February 7, 2023

NEEDED INSPIRATION: House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries outlines Democrats’ agenda from A to Z

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After a grueling process to choose the next House speaker, during which every Democrat cast their vote for Hakeem Jeffries of New York in fifteen consecutive ballots, the new minority leader seized the stage in the early morning hours Saturday to outline the Democratic Party’s priorities and how they contrast with the GOP.

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At times his speech was interrupted by hisses and hollering from the Republicans, but Mr. Jeffries proceeded with vigor nonetheless, delivering a rousing address.

Rather than try to gild the lily, we will let Mr. Jeffries’s beautiful and poignant words speak for themselves. Below is the full transcript, followed by a clip of the celebrated ending and some reactions. A link to the full speech can also be found at the bottom.

TRANSCRIPT

Madam Clerk, Whip Clark, distinguished members of the House Democratic Caucus and the House Republican caucus, it’s my high honor and distinct privilege to finally welcome all of you to the 118th Congress.

Let me just begin by thanking my good friend, Pete Aguilar, for his very generous words of introduction and for placing my name into nomination a total of nine times. And I also want to thank my other colleagues from the Democratic Caucus for your generous words of nomination as well: Jim Clyburn, Katherine Clark, Ted Lieu, Dean Phillips, Joe Neguse, and Veronica Escobar. I also want to thank my colleagues, my friends in the House Democratic Caucus for your perseverance, for your strength, for your friendship, for your unanimity of purpose, and for your unanimous support.

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And I simply want to say that that showing of strength is not for any one particular individual: it will be a showing of strength throughout the 118th Congress, unanimity of purpose on behalf of the American people.

Before I proceed any further, let me begin by acknowledging the distinguished gentlelady from the great state of California, the iconic, the heroic, the legendary speaker emerita Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi. And without question in my mind, Speaker Emerita Pelosi will go down in history as the greatest speaker of all time. Throughout her time in Congress, she’s been a legendary legislator, a fabulous facilitator, and a no-nonsense negotiator. We know that Nancy Pelosi is a woman of faith, a loving wife, a mother of five, a grandmother of nine, a defender of democracy, a voice for the voiceless, and a powerful champion for the children, the climate, charm city, California, the caucus, the Congress, the country, and the Constitution. Thank you, Madam Speaker, for all that you have done; it’s an honor to stand on your broad shoulders, as well as the shoulders of the great Steny Hoyer and the great Jim Clyburn – two consequential leaders in their own right.

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Now the Scripture says in Galatians, let us not become weary in doing good for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Over the last two years, House Democrats in partnership with President Biden and our colleagues in the Senate have been hard at work on behalf of the American people, getting big things done.

We passed the American Rescue Plan, saved the economy from a deep recession, put shots in arm, money in pockets, and kids back in school.

We passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to create millions of good-paying jobs, fix our crumbling bridges, roads, tunnels, our airports, our sewer and water system, mass transportation systems and ensure high speed internet access in every single community.

We passed gun safety legislation – for the first time in thirty years – that will save lives and make our communities safer.

We passed the CHIPS and Science Act to bring domestic manufacturing jobs back home to the United States of America and ensure that our work force has the skills to succeed in the 21st century economy.

And we passed the Inflation Reduction Act to strike a dramatic blow against the climate crisis, set our planet on a sustainable trajectory forward, lower energy costs, strengthen the Affordable Care Act, lower health care costs, and drive down the high price of life-saving prescription drugs for millions of Americans. It was one of the most consequential congresses in American history.

President Biden gets the job done and the “D” in Democrat stands for deliver.

[Interrupted by yelling, Jeffries then proceeded.]

So over the next two years, as we begin this 118th Congress, let us continue to fight for lower costs. Let us continue to fight in this Congress for better paying jobs. Let us continue to fight in this Congress for safer communities. Let us continue to fight in this Congress to defend democracy. Let us continue to fight in this Congress to put and protect the public interests. Let us continue to fight in this Congress for economic opportunity in every single zip code. And let us continue to fight in this Congress for reproductive freedom.

Because as Democrats we do believe in a country for everyone.

[More shouting. Call for order from the gallery. Jeffries proceeded once again after it died down.]

We do believe in a country for everyone – a country that provides for the poor, works for working families, makes sense for the middle class. stands up for senior citizens, innovates in the inner city. strengthens suburban communities, helps out the heartland, and revitalizes rural America.

We believe in a country with liberty and justice for all, equal protection under the law. free and fair elections and, yes, we believe in a country with the peaceful transfer of power.

We believe – that in America our diversity is a strength; it is not a weakness – an economic strength, a competitive strength, a cultural strength. Our diversity is a strength; it is not a weakness. We are a gorgeous mosaic of people from throughout the world. As John Lewis would sometimes remind us on this floor: we may have come over on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.

We are white, we are black, we are Latino, we are Asian, we are Native American, we are Christian, we are Jewish, we are Muslim, we are Hindu, we are religious, we are secular, we are gay, we are straight, we are young, we are older, we are women, we are men, we are citizens, we are dreamers. Out of many we are one: that’s what makes America a great country. And no matter what kind of haters are trying to divide us, we’re not going to let anyone take that away from us, not now, not ever.

This is the United States of America: a land of opportunity. The fact that I’m able to stand up here today is another data point in that narrative. I was born in Brooklyn Hospital, raised in a working-class neighborhood in Crown Heights, grew up in the Cornerstone Baptist Church; started off in the Cradle Roll department [a church organization for kids]; somehow survived the violence of the crack cocaine epidemic and wound up here in the United States Congress as the highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives.

America – truly a land of opportunity. Government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

So on this first day, let us commit to the American Dream: a dream that promises that if you work hard and play by the rules, you should be table provide a comfortable living for yourself and for your family, educate your children, purchase a home, and one day retire with grace and dignity. Let us commit on this first day to lift up the American Dream for every single person in this nation.

Now, I recognize that this is a moment of transition. As we transition from one Congress to the next; from one majority to the next; from a year of accomplishment to a year of ambiguity. A moment of transition.

The American people – understandably after the events of this week – recognize that the Congress is at a fork in the road and are asking the question: What direction will we choose?

On this first day, I do not pretend to answer that question on behalf of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, but we do extend our hand of partnership to you, and want to make clear that we extend and intend to try to find common ground, whenever and wherever possible on behalf of the American people.[Pause for applause]. Not as Democrats, not as Republicans, not as Independents, but as Americans.

But I also want to make clear that we will never compromise our principles. House Democrats will always put American values over autocracy, benevolence over bigotry, the Constitution over the cult [or possibly code], democracy over demagogues, economic opportunity over extremism, freedom over fascism, governing over gaslighting, hopefulness over hatred, inclusion over isolation, justice over judicial overreach, knowledge over kangaroo courts, liberty over limitation, maturity over Mar-a-Lago [the crowd erupted, the GOP outraged, the Dems applauding], normalcy over negativity, opportunity over obstruction, people over politics, quality of life issues over QAnon, reason over racism, substance over slander, triumph over tyranny, understanding over ugliness, voting rights over voter suppression, working families over the well-connected, xenial over xenophobia,  “Yes we can!” over “You can’t do it,” and zealous representation over zero-sum confrontation!

We will always do the right thing by the American people. So let us not grow weary of doing good, for the American people will reap the benefit of the harvest if we do not give up.

God bless you. God bless the House. And God bless the United States of America.

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Watch the full speech by clicking here.

For more great stuff (and some laughs in between) follow Ross on Twitter by clicking on @RossRosenfeld.

Ross Rosenfeld

is a news analysis and opinion writer whose work has also appeared in the New York Daily News and Newsweek. He lives in New York.

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