George Bush photo

The President-Elect's News Conference Announcing Five Cabinet Nominations

December 22, 1988

Well, thank you for coming and let me just say that throughout this transition, I've been seeking to appoint the most talented group of men and women possible to the Cabinet. I'm pleased to report today that the process is nearly finished and this afternoon I'd like to announce my nominations for four Cabinet posts and one critically important post that is not in the Cabinet. In keeping with our tradition, I'll make a few comments about each of these individuals and then ask them to say a few remarks and then be glad to take some questions and then I'm sure they will be glad to do the same. But let me proceed in protocol order. First, I intend to nominate Congressman Manuel Lujan of New Mexico, a 20-year veteran of the House of Representatives, to be the next Secretary of the Interior. During his service in Congress, Manuel Lujan has been a top member of the House Committee on Interior and - the official name Interior and Insular Affairs - and so he's familiar with the many challenges facing the next Secretary. Not only does Manuel Lujan know the issues. He also shares my commitment to finding a careful balance between the need to protect our environment and the desire to proceed with the sound development of this nation's many valuable resources.

My second announcement today concerns a position with the responsibility for several issues that will - I will make high priority issues in my administration. The quality of health care available to all Americans and especially the general welfare of those less fortunate among us. And I intend to nominate Dr. Louis W. Sullivan as the next Secretary of H.H.S. - Health and Human Services.

I've known Lou Sullivan for many years and he's had a long and extremely distinguished career in medicine, academic administration and public health. And since 1981, he's been professor of medicine, dean and currently president of Morehouse School of Medicine at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Dr. Sullivan and I have talked about the health and welfare challenges facing this country. We're going to work together to keep health care services affordable for all Americans and to improve the quality and efficiency of those health programs now in place; to implement the welfare reforms that have been passed - welfare reform package that is designed to give disadvantaged citizens the tools they need to become self-sufficient; to help me also invest in our children; to try to conquer the terrible tragedy of AIDS; to face the many other problems on the horizon. And most importantly, Dr. Sullivan and I see eye-to-eye on the critical issues facing the next Secretary of H.H.S. I value his experience, his help and his counsel. And I'll value those in the years ahead.

My next announcement concerns the future of America's transportation system. Right now it is the best in the world and I intend to keep it that way so this afternoon, I'm taking a first step toward that goal by announcing my intention to nominate Samuel S. - Samuel K. Skinner to serve as our next Secretary of Transportation.

Sam brings to Washington the knowledge and experience of 20 years in public life. He stands at the pinnacle of not one but two distinguished and complementary careers -first as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois and then as U.S. Attorney in that district and finally as vice chairman of the President - President Reagan's Commission on Organized Crime. Sam has proven himself to be among the ablest law-enforcement officials in the nation. And in recent years, Sam Skinner has been an effective and visionary transportation leader as well.

As chairman of the Regional Transportation Authority of Northeastern Illinois, he has already helped restore the country's second-largest mass transportation system to fiscal health and public confidence. I know Sam's experience and great skill will serve him well as he works to get all the legs of our transportation system - air, land and sea - working together. And I mention this law-enforcement experience for a reason. He also has in his portfolio, as you all know, a number of agencies that affect us - every one of us - in very important ways. And just to cite one example, I expect that under Sam Skinner the Coast Guard will be a continuing leader in the war against drugs and illegal dumping that is a cause of this ocean pollution.

The last Cabinet post for which I will announce a nomination today is a new one - the Secretary of Veterans Affairs - and I believe we have a special responsibility to the brave men and women who serve this, their country, in the armed forces. And I believe that this department should be headed by someone who understands their needs. And my good friend Ambassador Ed Derwinski is a World War II veteran, having served in the Pacific Theater with the Army. He's a member, as I am, of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

He has a long record of support for veterans and for a strong national defense in the Congress, where he served with great distinction for 24 years as the Representative from Illinois. And since he left the House, he's been a senior official at the Department of State, serving first as counselor, now as Under Secretary. And he brings to this new post a well-earned reputation as an outstanding leader, a record of cooperating in bipartisan fashion with members of Congress and a deep understanding of the issues facing America's veterans. And I know he's going to be one of the stars in our - in our Cabinet and I'm delighted my old friend and I will be working together once again.

And finally, although the Environmental Protection Agency is not part of the Cabinet, it is an agency whose mission in my view is of tremendous importance to America's future. I care a great deal about the work of this agency. And I've had an opportunity to talk with leading candidates for the position, so I believe it is appropriate to announce at this early date that Bill Riley has agreed to serve as the Administrator of the E.P.A.

He's been the president of the Conservation Foundation for 15 years and since its merger with the World Wildlife Fund in 1985, of the World Wildlife Fund-U.S. as well. And as such, he understands not only the overwhelming domestic imperative to take steps to protect our environment but the need for the international cooperation that I spoke about in the campaign. He brings to this very important post not only this experience at the top of one of the nation's pre-eminent conservation organizations, but previ experience -previous experience as the executive director of the Task Force on Land Use and Urban Growth and as a staff member of the President's Council on - on Environmental Quality - the C.E.Q. So I'm proud to reach directly into the conservation community to find someone to lead this agency. And I expect to be a very active President in protecting the environment so I know that Bill Riley and I will be working together very closely.

And now I'd like to ask each of these gentlemen to say a word and then I'll be glad to respond to some questions. Manuel.

MR. LUJAN: Thank you very much Mr. President. It's rather ironic. Yesterday I was talking to my wife - she's out in New Mexico and - on the telephone and about selling our two-bedroom condominium here in Washington cause we were going on - on home. And today I suppose the position is that of landlord over the largest ownership of - of property and the difference cannot - cannot be overlooked in - in my - in my opinion. I - I will say this, Mr. President. I am very committed, as - as you are, to the preservation of this - of this heritage that has been left to us. And we want to pass it on to our children and their children in a better - in better shape than it was passed to us. One of my -my favorite poems, I guess, is 'For Whom the Bell Tolls.' And I've used it in many, many contexts. But in this particular one the - the part that says that if a little piece of Europe falls off, Europe is the less for it. Well the same applies to our public lands. If - if one little piece of our public trust is - is desecrated, we all suffer from it. So each one of us has more than our backyard to care for. And I thank you very much, Mr. President, for -for this opportunity.

MR. BUSH: Lou.

MR. SULLIVAN: President-elect Bush, I'm proud to be your nominee for the Secretary's position at Health and Human Services. I look forward to the challenges I will face once confirmed by the Senate, and to the opportunity to contribute to improving the health and the lives of all Americans. You will be a superb President, Mr. Bush. I look forward to serving with you. You've demonstrated leadership and courage throughout your long career of public service. It is an honor to be asked to join your team and I look forward to serving you and the American people.

The President-elect and I share the common goal of wanting make a difference in the lives of our fellow citizens. I agree with his policies and, upon my confirmation by the Senate, will implement them with enthusiasm, faithfully and vigorously. Without going into great detail, because discussion of specifics should await my confirmation hearings, the President-elect and I have discussed a number of public health priorities for the nation.

First, we must develop new initiatives and opportunities to improve the efficiency, the effectiveness and equity of our nation's health care system. Two, we must bring runaway health care costs under control without compromising quality health care or access to health care. We must address the disparities that exist in the availability and the quality of health care for Americans of all economic means, especially finding ways to improve this care for the nation's minorities and our disadvantaged citizens. And, four, we must work tire - tirelessly to find cures and better treatment for dreaded disease like cancer, heart disease and AIDS through strengthening our efforts in biomedical research.

I wish to emphasize that in the area of abortion, my personal position is that I am opposed to abortion except in the case of rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother. I'm also opposed to Federal funding of abortion except in the case of a threat to the life of the mother. This position is the same of that of President-elect Bush, with whom I agree completely.

The priorities previously cited are just a few of the challenges facing - facing the Bush Administration. Other challenges include the issues of the elderly, disadvantaged families and children, the horrible scourge of drug abuse afflicting our society, especially our young people. In this matter alone I will not rest until I provide the support for the education and research programs we so desperately need to conquer the scourge.

One of my top priorities will be the children of our nation. They are our future. Their families are the backbone of our society. Health care, welfare, literacy - these issues overlap. In President-elect Bush's campaign, he stood strong for investing in our children, and I stand at his side. As you can see, there is much to do.

MR. BUSH: Sam.

MR. SKINNER: Thank you, Mr. President-elect. I am both challenged and humbled by the assignment you have given me. It is indeed an honor to serve as a member of your Cabinet.

Our nation faces a number of challenges in the transportation sector. All of these must be met with a commitment to efficiency and cost effectiveness and, of course, safety must always be our number one priority.

Whether it is to continue the important upgrade of our Federal aviation systems to meet the demands of an unprecedented period of rapid development and expansion, working with the President's new drug czar to improve on the Coast Guard's interdiction efforts, or continuing a commitment to a deregulated transit - portation economy wherever possible or providing leadership in developing the innovative approaches to meeting our massive infrastructure improvement and maintenance requirements, I can promise you, and I assure you, that I am looking forward to this assignment. I'm here to roll up my sleeves and get to work as part of the Bush Administration.


MR. DERWINSKI: Thank you Mr. President-elect.

I can't resist telling you ladies and gentlemen that approximately 22 years ago, when I was already a somewhat senior member of Congress, a young innocent freshman from Texas came and joined us. And I remember meeting then-Congressman George Bush that day and thinking to myself 'Now this man has a future.' And that kind of wise judgment has always stood me well in my career. . . . the President-elect called me this morning and asked me if I would accept this responsibility. I was pleased to say yes. And made the point to me, as he did to you just now, that this nation owes a great debt of gratitude to its veterans, especially those with service-connected disabilities. I also have a somewhat different challenge than the other gentlemen here with me in that I inherit a - the Veterans Administration and the new Veterans Department technically goes into effect on the 15th of March. That gives me 10 weeks to put together, hopefully, an efficient but streamlined new bureaucracy. It is our hope to have it function in a most efficient fashion so we could maximize the resources that we've put into the field in support of our veterans.

MR. REILLY: Mr. President-elect. I am very deeply honored that President-elect George Bush has selected me for this important job. Throughout his campaign, the Vice President demonstrated his understanding of the immense environmental problems facing not only this country but also the planet. In his campaign and in his discussions with me, he has stressed his commitment to solving those problems.

The solutions will not come easily. I'm gratified that the President-elect believes that my past experience at World Wildlife Fund and the Conservation Foundation will help me serve him in charting a new and a constructive course on environmental policy at home and abroad. To my knowledge, this is the first time the leader of a major conservation organization has been appointed directly to the position of E.P.A. Administrator. I think that fact in itself - in itself suggests how the President-elect views the work ahead of us. I look forward to this job.


Chemical Weapons in Libya

Q: Mr. Vice President, will your administration be committed to preventing Libya from developing chemical weapons warfare capability? Are prepared to go beyond diplomatic means to prevent that?

A: Not only should our administration be committed to that but in my view any civilized country around the world should be committed to that objective. And in terms of what means one uses to achieve that end, I think it be appropriate to go into detail. It does seem to me that our allies can help. Maybe other countries in that area although very few of them have any influence whatsoever on Mr. Qaddafi. But this is a matter of real concern to us and, yes, we all ought to be committed to seeing that that plant not be permitted to spread further destruction. Yes.

Crash of Pan Am Flight 103

Q: Mr. Vice President, do you now believe that the reason behind Pan Am Flight 103 crash was a terrorist bomb and if so, would you commit yourself to quick and effective retribution --

A: We have not - we don't have the evidence to answer that in the affirmative.

Q: May I follow up though on the --

A: It's just hypothetical because we don't know what it [unintelligible].

Q: [Unintelligible] Well if there is in fact any terrorism, President Reagan has said terrorists can run but cannot hide.

A: Yes. I'll continue that policy.

Sullivan Stand on Abortion

Q: Mr. President-elect, in spite of what Dr. Sullivan said about abortion today, the anti-abortion groups pleaded with you in the last few days not to appoint him. What do you say to them at this point?

A: I refer to his comments here today. I refer him to the support that should be particularly important to them from certain key members of the United States Congress. And that is a - I think those two things would satisfy any critic and it's understandable that the questions be raised. It is certainly -they will have a chance to make their mind based on the hard facts after Dr. Sullivan has testified. And I couldn't agree more with what he said here and I think the others all feel the same way in terms of going into details of their portfolio before they have the courtesy of - do the Senate the courtesy of going up to answer questions. But that's what I'd say, Jerry.

Possible Action on Libya

Q: Mr. Vice President, as you know negotiations on chemical weapons American [unintelligble] may go on for some time [unintelligible]. Is this Libyan plan of sufficient threat that we can either consider unilateral or multilateral action prior to the time when we can reach some kind of treaty and a larger understanding?

A: I think the answer is to discuss that in considerable detail in Paris on the meeting that takes place on Jan. 6. One shouldn't give up on trying to turn around the Libyan regime. But what happens beyond that if there is a direct refusal to do that what has been the free world and I think that most of the world frankly would mandate then we'll consider options at that time. Yes.

Information on Terror Threats

Q: Mr. Vice President, what is the U.S. Government's obligation to inform its citizens of a threat the Government receives on bombing commercial airliners? And is it ever appropriate for the government to pass such information on to diplomats but not to the public at large?

A: I think when you are dealing with intelligence which can be a unsubstantiated threat, can be a crackpot phone call or it can be a real warning, what you've got to do is evaluate that intelligence. And I think the answer is sometimes by going public you achieve -you give undue attention to what the terrorist wants to call attention to. And so often it's best to handle these matters by aborting the threat. And you've got to evaluate the threat. And I find that - I found from some experience in the intelligence business that you get enormous numbers of suggestions that there's going to be some kind of terroristic action and most of them never materialize. So I think you have to look at it on a case-by-case basis. But if you have hard evidence that a specific flight was going to be threatened or that the threat could not be contained, clearly you would want to serve the public good by notifying people.

Commitment on Acid Rain

Q: Mr. Vice President, in your discussions with Mr. Riley, did you discuss with him in any detail the acid rain issue, and did you give him assurances that you will be willing to spend the five or more billions of dollars needed to begin to make a serious dent in that issue?

A: Yes, but I didn't tell him about spending $5 billion more to work on it, but we did talk about the acid rain threat. He's aware of my commitment to go forward. We're trying to achieve standards, goals, to meet on acid rain. He's very knowledgeable in the agreement that we have with Canada, and to go forward with a clean cold technology, but I don't recall, Walt, giving him - I know I didn't give him any specific numbers that we are going to be able to bring to bear on this problem.

Q: Once those goals are in place, are you committed to spending the money it will take to clean up the problem?

A: Providing we can balance the budget in an appropriate period of time. We've got to -it's got - everything has to fit into our -whatever our budget - our proposal is to meet these Gramm-Rudman-Hollings targets. But in terms of priority, clean air, clean water, these things fit into my priorities. But we have to recognize that there are not all the monies available that I would like to see for all the good things that need to be done by the Federal Government.

Military Action Against Noriega

Q: There are reports that some people in the current Administration would like to take more aggressive actions against Noriega in Panama because they fear that once you become President you wouldn't condone such actions. Are you concerned about this, and would you, or under what conditions would you consider the use of U.S. military force in Panama?

A: One thing I've stated, I think probably consistently, is the last thing that the United States would want to do would be to project under what specific conditions it would use military force, and I would add to that particularly in South and Central America, because of our history there. So I wouldn't - and where anybody gets the idea whether I'd be more or less likely to use force, I don't know. But let me say this - that I am as determined as President Reagan is to see that Noriega not continue in his dictatorial ways there in Panama. And so - but I'm just going to have to not respond more directly to some hypothesis as to what the United States might or might not do in terms of use of force.

Embassy Alert on Bomb Threat

Q: Thank you. I would like to follow up on a question earlier about the Pan Am flight. We are being told that the embassies around the world, the American embassies, were put on alert because there was some kind of phone call about a bomb on a plane. And really, the question, I think, was, why were the embassies notified? Why did the U.S. Government take that threat so seriously that our embassies were put on notice, but travelers were never warned or told?

A: Leslie, I'll have to look into it. I don't know the answer to it and I don't know - this is the first I've heard about the embassies being put on specific notice.

Advising Passengers of Threat

Q: Sir, in a related question - in response to an earlier question, you were talking about, first of all, if there were a threat, you would try and abort the threat - what did you mean by that? And secondly, indeed, you seem to indicate that you would advise passengers not to get on an airplane you were confident was bombed or in some way in jeopardy, but what is the U.S. responsibility for passengers on airliners in the case of this or any hypothetical threat?

A: Maximum security, optimum technological assistance to enforce that security, and maximum effort to screen whatever suggestions of terrorism might be coming forward. But I can tell you that there are all kinds of threats that have no basis whatsoever - happens all the time, all over the world, I would say almost every day, if not every day. So you have to screen the intelligence. I just don't know. You're asking good questions on this, but I don't know the background of what Leslie was talking about, and so I can't go any further than that.

Another Black Appointment

Q: Mr. Vice President, you indicated, or your aides indicated, that you would like to have had more than one black member in your Cabinet. Does it appear that you will still be able to do that - accomplish that?

A: I've only got two posts to go, and so I'll just be able to answer that after those -after those two appointments. I don't know. I have to say I don't know.

Intelligence on Terrorists

Q: Is there something wrong with our security and our intelligence when we're tipped off with terrorist threats and we can't do anything to prevent it?

A: When you're dealing with international terrorism, there's something very wrong, but not necessarily with our intelligence community or its ability to cope. You're dealing with something - I would say - as cowardly as terrorism - it is very difficult to guard against it. And I've found that - I've found that in many different ways, but one of them when I was heading up that anti-terrorism study that resulted in the best anti-terrorism policy that any country has. But it just proves, it seems to me, that even though you have the best cooperation on intelligence, and I think it's better now internationally than it's ever been - that it is almost impossible to solve the problem.

Q: Mr. Vice President, if in the future your intelligence aides determine that a threat is valid enough that our embassy should be informed, would you also tell them that the American public should informed?

A: Depends what the threat is. Depends how firm the intelligence is.

George Bush, The President-Elect's News Conference Announcing Five Cabinet Nominations Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives