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Our Culture Inchoate: A New Speaker #26

Updated: Oct 21, 2019


SPEAKER TORRES: (banging the gavel three times in slow succession)

Good afternoon, fellow House colleagues… and guests Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer, distinguished guests, my fellow Americans.

First, I want to thank former speaker Pelosi, who could not attend today, for her historic service and dedication to our nation and this House. We are a better chamber for your past leadership and a better republic for your abilities.

(extended standing ovation)

I have a request, right from the outset. Please hold any applause or boos or any show of spontaneous judgment on my remarks. Please. This is not a stump speech.

It’s an agenda, a working agenda. I appreciate you letting me finish so we can get to work. Many of you have already read my remarks. Briefing papers will be distributed to staff members in your offices even as we speak now. The press has not seen my remarks in advance.

Thank you all for your votes to put me here.

The entire republican caucus voted for my candidacy, as well as 30 good Democrats. My speakership does not give the Republicans a sweeping majority. It gives the people of our nation a working majority: working, pressing, advocating, and, yes, compromising. One that will work to ensure our future.

As a body, we will provide leadership that persuades, not that intimidates, causes fear, bullies differing opinion, or dominates through sanction, too often anonymously, without being tethered to truth.

I am not high-minded and am far from an intellectual. I am a teacher by trade. I do believe that being thoughtful and civil will always pay huge dividends in our discourse and to our republic.

The tensions of everyday life are felt outside this chamber, and we have forgotten our way here, inside. We insist on good conduct of others but not ourselves. This session will be a renewal of good faith and good will.

Not everything is resolved by fiat, by judges, or by laws. The individual is responsible for her or his actions. The family provides support. The community provides continuity. The republic provides security. These are not exclusive ideals.

We should have the same ideals, yet with different ideas to get there. What we have in common is a capacity to work together to correct modern problems unforeseen 250 years, or two days, ago. We should never be bullied into policy decisions, not now, not ever. It will harden resolve and make compromise impossible.

Bluntly stated, our body should deal with the existential issues of our nation and our times: National security, national fiscal policy, and our national health.

Immigration policy is now a national security concern, especially on our southern border and by extension Central America, and it is our first priority. No less second is our national debt and all government spending. More on that in a minute.

And our national health is about climate, healthcare and infrastructure. More on that in the days ahead.

We may not succeed in all, but we will not be distracted by weaponizing politics. Unnecessary and arbitrary investigations sap our energy and distract the public from the work we should be doing.

Yes, compromises were made for me to pick up this gavel. As you are aware, there are twenty permanent committees and the party who holds this gavel heads each one. This is changing effective immediately.

The following committees will be in Republican control: Budget, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, Foreign Affairs, House Administration, Judiciary, Rules, Science Space and Technology, Small Business, and Ways and Means. The other ten committees will remain in Democratic control subject to the new minority leader’s discretion.

The special committee on Intelligence will also be a Republican led body. I am instituting two new special committees: Climate, to led by the Democratic caucus, and Immigration, to be controlled by Republicans.

Another agreement, which has the support of the now House majority. We will not slouch toward impeachment of the president. We will not waste one more second on it. We will also not investigate past administrations unless there is clear and compelling evidence. On my watch, we will de-weaponize our law enforcement agencies from political fights.

If this is a political career-killer, so be it. If the people of my district in the great state of New Jersey want me in office, they will keep me here. If I do not have the confidence of the majority of our members, so be it. Right now, I ask for your attention to the people’s work, first and last. Not just yours.

As I stated, immigration reform will come first. Dreamers will have a choice of making a home here, but anyone here now illegally should never profit from that conduct. The first piece of business will be closing the loophole of asylum for Central Americans. Our border is taxed beyond its ability to keep our nation secure and we will correct that this week.

The tougher debate is the national debt. It is unsustainable and the trajectory is impossible to ignore because it cannot self-correct. The economy of our nation and the world is humming along as it should. Brilliantly. Now is the time to address the debt, not when it comes due. Businesses need a predictable tax policy, not a tax roller-coaster. We all bear responsibility for this deficit. And we should accept that today.

Tax dollar spending is mostly on defense, social security, and entitlements and debt service. Entitlements are just that: try taking them away from anyone. All are intended to keep people above water. There is a great bounty to our nation and it is paid by people and businesses who can pay, who work. The tipping point is always “how much?” Republicans take pride in tax cutting. This always has some merit, but as the deficit grows on one hand, and Social Security as the core entitlement grows on another, it is fraudulent and irresponsible to state that we can cut and cut without increasing revenue. There are several marginal elements that could be cut from entitlements, and we can drag out the bogeyman of cheaters. But that is chump change in the grand pool of tax expenditures.

Nearly half of all Americans don’t pay any tax beyond Social Security. To ask a fire-fighter to pay 20% of his income and a millionaire to pay nothing is obscene and a corruption of the system – the IRS system-- that all of us suspects is rotten at its core. All 9,000 pages of it. The code is bad, not its people. The swamp is bad, not hard working Americans.

We will stop mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren just to get re-elected. Let’s do the right thing.

To all Americans: wait for cool heads to inform you of the news and to offer opinion. Hugging the television and using that as a lodestone of public values is a mistake. The media and its outlets can inform and educate, but it cannot and should not think for you. The media need viewers and listeners, retweets and shares. It is how they make money. We should all remember to listen, first.

Take a walk in the sunshine. Smile more. Read more. Go to your church. Talk to your neighbors and get to know them better. Listen to those who are in pain. People will forget what we say here, or on TV, or through any social media. But they will always remember how we made them feel: safe or anxious, secure or afraid, confident or combative, amused or angry, good or bad.

I am not going to argue all the time. We are all on the same team. I am going to work, every day, in collaboration with both those I agree with and those I do not, in order to reach a higher middle ground, through discussion and debate, not rancor.

Know that I will fight fear of the unknown, and seek counsel when I need understanding. I will fight fatigue when there seems to be no path to progress. I will not put my head on the pillow at night until I have exhausted all opportunities to improve the lives of every American. But I am done fighting in this chamber, or in the press.

When Americans really fight, it is not with mere rhetoric. We fight to defeat evil. Real evil, the kind that preys on those who cannot defend themselves. We Americans should be able to disagree on issues but never combat each other. Our political opponents are not evil. All of us are inherently seeking good… the higher middle ground.

I will give you my best, every bit of it. I believe I am equal to the task and I shall pray that I do not let you down. Thank you, all

Today’s session is now closed. (bangs gavel once)

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