republican, and today in this Congress it is 3 to 2 Democratic.
I remember in that period immediately after World War II, there were those who thought that with the President being a Democrat Harry Truman--and the Congress being Republican, that this would mean that the United States in the critical areas of foreign policy, when it was vitally important to have a consistent foreign policy, would not speak with one voice to the world. And even one critic, a Member of the other body, suggested that President Truman should resign so that there could be a Republican President working with a Republican Congress.
Those predictions of division on the great issues of national security and foreign policy proved to be wrong. They proved to be wrong, and those of you who were in the House then will remember that on those great initiatives which were recommended to the country and to this House and to the other body by President Truman--the Greek-Turkish aid program, the Marshall Plan, NATO--received the support not only of the majority of Democrats, but of the majority of Republicans.
As a result, America adopted policies then that, in my opinion, have been the primary factor in stopping the aggression that could have taken place, particularly through Europe in that period, and in avoiding a world war over these past 22 years.
And now today, we face a different situation, a situation of a Republican President and a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate. And the question arose at the beginning of this administration as to whether or not this could be the kind of Government, the kind of leadership, that the Nation needed in a period of very great problems abroad as well as at home.
I want to be quite candid with regard to the relationship of the President with the House of Representatives and with the Senate when it is under the control of the other party. As one who has been a Member of both bodies, I understand and I respect differences of opinion in both foreign and domestic policy.
As one who has been a Member of both bodies, I understand and respect the fact that particularly in domestic policy, there will be occasions when the administration will not be able to get perhaps the support for its programs that it might get if it controlled the majority of its own party on this side of the aisle.
But I also know this--and this goes back to that experience 22 years ago--I do know that when the security of America is involved, when peace for America and for the world is involved, when the lives of our young men are involved, we are not Democrats, we are not Republicans, we are Americans.
I do not suggest by that remark that there should be no criticism and no division with regard to foreign policy, because we need the constant discussion which produces superior ideas that come from debate and from constructive suggestions.
But I do know that when the great issues are involved, that in this House, that what happened yesterday with that announcement on the part of Members on both sides of the aisle of well over a majority supporting the policy of the President of the United States, I realize that that was in the great tradition of this country.
Mr. Speaker, if I could be permitted just one closing and personal note, one in reminiscence and one with regard to the present. I look over this House and I see some older Members, a few who were here then; I see many younger Members. I can imagine that some of the younger Members perhaps are frustrated by their committee assignments and are wondering when they are going to get into positions of leadership.
To give you some encouragement, I recall that when I came to the House I was assigned to the Committee on Education and Labor, and there were a number of new Members on both the Republican and the Democratic side assigned in that 80th Congress to the Committee on Education and Labor.
The new Members drew straws to see what position we would have in the seniority. On the Republican side I drew the last straw. I was the 15th member of the Committee. On the Democratic side, a young Congressman, a war veteran from World War II from Massachusetts, drew. the last straw, John F. Kennedy. I can only suggest to those who think sometimes that the luck of the draw is not with them, that we both did rather well politically since that time.
But more important, the record will show that John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon--on those great issues in that 80th Congress and in the 81st Congress, involving security of the Nation, involving foreign policy--voted together.
Now, a personal word with regard to the present. I realize that Members of this House receive great numbers of letters on the great issues of the day. Some of them are quite partisan and some of them are stimulated and some of them come from the hearts of the people who write them. There are two, very briefly, that I would read to you that express the sentiments I was trying to express on November 3d, and I think express the sentiments of most of the Members of this House.
One is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: "Dear Mr. President: "A brave man, a splendid son, a devoted husband and father, Warrant Officer Robert Satterfield, was killed in Vietnam, April 16, 1969. His parents strongly support your plan to Vietnamize the war. One of Bob's taped messages to his family from Vietnam said:
"'We are not here to quarrel as to whether or not we should have entered the war, as only history may disclose the validity. We do have a purpose of keeping a nation of people free from aggression and we work with the trust that our children will remain free.'
"Monday 'evening you echoed Bob's wishes and we urge you to maintain your commitment and be as flexible as need be, that our son's life and that of others was not in vain."
The other letter comes from Colorado. It reads:
"Dear President Nixon:
"As a registered Democrat who did not vote for you in 1968, and a father with a son in Vietnam, I want you to know that I am in back of you 100 percent in your stand on this crisis. I feel like you are acting like an American and you can count on me telling other people that I feel this way."
So to my colleagues in the House I say: History will look back on this period in the House of Representatives and it will judge us and judge those of us in the executive as to our leadership. In a way, the problem that you confront was more difficult than that we confronted in that Both Congress 22 years ago, because then the lines were more clearly drawn.
Today we have a war that is difficult, that is controversial. But in the pursuit for peace we can act, and I believe we should and will continue to act, with a majority of Americans supporting a just peace. I can say as I stand here today, I believe that we will achieve a just peace in Vietnam. I cannot tell you the time or the date, but I do know this: that when that peace comes, that it will come because of the support that we have received, not just from Republicans, but from Democrats, from Americans in this House and in the other body and throughout this Nation.
And history will record that the United States of America, in a period of crisis, in a period of controversy, met the challenge of greatness, and that the Representatives of the people thought of themselves as Americans, put their country first rather than their party first in the great tradition of this House.
Note: The President spoke at 12:53 p.m. in the House Chamber at the Capitol.
The text of a news briefing on November 12, 1969, concerning congressional support of the President's program for peace in Vietnam by Senator Gordon Allott of Colorado, Representatives James C. Wright, Jr., of Texas, Wayne L. Hays of Ohio, E. Ross Adair of Indiana, and Leslie C. Arends of Illinois is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 5, P. 1589).
1 The House Resolution, which was approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee by a vote of 21 to 8, is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 5, P. 1592)
Richard Nixon, Remarks in the Chamber of the United States House of Representatives Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/240086