Offered as bonus material for the "We the People" collection, this full interview features Rep. Virginia Foxx, (R) North Carolina. The "We the People" videos are produced in collaboration with the U.S. Capitol Historical Society.
Bonus Material -- Rep. Virginia Foxx (Full Interview)
Rep. VIRGINIA FOXX (R-NC): I am Virginia Foxx. And my title is representative, North Carolina's 5th District.
Well, I am in the legislative branch, which in the Constitution is described in Article I. And I always tell school students when I talk to them, and other people too, that it isn't accidental the way the Constitution was written.
The Founders wanted the legislative branch to be the most important branch in the government. We had just come off of a revolution when the Constitution was written. They didn't want a king. So they made the executive branch rather weak. We have a judicial branch that in the pocket copy of the Constitution, there's only a half a page written about the judicial branch. But the legislative branch was to be the most important, most powerful branch because it's the branch that is directly elected by the people. And in the House, we're elected every two years. So we're called the People's House.
Well, the king was issuing lots of edicts and being very dictatorial. And so ours was truly a revolution. Because for the first time in the history of the world the people decided they should be in control. Hence the words "we the people."
My boss-- my bosses are the people who elect me. Many people don't realize that the House of Representatives is the only elected body in the United States to which you cannot be appointed. And it says it very clearly in the Constitution. We are elected. And if there is a vacancy, then the electors will elect again to fill that vacancy. So that's another reason why it's called the People's House. We're elected every two years. So we're the most responsive to the people. And we are elected. We cannot be appointed. You actually can be appointed president of the United States. And we've had one appointed president of the United States. When a vice president resigned-- Gerald Ford was nominated to be the vice president. And then he became president. So you actually can be appointed to be president, but you cannot be appointed to the House of Representatives.
We have 435 representatives.
We have six delegates from territories. So there are in committee 41 people can vote. On the floor, only-- 435 people can vote, 441 in committee. In the Senate, there are 100 senators. The way the Constitution was written, and I think it was a brilliant move on the part of the Founders, is they didn't want the large states to be able to dominate the small states. So the Senate is composed of two senators per state. So that gives even the small states the same representation in the Senate. The House though has proportional representation based on the size of the state. So California has the most representatives because it has the most population. And then we have seven states that have only one representative.
Many representatives go home on weekends. I go home every weekend, and I visit in my district. I do from two to eight events every weekend so that I'm out with the people. I also read my mail, and I stay in very close touch with the people I represent. I don't do polls, but I know what people are thinking.
What I tell people, if they want to have influence on their representatives and their senators, is meet with them when they're home in the district if at all possible. You'll generally get a longer meeting time because things are so busy in Washington. Write them letters. Send emails. I don't recommend telephone calls. And the reason is because somebody has to interpret what you said. So the best is to do it by personal meeting or by letter that will express exactly what the person thinks. I don't recommend petitions either because petitions are just too easy to get people to sign and you never know if it really represents the thinking of the person. The best way is a personal letter.
Too many people nowadays don't really understand that our Constitution is a check on the government. It is not a check on the people. It is a check on the government. I'd like to read a quote from Ronald Reagan. You know, I try very hard to explain how our government works. Again, "we the people" are extremely important words. And, but I found a quote recently from Ronald Reagan that says it so well. "Ours was the first revolution in the history of mankind that truly reversed the course of government. And with three little words, 'we the people,' we the people tell the government what to do. It doesn't tell us. We the people are the driver. The government is the car. And we decide where it should go and by what route and how fast. Almost all the world's constitutions are documents in which governments tell the people what their privileges are. Our Constitution is a document which we the people tell the government what it is allowed to do. We the people are free."
Well, the Declaration of Independence laid the groundwork for the revolution and laid the groundwork for our Constitution and the rest of the way of our government has functioned. So, again, the Declaration of Independence was a very revolutionary document. "We hold these truths to be self-evident." And they did hold them to be self-evident. You know, it did make a difference I think that the United States was across the pond, as we say, from England and we had always been an independent people. And when the king of England put his thumb on the people and tried to control what they were doing, we didn't take kindly to that. Now, I do think that it is difficult for modern-day Americans to appreciate what a revolution it was at the time. But it was. So we declared our freedom from England. And those 56 men who put their names on that document were risking their lives. And they knew it. They said they were risking their honor, but they also knew they were risking their lives. I love the story of John Hancock. You know, the term, "Put your John Hancock here," has taken on a meaning of, "Put your signature here." Well, King George III had very, very poor eyesight. And so John Hancock said, "I want to make sure he can read my name." It was the supreme act of defiance. John Hancock did not want to hide from what he was doing. So he wrote his name in very large letters. And he said, "I want the king to be able to read it."
We absolutely still have the right to stand up and say no to the government. And we see examples of that every day. You know, in the First Amendment we have the right to peaceably assemble, and people do that every day. They stand up and say to the government, they'll go to school board meetings. They'll come to the Congress. And they'll say, "We don't like what you're doing. We're assembling here. We're here to tell you that."
Oh, I love my job. And doing something like this really makes me love my job. Because it's important that we educate others about what our government is about and why we should be engaged. We all can make a difference. Every individual. Whether you get engaged directly in working with the government or for the government or being in elected office, being an informed citizen is the most important thing in our country. Thomas Jefferson said it. "If we expect to maintain our country as it is without an informed citizenry, we are fooling ourselves." So we need to educate people from early in life not only that they have rights and that's extraordinarily important but they have responsibilities. Rights bring with them responsibilities. And the responsibilities are to be informed. I tell students, "I don't care how you register to vote, but register to vote to fit your philosophy. Understand what you believe in. And then embrace that philosophy wholeheartedly and become an engaged citizen." A lot of the letters I write I have to correct people in their assumptions of things. And these are adults writing me most of the time, although I get letters from students. So it's so important that we're informed. And that's a critical aspect of our country that is sometimes lacking in this day and time. With all the opportunities we have to be informed, we are not always informed.
From the Revolutionary War to the present, we've had men and women sacrifice for the rights that we have. And we should not take that in a cavalier fashion. We should be very respectful of the people who are willing to serve in the military because what they're doing is to protect this document here. And, again, every citizen can in many ways protect the document and protect our laws by being engaged. But the people who do it and actually put their lives on the line are those people who serve in the military. And I'm extremely grateful. I wear a pin every day that says, "I support veterans." I support obviously our active duty people, too.
Because again, it deals with the fundamental rights of human beings. The, again, the Declaration of Independence mentions life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That we have a right to those things. And the Constitution outlines, again, what our government should and should not do. Protecting our privacy, for example, written into the Constitution. They were-- they were worried about search and seizure of their physical facilities. We worry about search and seizure of our documents online. So it is extraordinarily relevant, even though they could not foresee the technological changes that would occur. And I think the fact that it's only been modified 28 t-- 27 times, excuse me-- 27 times, tells us that it's extraordinarily relevant to this age.
We know that students' rights are upheld frequently by the courts in terms of the students having the right to free speech, having the right to wear certain phrases on their clothes. If we did not have our Constitution, then those rights of students might not be upheld.
Well, the biggest point for me would be that we live in the greatest country in the world. And the reason we are the greatest country in the world is because we are governed by the rule of law. We don't treat people in an arbitrary fashion. That means everybody is covered by this document. And those rights are affirmed, as I said, constantly by the courts. That's part of the function of the court, is to affirm the rights of the people. And so, I want students though, again, to be educated, be informed, and exercise the rights that they have in a responsible way. Now, we don't have the right to cry "fire" in a crowded theater. That's a very much-used metaphor. That's because, again, the rights carry with them responsibilities.