George W. Bush photo

Remarks at the "Congress of Tomorrow" Republican Retreat Luncheon in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia

February 01, 2002

President Bush. Thank you all. Please be seated. Thank you. It is rare that a fellow can give two 50-minute addresses in the same week. [Laughter] I knew you'd be thrilled. [Laughter]

J.C., thanks for those kind words, and thanks for your leadership. One of us didn't get the dress code right. [Laughter]

Audience member. You didn't get the memo.

President Bush. Yes, I didn't get the memo. [Laughter]

At any rate, I'm delighted to be here; I am. First, I want to say something about the leaders of the two bodies represented here. Your Speaker and the majority leader—I call him majority leader—are two really good men to work with. I have loved my experience working with Denny and Trent last year. I really enjoy the candid discussions. But most importantly, what I really appreciate is the desire to work together to do what's right for the country. We're lucky to have two such strong and good men leading the country. And so it's an honor to be with the Speaker and Senator Trent Lott. And I look forward to a fabulous year working with the two men in 2002.

I think this is going to be a great year; I do. I've never been more optimistic about anything in my life. In the Oval Office there's a painting by a friend of mine named Tom Lea. And when you come in the Oval Office, you'll notice it's the western-looking painting right by the door where Logan used to sit. By the way, this is Logan's last day working for me, which is—I didn't fire him; he voluntarily left. But anyway, if you were to work where Logan used to be, there's a painting that shows a great expanse of west Texas. It is the—the guy who painted the painting was the person who wrote the quote I used at the end of the convention, which I'm sure most of you have memorized by now. [Laughter] It says, "Sarah and I live on the east side of the mountain. It is the sunrise side, not the sunset side. It is the side to see the day that is coming, not to see the day that is gone."

It's so important for a President to see a day that is coming, that is positive. And I do. In clear and vivid ways, I see a day that is much better for not only America and Americans but the world. We have an historic opportunity to fight a war that will not only liberate people from the clutches of barbaric behavior but a war that could leave the world more peaceful in the years to come.

None of us asked for this war. None of us wished that what happened on September the 11th happened, and we continue to pray for the victims. But now that it's happened, this Nation is ready to seize the moment. And I'm so proud that the people in this room and on this podium understand the historic opportunity we have, and I want to thank you for joining this most noble and just cause.

We fight for freedom, and we stand for freedom, and we won't relent until we defend freedom at its core. And that's why the budget I sent up there has got a significant increase in defense spending, because we owe it to the defenders of freedom to give them the best equipment, the best housing, the best training, and another pay raise.

Now in my speech, I tried to educate the American people about what we're up against. I talked about the fact that thousands of people had gone through Al Qaida killer camps, and they're still roaming around. And so long as they're roaming around with the intention of hurting us, this Nation will hunt them down.

I've been traveling the country, as you know, and I'm so pleased with the fact that the American people are incredibly patient and resolved and share our determination to achieve our noble objective. They know that we have succeeded in one phase of our war in Afghanistan; we liberated women and children by demolishing the Taliban and its repressive government.

They also know that the stage we're now in, which is hunting down the cave dwellers, is going to take a while. They understand that, and I am grateful for the people's understanding. They understand that this is a dangerous phase of the war. But they have also been assured by me and by you all that we're not going to weary. We're not going to rush our military. We're going to be steady and relentless until we achieve the objective of getting the Al Qaida killers and bringing them to justice.

But they also understand that we are not preoccupied by one or two people, that while bin Laden thinks he can hide in a cave or Mullah Omar thinks he can run, it's just a matter of time. I don't know how much time, and I don't worry about the time about when he is brought—or they are brought to justice. That's just not one of my concerns. It's going to happen. And you know, we've got them running, and it's just—we'll get them.

But that's not our—we're preoccupied. And the American people understand that, because they understand our goal is broader than just two individuals. It is terror wherever terror exists, and it's upholding that doctrine, forcefully upholding the doctrine that says if you harbor a terrorist, if you feed a terrorist, if you hide a terrorist, you too are as guilty as a terrorist.

But the moment is broader than just destroying terrorist training camps or finding terrorist trainers and bringing them to justice. The moment that we must seize says that in order for the world to be peaceful for our children and grandchildren, we've got to prevent nations which develop weapons of mass destruction from mating up with terrorist groups that will threaten the United States and our allies.

Now we've got nations on notice as a result of the speech last Tuesday night. Of course, I hope they change behavior on their own. I hope they hear the message of not only the United States but a vast coalition of freedom-loving countries as we clearly say, get your house in order; don't develop weapons of mass destruction. And then people say, "What are the consequences?" They'll find out in due course, if they can't get their house in order. The mighty United States will do whatever it takes to defend our security. Make no mistake about it, if you threaten us with weapons of mass destruction, if you threaten our allies and friends with weapons of mass destruction, we will do whatever it takes to protect our people.

And that's what we're doing at home. And I want to thank you all for working with us. There's been some great ideas that have come out of the Congress about how best to protect the homeland, and we've incorporated a lot of them in the initial strategy that we're outlining, not only in our budget but over the course of the last couple of weeks, and we'll continue to do so. And Tom Ridge and our team is open for more suggestions about how to protect the people.

And so our bioterrorism initiative is substantial and real. And I want to thank you for working on it. Our first-responder initiative, where we're working with local governments, through Governors, is going to be real and meaningful. Our airport security measures are strong. I mean, we're doing everything we can, and the American people need to know that.

And so when you go back to your districts, I thank you very much for sharing our mutual concern and our knowledge that the enemy still wants to hit us, but our Government is responding forcefully. You need to know, and I know you know this, that the FBI, under Bob Mueller, has changed its culture. It's still after spies and white-collar criminals, and that's important. But the primary focus of 4,000-plus agents is to disrupt the enemy, is to find out any information possible and run it down. We take every lead seriously. We take every hint of evidence seriously. We understand the intentions of the enemy, and your constituents must know that this Government is doing everything in our power to make America safe.

But the best way to secure the homeland for the long run is to get them, get them where they hide, get them where they train, and bring them to justice. And you just need to know something about your President; I am not going to tarry like I— wary—weary, on this subject, like I said in my first speech in September after the war. I understand the call. My determination today is as strong as it was when I addressed you all in October, and my determination 3 years from now will be just as strong then as it is today. I understand the call. I understand the mission. And this great country will defend freedom to its core.

I said in my State of the Union that I stand in awe of the American people, and you know what I'm talking about. You've seen it in your communities when you go back home. You've seen it in your coffee shops. You've seen it in your different clubs. You've seen it when you've seen your neighbors. I mean, this country is a country that is not only strong and determined, but it's a compassionate country as well.

People often ask me, "What can I do to participate in the war against terror?" And as you know, in this particular issue, I see things pretty clearly, in just plain terms. Since this is a war of good versus evil, those of—who want to participate in the war against terror can do acts of kindness to overwhelm the evil done to the country. People can participate in the war against terror all kinds of ways. You can help serve as eyes and ears; you can alert— be alert. But you can love a neighbor. An American, in fighting the war against terror, can walk across the street to a neighbor who is shut in and say, "I care for you." And it's those millions of acts of kindness on a daily basis that define our country and stand defiantly in the face of evil.

And so one of the things I've tried to do is to capture the magnificent spirit of the country. And we've set up what's called the USA Freedom Corps. And somebody who is interested in joining can dial 1- 877-USA-CORPS, or if you happen to be computer-literate, And it's a chance for citizens to heed my call, which says we'd like you to serve your country for 2 additional years, or 4,000 hours over your lifetime.

Now, I understand many in this room and many of your constituents are already—have heard the call. And keep doing—my call is, keep doing it. But some don't know where to start, and here is a good place for people to start. And if they call the USA Freedom Corps number, they will find ways to—if you're a senior citizen, participate in Senior Corps; or if you want to teach, Teach For America; or if you want to go to the Peace Corps, we're expanding the Peace Corps to take our values and compassion into the Islamic world, for example. There's all kinds of opportunities to serve. And we're calling on the American people to do so. And it's really to help change our culture. That's how I view it.

A lot of us grew up in a culture which has said, "If it feels good, just go ahead and do it; if you've got a problem, blame somebody else." See, I believe out of this evil can come a new cultural—a new culture, a new assessment of what America is all about. Our hope is that the country's culture changes to one of responsibility, that each of us are responsible for the decisions we make in life.

If you are a mom and dad, you are responsible for loving your child with all your heart and all your soul. If you're a compassionate neighbor, you're responsible for helping a neighbor in need. If you're corporate America, you're responsible for making sure you reveal all your assets and liabilities to your shareholders and your employees. So part of the ushering in the responsibility era, not only from the individual basis but on the corporate basis, I have proposed some pension reforms I would like to outline briefly for you today and ask you to take them up as quickly as possible.

We are announcing some proposals to protect pensions. My plan will strengthen the workers' ability to manage their own retirement funds by giving them more freedom to diversify, better access to professional investment advice, and quarterly information about their investments.

Employers should be encouraged to make generous contribution to workers' 401(k) plans. It's a positive development when employers give stock to people who work for them. About 42 million workers own 401(k) accounts with a total of $2 trillion in assets, and that's a critical part of retirement security for workers all across America.

But workers should also have the freedom to choose how to invest their retirement savings. And so the proposal I'll submit to Congress and work with Members here in this room will allow workers to sell company contributed stock and diversify into other investment options after 3 years of participation in their company's plan.

To ensure that blackout periods are fair, the plan will ensure that company executives be bound by the same blackout restrictions they impose on their workers. If it's okay for the sailor, it ought to be okay for the captain. My plan also requires that workers be given a 30-day notice before any blackout period begins, so workers can plan to make changes in their investments. It's a matter of fairness. It's a matter of openness. It's a matter of respect for the process. And I look forward to working with you to get something done.

I also look forward to working with you to continue the progress we've made on a lot of issues. I think America appreciates it when people come to this body or your respective bodies and work hard for what's good for the country. We've made good progress doing that.

I am so proud of working with you. I'm proud to be able to call you a colleague here in Washington, DC. It's been a remarkable experience for me. It's a joy to exchange ideas. It's been sometimes a joy to watch the legislative process. [Laughter] Generally, it's an amazing experience to watch. [Laughter] But I'm looking forward to working with you to make sure that the legislation that does come out is positive and hopeful for the American people.

Thanks for your friendship. God bless.

NOTE: The President spoke at 12:38 p.m. in the Colonial Hall at the Greenbrier. In his remarks, he referred to Representative J.C. Watts, Jr., of Oklahoma; outgoing Presidential Aide Logan Walters; Usama bin Laden, leader of the Al Qaida terrorist organization; and Mullah Omar, former head of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

George W. Bush, Remarks at the "Congress of Tomorrow" Republican Retreat Luncheon in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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