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The President-Elect's News Conference Announcing the Nomination of Elaine Chao as Secretary of Labor and Robert Zoellick as U.S. Trade Representative

January 11, 2001

PRESIDENT-ELECT BUSH: Thank you all for coming. Good afternoon. Today I'm pleased to introduce two distinguished Americans who will be the newest nominees for my Cabinet.

The United States trade representative, I've selected Robert Zoellick. I've known Bob for many years. He's an experienced public servant, a veteran diplomat, a good negotiator, and a man of great skill and energy. Mr. Zoellick will serve as our country's top trade negotiator and will be a key adviser to the president on trade policy.

As I've often stated, a successful economic strategy must include a confident, assertive trade policy. We will open new markets for products grown and made in America. That will be one of our foremost goals. We will ensure that trade agreements are enforced and that American farmers and workers and entrepreneurs are treated fairly.

Bob and I recognize that we now are in a global economy and that trade will not only mean a good economy at home, trade will mean a good economy with our trading partners.

Bob and I also understand the importance of having a good, active trade policy in our own hemisphere. As I've said, our neighbors to the south of us and to the north won't be afterthoughts of foreign policy or economic policy, they'll be an integral part of making sure that our hemisphere and our world is strong and peaceful.

As USTR, Mr. Zoellick, soon to be ambassador Zoellick, will be a full partner in trade team and a full member of my Cabinet.

It's a pleasure to welcome this talented man back into public service and to my administration.

I also welcome Elaine Chao, who will be the nominee for secretary of labor.

In the campaign I laid out priorities for working Americans. I talked about a strong educated and productive work force in which all can participate. This means job training for those left behind in our new economy. It means that people leaving welfare will need job skills necessary to seize the opportunities of the moment. It means that a disability should not bar anyone from the work place.

These will be the priorities of the Department of Labor and of the new secretary.

She brings to this post the qualities for which she is known and admired--strong executive talent, great compassion, and a commitment to helping people build better lives.

Elaine Chao believes deeply in the American dream because she has lived it. She came to America at the age of eight not knowing a word of English. Her successful life gives eloquent testimony to the virtues of hard work and perseverance and to the unending promise of this great country. I welcome Elaine to our cabinet as well.

I'm going to ask Bob and Elaine to say a few words, and I'll answer a few questions before I depart to the great state of Texas, then to return to become sworn in as your president.

ROBERT ZOELLICK: Well, first I'd like to thank very much the president-elect. I'm delighted that I will have the opportunity to work with him. And I'm honored by the confidence that he has vested in me.

And I'm very proud to be a member of the team that he has assembled.

As the president-elect said during the campaign, free trade is about freedom. It's important for our economy but also for America's other interests and values throughout the world.

I've always believed that openness is America's trump card. It makes us stronger as a people, and it makes us more dynamic as a nation.

I also recognize that change isn't easy, and it can be frightening. I and others will be listening to consumers, to workers, to business people, to farmers, and others to try to help them benefit and adjust to the openness in competition, try to open doors of opportunity for all of them, as well.

I know very well that Congress has the authority over international trade, and no trade policy can be successful without effective executive and congressional relationship.

So, if confirmed, I look forward to working very closely with Congress, both sides of the aisle, from day one.

I'm very appreciative of the help and the counsel I've gotten from individual senators and members over the course of years in different circumstances, and I'm going to need their help again.

Finally, I've been very fortunate to have been encouraged and taught and supported by so many people--teachers and friends and colleagues and people with whom I've worked. But I just want to single out one for a special thanks: my wife, Sherry, who has given me more than I can ever possibly return.


ELAINE CHAO: Good afternoon.

I'm very honored to have the opportunity to work with the President-elect Bush to ensure that we protect, nurture, and develop our nation's most precious resource, and that's America's working men and women.

And I look forward to ensuring that America's workforce continues to compete successfully in the global economy in this new century.

You know, when my mother, sisters and I arrived on the shores of America when I was 8 years old, the boat on which we came, a freighter, passed the Statue of Liberty. And as a I looked up at the Statue of Liberty I thought at that time what a wonderful country, that I've arrived. And yet never could I have dreamed at that time that I'd be standing before you today as President-elect Bush's choice for secretary of labor.

I want to thank you, Mr. President-elect, for your trust and confidence.

I also want to thank my husband, Mitch, for his love, and he is the love of my life. He's currently in Kentucky today, tending to the needs of our state.

I also want to thank my parents and sisters. You know, my parents were such a young couple when they first came to America. They had so little. But they were fortified with life's most precious treasures, and that is faith in the Lord, faith in the basic decency and goodness of this country, and also love of family.

Let me assure you that I will bring to this job the same passion for America that my father demonstrated many years ago when he came to America. Our early years in this country were difficult. My father held three jobs to make ends meet. My mother worried constantly over our meager budget. And of course we missed our family and friends who were a world away.

I entered the third grade not speaking a word of English, but every day I would copy whatever was on the blackboard into my notebook, and I'd take it home. And nightly, after a long day's work, my father, with great love and even greater patience, translated that day's lesson, struggling to make sense of my childish scrawls. And that's how I learned English.

But my father taught me--my parents taught me so much more than just how to speak the language of this country. My parents taught me the founding principles of this country, the principles of freedom and opportunity, the value of hard work, the need to ensure that every man and woman is compensated fairly for their hard work.

And once confirmed, if confirmed--I sure hope so--I will apply these lessons and principles to every aspect of the Department of Labor, as I myself labor to carry out President-elect Bush's vision for the working men and women of this country, a vision of American, he mentioned, with a strong and productive work force in which everyone can participate, where jobs and opportunities are available for those leaving welfare, where job training is available for those left behind in our new economy.

And we must ensure that a disability never bars a qualified person from the workplace, and that parents have an easier time balancing the responsibilities of home and work.

Let me also say that I look forward to working with the labor and business leaders of this country. As president and CEO of United Way of America in the mid-1990s, I was privileged to work with key leaders of organized labor, such as John Sweeney and Mort Barr (ph) to provide charitable services and solutions to those in our country who need help the most. I look forward continuing and building upon those relationships.

I want to thank you, once again, President-elect Bush and also Vice President-elect Cheney for the opportunity to serve the hardworking men and women of this country.

Thank you.


QUESTION: Mr. President-elect, you've now had one nominee withdraw. Another one, your nominee for attorney general, is up against formidable opposition. Did you anticipate you'd have so much trouble this early on with some of your nominees?

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: And what do you plan to do moving forward? Do you stand behind Senator Ashcroft? And will you be making any phone calls to senators...


BUSH: If need to, I will. And of course I'll stand behind John Ashcroft. He's going to make a very good and very strong attorney general.

I never expected our nominees to sail through without harsh questioning and good confirmation hearings, and I look forward to them. I can't wait for John to have a fair hearing so people get to see what he's made out of. And he's going to do a good job. I'm confident he'll be confirmed.

QUESTION: Sir, can you explain the reasoning behind your decision to make Mr. Zoellick, if he's confirmed, a full member of your Cabinet?

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: And secondly, can you clarify what relationship he'll have to your eventual secretary of commerce? Will he be in any way subordinate to the secretary of commerce or will he report directly to you?

BUSH: A good question. He'll report directly to me. He'll be a member of the Cabinet. And the reason why he needs--the position needs to remain a Cabinet-level position is because of the importance of trade in the global economy. It should reconfirm our nation's commitment to free trade.

And I'll be in touch with Bob a lot to find out how negotiations go.

I'm going to remind him, for example--and he doesn't need to be reminded of this, but we'll have single undertaking negotiations when it comes to trade agreements so that our agricultural sector is not traded out in the end. I mean, it's important for us to be opening up markets around the world so our farmers can be selling in to open markets, for example.

And I want to follow closely those aspects of trade agreement that deal with areas such as agriculture. It's something I talked about a lot in the campaign, and it's something I want to pay attention to. And in order to do that, I want to have him report directly to me.


QUESTION: Your secretary of the interior-designate, Gale Norton, made a speech a few years ago in which she lamented the loss in the Civil War, the confederacy, because she said too much was lost--referring to states' rights doctrine.

What do you say to citizens who might hear that and are concerned that your nominee's defending the states' rights position of the confederacy may mean a retreat from federal protection through federal power of minority rights?

BUSH: I'd say that's just a ridiculous interpretation of what's in her heart. She's been the attorney general of the state of Colorado. She's a person who upheld the laws of that state. She is--she in no way, shape or form was talking about any value to slavery.

And, you know, what happens in this town is, the voices of the special interests like to tear people down. That's just part of the process. I understand that. But this is a good, strong woman who's going to do a very good job as the interior secretary.

You know, I was amazed, the other day, somebody was getting on her because she wanted to drill in ANWR. Well, guess who else thinks we ought to, in order to make sure we got enough energy for the nation? The president-elect. It shouldn't surprise people that I picked people that share a philosophy with me.

And we're going to have a balanced policy when it comes to federal lands, and she's the right person to lead the interior department.

I'm confident when she gets a fair hearing, when people hear her and listen to what she has to say and look at her record as an elected official in a state like Colorado, she's going to be confirmed.

QUESTION: Sir, as you know, Senator Boxer of California has been the first Democratic senator who's come out in opposition to Senator Ashcroft publicly. She commented late yesterday that the selection of Senator Ashcroft is, quote, "at odds" with your claim to be a uniter, and that the hearings in the Senate are going to be very hard on the nation. And I'd like to get your comments on those comments.

BUSH: Well, it doesn't have to be hard, if the senators will tone down their rhetoric.

And secondly, I picked John Ashcroft because he's a good attorney. He's going to be the attorney general, he's going to be the nation's lawyer, and he'll enforce the laws on the books. And people will get a chance to hear that.

This, too, was a person who was elected to public office. He was the attorney general of the state of Missouri, he was the governor in the state of Missouri, because a United States senator in the state of Missouri. Missouri, as you all know, those of you who follow politics, is what they call a swing state. It's a state that looks very carefully at candidates, regardless of party. And this is a competent man who will do the job.

I don't expect him to get 100 percent of the vote in the Senate. I wish he would, but I don't expect that.

But it's up to the members of the Senate to determine how civil the discussions will be.

I expect they will be. I know the questioning is going to be tough, but John is prepared for tough questioning.

And I look forward to the hearing, and I want America to see this good man answer the questions that many will have for him.


QUESTION: Mr. President-elect, you say you expected Ashcroft to get something of a rough ride. What specifically do you think is unfair about the mounting opposition against him? And are you concerned as to the work of both parties that his confirmation hearing is shaping up to be something of a spectacle?

BUSH: Well, I expected at least one member of my Cabinet to get a pretty tough hearing. You know, it could've been John, it could've been somebody else. I've never known the Senate just to say, gosh, this is a wonderful selection, we'll just let them all sail through.

I do think there's going to be some interesting discussions about the law and his willingness to enforce civil rights laws, for example, and he will. I had a good long talk with John about civil rights laws. This is a good man. He's got a good heart.

And when people hear his record and see what he's done in public life and having been elected twice--or three different times, three different offices statewide in Missouri--they'll find him to be an accomplished, good American. And I'm confident he'll win the votes.

I'm not suggesting the hearings are going to be, you know, nice, smooth sailing for him. It's going to be a lot of tough questioning, but the tone of the questions is going to be up to the questioners. I'm confident the answerer of the questions will do so in a dignified way.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Mr. President-elect, conservative groups have taken sort of an initiative in coming out strongly in favor of the Ashcroft nomination, much more so than they did with the Chavez nomination. I'm wondering if you've taken note of the difference there.


QUESTION: And what is your reaction to it?

BUSH: I haven't. I've been busy on preparing for my arrival here next week, and I haven't been really paying attention to all the different lobbying efforts and the voices that are, you know, the people that are kind of surrounding, you know, John with support and/or against him.

To the extent that people want to help his nomination, that's fine. But I think he can stand on his own. I think he's plenty confident of answering the questions in the Senate about the different matters that senators are going to ask him. And I'm confident he's going to be confirmed. If somebody asks the question am I standing behind him, absolutely. I mean, he's going to do a really good job.

QUESTION: Mr. President-elect, what did you think of President Clinton's remarks questioning--seemingly to question the legitimacy of your presidency?

BUSH: Well, you know, I always--you know, I won the recount I think three or four times, and I was always worried about the revote. But when they counted the ballots in the state of Florida, I won. And he can say what he wants to say, but January the 20th I'll be honored to be sworn in as the president.

STAFF: Thank you very much.

BUSH: Thank you all.

Listen, for those of you in the press pool, hustle.


George W. Bush, The President-Elect's News Conference Announcing the Nomination of Elaine Chao as Secretary of Labor and Robert Zoellick as U.S. Trade Representative Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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