Congressman Brian Mast: One Year In The Swamp

Republican Rep. unveils what divides America -- and how to turn it around --at Restoration Weekend.

Editor's note: Below are the video and transcript to remarks given by Congressman Brian Mast (R-FL 18th District) at the David Horowitz Freedom Center's 2017 Restoration Weekend. The event was held Nov. 16th-19th at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida.

Brian Mast: That is the truth. American Majority did help give me a start on this. When I was thinking about running way back in the day, before I was ever even a candidate, literally years before becoming a candidate, my wife said, "Hey, there's this group, American Majority, that's putting on this event at our church."  We were worshiping at a place called Calvary Chapel, and they tell you information about how to become an activist, how to go out there and run a campaign, how to do things like that.  And she said, "Why don't you go to that since you're thinking about doing this. This is something you're considering."  And I did, and they gave me some great pointers and something that I hold on to till this day.  They said, "Be organized, develop a great plan of attack," and they said, "Find a way to become a pillar of your community," and those were the things that stuck with me from that very moment.

It's great to have the opportunity to be here with you all again.  I'm very proud of everything that happened yesterday.  We had a very historic vote on tax reform, and it wasn't without its hurdles, and there's still going to be a few hurdles yet to come.  One of the folks that we had the opportunity to speak to throughout this whole arduous process of looking at tax reform was Vice President Pence.  Vice President Pence does a great job coming and speaking to us in the House, and I would say this was probably about a month ago.  We had this behind-closed-doors meeting of all people from the Republican conference.  It was off the campus of the House of Representatives, and we were doing nothing but talking about tax reform all day long, different meetings about what it was going to do on the corporate side and the individual side and all these other things, and the last speaker for us was Vice President Pence.  And Vice President comes up to the microphone, and he normally doesn't use a prepared speech.  He's normally very off-the-cuff in speaking to us, but for whatever reason he had some prepared remarks that he was going to give to us.  And I can see him flipping through his book as he's giving his remarks to us.  And in the middle of his remarks was this joke that he had to tell, and it was this joke about people staying together.  And so I'm sitting in the front row almost right in front of the podium.  Almost right where you're sitting right there, sir, is where I was sitting compared to Vice President Pence. 

And so I don't think he knew what he was getting himself into, but he's reading this joke and he's talking about this guy falling into the water and they're trying to save him.  And they try to grab him and pull him out at first.  And they grab him.  They grab his toupee and his toupee comes off.  And then they try to grab him and they grab his arm and his arm pulls off.  And then they try to grab his other arm.  His other arm -- it's a guy with prosthetics right?  So he's looking at me and he's midway through this joke.  And I could just see the wheels turning in his mind.  Can I finish this joke?  Is this insensitive?  Am I going to be in the media for the rest of the media cycle this week?  Anyways, long story short, I could care less.  I wasn't offended by it in the slightest. 

Needless to say, I got back to my office after all those meetings had ended, and my chief of staff comes up to me and he says, "I don't know what's going on, but you're supposed to get a call from the Vice President in about 30 minutes."  And I knew what was going on.  I thought it was hilarious, so that was probably one of the funniest hurdles that I saw going through tax reform.

I was asked to come here and speak to you a little bit about the perspective of being a freshman member of Congress.  I was elected on the same day as our great president on November 8th of 2016 of last year.  And sworn in just a couple of weeks prior to him being sworn in on January 3, 2017.  And I have three questions that come up to me constantly. I get these same three questions all the time.  No. 1 is, "Is it as bad as they say?" People always ask, "Is it as bad as they really say it is?  Is it as bad as what we see on TV?"  No. 2 people ask, "What is it that you're working on?  What are you doing for back home?  What are you doing for the country?"  And the third and the most frequent question that I get from people is, "Are you having fun?  Is it a good time?  Are you having a blast?"  And so I'm going to address those three questions briefly.  I don't want to give you too much information.  My father always told me the one thing people remember about speeches is if you talk for too long, so I don't want to do that for you all.

But to that first question, is it as bad as they say it is?  I think if I said to all of you in here that people in Washington, D.C. lie, I would probably get a laugh out of many of you.  Well, of course, they do.  Politicians, people in Washington, Congressmen, Senators, of course they lie.  They lie all the time.  And I'm here to tell you that that's true.  I knew I would get a laugh out of you.  But it's not true in the way that most people think of it all the time.  The way that I see people lying in Washington is at a completely different level than somebody giving a fact or a statistic that's not true, even though they know that it's not true.  People in Washington are incredibly inaccurate, incredibly false with what their emotions are about issues.  And I think if you are lying about what your emotions are about something that is a completely different level of dishonesty that exists here.  And I'm going to give you some concrete examples on this.

You can see it play out over the last week.  I would hear people come to the House floor from the other side of the aisle that were saying people from my side of the aisle were the worst people for what we were doing with tax reform and we were going to do this to people and we were going to do that to people.  And I'd hear them say the same things about other issues.  You name it, that I'm terrible because this is what I want to do, that I don't care about women, that I don't care about this.  And then as soon as they get done giving a speech about something like that or they get done giving an interview about something like that, because we give interviews all day long. Every time we walk out of votes or out of conference meetings, there's a dozen reporters waiting there to ask us questions, media, video cameras, you name it.  And so they say things like this and I'd hear these interviews being given nonstop. 

And as soon as they finish giving their interview saying that I'm the worst person in the world, the camera would turn off and they turn around and they'd see me standing there, and they'd say, "Hey, Brian how's it going?  How's your wife, Brianna?  It was really great when you had your son, Magnum, up here a couple weeks ago I really enjoyed meeting him.  When are you going to bring one of your boys up here again?  Hey I've got this piece of legislation that I've been working on.  Would you consider signing on to this piece of legislation with me?" 

One of those two emotions is not real.  And the emotion that isn't real is that emotion that they're going out there before the camera displaying to everybody else across the country, and I think it is the biggest thing that leads to this divide in this country.  And I think it is the most irresponsible use of the voice as a Representative that we could possibly have because as Representatives we are given a very special access to media.  And if I want to go out there and message something, all I have to do is have my communications director reach out to a dozen reporters, and a dozen reporters will show up to my office waiting to hear what I have to say.  And if I say something that is false about how I really feel about things, that is emotionally false, then I'm going out there and I'm using my amplified voice to divide the country. 

And that's what I think when I look at it and people say, is it as bad as they say it is?  I think it is the most negative thing I can tell you about Washington, D.C.  The way people are going out there and negatively impacting the breath of this country with their amplified voice.  I wish I could tell you it was about to stop.  But I won't be party to it myself.

So, on to the second question: "What are you working on Brian?  What is it that you're doing?  How can we help you through this?"  I worked out a number of important things.  You heard them mention that I work on transportation and infrastructure and I do things with our water here and that's a great deal of the work that I do.  But another great deal of the work that I do is with our veterans.  I served a dozen years.  The people that made me want to serve in the first place were our service members that served in the Ardennes Forest or in the Pacific or in North Africa in some tank during World War II.  It's the people that served at the chosen reservoir.  The people that served in the jungles of Vietnam, Panama, Kosovo, Bosnia, Grenada, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria. Those are the people that made me want to serve in the first place.  They're my favorites.  I'm sorry for anybody that doesn't fall into that.  I hope we're all allowed favorites.

One of the biggest things we've been working on, which I'm incredibly proud of, is that we have had the opportunity to open up an office in our VA Hospital.  The reason that that's so important is because no other Congressman has been able to open up an office in a VA Hospital and that becomes incredibly important when you consider the great number of our veterans that have to find special transportation just to get to the hospital.  The largest stack of casework that I get comes from veterans saying, "I'm having this issue with the hospital, I'm having this issue with the VA.  Can you help us out?  Can you help me in this front?  Can you help in that front?"  Also one of the largest stacks that we get is people saying, "I had really positive issues with the VA and I want you to know that this is the positive thing that happened."  But those are the two largest stacks that we get are the positive and the negative with what's going on in the VA.  So we said it make sense to allow the representation to go out there and have offices in the VA and let the people that are being seen at the VA come directly to our office instead of having to drive down the road, wait 2 weeks, 3 weeks to get an appointment to come see somebody.

If you want to address all the issues in the VA or anyplace else you have to be present for the problems.  You have to witness them.  You have to see them with your own eyes.  So my hope in what we're working on is that we can inspire all 435 Members of Congress to go out there and open up an office space in their own VA so that their staff and that they themselves can go out there and see what's going on in the VA each and every day, because the one thing that I can tell you about the VA is this and about any other bureaucratic place that we can go to in the government system:  It's not good, but it is what it is.  When the Congressman shows up, the answers change immediately.  When the Congressman shows up into the VA, oh how's it going today, sir?  Oh this veteran is having an issue?  We're going to get on that.  We weren't aware that that issue was going on.  Let's get on that right away.  Can we help this person?  What can we help you with?  I mean it changes.  The response is immediate, and I think if we get 435 Members of Congress into their VA Hospitals across the country you are going to see some amazing fire for change within each of those buildings.  So that's what I'm working on.

And to the last question: "Are you having fun?"  The answer is yes and no.  The truth is serving in Congress is very much like serving in the military.  Not always in the ways that people think, but when I was serving in the military, it wasn't always fun to have 100 pounds on your back.  It wasn't fun to yoke your body with a 9-pound rifle, 30 pounds of body armor, grenades.  It wasn't fun to be targeted by snipers.  It's not fun to be blown up.  It wasn't fun to see friends of mine that would fly across enemy lines and be shot down.  For anybody that served during Vietnam or some other time, they know that it was not fun to know that there were people that were prisoners of war or to be a prisoner of war.  The work that we do in the service is not always fun.

But pleasure is not the intent of what we do.  The work that we did in the military is incredibly serious.  It's always dangerous.  It's very often deadly, and it's on behalf of every single American that you go out there and serve and on behalf of each one of your brothers and your sisters to your left and right in combat, and if you make the wrong decision that may mean the life of one of your brothers and sisters to your left and right in combat.  It's not always fun.  But when you get the job done, when you get the mission accomplished, when you do something great for your country, every single bit of that that was dangerous and exhausting and arduous, it all fades away.

And that's the same way that Congress is.  Pleasure is not the intent of what we do.  It affects people's lives at every single level.  The ability of their children to get a good education.  It affects people's livelihood.  How many dollars they can get in their pocket, as you see us having the conversation of in the recent weeks, it affects their taxes.  It affects their healthcare.  It affects every single aspect of somebody's life.  Us having fun is not the intent of it.  It is to make sure that we're going out there and we're having the back of every single American just like we have the back of all of those brothers and sisters of ours in combat. 

So when we get the job done, like we did yesterday, and having that vote in the House of Representatives on tax reform, everything that was targeting us, those people that were trying to snipe us in the media, it all fades away, and it makes it incredibly worth it, and it makes it just like the military where we have that purpose inside of us where we got something incredible done for the people that asked us to go out there and serve.  

So those are the three questions that I get.  I'll just close by telling you all this.  I think there's a great deal to be hopeful about out there.  When I look at Congress and ways to be hopeful, I look at it like this.  I think of it kind of like hourglasses with sand dripping down in them.  And there's an hourglass of hope that's sitting right here.  And that hourglass of hope, we haven't necessarily been able to flip that over yet.  And next to that hourglass of hope we have this other hourglass that has healthcare in it and it's dripping down.  And we have this hourglass that has tax reform and it's dripping down.  And we have another hourglass that has infrastructure.  And another hourglass that has social programs and welfare and entitlement programs in it.  And if we get to flip one of those hourglasses over, we get to flip over that hourglass of hope.  If we get to flip over infrastructure, we get to flip over that hourglass of hope again.  If we get to flip over that healthcare and get that done, we get to flip over that hourglass of hope again.  But we just flipped over that hourglass of tax reform in the House of Representatives.  And I think that means we got to flip over that hourglass of hope.  And so in that there's a great deal to be hopeful for.  I think it's a great impetus.  It's a wind in the sails of many people in the House of Representatives to say this is the way we need to work together.  This is the way we have to come together to be a team, to fight in a way that everybody asked us to go out there and fight, expected us to go out there and fight on November 8th of last year.  I think you're going to see people come together. 

I'm proud of it.  You're going to have a great speaker coming up to you, Devin Nunes.  I'm proud to serve with him.  He's going to give you some great words and he's a part of the team.  I love him.  It's great to have him down here in our neck of the woods.  In that, thank you for letting me speak to you all this morning.  I hope you have a great weekend.