May 19, 2019
As Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Mom. I have the best mother in the world. Everyone says that, but for me it’s true. She does so much for me and my sisters, for this library, and our entire family. I learned so much from watching her represent the United States as Ambassador to Japan, where she brought her curiosity, humor and intellect everywhere she went. She and my father work so hard to make this library a vibrant institution and we owe them both another round of applause.
Thank you all for being here. This event is always a special one for me, and not just because it’s always the last thing between me and summer vacation – it’s also a moment to draw inspiration from President Kennedy, to carry on his legacy, and to celebrate in our time what he most admired in his -- political courage.
This is my sixth year serving on the committee and presenting this award, and in that time, we have honored two presidents, two Mayors, a Congressman and a Governor. Each made difficult sacrifices to put the national interest above their own, each represents the best in our politics. They were all courageous, they were all inspiring, and they were all men.
But tonight, we honor the most important woman in American politics, and a profile in courage if there ever was one –Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
When we think of political courage, we often imagine someone standing up for what’s right when no one else will, who does so in the face of intense opposition, and who then suffers the consequences – defeated, run out of town, but with their integrity intact and their conscience clear.
That’s one way to do it, but I like Speaker Pelosi’s model better.
A 17-term Congresswoman, and twice elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, hers is career of courage, spanning decades of change and challenge, inspiring hope and withstanding hate, delivering victories and surviving setbacks, all in service to our country.
We know her story well by now, but for anyone who doesn’t, let me briefly summarize she wins, wins more, makes history, and then does it again.
After working in politics for a decade, she was first elected to the House 1987, one of just 23 women elected that year. She’s hasn’t lost a race since. In 2002, she became House minority leader, the highest-ranking woman in Congressional history. In 2006, she became the first-ever female speaker, a title she reclaimed earlier this year.
While her political successes are historic, they don’t make her a profile in courage. Instead, it’s what she has done with it, the progress she’s achieved, the difference she’s made in people’s lives, the example of leadership that she’s provided.
She’s responsible for major legislative achievements, and chief among these is the Affordable Care Act.
There’s a reason why presidents had tried and failed to pass healthcare reform for more than 70 years – to borrow a phrase, not because it was easy, it’s because it was really, really hard.
Speaker Pelosi was critical in passing the bill. I always heard that, but I did some research to find out more.
David Axelrod told me in no uncertain terms:
There would be no Affordable Care Act without Nancy Pelosi. Period. End of story. When it looked in the winter of 2010 as if passage in the House was hopeless, she quietly, brilliantly navigated a narrow path to victory, painstakingly putting it together one vote at a time. She knew her caucus intimately; which buttons to push and how to push them.
That’s another thing I’ve always heard about Speaker Pelosi – that she’s the master vote-getter, total control of her caucus. She says jump, they say how high. Well, what’s her secret? How does she do it?
Here’s what I found out from her colleagues in the House:
She never, never, ever stops working.
She knows how to count. The secret doesn’t depend on some hidden technique. Her secret is, that she goes over and over and over the count herself, and if there aren’t 218, she starts all over, as if she has no votes. When that happened during the healthcare fight, she told her staff “give me the list and leave me alone.”
And not just on healthcare. In 2008, with the nation on the brink of financial collapse, she committed to President Bush that she’d provide the votes for the TARP bailout.
Just before that vote, she told her caucus. "The American people sent us here to do a job for them, and that we must do. We will vote today, and I don't want to hear how you cannot support this Bill because you may lose your seat in Congress. That is not why we were sent here."
Ultimately, as Congressman Kennedy told me, she believes political power isn’t to have and hold, it’s to be used to because government can make lives better.
Doing her job, not just keeping it, and demanding the same of others, that makes her a profile in courage.
But if all this weren’t enough, we have watched this year as Speaker Pelosi summons the courage to protect the fundamental character and promise of our government when others attack them openly, abandon them quietly, or violate them deliberately.
She is steadfast in her commitment to procedure, in her defense of the Constitution and in asserting the proper role of the legislative branch. She has met cynicism with optimism, mudslinging attacks with respect and substance, infighting with a commitment to her party, its values and platform.
Her discipline, focus and integrity stand out and raise the bar, setting an example for my generation to follow.
We are proud to celebrate her tonight, and I am honored to present the 2019 Profiles in Courage Award to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
And now invite her and my parents and sister Tatiana to join me up here.