Thank you so much. It's wonderful to be back at the Reagan library.
Thank you, Roger, Steven – thank you, thanks for everything you all do. It is really…it's a wonderful, wonderful place. I’ve been here a number of time over the years, at the Defense Forum. I’ve also been here twice with my dad, two times when I helped him write books and we came and did a father-daughter discussion – I think here on this stage, actually.
I’m going to tell a story on Roger, though. We were just walking in down the hallway and there are wonderful pictures on the wall that you've all seen of all the speakers, and Roger said to me, “Oh look, over here,” and I looked and it was a great picture of my dad on this stage that I’d been cut out of [laughter]. [Laughing] It’s okay – he deserves the spotlight.
But it's really special to be here and always wonderful to be here and to be able to honor President Reagan, and tonight in particular I want to talk about freedom and I want to talk about what freedom means and the cost of our freedom.
I’ve had the opportunity over the course of my career to spend time working in places that are not characterized by democracy, that are not characterized by free government. And I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with people who had to sacrifice an incredible amount for their vote.
I spent time as an election observer in the early 90’s in northern Kenya, and one of the places that we went to observe elections then was a schoolhouse. And we went to the schoolhouse – it was an international observation team – and the people had lined up to vote and then government troops, soldiers, came and chased them away.
And our team, which was made up of Democrats and Republicans from the United States, we sort of said to ourselves, well there will not be anything here for us to observe; there won't be anything here for us to monitor because the people have been chased away.
And so we were deciding what to do, and about an hour later they started coming back. And they were walking through the hot sun, understanding that soldiers were there trying to prevent them from voting but they were so dedicated and so committed to it that they came back. And I’ve never forgot that example.
I also had the opportunity to work in Russia. And in 1992 I went to Nizhny Novgorod, which was Gorky during the Soviet Union, and there was a young mayor in Nizhny Novgorod and he wanted his town, his country, to be free. And he decided that he was going to privatize the businesses in his town and we were helping him.
And I’ll never forget sitting across the table from him, listening to him talk about freedom and listening to him talk about what it meant to be able to lead his people to achieve their freedom.
This man's name was Boris Nemtsov. And he was subsequently murdered by thugs at the instruction of Vladimir Putin, murdered because he was a threat to Putin because he stood for freedom.
I worked in Warsaw in 1990, and I will never forget there was a young woman who, I was working in the embassy, she was a young Polish woman who was also working in our embassy there, and I remember talking to her. I remember she said to me, “I’m so afraid that people will forget. I’m so afraid that people will forget what it was like to live under Soviet domination.”
And at the time I remember thinking nobody could forget that. How could you forget? But people do, and they forget the price of freedom.
I also had the opportunity to talk with Natan Sharansky, who was in the Soviet gulag for a number of years. A nd I remember Natan saying to me a story that he's told many people, which is that when he was in the gulag he and his fellow prisoners passed messages to each other about Ronald Reagan and about the message of Ronald Reagan and Ronald Reagan telling them that the United States stood with them, that we stood with those prisoners, that we stood for people who were prisoners of conscience who were fighting for their freedom, and how much it meant to them.
A few years ago I met a young man – he’s my age so I think he's a young man [laughter] – I met a man who escaped from Cuba when he was 14. And he got on a boat by himself, came to the United States. And I asked him, I said, “How did you know? You're 14 years old.” This was before the internet. Said, “How did you know that you should risk everything to come to America? What gave you that confidence?”
And without missing a beat he said, “The speeches of Ronald Reagan.”
And I asked him how he had heard the speeches of Ronald Reagan, and he said that he and his family had a radio and at night they would listen to the radio with a blanket over their heads so the neighbors couldn't hear, but they were able to get Radio Martí and they heard Ronald Reagan speaking of freedom.
I had an amazing experience here at the Reagan Library a few years ago. I was meeting with the defense minister from one of the Baltic countries, and we were talking and I told him that story, and he looked at me and he said, “I had the same thing happen to me. That's my life.”
And I said, “What do you mean?”
And he said, “When I was a young boy growing up behind the Iron Curtain, we could watch Finnish television at night and we could hear Ronald Reagan.” And he said his parents told him that Ronald Reagan was a great man and America is a great country.
I’ve had the chance to see the power of faith and freedom. When I was in Kenya in the mid 80’s. Pope John Paul II visited, and I went and listened to him talk about his faith and learned later, obviously, when I was working in Poland about the differences that he'd made there.
But one of the most moving experiences that I’ve had was visiting with Pope John Paul II and my father in about 2004. And he grabbed my dad's hand and he looked into his eyes and he said, “God bless the United States of America.”
And I know that God has blessed us, God has blessed America, but our freedom will only survive if we protect it, if we take our duty and our obligation seriously.
Today we're facing threats to our freedom abroad, around the world, and here at home. And the list of these threats is not insubstantial. From Russia to China to Iran to North Korea, American adversaries are certainly on the march.
We had some good news within just the last 48 hours or so, that Sweden and Finland will become members of NATO. [applause]
And I think it's an important lesson to Vladimir Putin that that is the opposite of what he had expected. If he had hoped that his invasion would lead to weakening NATO, he's managed to expand NATO, and I think that's an important message.
Here at home, we have significant challenges as well. The Biden administration economic policies have contributed to the worst inflation in 40 years. We're watching the expansion of government regulation that kills jobs and economic growth. And the situation at our southern border is unsustainable – it’s dangerous and it is reckless and we must get control of our southern border.
I’m a conservative Republican, and I believe deeply in the policies of limited government, of low taxes, of a strong national defense. I believe that the family is the center of our community and of our lives, and I believe those are the right policies for our nation.
But I also know that at this moment we are confronting a domestic threat that we have never faced before, and that is a former president who is attempting to unravel the foundations of our constitutional republic. And he is aided by Republican leaders and elected officials who’ve made themselves willing hostages to this dangerous and irrational man.
Now some in my party are embracing former president Trump. And even after all we've seen, they're enabling his lies. Many others are urging that we not confront Donald Trump, that we look away.
And that is certainly the easier path.
One need only look at the threats that are facing the witnesses who've come before the January 6th committee to understand the nature and the magnitude of that threat.
But to argue that the threat posed by Donald Trump can be ignored is to cast aside the responsibility that every citizen, every one of us, bears to perpetuate the republic. We must not do that and we cannot do that.
Ronald Reagan said, “It's up to us, in our time, to choose and choose wisely between the hard but necessary task of preserving peace and freedom and the temptation to ignore our duty and blindly hope for the best while the enemies of freedom grow stronger day by day.”
No party and no people and no nation can defend and perpetuate a constitutional Republic if they accept a leader who's gone to war with the rule of law, with the democratic process or with the peaceful transition of power – with the Constitution itself.
As the full picture is coming into view with the January 6th Committee, it has become clear that the efforts Donald Trump oversaw and engaged in were even more chilling and more threatening than we could have imagined.
As we have shown, Donald Trump attempted to overturn the presidential election. He attempted to stay in office and to prevent the peaceful transfer of presidential power.
He summoned a mob to Washington. He knew they were armed on January 6. He knew they were angry. And he directed the violent mob to march on the Capitol in order to delay or prevent completely the counting of electoral votes. He attempted to go there with them.
And when the violence was underway he refused to take action to tell the rioters to leave. Instead, he incited further violence by tweeting that the Vice President Mike Pence was a coward. He said, quote, “Mike deserves it.” And he didn't want to do anything in response to the “Hang Mike Pence” chants.
It's undeniable. It's also painful for Republicans to accept. And I think we all have to recognize and understand what it means to say those words and what it means that those things happened.
But it the reality that we face today as Republicans, as we think about the choice in front of us – we have to choose. Because Republicans cannot both be loyal to Donald Trump and loyal to the Constitution.
At this moment [applause]….
And as we think about this choice and as I think about how I come to this choice, the first thing that I think about is that I come to this choice as a mother, committed to ensuring that my children and their children can continue to live in an America where the peaceful transfer of power is guaranteed.
We must ensure that we live in a nation that is governed by law and not by men. [applause]
And I come to this choice as an American, as a citizen of the greatest nation God has ever created on the face of this earth.
And I come to this choice as a person of faith, as someone who believes deeply that our rights come from God, not from the government, and always mindful that we must pray as though everything depends upon God because it does, and we must work as though everything depends upon us, because it does. [applause]
America is exceptional. We're the exceptional nation. We're a good and a great nation.
And our history teaches us that ordinary Americans in every generation have done extraordinary things. They have done heroic things. Our men and women in uniform have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our freedom.
And that task is now ours.
In his inaugural address, President Kennedy said this. He said, “In the long history of the world, there have only been a few generations that have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.”
And today that responsibility is ours, and what a magnificent responsibility that is, and what a blessing it is that that is our duty and our obligation.
But my fellow Americans, we stand at the edge of an abyss, and we must pull back. We must pull back.
One of my Democratic colleagues said to me recently that he looked forward to the day when he and I could disagree again [laughter and applause], and believe me I share that sentiment.
Because when we can disagree again about substance and policy, that will mean that our politics have righted themselves. That will mean that we have made the decision that we are going to reject anti-democratic forces, that we are going to reject toxicity, that we are going to reject some of the worst kinds of racism and bigotry and anti-Semitism that characterize far too much of our politics today.
History has taught us that what begins as words ends as far worse and we must reject those things. [applause]
So while I know that we will come to a day when we can begin again to disagree on substance and policy, I think it's important for us to take this moment to agree what that future should look like.
I think it should be a future where our political leaders are serious, where our political leaders are worthy of our support, where they're prepared, where they're substantive, where they defend principle, where they abide by their oaths of office. [applause]
When we go into the voting booth and we cast our votes as citizens, we should do so with a commitment to electing people who are as serious as the challenges we face as a nation.
We demand excellence. [pauses as a few audience members clap and then stop] You could…that's a good thing to clap for, that’s…[applause]
We demand excellence in so many areas of our lives. We should demand excellence from our elected officials as well. [applause]
When I was first elected to Congress, I made a real effort. I took the opportunity each time we had a vote to go onto the floor and to find a member I didn't know on either side of the aisle and just to go sit next to that person and talk to them and learn about their life and learn about why they had come to Congress.
And I will tell you without exception, people – even people I have fundamental disagreements with about every issue – everybody that I sat next to and talked to in that way had an amazing story and they were in Congress for the right reasons. We might have disagreed, but they were there because they love their country and because they want to serve their constituents.
And that's a valuable thing for us all to remember.
Now, I am not saying that we should minimize our policy differences. They're big and they're real.
I believe, for example, that the most important obligation of the federal government is to ensure the defense of our nation. [applause] And I believe that America must always maintain military forces that are second to none. [applause] I believe we must be clear-eyed about the threats we face and we must dedicate the resources necessary to ensure deterrence. Our enemies must never think that they can prevail if they attack.
I serve on the Armed Services Committee. And I have differences, as I’ve said, with most of the Democratic members of that committee.
But we also share much in common. Among my most competent, honorable and serious colleagues are a group of women veterans that I serve with on that committee. Women like Mikie Sherrill from New Jersey, Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, Elaine Luria of Virginia, former DoD official Elissa Slotkin from Michigan.
We debate issues. We have big disagreements. We don't come out on the same side most of the time. But we respect each other. And I know that those women, those veterans, love this country and they are on that committee and they're in Congress because they want to serve the nation and do the right thing.
And for 61 years, that tradition of unifying across party lines has meant that the Armed Services Committee in the House of Representatives every year produces the National Defense Authorization Act in a bipartisan fashion, usually in a unanimous fashion, providing resources for the defense of the nation.
And that is a model that we should follow for the rest of Congress and for the rest of this country. We need to debate and defend our beliefs, but we also have to work to build a future where we remember that despite our differences we are all Americans. [applause]
We need to build a future where we acknowledge that our political battles and our disagreements will be intense, but where we do our best not to descend into vitriolic partisan attack.
Now, I say this as someone who is admittedly as guilty as anyone else. I have certainly in my career engaged in my share of ferocious partisan attacks. I’ve been on the receiving end of some ferocious partisan attacks, too.
But this time, this moment in our history, demands more. We cannot let ourselves be torn apart. That is what our enemies hope for and that is what our enemies are working for.
Our founders provided that every elected official would swear an oath, and it is not an oath to a party. It's not an oath to an individual. It is a solemn oath that we swear before God to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. [applause]
And the founders established this oath, because they knew the danger of faction. They knew that the survival of this great American experiment, the survival of our republic, depends upon public servants of goodwill doing their duty to the Constitution, putting loyalty to the nation and its founding ideals above self-interest.
This is no small thing. In fact, it is everything.
I think often of the inscription above the fireplace in the state dining room in the White House. It is part of a prayer. It's from a letter that John Adams wrote to Dolly, and it said “May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”
And we must always remember that. Our presidents are entrusted with incredible power.
And actually John Adams’ wife was named Abigail, not Dolly, so he wrote it to Abigail, just clarifying. [laughter]
But we must not elect people who are more loyal to themselves or to power than they are to our Constitution. [cheers and applause]
Despite all of the challenges we're facing, there is so much that gives me hope for this great nation.
I see hope and I see the future in the eyes of my five children.
A wise woman once told me when my children were babies. She told me this lesson of motherhood. She said when your children are young, they hang around your knees and when they grow up they hang around your heart. And that is so true. As all mothers know, every time we have to leave our kids, we worry and we feel some guilt.
For Mother's Day this year – and I know he's not going to be happy I told you all this but just keep it between us – but for Mother's Day this year my youngest son gave me the most wonderful gift. He gave me a note on which he had written partly, “Mom, every time you leave I know you're going to work for America.” It brought me to tears. My older kids said, “Mom, he just wants you out of the house.” [laughter] I said no, he's not.
Anyway – but it's an important concept, and it is an important concept thinking about the young people in this country and the hope that they bring.
And I will tell you that over the last 18 months or so since January 6, I have been incredibly moved by the young people that I have met, young people who approach me everywhere – at home in Wyoming, in Washington, D.C., and airports all over the country.
And I will tell you it is especially the young women, young women who seem instinctively to understand the peril of this moment for our democracy. And young women who know that it will be up to them to save it.
And I have been incredibly moved by the young women that I have met and that have come forward to testify in the January 6th Committee. [applause]
Some of these are young women who worked on the Trump campaign. Some worked on in the Trump White House. Some who worked in offices on Capitol Hill. All who knew immediately that what happened that day must never happen again.
America had the chance to meet one of these young women yesterday, Miss Cassidy Hutchinson. [applause] Her superiors – men many years older, a number of them are hiding behind executive privilege, anonymity and intimidation. But her bravery and her patriotism yesterday were awesome to behold. [applause]
Little girls all across this great nation are seeing what it really means to love this country and what it really means to be a patriot.
And I want to speak to every young girl watching tonight. The power is yours, and so is the responsibility. In our great nation, one individual can make all the difference and each individual must try. There are no bystanders in a constitutional republic.
And let me also say this to the little girls and to the young women who are watching tonight: these days, for the most, part men are running the world and it is really not going that well. [laughter and applause]
So let us all, as we leave here tonight, let us resolve that we will embrace the grace and the compassion and the love of country that unites us. Let us resolve that we will fight to do what is right and that we will be able to look back on these days and to say, in our time of testing we did our duty and we stood for truth.
Ultimately, that is what our duty as Americans requires of us – that we love our country more, that we love her so much that we will stand above politics to defend her, and that we will do everything in our power to protect our Constitution and our freedom paid for by the blood of so many.
We must love our country so much that we will never yield in her defense.
Thank you so much. God bless you. God bless America. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Liz Cheney. "Liz Cheney's "A Time For Choosing" Speech at Reagan Library - June 29, 2022." YouTube video, 28:47. June 30, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_J74NBlvmuc.