The Congress Celebrates the Birth of Lyndon Johnson

Ms. Eskridge is an HNN intern.

This past week the Congress paused to take notice of one of their own on what would have been his 100th birthday: Lyndon Johnson, congressman, senator, majority leader, and president of the United States. Excerpts from the tributes follow.

Here is the link to the Senate proceedings. Here is the link for the House proceedings.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)

Born in the Hill Country of Texas, Lyndon Baines Johnson came to the Senate in 1948 after prevailing in one of the closest Senate contests in American history. As my colleagues well know, most rookie Senators arrive in Washington resigned to spending a few years getting to know the rules and traditions of this body--biding their time and gaining seniority. Not Lyndon Johnson. His rise to power was laser-fast.

He was appointed to the powerful Armed Services Committee within his first 2 years, and was elected assistant democratic leader--or majority whip--in 1951. No Senator ever rose to the leadership of the Senate faster. But Lyndon Johnson had good timing as well as talent as his allies. In the 1952 election, Dwight Eisenhower was elected in a landslide, sweeping Republicans into power in both the House and Senate. Among the defeated Democrats was Majority Leader Ernest McFarland of Arizona. With just 4 years tenure, 4 years in the U.S. Senate, Lyndon Johnson became the Democratic leader of the Senate.

At the time, the positions of majority and minority leader took a backseat to the powerful committee chairmanships. Lyndon Johnson had a different vision, and it is no exaggeration to say that he singlehandedly made the job of leader what it is today. After establishing himself as the legislative and political leader of the Senate Democrats, Johnson was uniquely well-positioned in 1954, when Democrats regained the majority and he became majority leader.

... Based upon his philosophy that ``The only real power available to the leader is the power of persuasion,'' Lyndon Baines Johnson used that power to the fullest. In just 1 day in 1956, Lyndon Johnson's Senate confirmed two appointments and passed 90 bills a record that may stand for all time.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX)

... In 1964, Lyndon Johnson used his formidable legislative skills, honed from his days right here in this Chamber as majority leader, to pass the Civil Rights Act. Then, in 1965, he pushed Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act.

The Civil Rights Act was the culmination of a decade-long civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But in a real sense, it was the fulfillment of a two-century struggle to give life to the words in our Declaration of Independence, ``that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.''

During his term in office, President Johnson also embarked on a war on poverty, creating government programs such as food stamps, the Job Corps, the Community Action Program, and Vista, among others. The war on poverty was a part of a larger initiative that President Johnson called the Great Society. One of the most important aspects of the Great Society was improving American education. President Johnson believed that every American needed a solid public education to turn the aspirations of the Great Society into reality. In his words:

"We must open the doors of opportunity, but we must also equip our people to walk through those doors."

From 1963 to 1969, President Johnson signed over 60 education bills, including a pair of landmark achievements: the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Higher Education Act. He also launched Project Head Start. In a very real sense, he was America's first education President. As a Texan and an American, I am certainly proud of the achievements of President Lyndon Johnson. In his farewell speech, President Johnson said:

"I hope it may be said, a hundred years from now, that by working together we helped make our country more just, more just for all its people, as well as to ensure and guarantee the blessings of liberty for all of our posterity."

It has been almost 40 years since that speech and 100 years since his birth. Looking back, I think we can safely say that our country is more just, and it is more prosperous, thanks in part to the leadership of President Johnson.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ)

... Whatever else people will note about Johnson's life, whatever disagreements anyone had with him, whatever brush historians will use to paint him, there is no one who can convincingly cast doubt on his very real devotion to the interests of the less fortunate.

In 1928, Johnson took time off from teacher's college to teach at a small school for young Mexican Americans in Cotulla, TX. Right before he signed the Higher Education Act in 1965, Johnson thought back on his time in the classroom.

He said:

"I shall never forget the faces of the boys and the girls in that little Welhausen Mexican School, and I remember even yet the pain of realizing and knowing then that college was closed to practically every one of those children because they were too poor. And I think it was then that I made up my mind that this nation could never rest while the door to knowledge remained closed to any American."

I was 11-years old when he spoke those words. Seven years later, when it was time for a Latino kid from a working-class family to go to college, I could do it, because of educational assistance from the federal government, assistance Johnson had championed. Because of him, I could go on to law school. Because of him, I felt that no door in public service could legitimately be closed to me. It is a powerful truth, and it is very clear: I would not be standing here today if it weren't for Lyndon Johnson.

If he were still standing here today himself, still a U.S. Senator, it is hard to believe there would be an atmosphere of hyperpartisanship. It is hard to believe that he would allow compassion to lose out to suspicion in guiding the business of our Nation.

If only he could be with us today, each time we are on the verge of a crucial vote that will test our conscience, if only all Senators could see Johnson's figure towering over them, feel his hand on their lapel, hear his voice in their ear, pushing the legislative process toward a just conclusion.

So as we remember his life this year, there is no better time to rededicate ourselves to the greatest of the principles for which he lived. There is no better time to make sure that when we sit in the presiding chair, we swing the gavel for justice; that when we speak, we raise our voices for equality; that when we vote, we vote for compassion for fellow human beings regardless of the color of their skin, the language that they speak, or the country in which they were born.

Even in his absence, let us remember his conscience. Let us allow his memory to shame the shadows of bigotry out of this Chamber. And let us fill our hearts with his spirit, so in our Nation, the spirit of progress will endure.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX)

... It is an honor to recognize President Lyndon Baines Johnson, not simply because he was President, but because he represented an era, because he convened a time in America that was troubled. But he was a true champion of civil rights for all Americans and he led the Nation during very turbulent political times, from the Civil Rights movement, the deaths of President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King, and the Vietnam War.

... He was a United States Senator and served as both minority and majority leader. He holds the current distinction of being the youngest Senate majority leader at the age of 46. He was also Vice President, head of the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities, and President of the United States.

As President, as was noted, he nominated historically the first African American, the first minority to be nominated to the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall, who, of course, we all know argued that premier and prominent case civil rights legacy, Brown v. Board of Education, to the United States Supreme Court. All the world took note that this southern President from Texas could nominate an African American to the Supreme Court. That was Lyndon Baines Johnson.

... Johnson successfully championed civil rights when he successfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1948. Even then, as I said, as a son of the south, he was unashamed of his belief against segregation. In 1957, when a civil rights bill came before Congress, Johnson favored the bill and worked hard behind the scenes to win its passage. He moved from one side to the other, persuading southern Democrats and northern liberals to compromise. The Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first civil rights legislation to pass since reconstruction, was signed by President Eisenhower in September 1957. Civil right was bipartisan in this body, and President Johnson knew that.

... Let me close by simply acknowledging one of the greatest moments I think this Congress had a chance to witness, and that was the President's speech to Congress as he dealt with this question of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. As he spoke to the Speaker and to the Members of Congress, he said, ``I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy. I urge every member of both parties, Americans of all religions and of all colors from every section of this country to join me in that cause. At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man's unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.''

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