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Hastert's Farewell Address

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But ultimately, the most important responsibility for any of us who serve this House is to provide for the defense of this nation. It's our most solemn obligation.

On September 11, 2001, I became a wartime speaker. And together, we became a wartime Congress. On that dark day, our Congress was united. We were not Republicans or Democrats. We were just Americans.

We stood shoulder to shoulder on the steps of this Capitol and vowed to do whatever was necessary. And in the following days and weeks and months, President Bush, Leader Gephardt and I worked together.

We tried to bind the wounds of those victimized by the attacks, and then made sure that it would never happen again.

We demanded that our intelligence agencies do a better job of sharing information, that we gave law enforcement more effective tools and resources to guard against attack.

And we made an unprecedented investment in homeland security. And did we get it all right? Of course not. Only hindsight is 20/20. But through those efforts and the grace of God, we have avoided additional attacks on American soil.

There's no doubt in my mind that the American people are safer today because of the heroic actions of our men and women who serve our armed services and intelligence agencies, and because of the actions taken here by our Congress.

(APPLAUSE)

HASTERT: It's popular these days to ask political figures what mistakes they've made, where they've failed. As a former history teacher, I know such analysis is best tempered by time and reflection, and that is probably best left to others.

But I will say this: I continue to worry about the breakdown of civility in our political discourse. I tried my best, but I wish I had been more successful.

When I addressed this chamber for the first time as your speaker, I noted that solutions to problems cannot be found in a pool of bitterness. Those words are as true today as they were then.

We each have a responsibility to be passionate about the beliefs. That is healthy government. But we also have a responsibility to be civil, to be open-minded and to be fair -- to listen to one another.

(APPLAUSE)

To listen to one another, to work in good faith to find solutions to the challenges facing this nation -- that is why the American people sent us here. They did not send us here just to get re- elected.

As speaker, I served with two presidents. President Clinton and I worked together to fight the flow of drugs from Colombia -- drugs that destroy the lives of our children. And despite our differences on some issues, we were able to find common ground on others.

For most of my years as speaker, President Bush has been our war- time president. I believe history will judge him as a man of courage and foresight, as well as resolve. And I must say, I was proud to serve by his side and honored to call him a friend.

(APPLAUSE)

HASTERT: No member of Congress could succeed in serving his or her constituents without the help of a dedicated staff. They often worked long hours and hard days. Many of them gave some of their most productive years to this institution.

And I want to thank all of them and each of them for their service. And I also want to thank all of the people who make and have made this great body function on a daily basis -- the officers of the House, the Capitol Police, the chaplain, the permanent staff. They are dedicated professionals who I came to appreciate even more during my years as speaker.

(APPLAUSE)

I am also blessed to have a family that helped me every day over these 21 years. My two sons, Josh and Ethan, my daughter-in-law, Heidi, and our newest addition, my grandson, Jack Hastert, and, most importantly, I want to thank my wife, Jean, who is here in the gallery today.

And thank you, Jean, for the love and the help that you've given me.

(APPLAUSE)

In 2003, during the Cannon Centenary Conference on the changing nature of the speakership, I said that at the end of the day, the speaker of the House is really just the person who stands up for the American people.

HASTERT: That is the same role that every man and woman who serves here should play.

Our founders dreamed of a nation, a nation empowered by freedom, where citizens would find justice, where hard working men and women would find economic opportunity.

Each of us who comes to this place has different ideas of how to preserve and enhance that dream. It's on the floor of this House where those ideas clash peacefully. And through that struggle, our democracy is renewed.

Never lose sight of the fact that you participate in the greatest ongoing democratic ritual in the world. We are, as President Reagan often remind us, a shining city on a hill. Always be mindful of your duties to your constituents and be respectful of the traditions of this institution.

(APPLAUSE)

I pray that God will give you and guide and all that you do in these halls, that he gives you the knowledge to do the people's work, the strength to persevere and the wisdom to know when to listen to what others have to say.

Madam Speaker, there's a tradition among Olympic wrestlers that you leave your shoes on the mat after your last match.

(LAUGHTER)

Well, don't be alarmed, Madam Speaker.

(LAUGHTER)

I won't be challenging the rules of decorum by removing my shoes on the House floor. But I do hope that I have left a few footprints behind that may be of value to those who come after me, just as I have benefited from the footprints of those who I followed to this most wonderful of institutions, the people's House.

May God bless each of you. May God bless this House. May God bless the United States of America.

Goodbye, friends.

END


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