President Ford addresses a Joint Session of Congress, Aug. 12, 1974 – Politico
Three days after being sworn as the nation’s 38th president, Gerald Ford on this day in 1974 addressed a joint session of Congress.
In speaking to the lawmakers from the rostrum of the House chamber, Ford was on familiar ground: He had served 13 terms in Congress, from 1965 to 1973, before being chosen by President Richard Nixon to succeed Spiro Agnew, his disgraced vice president, only to find himself disgraced after being charged with having masterminded the Watergate cover-up and pressured to resign from office.
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Ford, a former Republican House minority leader from Michigan, used his speech to reassure Americans that the executive branch of government was on solid footing and to refocus the nation’s attention on its unfinished public business.
“I am not here to make an inaugural address,” Ford began. “The nation needs action, not words. Nor will this be a formal report of the state of the union. God willing, I will have at least three more chances to do that.”
“My fellow Americans, we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “My former colleagues, you and I have a lot of work to do. Let’s get on with it.” Addressing members of Congress directly, the president continued, “I do not want a honeymoon with you. I want a good marriage.
“I want progress, and I want problem solving which requires my best efforts and also your best efforts,” Ford continued. “I have no need to learn how Congress speaks for the people. As president, I intend to listen. But I also intend to listen to the people themselves—all the people—as I promised last Friday [when Ford was inaugurated.] I want to be sure that we are all tuned in to the real voice of America.”
“Minutes after I took the presidential oath,” Ford recalled, “the joint leadership of Congress told me at the White House they would go more than halfway to meet me. This was confirmed in your unanimous concurrent resolution of cooperation, for which I am deeply grateful. If, for my part, I go more than halfway to meet the Congress, maybe we can find a much larger area of national agreement.
“I bring no legislative shopping list here this evening. I will deal with specifics in future messages and talks with you … ”
Nevertheless, during his 895 days in the White House, Ford vetoed 66 bills. The Democrat-controlled Congress overrode 12 of his vetoes, the greatest percentage of overrides since President Andrew Johnson succeeded the assassinated Abraham Lincoln in 1865.
In his memoirs, Ford, alluded to the inherent tension between the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, “When I was in the Congress myself,” Ford wrote, “I thought it fulfilled its constitutional obligations in a very responsible way, but after I became president, my perspective changed.”