Moving America Forward

Congressman Mike Rogers' speech at the Freedom Center's West Coast Retreat.

Editor's note: The following talk by Congressman Mike Rogers (R-MI) was delivered at the David Horowitz Freedom Center's 2012 West Coast Retreat, held March 30th-April 1st at the Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes, California. Video of congressman's speech can also be seen below.

Congressman Mike Rogers:  Well, thank you very much, I think. (Laughter). What do they say? Of all the introductions I’ve ever received, that certainly was the most recent. (Laughter). Thanks. I appreciate it. You know, it’s great to get a warm welcome anywhere, really, as a member of congress, I have to tell you. (Laughter). As a matter of fact, my neighbor sells cemetery plots and life insurance and he gets invited to the barbecues. I am no longer invited to the barbecues. (Laughter). My father, who’s 86 years old, is fond of saying, “I have five boys. Four turned out really good and I got one in congress.” (Laughter).

He mentioned my time in Chicago. I had a great time. I was an FBI agent serving in Chicago as an organized crime Special Agent. I’ll tell you, I couldn’t believe that they paid me to do it -- great work, enjoyed it. Well, I was thinking about the state of the Republican presidential primary and happened to think of an event there. I was a young agent and I stopped a guy. I was trying to kind of mess with him a little bit and his name was Johnny Apes. He was a crew boss in the Chicago crime family and he had this history of just spontaneously just beating people to within an inch of their life, including his own crew members if he was ticked off -- thus the “Apes” of the Johnny Apes.

So I stop him one day and I said, “Johnny, this is -- I’m hearing a lot of rumors that your crew, they're not happy with you. You're creating a bit of a morale problem for your crew. Is there anything you want to talk about?” He said, “Let me tell you something. Nuttin’ like a good beatin’ to keep the family together.” (Laughter). So I think that’s very aptly so in our presidential primary, don't you think? (Laughter). We’ll all be together after all of this, a good family beating, a little Republican-on-Republican violence along the way. We’ll get there; be patient; be with us. Hopefully, we’ll figure this out.

I want to thank David as well. I heard David speak, I don’t know, it must have been 10 years ago or so and I was just captivated by his story and his journey, I think, to this passionate protector of liberty and all things American, our values, our entrepreneurial spirit, our individual responsibility requirements, and everything that makes this a very special place. David, thank you for being the champion and the voice. (Applause).

And think just how far we have come. I mean, a few years ago, a great president, Ronald Reagan, tried to unify this great country. He stood in front of the wall and said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” -- what a magical, powerful moment in the history of this country for liberty for millions and millions of people who were living under the yoke of communism, failed communism.

And think about where we are today -- a president who decides that he’s going to use politics of division to separate enough Americans for political gain. Now, he says -- works actively to pit one American against another American. We want to tear down the successful in this country if this president has his way. What great country doesn’t unify around a common purpose to move forward? The greatest nation on the face of the earth, who has lifted more people from poverty than any other nation in the history of the world -- why would [he] set us against each other if it weren’t for selfish needs? That’s where we find ourselves and when you look at the incremental policies, and sometimes, not so incremental policies, that’s where we are. The fight is on and David is so aptly right when he said, “Hey, be careful; be awake. This fight is on and it’s on today.”

I have to tell you with this president -- American politics seem to be getting very small, very small -- commenting on an incident that is tragic enough from the White House before the facts are even in; going to the Rose Garden for a press conference and saying “I’m going to take away some business tax credits and give it to the businesses -- take it from the people I don't like and I’m going to give it to the people I like.” It’s the same business tax credit. “I’m not going to stand up and try to lift the poor up; I am going to try to push the successful down.” That is a fascinating place for this country to be, but I’m going to tell you, I feel pretty good about where we are, not because of the politics in Washington, D.C. I can’t tell you I feel fantastic about that, but I know the spirit of this country is alive and well.

I have the great privilege to be the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee. I travel a lot all over the world, meet with a lot of fascinating people in some really interesting places. One particular time, I went out and we were in a place that I actually had to don the local garb to get into this particular place and there was this very tiny military unit and some other intelligence activities going on, but because they didn’t want the locals to understand what was going on, they dressed very culturally assimilated.

So here’s a soldier in the Army with a big beard and other garments that were beyond to try to blend in, if you will. So I went out to see this particular place to make sure that they had all the tools and resources, really to tell them, “Hey, thank you on behalf of a grateful America for the work that you're doing and the fact that you're risking your lives for this country, and you're away from your families. Thank you.” I represent a lot of people who want to tell you thank you in person. That’s my job and privilege to get to do it.

Well, he had waited about 10 days. He was a sergeant in the Army doing some very specialized work and he waited to get promoted to the next rank. If anybody has been in the military, that’s kind of a big deal. As I told him -- he shafted himself out of six days of pay -- “I’m not sure you're smart enough to get promoted” -- a wonderful guy. (Laughter).

So in order to do it, he said, “Sir, I want to be in my uniform, but I can’t do it obviously out. Can we get in our little room here and do this?” So these big, tough, burly dudes, all of them, get in this tiny room. It is the size of a Holiday Inn Express bathroom and that table group over there, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I mean, it is a tiny little space and they had bunks in there and other equipment in there and it was hot and one little window was blocked out.

So we all get in there and these big dudes -- big dudes -- all the flag they had was a 8½ -- they were those little 6-inch flags, 5½ by 6-inch flags, those little ones that you see on the little -- that’s all they had, but two guys wanted to hold the flag. These were big guys; I’m not going to argue with them. So two big guys behind him were holding each little corner of the flag and I got to present the orders on behalf of the United States of America to promote this sergeant. I mean, it was a powerful moment and all of a sudden, it was -- remember, it’s all darked out and we had to be quiet. I had to read the rules in a whisper.

And when it was done, one of the folks in the back started singing “The Star Spangled Banner” in a whisper. I’m going to tell you, we were off key. I’m not even sure we got all the words right. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever heard in my life. In a very dangerous place all that way away from their families, this group of individuals still believed in something bigger than themselves and it was this great country. (Applause).

So now, where have we come? Those are the things that give me faith. So the president comes out and announces his budget. I’m glad you pointed out, he got exactly zero votes. I guess that’s a vote of some kind of confidence. I’m not sure what exactly that might be, but why? I mean, why the consternation over this thing? It was a God-awful thing. It said, “We’re going to punish the successful. We’re going to tax people more. We’re going to make them more dependent on the government. We’re going to” -- I mean, if this president has his way, you're going to live a lot closer to an urban setting of his choosing. You're going to take the train two stops to the public benefits office and on the way home, if you’re lucky, you'll get to stop at your federal government healthcare center and then, please God, go straight home.

It’s America by design, not America by inspiration, and it sets out an America in decline. He wants to manage the decline of America -- unbelievable. I mean, this is a budget that says we are going to fire 20,000 combat-trained Marines and hire 17,000 IRS agents to go after Americans for tax liabilities on the healthcare law. That’s not the America I grew up in. That’s not the priorities of this great country. It’s happening now. That was in his budget -- unbelievable that most Americans, other than this crowd, is hardly paying attention to the future that he laid out in his budget.

He’s going to cut the military capability of this great nation in half -- half. It’s like saying, “Brooklyn, New York, guess what? We’re going to stop patrols, but you know what? We've got a SWAT team back here. If something is going on, give us a holler and we’ll get there when we can.” Would you abandon the rest of the world to its chaos when our military has really been used as one of the greatest forces for good in the world? The fact that we've never taken land for ourselves -- we have always brought liberty to any shores we've ever shown up on. And he says, “We’re not going to be able to respond two places at once and I want to cut that in half. We don't really need to do it.” Really? Wow.

I’m going to tell you something. I happened to be just a few years ago, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, I was visiting the Russians and talking about the missile defense and you can imagine we probably didn’t have a lot to talk about, but we tried anyway. And I met the largest general -- a military officer -- I think I’ve ever seen in my life. He was probably about 6’9”, 300 pounds and his hat looked really tiny on his big head. Now, I wasn’t going to tell him that, of course. So we talked about missile defense and our differences and we’re trying to work through it. I tried to talk about a port-of-call in Vladivostok and none of it was going anywhere. This was right after the Cairo speech by the President of the United States.

And after it was all done, he said -- and I won't do a Russian accent; I can do a Chicago accent, and I cannot do a Russian accent. He said, “Congressman, can I talk to you in the other room?” I said, “Sure, absolutely.” So he puts his arm around me and puts his hand on my chest and his hand was as big as your plate; it was huge. And as we’re walking over, I’m thinking, I’ve seen this movie. (Laughter). I don't think this works out very well for me. I think I’m that guy. (Laughter). And when he got in the other room, he said, “Congressman, let me tell you something. It’s great to see that America is finally admitting she’s a nation in decline. We've been through it. I’d love to give you all the advice and counsel you can take.” Now, I believe that overseas, you never talk bad about our president. I may have had a few choice words in the hotel room, however, afterward.

I went to Lebanon to talk about some issues with Iran’s expansion and certainly, their effort to get nuclear weapons and the trouble they were causing as the single largest nation-state sponsor of terrorism in the world today. One of the colonels after our meetings was a staff colonel. As we were walking out, he said, “Congressman, do me a favor. Please tell American don't give up on themselves.”

Got back from Israel recently and they said, “Listen, we’re in some tough times here. We have no longer a predictable partner in Egypt in the south. Hamas is now well armed, thanks to Iran, and more dangerous than ever. The Sinai is starting to go south on us. Hezbollah has maybe up to 30,000 very advanced missile systems, thanks to Iran.” Can you imagine a nuclear Iran on their horizon? And they said, “We just understand one thing. We understand that we’re going to have to deal with a weakened America.”

This notion when the president got up at his state of the union and said that we’re more loved now than we've ever been -- remember this? He talked about Rio de Janeiro. Yeah, I guess I can see that. Rio de Janeiro, that’s it? This is a complicated world, Mr. President. It’s not about the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. (Laughter). It’s about the fact that people have ill intent to the very existence of the United States and our allies, like Israel and our western European allies, and sometimes, even the French. (Laughter).

The world isn’t less dangerous; it’s more dangerous. It’s more complicated. The Russians just dumped in another nuclear boomer submarine of late. They're getting back in the world game and they know it and they want to do it. The Chinese feel so emboldened that they told the United States, “You can’t even bring your Navy in the South China Sea. That’s ours.” The North Koreans said, “Yeah, we’ll take your 300,000 metric tons of food, and oh, by the way, thanks, United States, but we’re going to launch a missile” -- that they said is for a satellite purpose, but it’s clearly research for an intercontinental ballistic missile for their nuclear weapon program.

Iran continues to march toward its nuclear weapons. They tried to kill the Saudi ambassador in our capitol, the United States of America, and you know what happened to them? Nothing.

Terrorist organizations, AQIM, Al Qaeda in Mahgreb, are very engaged and growing. Now, it tends to be the largest financial benefactor for Al Qaeda. They have said publicly in their doctrine that they want to obtain weapons of mass destruction to cause that big event and it doesn’t have to be a nuclear weapon or missile. It could be a radiological bomb, a chemical weapon. We have weapons like those in Libya we can’t quite find. We have Syria with a huge stockpile. And this president is absolutely paralyzed at how he moves forward to solve a very difficult problem.

He gave a whole bunch of problems to this country when he gave his 1967 border speech, which meant that he was more pro-Palestinian than Abbas was Palestinian. Abbas had cut a deal with George W. Bush about, “You can go up, but you can’t go out.” Remember this in the settlements? And this president comes out and says he wants to get to the ’67 borders. Why all the turmoil; why did they go to the United Nations? And no press outlet covers it, right? He caused every bit of that trouble for both Israel and the United States and he gets a pass.

Would you trust the United States if someone had a nuclear weapon facing at you and you just weren’t sure if they’d be with you or not? Of course not. That’s where Israel is. And if you were the Iranians, do you believe it when this president says, “All the options are on the table?” Of course not. That’s our problem.

Our military has never really been a large instrument for destruction and owning and obtaining wealth. It has been always about the projection of power and keeping peace and making sure that our prosperity and our markets are open for future prosperity in this country. So this notion that we’re going to give up because it’s hard is a dangerous one indeed.

The blueprint that this president has laid out for this country is one that I hope you're all offended by. It says, “We don't really mind if we slip to number two or maybe even number three in the world.” The Chinese certainly aren’t thinking that and they want to be number one. The North Koreans are thinking “We can get a nuclear weapon; they're not going to do anything.” The Iranians think the United States is a defanged tiger indeed.

Hugo Chavez has extended his arm to the Iranians to give them a post in our own Latin American. Hezbollah believes that they can operate with impunity around the world. The Iranians and their [crudes force] believe that they can operate with impunity around the world -- attacks in Bangkok, nothing happened; in Tbilisi, and nothing happened; in Pakistan, and nothing happened. And they tried to do an operation here in the United States and nothing happened. Would you trust the future of your country to this president?

I don't think you would if you’re places like Israel or even Lebanon or other places who are enjoying the fact that they believe we’re in a weakened state. I know I wouldn’t and that’s our problem. George Washington said, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” It’s a pretty simple formula and we have done it since the inception of our country and it has worked pretty darn good, right? We’re from Michigan; we’re not all that complicated. We like cars, we like defense and we like free markets. It’s not all that complicated, really, but to think that we’re going to grow ourselves in debt, in taxes, in government intervention in our lives, and cut our military capability in half, what does that mean for us?

Well, I hope we shake ourselves out of this and I know this group is pretty much there. If you listen to David, you're pretty much there. It’s the folks who didn’t show up tonight that I worry about. If we don't shake ourselves out of this, this will be the first generation of Americans that hand off to our children and grandchildren a less prosperous future, a less secure future and a future that means I am more dependent on my government, who takes away from my neighbor, than any other time in the history of this great nation.

And we didn’t become this great nation for any of those things, not one of them. We became a great nation because of the entrepreneurial spirit of this country because we believed in something bigger than ourselves and an idea, and the notion that we could actually wok as hard as we wanted, including seven days a week, blood, sweat and tears.

I have a friend of mine who is from South Africa who came here and she’s got eight employees. She runs -- I asked permission to tell this story -- eight employees. She works like a dog. She literally works seven days a week. She runs the register. It’s a little dog-grooming store with supplies in the front. She cleans the bathrooms, she cleans the front floor, employs these eight people. She said, “This year, I might, if I’m lucky, break $50,000 a year. If I’m lucky, I will break $50,000 a year, but I wouldn’t have it any other way because I wouldn’t even have this chance to do this where I come from. This is a great country. Please don't screw it up.”

That is an amazing thing where the son of a teacher can become a member of congress and be the head of the Intelligence Committee. Now, if you ask my family, they think that’s very scary indeed. (Laughter). So please don't ask my family about that -- yes, exactly, exactly.

So I hope we shake ourselves out of this and begin to move forward on an America that we all believed in that allowed us to be successful, that allowed the next generation after us to be successful, that believed in something bigger than ourselves, that rejected that radical, liberal notion that if the government doesn’t do it, it can’t be done. Well, we've rejected that for over 200 years and that’s why we have the largest middle class in America. That’s why we have the largest military, through projection of power, in the world and they're really scared to mess with us.

Somebody said, “Why do we have to be 10 times better than the next guy?” I said, “How would you -- do you really want to find out? Would you really like to find out what happens when you're only as good as the next guy? What if you're not as good as the next guy?” Well, history has shown us what happens under those circumstances. So if you believe in a country that’s going to have every opportunity for the next generation, I know you'll do more than enjoy this weekend and I hope you do, that you'll take this fight to your workplace, to your places of worship, that you'll break every rule your grandmother told you about talking about politics at the dinner table. It has to happen; yeah, you bet. (Applause). That’s all right. You can clap for that. (Applause).

I’ll tell you one last story and I’ll let you go and eat for the second round. Apparently, I’m the only one keeping you from food and that’s always a bad idea. (Laughter).

Unidentified Audience Member:  You're doing great.

Congressman Mike Rogers:  Yeah, thanks. That’s not what this table over here is saying over here by me. I’ve seen them getting a grip on that dinner roll. That’s always a clue. In the FBI, we would call that a clue. (Laughter).

I had the great fortune to know a colonel who was in the 101st Airborne Division and he was supposed to lead 5,000 of the finest combat soldiers American could put together and they were from all walks of life -- all races, all religions, all demographics, all economic status. Really, our military is very representative, despite what you hear in the news. Well, as would have it (sic), they were supposed to go up and land and clean out this mountain ridge. It was Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, pretty tough. The terrain -- if you’ve never been there, the terrain is hard. It’s difficult. The weather changes a lot. It is a miserable place to operate away from your base.

As luck and military training would have it, the headquarters unit -- so this is the colonel. He’s the tough guy. He looks like right out of central casting, a crew cut, the square jaw, an “I Love Mom” tattoo, tougher than woodpecker lips, this guy. Oh, yeah, think about that for a minute -- a wonderful guy. (Laughter). He spent 24 years in the military, Ranger tab, Airborne qualified. This guy is the real deal and he’s leading these troops and he’s passionate about it.

Well, they land on the wrong spot on this mountain ridge and they landed about 100 yards from 500 Taliban fighters and this is the headquarters unit. They're supposed to be beyond -- behind the fighting units trying to coordinate the battle. Now, they don't have the right ammunition. They're very lightly armed, but thankfully, they're very seasoned, seasoned officers, seasoned sergeants and non-commissioned officers. They get in a perimeter and they start holding them off -- 20 wounded in about 10 minutes -- a pretty tough fight for them. They're just not ready for this.

There was a young platoon about 4,000 feet down the mountainside in reserve. He got on the horn and said, “Boys, if you don't get up here, we’re not going to make it off the side of this mountain.” So these young men from all over the country -- 18, 19 years old; their platoon leader was 24 and their platoon sergeant was about 28 -- they dropped all their other gear, picked up 100 pounds of ammunition each and scrambled up 4,000 feet up the side of a mountain, sometimes at a 70% grade. Think of that.

And he said when they got there, I gave them just one order. I said, “Get that ammunition up on the perimeter. Keep the enemy back and hope to God we’re going to get off the mountain alive today.” And this big, tough Army colonel says, “I’ve never seen such bravery and courage in my life,” because these young men dragged that ammunition to the perimeter and covered -- using their bodies -- covered the bodies of the wounded sergeants and NCOs that were appointed over them to keep them from getting shot again and stayed there for as long as 90 minutes. And he said, “Because of their bravery, everyone -- everyone -- made it off the mountain alive that day.”

And he said -- this big, tough Army colonel with a tear streaming down his face, said, “I’ve been doing this Army thing for a long time, but I will tell you something pretty damn special is still happening in America, that these 5,000 young men would come here and these young men would risk their lives to the officers and NCOs that were appointed over them to keep them alive to fight another day. Something pretty damn spectacular is still happening in America that would allow that to happen.” And he said, “I don’t know politics, but I’m going to tell you, when I come home, I’m going to lick stamps, I’m going to march in parades. I’m going to do everything that I can to keep this great country to hand off to the next generation.”

Thanks for being part of that solution. Thanks for thinking about those young men who risk their lives every day to defend this country. Thanks for standing up for liberty and thanks for rejecting the notion that we should manage the decline of America. The best is yet to come. God bless you and God bless the United States. (Applause).

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