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Remarks in Chicago Announcing the Nomination of Bill Richardson as Secretary of Commerce

December 03, 2008

Good morning, everybody.

Last week Vice President-Elect Biden and I began the process of announcing our economic team. Today we are pleased to name another key member of this team: our nominee for secretary of Commerce, my great friend Governor Bill Richardson.

With each passing day, the work our team has begun, developing plans to revive our economy, becomes more urgent. Earlier this week, we learned that the U.S. economy has been in recession since December of 2007 and that our manufacturing output is at a 26-year low — two stark reminders of the magnitude of the challenges we face.

But while I know rebuilding our economy won't be easy and it won't be — happen overnight, I also know this: that right now, somewhere in America, a small business is at work with the next big idea; a scientist is on the cusp of the next big breakthrough discovery; an entrepreneur is sketching plans for the start-up that will revolutionize an industry.

Right now, across America, the finest products in the world are rolling off our assembly lines, and the proudest, most determined, most productive workers in the world are on the job, some already in their second shift of the day, many putting in longer hours than ever before.

After nearly two years of traveling across this country, meeting with workers, visiting businesses large and small, I am more confident than ever that we have everything we need to renew our economy; we've got the ingenuity, the technology, the skill and commitment; we just need to put it to work. It's time to not just address the immediate economic threats, but to start laying the groundwork for long-term prosperity, to help American businesses grow and thrive at home, and expand our efforts to promote American enterprise around the world.

This work is the core mission of the secretary of Commerce. And with his breadth and depth of experience in public life, Governor Richardson is uniquely suited for this role as a leading economic diplomat for America.

During his time in state government and Congress, and in two tours of duty in the Cabinet, Bill has seen from just about every angle what makes our economy work and what keeps it from working better.

As governor of New Mexico, Bill showed how government can act as a partner to support our businesses, helping to create 80,000 new jobs. And under his leadership, New Mexico saw the lowest unemployment rate in decades.

As a former secretary of Energy, Bill understands the steps we must take to build a new clean-energy industry and create the green jobs of the 21st century — jobs that pay well and won't be outsourced, jobs that will help us end our dependence on foreign oil.

He understands that the success of today's business, in Detroit or Columbus, often depends on whether it can sell products in places like Santiago or Shanghai. And he knows that America's reputation in the world is critical, not just to our security but to our prosperity — (coughs) — excuse me — that when the citizens of the world respect America's leadership, they are more likely to buy America's products.

To this crucial work of restoring America's international standing, Bill will bring a leadership style all his own. Bill has never been content to just learn from briefing books, never satisfied with only the official version of the story.

During his time in Congress, he held more than 2,500 town-hall meetings so he could hear directly from constituents. He was a regular in the U.N. cafeteria, mixing it up with U.N. employees over lunch. And during his 2002 campaign for record — for governor, he actually broke a world record by shaking nearly 14,000 hands in just eight hours. I've got to check that statistic.

All of this reflects a determination to reach out and understand where people are coming from, what they hope for, and what he can do to help. This approach, I believe, has been the key to Bill's success as a negotiator and will be key to his work on the critical functions of the Commerce Department, from administering our census and monitoring our climate to protecting our intellectual property and restoring our economic diplomacy.

In the end, Bill Richardson is a leader who shares my values. And he must — and he will be — measure his progress the same way I do. Are we creating good jobs instead of losing them? Are incomes growing instead of shrinking?

I know Bill will be an unyielding advocate for American business and American jobs, at home and around the world. And I look forward to working with him in the years ahead.

With that, I'd like Bill to say a quick word.

GOV. RICHARDSON: Mr. President-elect, this is a great honor.

There are some who speak of a team of rivals. But I've never seen it that way. Past competitors, yes, but rivals implies something harder-edged and less forgiving. And in the worlds of diplomacy and commerce, you open markets and minds not with rivalry but instead with partnership and innovation and hard work. There's a vital role for the Department of Commerce in our economic recovery.

The official role of the department is job creation, economic growth, sustainable development and improving living standards, the same goals of your economic plan, Mr. President-elect. The unique strengths of the department and its talented public servants make it the natural agency to serve as the programmatic nerve center in America's struggle to rejuvenate our economy.

The catchphrases of your economic plan — investment, public- private partnerships, green jobs, technology, broadband, climate change and research — that is the Department of Commerce.

Boosting commerce between states and nations is not just a path to solvency and growth; it's the only path.

With your leadership, Mr. President-elect, America will once again be a forefront of innovation, especially in the new frontier of energy independence and clean-energy jobs. We will create technologies the world is seeking while creating millions of new jobs that can never be outsourced. We will revitalize our nation's historic strength in manufacturing while restoring our position of respect in the world.

And finally, let me say how proud I've been to serve as governor of the state that I love. New Mexico, I will never forget you, and I will forever be grateful. And to Barbara, my wife, and the rest of my family, thank you.

"Al resto de la comunidad Latina, gracias por su apoyo y su confianza. Gracias por sus votos a nuestro candidato y ahora presidente-electo. Como el nos dijo, si se puede. Y nuestro voto ha sido nuestra voz. Esta eleccion ha demostrado nuestra fuerza y nuestro unidad. Tenemos que seguir luchando por nuestros derechos al mismo tiempo que perseguimos el sueno Americano para todos. A los millones de habitantes de America Latina y el Caribe, hay que fortalecer nuestros nexos y recordar la importancia de una — (inaudible) — unido."

And it will be a great honor to serve once again a president who recognizes that America's diverse heritage is its greatest strength. Thank you.

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: All right. Let's see who we got here. The problem is — do we have — do we have — is it somewhere around here? Ah, here we go. (Laughter.) It was here. It was just hiding. Andy, I was not going to call on you again. (Laughter.)

All right. Let's start with Julianna Goldman of Bloomberg.

Q: Thank you --

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Who was one of the originals, by the way. She was there every step of the way during this campaign.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President-elect.

GM and Chrysler say that they will be out of cash by the end of the month. One possible short-term fix is to modify the existing $25 billion federal loan program to retool plants. Would you support that? And will you also ask Speaker Pelosi to support using these funds if necessary to avoid a GM bankruptcy?

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Well, there are going to be hearings over the next two days, and I want to wait and see specifically what's said during those hearings. I think Congress did the right thing. When the Big Three automakers came before them a couple of weeks ago, they were not offering a clear plan for viability over the long term.

And I think Congress was right to say that the taxpayers expect and deserve better than that before they are stepping up to the plate for any kind of bailout.

It appears, based on reports that we've seen, that this time out, the executives from these automakers are putting forward a more serious set of plans. I don't want to comment on them before I've actually heard and seen what they're putting forward, but I'm glad that they recognize the expectations of Congress — certainly, my expectations — that we should maintain a viable auto industry, but we should also make sure that any government assistance that's provided is designed for a — is based on realistic assessments of what the auto market is going to be and a realistic plan for how we're going to make these companies viable over the long term.

With respect to TARP versus 136 money, at this point, I'm more interested in seeing whether or not there's a sound plan there. And then I'll be in discussions and listening about where the best sources of money are. But I think it's premature to get into that issue. All right. Vincente?

Q: Thank you, Mr. President-elect. What do you think about the articles like the one today in the New York Times that say or mention that the announcement of Bill Richardson for secretary of Commerce are the — somehow the consolation prize for Latinos and Hispanic politicians and groups that are calling Latinos to be included in your cabinet, since many were expecting or hoping that Bill Richardson was going to be secretary of State?

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Well, Commerce secretary is a pretty good job, you know. It's a member of my key economic team that is going to be dealing with the most significant issue that America faces right now — and that is, how do we put people back to work and rejuvenate the economy? Bill Richardson has been selected because he is the best person for that job and is going to be outstanding in helping me strategize on how do we rebuild America; how do we get businesses moving; how do we export effectively; how do we open up new markets for American products and services?

His mixture of diplomatic experience, hands-on experience as a governor, experience in the Cabinet, experience in Congress means that he is going to be a key strategist on all the issues that we work on. And so the — so I think the notion that somehow the Commerce secretary is not going to be central to everything we do is fundamentally mistaken.

With respect to Latino Cabinet members, I've appointed about half of my Cabinet so far.

And I think that when people look back and see the entire slate, what they will say is, not only in terms of my Cabinet but in terms of, but in terms of my White House staff, I think, people are going to say, this is one of the most diverse Cabinets and White House staffs of all time. But more importantly they're going to say, these are all people of outstanding qualifications and excellence.

So you know, one of the strong beliefs that I've always held and has been proven to be correct, throughout my career, is that there's no contradiction between diversity and excellence. I'm looking for the best people, first and foremost, to serve the American people. It just so happens that Bill Richardson is one of those people.

Wendell. Where? There you are. How are you?

Q: Mr. President-elect, thank you very much.


Q: I'm just fine, sir. Thank you for calling on me.

Secretary Paulson has indicated that the initial tranche, initial half of the $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program that he is able to spend, without asking Congress, is almost gone, down to about $15 billion. I wonder if you are concerned that he may be well into the second half of that before you are sworn in, sir.

And if I also may ask the governor, what happened to the beard, sir? (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: I'm going to answer this question about the beard. I think it was a mistake for him to get it — get rid of it. I thought that whole western, rugged look was really working for him. (Laughter.)

For some reason, maybe because it was scratchy when he kissed his wife, he was forced to get rid of it. But we're deeply disappointed with the loss of the beard. (Laughter.)

With respect to TARP, until Secretary Paulson indicates publicly that he's drawing down the second tranche, the second half of the TARP money, it would be speculation on my part to suggest that that money is going to be used up.

Understand that in order for that second half to be released, it is necessary to notify Congress. And Congress has the ability to block it. I will say that my team has been reviewing very carefully how the TARP program has proceeded.

One of my central principles, when I, when I first examined the TARP proposal, was to insist that there was going to be strong oversight. The GAO report has now come out.

We're seeing some areas where we can be doing better, in making sure that this money is not going to CEO compensation, that it's protecting taxpayers, and that the taxpayers are going to get their money back; that it's effective in shoring up our financial markets.

And so what I can assure you is that my team is very active in reviewing what's already been done, to ensure that when we hit the ground running on January 20th, that any taxpayer money is going to be properly spent.

One last component of that that I think has to be emphasized, and I've said this before, we've got to start helping homeowners in a serious way prevent foreclosures. The deteriorating assets in the financial markets are rooted in the deterioration of people being able to pay their mortgages and stay in their homes. And if we help Main Street, ultimately we're going to help Wall Street. So that's an area that I'm particularly interested in. All right? Okay. Thanks, guys.

Barack Obama, Remarks in Chicago Announcing the Nomination of Bill Richardson as Secretary of Commerce Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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