Videos & Speeches

Madam President, I had a great honor this morning, and it will change the nature of the remarks I intended to make on the Senate floor. I just returned from the World War II Memorial. We had a group of 90 World War II veterans who flew here on an Honor Air flight. Honor Air is a national program. The funds for it are raised by friends, neighbors, and community individuals to help bring their World War II veterans to the Nation's Capital. I have probably visited the World War II Memorial dozens of times—maybe 40 or 50. I visit it every time there is an Honor Air flight from my home State and I am in Washington, DC, I like to be there to say, “welcome and thank you. It is an honor to have you at the memorial that was built for you.”

I visited the World War II Memorial. It is especially meaningful to me personally. My dad is a World War II veteran. My dad has been on the Honor Air flight. My dad will be 98 in November. A few days before the World War II Memorial opened, I walked down there—I was a House Member then, not a Senator—and got a glimpse of what it was going to be like. It is a wonderful place and it reminds us of many things. That day, I stepped away from the memorial and used my cell phone to call my dad at home in Plainville, KS. I was fortunate I got the answering machine, because these are difficult things to tell your parents. So I said, “Dad, I am at the World War II Memorial. Thank you for your service to our country. I respect you and I love you. It was great to be able to say that to an answering machine instead of to your own parent.” My dad actually one-upped me. A few moments later my cell phone rang and he said, “Gerald, I couldn't understand what you said.” So I repeated it in person.

The great thing about the memorial is it causes us to reflect and say things and express ourselves in ways that we otherwise would never do. So that memorial, as do others that honor our service men and women, is one that calls us to say we thank you for your service, we respect you, we love you. That was my experience again this morning. Again, I try to be there every time a group of veterans comes from Kansas, and I was hoping today wouldn't be any different. With the shutdown of our government, with the funding on hold for the National Parks, there was some concern about whether these veterans would be able to actually get to the memorial. It all worked fine. I appreciate the way the morning's events transpired and there was no confrontation and no one wanted to deny those veterans their chance to visit their memorial for the first time.

In addition to those sentiments about these individual veterans, I think what may be of value as we approach today and tomorrow and try to find the solutions that are necessary to solve the circumstance we find ourselves in is a recognition that our veterans--I have had this thought every time I have walked to the Vietnam Wall or to the Korean War Memorial and now to this newer memorial, the World War II Memorial--not a single person represented on that wall or memorialized in the World War II Memorial or the Korean War Memorial, not one of them—I  cannot imagine that a single one of them—volunteered or was drafted for purposes of a fight between Republicans and Democrats. No one went to serve our country, no one volunteered to serve our country because they believed in Republicans or they believed in Democrats. Knowing veterans as I do, my view is they answered the call to duty. They were willing to serve because they believed in America. They believed in the United States and our principles and the freedoms and liberties it provides, and they knew their service would make a difference in the lives of their kids and grandkids. They knew their service would help make America a better place for everyone, but certainly for people they knew—their family members.

I hope I can portray to my colleagues here in the Senate and here in this Capitol building and down Pennsylvania Avenue that the battles we engage in need to be a lot less about Republicans and Democrats and much more about what is good for the country. We ought to use the veterans we met with this morning and those who are memorialized on the National Mall in every circumstance to remind ourselves that there is a higher calling to what we do in our Nation's Capital. There is something more important than political skirmishes.

I don't say this in any Pollyanna way. I don't say it in a way that doesn't acknowledge partisan differences. I always assumed and believed that America sent a variety of people to Washington, DC, to represent their interests and my State of Kansas will probably send somebody different than some other State. We all come here with a philosophy, a background of the way we grew up, the way we think about things, the instructions our constituents have given us, and all of that is reflected in the way we vote, the issues we pursue, the priorities we have. So it is not that we are all supposed to agree, but surely there ought to be recognition that when there is disagreement, as there often is, there is a desire, just as our service men and women had to serve the country, much more important than the desire to serve our political party.

Today's trip to the World War II Memorial, while it is a common experience for me, was especially useful and meaningful because it happened at a time when these veterans came not knowing whether they would be able to gain entry to the memorial. Being there to encourage them and seeing them welcomed and greeted was important but, perhaps equally as important, it served as a reminder to me that what we do in the Senate is motivated by the best of intentions and the greatest of goals; the idea that America is a special place and we who serve here have a special responsibility. We have a chance to try to do something good for the country.

One of the things that has always inspired and pleased me about Kansans—and I assume it is true elsewhere—most of the conversations I have with folks back home are a lot less about what they want me to do for them but more about what decisions they want me to make, to make certain their kids and grandkids have a better life. There is something very great about how we have an interest—as human beings, as parents—in the well-being of the next generation and not just the well-being of ourselves. So my efforts in trying to find resolution to the circumstance we find ourselves in is strengthened, the resolve I have to try to work with others here in the Senate is one that is highlighted by my experience this morning at the National Mall.

I think about where we are and where we need to go. Again, having decried the high partisanship nature of this place, I don't want to detract from that, but we need to be able to have leaders who are willing to have discussions, conversations, and a coming together. It is true of Republicans and it is true of Democrats and it is certainly true of whoever is the President of the United States. We need to make certain we have the ability to recognize that not all of us agree on everything, but with the efforts we make to find a solution to a problem, there is a coming together. It seems to me we have now gotten ourselves in this entrenched position. And while I was pleased moments ago to learn that our President has called congressional leaders to the White House, it is disturbing to me that the message is: But we are not negotiating. I am not certain what the purpose of the White House visit will be. I hope it results in movement, in success.

It is my understanding my colleagues on the Democratic side of the aisle have agreed this morning to not negotiate. All I know about that is what I have read in the press. I don't—again, in an attempt to make certain this doesn't sound partisan and detract from what I was attempting to convey moments ago, we need to make certain Republicans understand we can make progress in the positions we hold even without getting everything we want. So this experience I described of being a Senator—a Member of this great deliberative body—hasn't  been my experience in the short time I have been a Member of the Senate. The idea that we can't negotiate seems to me to be contrary to the purpose of this historic body.

I hope the attitude and approach changes and every Senator recognizes it is not an all-or-nothing proposition. It is an opportunity for us to resolve differences and each find some satisfaction in moving in a direction or preserving the status quo, if that is one's position; that because America is a diverse place and that people care differently about different issues and have different opinions, we certainly have a responsibility to represent those views of the folks back home, but recognizing that the country doesn't always agree with us. Surely, there is that common ground, that opportunity to find solutions. My call is for leadership—and by leadership I mean broadly all 100 of us; not leadership in the sense of someone who occupies a position of leadership beyond being a Member of the Senate but all of us—to find the leadership to find the necessary resolve to solve our country's problems.

The Affordable Care Act is a very controversial piece of legislation. It has been said here on the Senate floor, it is the law, it is not negotiable. That position doesn't make sense to me. In fact, the President has delayed, excluded, found exemptions for what is the law. So, surely, if the President can, for example, delay the implementation of the employer mandate, it is not outside of the realm—in fact, I would say it is the constitutional responsibility of Congress—to have the debate, discussion, and consideration of whether to delay the individual mandate. It is the law of the land, but if the President can make changes to the law of the land, surely the body created by article I, the legislative branch, has that opportunity to do so as well. So it ought not be nonnegotiable.

It is time for the Senate to function. It is time for us as individual Senators to provide the leadership to resolve our problems. In my view, we desperately need leadership from the President. While I have serious policy and philosophical disagreements with President Obama, my greatest complaint about his Presidency is his lack of leadership. We need somebody to rally us, to come together and find solutions to those problems, to better resolve our differences. Again, I don't want to detract from the observations about how partisan this place has become by talking about President Obama. In this case, he is a Democrat and I am a Republican, but regardless of who is the occupant of the White House, in order for the Congress to resolve difficult issues, it takes the leadership of a President. My call is, as it was earlier to my colleagues in the Senate to provide leadership—I hope the President, in his meeting with the leadership of the Senate and House today, will provide the leadership necessary to help us move in the right direction and step back from the statement that while we are meeting, nothing is negotiable.

I appreciate the opportunity to address the Senate, and I yield the floor.