Richard B. Cheney photo

Remarks by the Vice President at a Reception for Congressman Mike Rogers in Huntsville, Alabama

September 05, 2003

Von Braun Center, North Hall
Huntsville, Alabama

9:50 A.M. CDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Senator. And I want to thank all of you for that warm Alabama welcome this morning. I've been looking forward to this opportunity to come back to Huntsville. I bring greetings to everyone here this morning from the man that Alabama helped put in the White House, George W. Bush. (Applause.)

A lot of people don't realize that I'm really a product of the United States Senate. As Vice President, I don't have any official duties down in the executive branch. When they wrote the Constitution, they created the job of Vice President. And then decided at the end of the conference, or the convention, that they had to give him something to do. So they made him the presiding officer of the United States Senate.

And my predecessor, the first Vice President, John Adams, also was given floor privileges. He was allowed to enter into the debate and go down into the well of the Senate and address the day. And then he did a few times, and they withdrew his floor privileges. (Laughter.) And they've never been restored.

The point of all of that is I get to spend a lot of time in the United States Senate. And it's my great good fortune there to get to work with two outstanding Senators that you've elected from Alabama -- Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions. They do a superb job for all of you. (Applause.)

And I'm delighted Richard could join us today, and I look forward to serving with him because I know he's going to win reelection here in Alabama this year overwhelmingly. We'd love to see that happen.

I'm here today specifically because President Bush and I both believe that it's absolutely essential that Mike Rogers be reelected to Congress next year. Mike's working hard for the people of Alabama. He's a fifth-generation resident of East Alabama. And he's working with President Bush to help make Alabama and America safer, stronger, and better.

Mike's a member of the House Armed Services Committee, where he's devoted himself to strengthening America's military and to strengthening Alabama's role, with respect to the U.S. military. And he's a member of the House Agriculture Committee, where he's been a reliable friend to the Alabama farming community. Mike understands the best way to help small businesses and create more jobs is to cut taxes. He's been a strong and consistent supporter of tax relief. He's championed the jobs and the growth acts that the President signed last May. When he came to Congress last November after a close election -- and of course, the opposition is doing everything they can to try to recruit candidates to run against him next year. But Mike knows the best thing he can do to get reelected is to be a great congressman and represent the people of Alabama well, and that's precisely what he's been doing. President Bush and I highly value Mike's work in the 108th Congress. And we look forward to working with him for a good many years to come.

Now, I spent some time in the House of Representatives myself over the years. I served there for 10 years, got elected six times. And I actually arrived in House at the same time that Richard Shelby did, that same 1978 election -- although he was in a different faith in those days. (Laughter.) We managed to work together very ably, and, of course, he came to see the light, which we all deeply appreciate. (Laughter and applause.)

Of course, Wyoming was unique. We had a small delegation. We only had one member of Congress -- one member of the House. It was a small delegation. But it was quality. (Laughter.) And it's been now about three years since the President talked to me about becoming his running mate. When he asked me to sign on, he said it wasn't because he was worried about carrying Wyoming. He got nearly 70 percent of the vote in Wyoming. But I remind him, from time to time, that those three Wyoming electoral votes came in pretty handy in the final count. (Laughter.)

I think the fact is some pundits expected that having won a close election, that the administration might trim its sails once we got into office. You know, we'd move forward with a more timid agenda than we'd campaigned on. From the very beginning, the President made it clear that he'd gone to Washington to get something done, and that we were going to do absolutely everything we could to move ahead with our priorities.

That very first year, we achieved two of our biggest goals -- tax reform and education reform. On the tax front, we lowered income tax rates, reduced the marriage penalty, and eliminated the death tax. The President also moved aggressively and successfully to build a bipartisan coalition to reform our education system. It was a milestone reform, ushering in an era of high standards and responsibility. It's truly been a turning point, and we believe that it will set American education on the path to significant improvement.

The defining moment for our administration and the President, clearly, was the attack on our country on September 11th, two years ago next week, a day none of us will ever forget. Suddenly, we understood how vulnerable we are as a nation; how it was possible for terrorists to take advantage of our open borders and our open society and use them against us. It was, without question, a watershed event in American history.

We saw that it was relatively easy for a small number of terrorists to launch an attack and to kill almost 3,000 of our fellow Americans in a couple of hours in New York City, Washington, and Pennsylvania. We also began to understand -- particularly from the evidence that we uncovered in the caves and tunnels and training camps in Afghanistan -- that our enemies are determined to acquire weapons of mass destruction -- chemical and biological and nuclear weapons. And we have every reason to believe that if they succeed, they will use them to launch an attack far more deadly than anything we've ever experienced.

To counter these threats, we've been forced to think anew about how to defend our country, about what constitutes an effective national security strategy for our nation. We've come to realize that if we are to protect the American people against determined enemies, we cannot rely on the old Cold War remedies of the past.

The kind of strategy we used against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, where we held at risk the things they valued in order to deter them from ever launching attacks against the United States simply will not work where terrorists are concerned. There's nothing they value highly enough that we can hold at risk to keep them from launching an attack against the United States.

So no treaty, no arms control agreement or strategy of deterrence will end this conflict. We needed a new strategy, and that's precisely what we've developed. We've begun working aggressively to toughen our defenses here at home. We've created the Department of Homeland Security, the largest reorganization of the federal government since the late 1940s, when the Department of Defense was created. We deeply appreciate Mike's strong support for our efforts to ensure homeland security.

But good defense is not enough. The problem with terrorist organizations is that even if you build defenses that are 99 percent successful, the 1 percent that gets through can kill you. We need a strategy that takes us on offense, as well, that lets us go after those who pose a threat to the United States, and to our friends and allies, a strategy that allows us to destroy the terrorists before they can launch further attacks against the United States. We cannot wait to act until after another day like 9/11 or a day perhaps with even far greater casualties.

A good part of our new strategy is based upon the President's determination to change the way we think about states that sponsor terror. Prior to 9/11, all too many nations tended to draw a distinction between terrorist groups and the states that provided these groups with support, sanctuary and safe harbor. They were unwilling to hold terror-sponsoring states accountable for their actions. After 9/11, President Bush decided that the distinction between the terrorists and the sponsors could no longer be permitted to stand. The Bush doctrine asserts that those states which support terrorists or provide sanctuary for terrorists are just as guilty as the terrorists themselves. So in addition to going after the terrorists, in addition to dismantling their financial networks, and their logistical support, we're also taking on states that sponsor terror.

I'll never forget that Friday after the attack when the President went to Ground Zero in New York. He stood up on a pile of rubble with a bullhorn in his hand. And when the men in the hard hats who were working there said they couldn't hear him, he responded, "Well, I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked down these buildings will soon hear from all of us."

He's been a man of his word. In Afghanistan, the Taliban regime harbored al Qaeda and brutalized an entire population. That regime is no more. In Iraq, where a brutal dictator threatened the peace and gave support to terrorists, the United States launched one of the most extraordinary military campaigns in history. And that regime is no more.

Some people have questioned our strategy. They suggest that somehow it's wrong for the United States to strike before the enemy strikes us. But I would argue that on 9/11, we were struck. We lost more people that day than we lost at Pearl Harbor. And I ask you, if we'd been able with preemptive military action to defeat that attack before it ever occurred, would we? And the answer is, you bet we would. Make no mistake, this President is going to act to protect us against further attacks, even when that means moving aggressively against would-be attackers.

The war on terror continues. It is a war being fought all around the globe. Look at the attacks that have already occurred in the last two years, not only in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, but in Bali, Mombassa, Riyadh, Casablanca, Jakarta, Jerusalem, Bombay and Baghdad. And the war will continue, perhaps as long as we're in office, perhaps even longer. In this global war on terror, U.S. forces are heavily engaged when and where they need to be -- especially in Afghanistan and Iraq. We will stay in Afghanistan and Iraq to make absolutely certain that the job is done before we move on. We'll stay until we've wrapped up all the weapons of mass destruction and eliminated all of those who are enemies of the United States.

This war is not without sacrifice. More than 300 of our troops have already given their lives during the war on terror. There will surely be more casualties ahead. But remember, we lost some 3,000 Americans here at home on 9/11. We're going to be in much better shape long-term if we're aggressively going after the terrorists and after the nations and the mechanisms that support them, than if we lay back and wait for them to strike us again here at home in the United States.

In the battles of Iraq and Afghanistan, and in other fronts in war on terror, we've depended on the skill and the courage of our men and women in uniform. They've faced enemies who have no regard for the rules of warfare or morality. They've carried out urgent and difficult missions in remote and hostile parts of the world. And they've done all of this with the bravery and the honor that we've come to expect. As a former Secretary of Defense, I've never been more proud of our men and women in uniform than I am today. (Applause.)

Waging and winning the war on terror is only part of our responsibilities. There is great work in this world that only America can do. In the Middle East, we're encouraging free markets, democracy and tolerance because these are the ideas and aspirations that overcome violence and turn societies to the pursuits of peace.

Under President Bush, America acts in the world according to both our fundamental interests and our founding ideals. We believe in the dignity of life and the right of all people to live in freedom. And all who strive and sacrifice for the cause of freedom will have a friend in the United States.

Here at home, we'll continue with an active and aggressive agenda. We've made major progress on the economy. When we took office, America was sliding into recession. Too many people who wanted to work couldn't find a job. To help create jobs and to get the economy growing again, we've cut taxes each of the three years that we've been in office. In the bill we passed this year, not only did we cut income tax rates, we also significantly cut taxes on dividends and capital gains, fundamental reforms in the tax system that contribute to long-term growth in our economy. We've delivered the largest tax relief since the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

Some in Congress want to repeal the tax relief and raise taxes on the American people. But raising taxes will hurt the recovery and encourage more wasteful spending. Long-term, the solution to deficits is greater economic growth, generating greater revenue for the federal government. Now is exactly the wrong time to talk about a tax increase.

We've also had action, both in the House and the Senate on an energy bill. As the people in New York, Ohio, and Michigan experienced firsthand during the recent blackout, our nation's electricity grid and system needs repair, upgrade and expansion. We're hopeful that Congress will work swiftly to move the bill through the conference committee and produce a plan that will improve our nation's energy infrastructure, and promote energy efficiency and conservation, develop cleaner technology and help us explore for more energy in an environmentally friendly way, and finally reduce our dependence on foreign oil -- a must for the sake of the national security.

After many years of inaction, we are making progress on bringing Medicare into the 21st century. Last January, President Bush submitted a framework for Medicare reform to Congress that would give seniors access to prescription drug coverage and offer them better choices under Medicare. Both houses have taken historic action. And the President and I appreciate Mike Rogers' support for including prescription drug coverage as part of a modernized Medicare system. Now Congress must complete its work and send a bill to the President that provides seniors with better health coverage and relief from rising costs of prescription drugs. We're also looking forward to working with the Congress to help small business provide affordable health care to their employees.

We also need to fix the judicial confirmation process. Right now far too many nominations for the federal bench are being held up under threat of filibuster. Our friends on the other side of the aisle refuse to allow nominees of great merit to even have a vote on the Senate floor. Well qualified nominees like Alabama's Attorney General, Bill Pryor, who represents the mainstream of American law and value, who enjoys the support of Alabama's two senators -- Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby -- and who has outstanding credentials to serve on the federal bench, have been attacked by Senate Democrats who have blocked and up-or-down vote on the floor of the Senate.

Yesterday, we saw the withdrawal from consideration of Miguel Estrada, a very talented young man with outstanding credentials, who had been nominated by the President to serve the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, who after waiting more than two years for an up-or-down vote, finally decided that he couldn't wait any longer, that he needed to get on with worrying about his family and his career. But he was never allowed to have a simple up-or-down vote in the United States Senate, where we had a majority to support him for confirmation as a member of the federal bench.

This is unfair not only to the nominees and their families but also to Americans who are forced to deal with courts handling a growing caseload without the judges they need. It's time to restore dignity and civility to the judicial confirmation process by making certain that every person nominated to the federal bench gets a timely up-or-down vote. (Applause.)

We've achieved a great deal in these two-and-a-half years, but there's much left to do in Washington and around the world. We need to enact Project BioShield to help protect the American people against the threat of biological warfare. We need legal reform because the strength of our economy is undermined by frivolous lawsuits. And while there are encouraging signs that the economy is picking up steam, the President and I will not rest until everyone who wants a job can find a job.

The campaign season will come in due course. Some might say it has already started. And when it does, we will run hard and take absolutely nothing for granted. President Bush and I know that the key to victory is to do the work we've been given and to do it well. We intend to make good use of every day that we have the honor of serving the American people.

Long before I took this job I had the good fortune to work with other Presidents whom I greatly admire. A White House staffer in the aftermath of Watergate, I saw Gerald Ford restore confidence in government out of the sheer decency and force of his character. As a congressman during the decisive years of the Cold War, I saw the conviction and moral courage of Ronald Reagan. And as a member of the Cabinet under former President Bush, I saw the ideal of public service in its purest form and came to know a leader of honor and integrity.

Along the way, I learned a few things about the presidency and the kind of person it takes to do that job well. It takes the finest qualities of character, conviction, personal integrity, good judgment, compassion and courage in times of testing for the nation. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly the kind of man we have in the White House today. (Applause.)

I'm honored to work with George W. Bush. And he and I are both honored by your confidence and support you've placed in us, by your support for outstanding leaders like Mike Rogers and Richard Shelby, who serve Alabama and America so well, and by your commitment to this great and good country of ours, the United States of America. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 10:10 A.M. CDT

Richard B. Cheney, Remarks by the Vice President at a Reception for Congressman Mike Rogers in Huntsville, Alabama Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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