Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke on the House floor honoring the service and sacrifice of President John F. Kennedy, who died 50 years ago tomorrow. Below are the Leader’s remarks:
“I thank the gentleman for calling the special order. Congress has adjourned for the Thanksgiving holiday, but I thank you for staying so that we can acknowledge and observe the 50th anniversary, a great loss for our country. My colleague, Mr. Larson, you spoke so beautifully about what happened on November 22nd, 50 years ago, and how your mother reacted and the rest. You could have been speaking for every family in America.
“Certainly, we took special ownership of President Kennedy as the first Catholic president, but everyone who enjoys firsts, understands that that pioneer action, that courage, that success that he had was not just about him being the first Catholic president, but America embracing our country more fully – the people of our country more fully.
“Yes, Mr. Larson, 50 years ago, tragedy struck the heart of a nation in Dallas, Texas. Fifty years ago, President Kennedy was taken from us suddenly and unexpectedly, and the entire nation was shaken and mourned. As you said, we don't want to dwell on that sad day. We want to spring from it to talk about what went before and what has come from the legacy of President John F. Kennedy.
“Today, 50 years later we rise on the floor of the House to pay tribute to him as a leader on the anniversary of a tragedy but on the focus on many victories. Here in this chamber, President Kennedy served. Can you imagine? I take great pride in the fact that President Kennedy began his federal service in office in the House of Representatives. His grandfather, Honey Fitz, also served in the House. His grand-nephews also served in the House. So, it has been a Kennedy family tradition to serve in the House of Representatives. He did so as a proud Member of the Massachusetts delegation. I honor, with Mr. Larson to – I rise to honor the life and legacy, inspiration and achievements. I rise to salute an extraordinary leader for our country and the world.
“I feel emotional about it listening to Mr. Larson describe the events of the day and the weekend that followed, the beautiful family, dignity that Mrs. Kennedy and the children demonstrated made a mark on our hearts. We're so pleased that, as the President said last night, as we're here, Caroline is drawing crowds in Tokyo.
“Legislation he called ‘a first step’ to end the ‘unconscionable practice’ of unequal pay. This agenda that the President had – imagine equal pay for equal work for women in the workplace – also established a Commission on the Status of Women headed by Eleanor Roosevelt. And its recommendations were: raise the minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, childcare as an initiative, both public and with tax credits – so forward thinking. So much of it still left to be done 50 years later.
“Part of the vision, again, was that great women like Eleanor Roosevelt and Esther Peterson and others were with him when he signed the bill. Today, as I mentioned, that battle continues. If President Kennedy were here, he certainly would beckon us to do more to take the next step. Which we have done.
“When Women Succeed, America Succeeds. We need legislation to have respect for women's work in the workplace, to raise the minimum wage – sixty-two percent of people who make minimum wage are women – equal pay for equal work, paid sick leave, and childcare, which is an important part of President Obama's agenda.
“The fight for equality, whether in the workplace or not, led President Kennedy to be the first president to call civil rights ‘above all, a moral issue.’ Mr. Speaker, he said that to remind us it was long past time to keep the promise of freedom. And so he put forward a civil rights bill to right the wrongs of history. And in his name and in the wake of his death in the years that followed, under the leadership of President Lyndon Johnson, the Congress passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.
“Yet still today the march to civil rights is not finished completely. And as in the time of President Kennedy, it remains our moral obligation to preserve, expand, and strengthen voting rights – that is our challenge now in the House – and equality. So let us begin.
“There were so many other things that we witnessed. It's hard for people to imagine now how impossible it sounded when the President said that the ‘new beginning’ meant bold action and exploration, a commitment and the promise to be the first. He said, ‘If we are to honor the vows of our Founders, we must be first. And therefore, we intend to be first.’
“It was a commitment and promise to invest in science and innovation. When he said that we would send a man to the moon and be back safely in 10 years, it seemed impossible. But it happened – even in a shorter period of time. He laid out his vision to do what was hard and unthinkable.
“But by the close of the 1960s, as we know, two American men walked on the moon and returned safely home. So many other people were part of that success. Our beginning ignited the fires of all kinds of innovation that our country has benefited from. Even though he wasn't there to see all of the legislation through, he had his vision and he was an inspiration for others to get the job done.
“So many times we all quote President Kennedy because he's so quotable, and he was he so wise in what he said. And what he said resonates and is timeless. When I had the privilege of speaking at the groundbreaking of the Institute of Peace, I quoted what President Kennedy said at American University in 1963. He said: ‘The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war. We do not want a war. We did not now expect a war. This generation of Americans has already had enough – more than enough of war and hate and oppression.’
“He went on to say: ‘We shall be prepared. If others wish it, we shall be alert to try to stop it. But we should also do our part to build a world of peace where we are safe and the strong are just.’ So remarkable. Again, it would take hours for us to truly mention all of the accomplishments – the moon shot, all of the things about the Test Ban Treaty – the list goes on and on.
“But the fact is, a person came into the life of America from a family. It is hard to imagine any other family in America that has made as great a contribution to the well-being of our country than the Kennedy family. It started with Rose Kennedy's father, ‘Honey Fitz.’ But then it comes through to now, with the service in the Congress of Congressman Joe Kennedy, a grand nephew of the President. And we had the privilege here of serving with Congressman Patrick Kennedy.
“I end where I began, in taking pride in the fact of President Kennedy's association with this House of Representatives, this people's house. And I say that I'm so happy that I had the opportunity to see him so many times. I'll just close with one.
“We were at the convention in Los Angeles – I was with my parents, and we went to a restaurant after the President's speech at the stadium. It was the first time a President had accepted the nomination at a stadium. Tens of thousands of people were there. The speech was fabulous and great. We went to this restaurant called Romanov – I said to my father and mother that I wanted to go to a Los Angeles-type restaurant. It turned out to be Los Angeles-type in that it was very expensive – more expensive for shrimp cocktail than it would have been in Baltimore, Maryland, where we were from.
“So my father said, ‘Gee whiz, why did you find this place? It's the most expensive restaurant I have ever been in. I said, ‘That's probably true. But it's an experience.’
“In another few minutes, the door of the restaurant opens. In comes President Kennedy from the speech. He came right over to the table and said: ‘Tommy’ – my father, Thomas D’Alesandro – ‘Tommy, how did you like my speech?’ Imagine that. Then he went on with his entourage to have his celebratory dinner. Well after that, price was no object. The cost of the restaurant – the prices kept coming down in my father's view.
“Again, I was lucky many different times to have the opportunity to have some conversation with the President. So when that horrible thing happened that day for our country, everybody took it very personally.
“And perhaps part of his legacy is the sacrifice that he made for our country – the inspiration that was intensified by that sacrifice. And may we always remember it, and may we always remember what he said: ‘The light from that fire shall truly light the world. The glow from that fire can truly light the world.’
“May God bless the memory of President John F. Kennedy and his family. May we draw strength from his legacy and vision. May God always bless the country he loved and led, the United States of America, and all who serve it.
“With that, Mr. Speaker, I again thank Mr. Larson for calling this Special Order. I'm honored to be here with him and with our distinguished Whip, Mr. Hoyer. I yield back.”