Authorizing the Use of the Capitol Rotunda for the Lying in state of the Late honorable ronald wilson reagan
H. Con. Res. 444
Extension of Remarks
Rep. John b. LarSon
Committee on House Administration
Washington, DC 20515
June 9, 2004
Mr. Speaker, I join with the distinguished gentleman from Michigan [Mr. EHLERS] and distinguished gentlewoman from California [Ms. Millender-McDonald] in support of this motion to suspend the rules and pass the resolution to authorize the use of the Capitol Rotunda to honor President Reagan and I would urge all Members to do likewise.
Mr. Speaker, this is a very sad occasion for our country. Last Saturday, June 5, 2004, Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, departed this life, and now belongs to the ages.
Since I was first elected to this House in 1998, I did not have the privilege of serving with President Reagan. But I certainly wish I had known him. President Reagan's engaging smile, his reassured demeanor, and his boundless optimism about America, her people and her future, were literally contagious.
And the contagion surely did spread, Mr. Speaker. The overwhelming grief since President Reagan's death reflects the American people's respect for the man, and their gratitude for what he accomplished for present and future generations. While he may now be gone, he will never be forgotten.
Mr. Speaker, as the Congress and the nation mourn our 40th President in the Capitol Rotunda, we might recall the many memorable moments that occurred under this great Dome during his eight years in office. Indeed a harbinger of things to come, President Reagan asked that his inauguration take place for the first time on the West Front of the Capitol, so he could look out across the Mall toward the west. Not only did this vista accommodate more people attending the ceremony in person, it symbolically shifted the ceremony's focus toward the vast reaches of the country, where most Americans live.
Of course, President Reagan delivered all of his State of the Union messages, and addressed other joint sessions of Congress, from right here in the House chamber. Once, after Congress had wrapped an entire year's worth of appropriations bills into one mammoth measure, he dramatically plopped a huge stack of paper - not even printed, but instead, Xeroxed copies - onto the desk with a "thud." He implored lawmakers never to repeat the practice.
Unfortunately, it has done so repeatedly in the years since that speech. It was a bad practice in President Reagan's time, and it is a bad practice today.
President Reagan's second inaugural took place in the Rotunda, driven inside by the cold winter of 1985. While some television viewers might have been disappointed at the cancellation of the outdoor inaugural and the accompanying parade, I am sure many parents of high-school students scheduled to march in the festivities were relieved. In another thoughtful gesture, the President paused during his inaugural address to note the passing of a Democratic Representative, Gillis Long of Louisiana, who had died just hours before.
Throughout his life and career, President Reagan was always considerate of others. Perhaps this attribute reflected the Midwestern values of his native Illinois, and the fact that Ronald Reagan came from humble beginnings.
Born in 1911 in Tampico, Illinois, Reagan's family soon moved to the town of Dixon, where he was active in swimming and other sports, drama, and the student government at the local high school. In 1932, the future President graduated from Eureka College, with a degree in economics and sociology. Popular among his peers and clearly blessed with a radio announcer's voice, after graduation Reagan embarked on a radio career. A journey to Los Angeles to cover a sporting event led to a Hollywood screen test, which in turn led to a contract at Warner Brothers studios.
Reagan made more than 50 movies, including "Knute Rockne: All-American," from which he earned his lifelong nickname for playing the famous Notre Dame athlete George Gipp. In the last reel of the film, legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne inspired his 1928 team, who was losing a game to Army, by telling them George Gipp's dying remarks, which were:
"Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go in there with all they've got and win just one for the Gipper. I don't know where I'll be then, Rock, but I'll know about it, and I'll be happy."
Needless to say, the inspired Fighting Irish went on to win the game despite their numerous injuries and underdog status. Today, millions remember Reagan as "the Gipper," and far fewer remember George Gipp. Reagan became even better known in the 1950s by working in television, appearing on such early programs as "Death Valley Days" and the "General Electric Theater."
Reagan lived the rest of his life in California, where in the 1960s, he became active in politics. Though a Democrat, even becoming president of the Screen Actors' Guild, he supported Richard Nixon in 1960 and Barry Goldwater in 1964. In 1966, as a Republican, Reagan won the first of two terms as governor of California. In the tumultuous year of 1968, Governor Reagan briefly sought the Republican presidential nomination, but lost to his fellow Californian, Richard Nixon.
In 1976, the Governor challenged President Gerald Ford for the GOP presidential nomination, and nearly won it at the Kansas City convention. In 1980, he won the nomination and the election, where he received nearly 51% of the popular vote and carried 45 states. Of course, we were all stunned on March 30, 1981, when an assassin shot the President and several others outside the Washington Hilton. Little did we know at the time how close the President came to dying of his wounds. The President went on to survive not only his 1981 gunshot wound, but also, in 1985, a bout with colon cancer.
President Reagan was, and his memory is, beloved in this town. He readily agreed with House Speaker Tip O'Neill's admonition, at an early meeting, that "after 6 o'clock, we're all friends." President Reagan worked to make friends not only with Speaker O'Neill, with whom he often disagreed on policy matters, but with countless others in Congress and around the country. The President's willingness to reach across the aisle and work in a constructive way, refusing to take politics personally, was a hallmark of his approach to governing. I wish others would follow his example in today's poisonous political environment in this city.
In 1984, President Reagan handily won re-election with over 58% of the popular vote, carrying 49 states. By the day he left office in January 1989, he was, despite massive budget deficits and the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal, one of our most beloved presidents.
Mr. Speaker, the solemn state occasion authorized in this resolution will provide an official opportunity for the American people to mourn our former a head of state. This ceremony will be rich in history, and include the use of the Lincoln catafalque, originally built for the state funeral of our 16th President in 1865. This observance will enable Americans, through the Congress and others able to attend, to bid an official, fond farewell to President Reagan for his long career and many contributions to the rich fabric of our nation.
I am honored to play a role in these proceedings in my position as Ranking Minority Member of the Committee on House Administration and to represent the many residents of Connecticut who revere President Reagan and his memory. In their behalf, and mine, I offer Mrs. Reagan and the entire Reagan family the condolences and the thanks of a grateful nation for the President's service. I would like to close by joining our Committee on House Administration's Vice Chairman in urging our colleagues to pass this resolution and win one last victory for the Gipper. Thank you.