|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
September 19, 2006
Vice President's Remarks at the Jesse Helms Center Salute to Chairman Henry Hyde
J.W. Marriot Hotel
7:30 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESDIENT: Good evening. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you. And, Jack, I appreciate the introduction and the invitation to be part of this very special event in the Nation's Capital. President Bush, of course, is in New York tonight at meetings at the United Nations, but he sends greetings. And I know he shares my esteem for one of the great men of the age, Henry Hyde of Illinois.
One of Henry's great friends and colleagues, of course, is Senator Jesse Helms, and we're thinking of Jesse this evening, and his wife, Dot. We're grateful to the people of the Jesse Helms Center for hosting us, and for all their good work in encouraging a new generation of leaders.
I first met our guest of honor back in 1974, just after his first election to Congress, and we've been good friends from that day to this. Henry and I sat together on the Joint Iran-Contra Committee, and for a number of years served together on House Select Committee on Intelligence, which I still regard as the best assignment I ever had as a congressman.
We've stood side by side in many political battles. We've worked on important legislation together. We've traveled many miles together, and we've had a lot of laughs. I'll never forget the time when Henry and I and Bob Stump, all members of the House Intelligence Committee went on a CODEL to Pakistan. On the way home we stopped briefly in the eastern Mediterranean, late at night, checked into a hotel right there on the beach. In the morning we met for breakfast on the veranda. We were sitting around a table, reading the papers, talking business, and occasionally looking out toward the water. The weather was perfect. People were sunbathing, making sand castles, playing in the waves. After about 10 minutes it suddenly dawned on us we were sitting smack in the middle of a topless beach. (Laughter.)
Life is always interesting when Henry Hyde is around. (Laughter.) But I must say that it's hard to picture the United States House of Representatives without the presence of this brilliant, gracious, good-hearted man.
Last year Henry said he would like to be remembered simply "for being an honest and fair person who accomplished a lot of good for people." All of that will certainly be noted of him. But there is so very much more to be said if Henry Hyde is given his due.
You can spend a lifetime in politics, and encounter only a few people of Henry's caliber. He's the rare member who can bring the House to silence merely by stepping to the well. It doesn't make a difference whether you're Republican or Democrat -- when Henry Hyde begins to speak you don't want to miss a word. You know you're going to hear something persuasive and moving, historically literate, intellectually honest.
The most important thing about such gifts is not that a man has them -- it's how he chooses to use them. And for better than three decades in this city, Henry has put his intelligence and fluency to the service of high ideals -- preserving our God-given freedom, upholding the rule of law, and proclaiming the dignity and the infinite value of every human life.
Henry Hyde can always say with clarity exactly what he believes, and why he believes it, and why it has importance. This is not altogether surprising for someone who in the 7th grade was already familiar with the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas. But it has mattered a great deal in some of the most vital debates of the past generation.
To the arguments of the Cold War period, he brought common sense and moral clarity -- and back when elite opinion was promoting a fad called the nuclear freeze and downplaying democracy in Latin America and elsewhere, Henry explained why they were wrong. His steadfast belief in a strong defense, and in the confident advance of freedom, helped America to prevail in the Cold War.
To deep discussions on life and death, Henry brought perseverance, and passion, and irrefutable truth. It'll be a long time before any member of Congress can match the record of Henry Hyde in serving the cause of human life.
Nor is it likely that any committee chairman will be at the center of so much history as Henry has been. He chaired the Committee on the Judiciary during a period that included impeachment -- and was universally respected for his steadiness and his calm.
In 2001, he became Chairman of the Committee on International Relations and has led that panel with tremendous foresight and wisdom in the decisive early years of the 21st century.
As a committee chairman, and in all his dealings, Henry Hyde has been the soul of fairness and balance. If you had any kind of trouble in your life, you'd want someone like Henry to plead your case, and you'd want someone like Henry to decide your case. He understands people. He knows we live in an imperfect world. And he greets his fellow man with an openness, a generosity of spirit, and an easy manner that draws others to him.
He is, without question, not only among the most respected House members, but one of the personal favorites of his colleagues. The House loves Henry Hyde because Henry Hyde loves the House -- the members from across America, and the institution itself. Like Ronald Reagan, Henry has never cared much for the idea of term limits. He considers it contrary to the democratic rights of the people, contrary to the interests of Congress as a functioning branch of government. On the House floor he said, "America needs leaders, statesmen and giants -- and you don't get them out of the phone book." He spoke of the need for "tradition, history, and institutional memory" and added, "Ignorance is salvageable but stupid is forever." (Laughter.)
The high regard for Chairman Hyde among his colleagues is fully shared by the people of the Sixth District of Illinois. One of his constituents said, "He has a presence. He fills a room. You always know Mr. Hyde has arrived." The man is a born leader, and he's been an achiever all his life. He served in the United States Navy in World War Two and stayed in the reserves long after, retiring with the rank of commander. He's been in Congress since the mid-1970s -- but you can actually go back 60 years and find that Henry Hyde was, even then, a big name in Washington, D.C., as a star on the Georgetown basketball team.
Henry was also elected to the Illinois legislature, and served several terms in Springfield. But he has bypassed a office in which he would have excelled, that of U.S. senator. He didn't want to run. But he did say this: "I'd be a great senator -- God, I'd be so arrogant." (Laughter.)
I also believe Henry could have been a terrific Speaker of the House if that had been his desire. He has served with a total of six speakers, and had he joined their ranks he would have been superb. Of course during his tenure we had two great Republican speakers -- another member of the Illinois delegation, Denny Hastert, and Newt Gingrich, a classmate of mine.
Henry has also served with six presidents, six vice presidents and many hundreds of members of Congress. In the House turnover is routine. With a two-year term, people win and lose elections, colleagues move on to other stages of life. So those of us who've served any length of time on Capitol Hill have gotten used to all the comings and goings. And yet every one of us can also give you the names -- only a handful in number -- of colleagues that we hated to see leaving us, and whose departure meant a genuine loss for the character of the House, and to our enjoyment of the job. In the last few decades these names would include the likes of Bob Michel, Tip O'Neill, Barber Conable, Bill Frenzel, Dick Bolling, Bill Steiger, and Mo Udall.
That's how we feel, in the closing months of the 109th Congress, about the coming retirement of Henry Hyde. We're thinking about what a joy it has been to be his colleague. We're grateful for the many good times we've had over the years with Henry, and also with his wife, Jeanne, who was such a sweet and gracious lady. We're thinking of how much we appreciate Henry's warmth and good humor, his judgment, his wisdom. And we're filled with admiration for his legacy in public life.
The great Western writer Louis L'Amour could have been referring to Henry Hyde when he wrote, "God help us always to have them -- men who believe in what they are doing, and who will fight for what they believe."
If you know Henry Hyde, you delight in his company, you listen to what he has to say, and you value his good opinion. None of this is going to change when Henry retires. He is leaving the House on the best possible terms -- at the height of his intellectual powers, his place in history secure, his greatness beyond question, and, Lord willing, many more years for all of us to enjoy his friendship.
END 7:39 P.M. EDT