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Pelosi Floor Speech in Memory of Congressman Donald Payne

Washington, D.C. - Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke on the House floor today to honor the life and service of Congressman Donald Payne.  Below are the Leader's remarks.

“Thank you Mr. Poe for yielding, I thank you and I thank our colleague, Congresswoman Christensen, for taking this Special Order today, so that we can sing the praises of a great man, our colleague, dear friend, precious person, Donald Payne.  

“I waited, I said I wanted to go after Mr. Cleaver because I didn't know how I was going to even have the strength to come to the floor, because this is a personal, as well as official loss, to many of us here and he is always a source of strength to us--putting in perspective the fragility of life and the value that we must place on the contribution of all of our colleagues especially when we are blessed with the life, service and leadership of someone like Donald Payne.  

“There are very few people that you can say, someone like Donald Payne, because he was exceptional, and unique and when the distinguished Mr. Cleaver, and Reverend Cleaver says that we have to fill-in where, and take his mantle, that would be almost impossible to do.  Because, over a lifetime in public service and a long time in the Congress of the United States, Donald Payne gained standing on issues that take years to do.  But he did teach us along the way.  He gave us guidance on what path to follow, what clues to recognize in doing the right thing.  Whether it was in the continent of Asia, Africa, Latin America, wherever it was, and in our own country.

“I had the privilege of traveling with Donald Payne, when we were going to Darfur, and he didn't want to go to the Sudan--he'd been there many times, to Darfur.  But he was, at that moment, boycotting the regime in Khartoum because of how they treated the people there.  While we were in Khartoum and in Darfur, he was in Ethiopia and Somalia and the rest, always working.  Always working to have policy advise to all of us and caring about what the impact of that policy was on people.

“What was interesting to us though, is on that same trip to Africa, which many Members of the Congressional Black Caucus were on, including our distinguished Assistant Leader, Mr. Clyburn.  When we went to Liberia, it was a boiling hot day, and we all went to the AME College there.  And at that time, the AME University, and they were honoring Donald Payne for his everything--for what he knew about Africa, for the values and how he was concerned about, again, policy as it related to people, the encyclopedic knowledge that he had, the great wisdom that sprang from that knowledge, the plans that he always had to make things better, and the way people just flocked to him because they would learn, they would be inspired and they would love Donald Payne.

“It was boiling hot.  We go there and they decide that we're all going to dress alike that day, so it even got hotter as we donned our robes.  And here we were, seeing, not only telling them the esteem with which he was held in Congress, that was the least of it.  Because what we were hearing was what people from around Africa, the esteem with which they held him--named a library for him at that University in Liberia.

“But, you know, he was a school teacher.  And he never forgot how important it was for us to put our students first.  He called them ‘the bright lights of our nation's future, for investing in their potential, for inspiring them to succeed, igniting the sparks that they had within them to do their very best.'  

“He was very proud of Newark and serving there.  I remember when he first came here, his work on behalf of his constituents, his neighbors, the middle class, working people, people who were striving to reach up into the middle class, he was always working for them.  He was New Jersey's, as has been mentioned, first African-American Member of Congress.  He remained a champion, a committed champion of equality and opportunity for all.  

“Again, in his accomplishments, both on his committee, where he served with Congressman George Miller, who holds him in the highest esteem, and now his Foreign Affairs Committee, where he served with Congressman Howard Berman--well, to hear the two of them talk today, it's as if they had lost a brother.  And we all have.  They had a full appreciation of his hard work ethic.  Again, the knowledge that he brought to his subjects.  The concern he had for the American people.  And the love he had for our country.

“Just think, last week we had a visit to our office from Bill Gates, coming into our office to talk about the issue of global health.  And he asked if Donald Payne could be in the meeting.  We had hoped that would be possible, but then had to say that he was not feeling well that day.  This was a week ago, a week ago.  But, up until the end, he was in demand, recognized for his, again, standing on issues that related to the alleviation of poverty, the eradication of disease, again, the alleviation of hunger throughout the world.  And what more could be about the Gospel of Matthew then ministering to the needs of God's creation which, the Bible tells us, is an act of worship.  To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.  Donald Payne was all about worshipping God, by ministering to the needs.

“He was an expert on economic, political, and security situations throughout Africa.  And I had the honor of nominating him, recognizing his extraordinary work around the world, I was proud to recommend that President George W. Bush name Congressman Payne our Congressional, our Representative, the House Democrats, at the United Nations.  Usually it was just for one term, in the case of Donald Payne, we went well beyond that in recognition of the extraordinary contributions that he made.

“So, again, whether it was his own district.  Whether it was Newark, New Jersey, or across the world, he was a powerful and passionate voice.

“I hope it's a comfort to his children, to Donald Jr., to Wanda and Nicole-and all who loved Donald Payne, his dear brother Bill, who traveled with him frequently, and loved him so much.  I hope it's a comfort to them, that so many people, who knew him well, loved him so much, mourn their loss and are praying for them at this sad time. 

“With that Mr. Speaker, I again thank Mr. Poe and Congresswoman Christensen for the opportunity to say just a few things about our dear friend, who will be sadly missed, and long remembered.  His legacy lives on in the Congress of the United States.

“Thank you, Mr. Speaker.”