CONGRESSMAN RICHARD GEPHARDT: Fellow Democrats, thank you for this honor and this gavel. And I hope you won't mind my saying how much I look forward to taking up another gavel next January when the House of Representatives once again becomes the people's House and Newt Gingrich no longer sits in the Speaker's chair.
Let me take you back 18 months.
Tuesday, January 5, 1995, was one of the worst days of my life. I had to hand the gavel to Newt Gingrich. I had no choice, I felt like I was surrendering on behalf of hard-pressed working families.
But I've been thinking every day since about what it's going to be like on that day next January when we take that gavel back.
Next January, we will call to order a Congress that sustains education, protects the environment not the polluters, stands up for a woman's right to choose, and strengthens Medicare instead of slashing it.
We have seen the opposition and heard their criticism. We welcome a comparison of records - and we welcome the contrast with a San Diego convention that was no more than a remake of the tired supply-side economics that brought us record interest rates, record deficits and a record recession.
We meet here to offer vision, not just a show for television.
We meet here to stand with a vice president who has carried the cause of government reform to the very center of national policy. Above all, we meet here to enlist again under the banner of a president who has led and won great battles, from increasing the minimum wage to passing health care reform, to defending civil rights, to reducing taxes for working families and reducing the federal deficit on a continuing basis for the first time in a long generation of rising red ink.
I wish all of America knew Bill Clinton as a man, as I do.
I have sat there, with him, as he confronted the hardest decisions and said, very plainly, let's do what's right - and damn the political risk.
We met in Little Rock, Ark. after the 1992 election to discuss the budget and the deficit. He inherited it. It was the Reagan-Bush deficit, but it was Bill Clinton's great challenge, a defining test in the first days of his presidency.
He met that test. He did what was right, not what was political. It was an act of genuine bravery.
We then had to pass deficit reduction in the House and the Senate without a single Republican vote. I remember the night we got the Democrats to vote for that budget. I remember members like Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky voting for that budget, and the Republicans waving and singing "bye-bye, Marjorie." Well, Marjorie didn't win the election, but she did what was right, and we did what was right, and our president did what was right, and we produced 10 million new jobs in this country.
Many, many people think, absolutely, many people think we lost control of Congress for the first time in 40 years because of that one vote. But let me tell you - we gained 10 million new jobs. I'd do it again tomorrow - and so would Bill Clinton.
To do what's right, Bill Clinton faced down the Gingrich-Dole congress to stop the Medicare cuts, the student loan cuts, the cuts in school lunches and the environment - all that were justified for the tax cut for the wealthiest Americans - he fought against it for the right reason and we did the right thing.
So, I say to those who keep talking about the issues of leadership, that I welcome that test. Look at the presidency of Bill Clinton and you will see the character of leadership and the character of a man who meets the high standards set by Benjamin Franklin, who said, "The noblest question in the world is what good I may do in it."
So now we proceed to our business, which is not just to renominate Bill Clinton and Al Gore, not just to state a case or win an election, not just to make promises for a campaign, but to set out again on a course that will fulfill the true promise of the greatest country in the history of the world, America, to all our people and all the world.
Thank you, and let's go to work.