A Breath of Fresh Air: New Representative Jackie Speier Denounces Iraq War Fiasco

San Francisco Chronicle

Speier blasts Iraq war in first House speech

Zachary Coile, Chronicle Washington Bureau

April 11, 2008, Washington, DC – Newly elected Democratic Representative Jackie Speier of Hillsborough was sworn into Congress Thursday morning and promptly gave a fiery speech criticizing the Iraq policies of President Bush and likely GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, leading some Republicans to boo and walk out of the House chamber.

Speier, who won a special election Tuesday to finish the term of the late Rep. Tom Lantos, has always been an outspoken lawmaker in her years as a San Mateo County supervisor, state assemblywoman and state senator. She served notice Thursday that she plans be just as aggressive as a member of the House.

“The process to bring the troops home must begin immediately,” Speier told a packed House presided over by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco. “The president wants to stay the course and a man who wants to replace him suggests we could be in Iraq for 100 years. But Madam Speaker, history will not judge us kindly if we sacrifice four generations of Americans because of the folly of one.”

While Democrats applauded, Republicans began a chorus of low boos. Some Republicans who had congratulated her just moments before, including Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista (San Diego County), walked out of the hall in protest.

Speier’s 13-year-old daughter, Stephanie, who was watching from the House gallery, asked, “Why are they booing my mom?”

After her speech, Speier said she had held more than 60 public meetings while campaigning for the 12th Congressional District seat and the most common question was, “When will we get out of Iraq?” She said didn’t expect the negative reaction from Republicans, but it didn’t bother her.

“That’s the combat that goes on here,” she said. “I’m not a newbie to this process.”

Wearing a bright red overcoat, the 57-year-old Democrat was met with hugs from colleagues, including some Republicans, when she walked into the House chamber Thursday morning. Her friend, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, gave her a kiss.

After being sworn in by Pelosi, Speier began her speech by praising her predecessor, Lantos, who died in February of esophageal cancer after serving in Congress for 27 years. Speier said she recently corrected a speaker in her district who said she was “replacing” Lantos.

“I had to laugh,” she said. “I was elected to succeed Congressman Lantos. No one will ever replace him.”

Her election to Congress was a homecoming for Speier, who served as legal counsel in the 1970s to former Peninsula Rep. Leo Ryan. Ryan was gunned down at the Guyana airport in 1978 by followers of cult leader the Rev. Jim Jones, and Speier was critically injured in the attack. Ryan’s daughter, Erin, attended the swearing-in and received a standing ovation.

Of her old boss, Speier said, “I learned from one of the best.”

Pelosi, who is close to Speier after years together in California politics, said, “We are all so proud of her. We all knew – one way or the other – that she was going to come back here.”

About 60 of Speier’s friends and families attended the celebration, wearing pins reading “Jackie 435” – a reference to her low-seniority ranking as Congress’ newest member. Her son, Jackson, a sophomore at Stanford University, husband Barry Dennis, an investment consultant, and her mother-in-law, Betty, also attended the swearing-in.

Speier was busy Thursday, filling out paperwork and moving into Lantos’ old office. She cast her first vote for a bill to improve the monitoring and health of beaches in the United States. She hasn’t found a place to live yet – she’s staying at a hotel for now – and plans to live with a friend for a while.

She was elected to serve out the remaining months of Lantos’ term this year, but to stay in Congress she must win a June 3 primary and the general election in November to earn a two-year term beginning in January.

She’s already aiming high by asking Pelosi for a powerful committee assignment on the Oversight and Government Committee, the House’s chief investigative panel, and the Energy and Commerce Committee, which she said would allow her to work on issues such as consumer protection, global warming and investigations into waste and fraud.

Speier also said she does not plan to request earmarks – which she said are often “individual member slush funds” – and hopes to work to reform the way lawmakers secure federal money for local needs.

“I don’t want to disadvantage my district,” she said. “(But) I really do want to make a statement about how this process has to change.”

As her first bill, Speier may propose a measure that would restore the ban on direct-to-consumer advertising by drug companies. Picking a fight with the pharmaceutical lobby would be a bold step for a freshman member, but she said it’s absurd that drug companies have spent more to advertise drugs like Vioxx than PepsiCo spends to market Pepsi.

“It’s money that could be better spent on research and development” of new drugs, Speier said.

As a member of Congress, Speier also becomes a superdelegate, who could play a key role in choosing the Democratic presidential nominee. Speier said she did not want to discuss presidential politics on her first day in office, but added that she has endorsed New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

E-mail Zachary Coile at zcoile@sfchronicle.com

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