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Remarks at the Swearing-in Ceremony for Clayton Yeutter as Secretary of Agriculture

February 16, 1989

The President. Thank you, Peter, and all the members of the Cabinet, the Members of the United States Congress here, distinguished Ambassadors, and others. I've come over here today for the swearing-in of our Secretary. Clayton Yeutter is about to make an enduring commitment to this Department. And I should acknowledge the fact that I think five of his predecessors are here today, Democrats and Republicans, which I think gives him an extraordinarily good send-off.

There's a difference, you know, between involvement and commitment. You all know it. Remember the old farmer making eggs and bacon. The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed. [Laughter] And it's a particular pleasure here today because yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of Cabinet status for this Department. As the distinguished former Secretaries that are joining us today know, the Agency has met many difficult challenges over the past century, and this really is just a beginning. There are many more challenges that this Department will encounter over the next hundred years. And who better to lead the Department at this time than Clayton Yeutter.

Somebody reminded me Yeutter rhymes with fighter. And that's what he is -- tough as nails, knowledgeable. And that's why I picked him. And I know he's going to fight hard for farming, for fair trade, and for all the other important responsibilities of this Department. And I know that everyone here is familiar with his outstanding tenure as United States Trade Representative. The list of things he's accomplished just in the past year is truly, truly impressive: bringing down barriers to American beef and citrus in Japan, ushering a comprehensive trade bill through Congress, concluding the free trade agreement with Canada and moving that through the Congress, and pressing forward on the Uruguay round of multilateral trade negotiations. And now he's putting down the trade portfolio and taking up the agricultural portfolio. But, as all of you know, that's hardly a change.

Agriculture is one of the most difficult areas in our trade talks, and agriculture is an area to which we attach an extraordinarily high priority in international discussions. I'm confident that our partners in the Uruguay round of talks will see Clayton's appointment as just what it is: a signal that this administration has an extremely strong sense of purpose and determination in these crucial negotiations. He's going to be working closely with our USTR, with our Trade Representative Carla Hills, who I spotted a minute ago; but where is she? Maybe I didn't spot her. Right, here she is -- with Carla to make sure our objectives in agriculture are achieved.

And I said in the campaign and let me repeat: As President, I want to work to level the playing field. We've got to knock down barriers, and we will relentlessly pursue negotiations to end subsidies that distort markets and that restrict trade. Fair, free, and open world markets -- that's what we want; that's what we're working for; and in the end, that's what we are determined to get.

Trade may be a hot issue right now; but the Department, as you all know better than any, has many other critical responsibilities: our nation's farm and soil conservation programs, forestry, nutrition, rural diversification and rural development, the environment. You're involved in all of these important questions. And you perform your work in all these areas with energy and dedication. The "Ag" Department has a long, proud history, and each of you helps to continue that tradition.

And I know you'll find that Clayton Yeutter is your kind of guy: dynamic, always has been. When he graduated from the University of Nebraska, he was named the Outstanding Animal Husbandry Graduate in the Nation. And later, he finished first in his class in law school and then took a Ph.D. in agricultural economics. And I've heard that he's said it isn't all that far from the farm he grew up on to a Ph.D. or trade ambassador. On the farm, he said, he developed physical stamina and learned self-discipline, and those have come in handy ever since. And there's one other thing about Clayton that I'm very happy about. Many kids want to grow up to be President; not Clayton. [Laughter] When he was a boy, he wanted to be Secretary of Agriculture. And here he is, and that's a lucky break for America.

Now the oath of office.

[At this point, Secretary Yeutter was sworn in.]

Secretary Yeutter. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. It's really a marvelous privilege and pleasure and opportunity for me to be here this morning. And as I look out over this audience, I see a multitude of longtime friends, and I'm so pleased and gratified that all of you were willing to take time out of your hectic and demanding schedules to be here and share this occasion with us.

I'm not going to make any profound policy pronouncements this morning. I'm not sure that I could make them in any case, but I'm not even going to try. I'd like to basically concentrate in my very short time with you on some comments about people.

First of all, on behalf of everyone here, Mr. President, we want to thank you for coming over to participate in this ceremony. We know how much it carves time out of your schedule to do so, and it's a tremendous personal gesture on your part to do that. It's an honor not only for those of us in the Cabinet who are experiencing this privilege but it's an honor for the folks in all the Departments, including USDA this morning, who have an opportunity to see you up close, first hand, as a part of this ceremony. So, thank you for coming.

And although you've all heard lots of great things about President Bush during the campaign and through the inaugural period, I want to just embellish those, if I may, for just a few seconds by saying that -- confirming and ratifying, if I may -- that without question this is one of the best prepared Presidents that we've ever had in the history of the United States, one of the most substantive Presidents we've ever had in the history of the United States. Both those attributes and characteristics are going to serve us all well, indeed, in the coming years. But more importantly, George and Barbara Bush are two of the finest human beings on the face of this Earth, and that's why it's a distinct pleasure for all of us to be a part of this government.

Then I want to say a word about Justice O'Connor, and if she'll forgive me for telling this anecdote one more time, I'm going to do so. First of all, it's a great privilege for me to have her swear me in again for the second time now. She did the honors 3 1/2 years ago, when I was sworn in as U.S. Trade Representative, and she very graciously consented to come here this morning and do them again. Dick Lyng was just saying in the waiting room that she also did the honors for him when he became Secretary. So, I think you're an honorary member of this Department by now, Justice O'Connor.

But I wanted to share an anecdote with you which reflects the nature of this fine and distinguished lady. Back in 1972, I was involved in the Presidential campaign and was working on the agricultural campaign nationwide; and I paid a visit to Phoenix, Arizona, where the Arizona chairman of the Presidential campaign was a leading businessman in that city. The cochairman that year happened to be a lady whose name was Sandra O'Connor. And I met with those two folks during the day, as we were getting organized in the campaign. And at one particular point during the day, I said to the gentleman who was campaign chairman, "Where in the world did you get Sandra O'Connor? She is just fantastic." And he said, "You're absolutely right. She is fantastic." This was 1972, remember. And he went on to say at that time, he said, "Someday she's going to become the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court." That was a remarkably prescient comment, as you know, because a decade or so later she became, deservedly, the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Then I want to say a word about my wife, Jeanne. She doesn't know that this is coming. [Laughter] But I think everyone here of my generation would appreciate the fact that 30 years ago, or thereabouts, when we were coming out of college ready to go to work, it was still a man's world. And in some respects, it's still a man's world today. But that's changing very rapidly. I think it's important for all of us as we share and enjoy all of these fine honors -- being named Cabinet members and doing fascinating things around the world -- a little humility is sometimes in store. And I think it's important for some of us to recognize that we have spouses who, but for that generation gap of 30 years ago, might be standing in front of this microphone accepting honors as appointments as members of the Cabinet just as easily and deservedly as we. And Jeanne fits that category.

And a word about Kim, since she's up here, too. You can tell by what she had to say in the invocation that she has her head screwed on right, at least we hope so. This is a little parental pride coming out there. And I mention this for a particular reason. Kim has just finished a double masters degree program, getting a masters in business and a masters in international relations. And although she doesn't speak Japanese as well as Ambassador Matsunaga does yet, she's working hard at it. That's the way that we have to educate at least some of our children if we're going to be competitive, Mr. President, in the world in which we find ourselves going into the next century. And we hope Kim is prepared for that.

And finally a word to Peter Myers, who is also sharing the area here with us this morning, because Peter has so graciously handled this ceremony and so graciously handled the transition from one administration to another.

Then moving very rapidly out to the distinguished guests here. We don't have time to introduce them all or comment on them all, but I want to say how appreciative I am of my fellow members of the Cabinet coming over to join in the ceremony this morning -- a good number of Ambassadors who are here and a substantial number of Members of Congress, even though they probably ought to be out in their home districts right now. I'm glad that they're here joining in on the ceremony, and I'm honored to have them here.

I'm not going to introduce them all, but I want to pay special attention to just three who are here. Congressman Tom Foley -- Tom, don't stand up. You're comfortable; stay there. But a particular mention to Tom, because as all of you know, he's the distinguished majority leader of the House and former chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, a longtime great friend. And I know he postponed a trip back home for a day just to be here this morning. So, Congressman Foley, it's especially nice to have you here.

And I want to say the same for Congressman -- sorry -- Senator Jesse Helms, who's been a Senator for a long time, likewise, distinguished chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Our relationships go back many, many years; and, Senator Helms, it's great to have you here.

And then, finally, Bob Dole. Senator Dole has been Mr. Agriculture in the Midwest, distinguished Senate career, Presidential candidate, and a great friend for a long period of time.

And then, finally, mention of the former Secretaries of Agriculture who are here. I will not have you all stand up either; but for those of you who are out here, you'll have a chance, hopefully, to say hello to them as we have the reception in a few minutes. But with us here this morning are Jack Knebel, Bob Bergland, Jack Block, Dick Lyng, and Cliff Hardin. I want to make special note of Dick Lyng, my predecessor, because I worked for Dick when I first came back here in 1970. And a special note of Cliff Hardin, because Cliff was my mentor, Mr. President, way back in my days as a young faculty member at the University of Nebraska, when he was chancellor at that time. And it was Cliff who brought me here to Washington, DC, in 1970, when he was Secretary of Agriculture here.

And just one final closing comment, Mr. President. I first came here almost 20 years ago in the South Building, which is over thataway, in my first position as Administrator of what was then the Consumer and Marketing Service. And I had some of the same misgivings about the Federal bureaucracy then that most people do when they come to Washington. And you've heard all those stories also, Mr. President. They come up when we discuss things like increases in salaries back here in Washington, DC, because a lot of folks think those are undeserved. I happen to think they are deserved, and I learned that by experience. I was a bit wary and skeptical, Mr. President, about whether you can move the bureaucracy back here in Washington. And when I came, I took over an agency, Mr. President, that had about 16,000 employees, and I think there were about 2 of us in that 16,000 who were political appointees at the professional level. And I thought, oh, my God, you know, how are a couple of people going to change a 16,000-person bureaucracy? And I wasn't sure it could be done. But as Cliff Hardin and Dick Lyng will remember, it could be done because we made some major changes in those years in a very successful way.

What I discovered, Mr. President, was that folk here at USDA at least -- I won't speak for the rest of the Government -- but folks here at USDA will listen if you have something worthwhile to say. They listened to me back in 1970, and they've been listening to a lot of folks who have given them leadership since then. And I discovered that they'll not only listen, Mr. President, but they'll respond. They are responsive to leadership. That's true of most human beings in this world, as a matter of fact, and we have to remember that that's the way to achieve progress in this country.

So, in closing, Mr. President, my commitment to you, my commitment to the folks from USDA who are here this morning, and my commitment to the folks out in farm country who are watching this program, is a very simple one: I promise you that we will put together a team at the top echelon of USDA that will be strong, competent, and energetic. And I promise you that we will provide leadership. You may not always agree with the leadership that we provide, but we're going to lead. And I hope that you'll be with us as we attempt to do that and as we work with you, Mr. President, over the next few years.

Thank you all for coming very much, and please join in the reception in just a few minutes. Thank you. Godspeed.

Note: The President spoke at 10:10 a.m. on the patio at the Department of Agriculture. He was introduced by Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Peter C. Myers. Kim Yeutter delivered the invocation.

George Bush, Remarks at the Swearing-in Ceremony for Clayton Yeutter as Secretary of Agriculture Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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