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The President-Elect's News Conference Announcing the Nomination of Senator John Ashcroft as Attorney General

December 22, 2000

PRESIDENT-ELECT BUSH: Good morning. Thank you all for coming.

Today it's my honor to send to the United States Senate the name of Senator John Ashcroft to become the attorney general of the United States.

I understand this, that an effective attorney general must be a person of proven character and executive ability.

As I looked around to find the appropriate person to lead this important office, I looked for three things: One, a person of unquestionable integrity. Secondly, somebody who knows how to manage, an executive, somebody who can handle a large agency. And thirdly, I wanted someone who would have a commitment to fair and firm and impartial administration of justice.

I'm confident I found that person in John Ashcroft. He now holds the Senate seat that Harry Truman held. He was elected to office in the great state of Missouri, elected as the attorney general of that state, elected twice as the governor of the state of Missouri. He's had a distinguished record in public service.

John Ashcroft will perform his duties guided by principle, not by politics. He will be faithful to the law, pursuing justice without favor. He will enforce the law and he will follow the truth.

It is my honor to send this good man's name to the United States Senate to be the 79th attorney general of the United States.

Senator Ashcroft?

ASHCROFT: Mr. President-elect, let me begin by thanking you, thanking you for the kind words, thanking you for your commitment to justice, and for your call to service. And Janet and I are profoundly grateful.

Janet, as you well know, I wouldn't want to be here without you.

Almost every day for the last six years, I've walked past the back of the United States Supreme Court building on my way to my Senate desk. Last week, when the most recent Congress ended, so too did my routine.

And on the final day of the session, I recall walking past the high court, beneath the words etched in marble: "Justice, the guardian of liberty." That inscription, if less quoted than its counterpart, "Equal justice under law," is no less profound. And both perfectly capture my aspiration in serving the next president and in working in the Department of Justice.

Quite simply, we will strive to be a guardian of liberty and equal justice. For freedom, as President-elect Bush has noted, can flourish only in a culture defined by the rule of law, a rule of law that knows no class, that sees no color, and bows to no creed. It is a rule of law that has been elemental to the American experiment since our very first days. The pursuit of liberty and equal justice for every citizen requires that we foster integrity in the nation's highest law enforcement office.

President-elect Bush, you have my word that I will administer the Department of Justice with integrity, I will advise your administration with integrity, and I will enforce the laws of the United States of America with integrity.

Sustaining America as a nation of laws is an ennobling challenge. Janet and I embrace it, and we embrace it absent any slight--even slight reservation.

Thirty-five years ago, Janet and I met at the University of Chicago Law School. Through this semester, she has taught law at Howard University's School of Business in Washington, D.C. She shares my passion for justice and my dedication to upholding the law.

Together, we believe that what the prophet Micah observed several thousand years ago: What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.

Political defeat, as my old colleague and college classmate Joe Lieberman has written, brings more than emotion and pain, it brings perspective. And today, for Janet and me, it brings a renewed and noble call to public service.

Mr. President, I am grateful for this opportunity, this opportunity to serve you and to serve the United States of America. Thank you.

BUSH: Congratulations.

ASHCROFT: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you.

QUESTION: I wonder if you could tell us, sir, how the Department of Justice will be different now than it's been under President Clinton?

BUSH: I can only tell what you it's going to be like in the future and you can draw your own conclusions. John Ashcroft is a man of deep convictions and strong principle. His job will to bring--to enforce the law, that's what his job's going to be, in an impartial way, not in a political way.

BUSH: And there's going to be a lot of opportunities, obviously, during the transition for me and the vice president or any of my designees to look backwards, but we're not going to do that. Our job is to, once I'm sworn in, and these members of my Cabinet are sworn it, is to look forward, is to think about the future.

And in picking John Ashcroft, I thought long and hard about the future of the Justice Department. It's an incredibly important job. Secondly, I value his advice; I will value his legal advice. Thirdly, one of the things that I am confident is, when he gives me his legal advice, you won't know about it unless I tell you. The reason I say that is, John's a man of enormous integrity. He is going to hold the job for the right reason, and the right reason is serving the country.

QUESTION: Congratulations, Senator. Good morning, Mr. President-elect.

With the economy on everyone's mind, I have a question--two questions, actually. First, will you and your new treasury secretary continue the long-standing strong dollar policy? And secondly, when are you going to announce your White House economic team?

BUSH: The question was when will I continue to name members of my White House staff, including the economic team. I kind of changed the question a little bit. In due course.

Secondly, our economic policy will be one that is mindful of the need for this nation to attract foreign capital, capital which will continue to fuel what we all hope will be the entrepreneurial boom that has taken place over the last decade.

I keep hearing talks about, you know, "Well, this is an administration that is trying to talk down the economy." That's foolish talk. All of us in the Bush administration will want the economy to be strong.

But there are some clear warning signs, warning signs that will require what we believe is important action in the halls of Congress, such as tax relief.

There are some headlines stories today about consumer confidence in some of the major newspapers in the country. Seems like to me that one of the ways to encourage the consumption and to enhance consumer confidence will be to let people have some of their own money back.

QUESTION: Sir, you made it a centerpiece of your campaign to reform and upgrade the military, yet it would appear that in an otherwise painless transition, you're still having some problems finding the secretary of defense. I'm wondering, sir, what can you tell us about the problems that you're experiencing. What of Senator Coats, who is said to be a front-runner among congressional Republicans? And what do your deliberations say about your willingness to break with the Republican leadership and conservatives in your party?

BUSH: I would characterize my search as deliberate. I'm taking my time in a lot of the Cabinet appointments, until I'm absolutely certain that the person I--that the people that I'm talking to is the right person, I'm not going to move. It's so important for us to make sure that we get it right in the beginning.

And so I know there's a lot of speculation. And if it wasn't on the defense position, it might be on another position that I have yet name. But when I make my mind up, people will know that the decision is one made not based upon politics, or who's in favor in some political organization or not, but it's going to be based upon what's right for the country. And I'll let you know when I make up my mind.

QUESTION: Mr. President-elect and Senator Ashcroft, the Clinton administration has questioned the fairness of the federal death penalty. Will you consider a moratorium on the federal death penalty?

QUESTION: And, Senator Ashcroft, as incoming attorney general, is that something that you think should be done?

BUSH: Well, first let me answer. I look forward to the attorney general-designee's advice, what is his counsel. As I mentioned to you, whatever counsel it is, I hope I don't read about it.

Secondly, I have, obviously, been the governor of a death penalty state. I support the death penalty when it's administered fairly, justly and surely, because I believe it saves people's lives.

And as I stand here now, David, I see no reason for there to be a moratorium at the federal level. I believe this administration should enforce the laws on the books.

You are welcomed to say something, if you would like to. Just don't tell them what your advice is.


ASHCROFT: Well, I would say that I have had many of the same experiences that the president-elect has had as governor. And frankly, his views are I think the correct views. And they're obviously his views, but I believe that they are the appropriate views, and I agree completely.

And it's my job, will be my job upon confirmation as attorney general, to support the views of the president and would want to reflect his views in this respect.

QUESTION: Can I follow-up?

BUSH: Sure, David.

QUESTION: Is that to say...

BUSH: For me or him?

QUESTION: For you. Is that to say that you don't believe any further view is necessary, as the Clinton administration has, on this particular case, Mr. Garza who is scheduled for execution?

BUSH: David, the Clinton administration needs to do what it feels like it's got to do. And when I assume office, if there's compelling evidence that the system is not swift and sure and just, I will listen. I will listen.

QUESTION: Mr. President-elect, to some in the civil rights community, Senator Ashcroft is well-known for blocking the elevation to the federal bench of Ronnie White, a Supreme Court justice in Missouri. Some criticize that and thought there was some racial motivation behind that. I would like you to address that controversy, sir. And also tell us the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice will do under his leadership, different from what Bill Lann Lee has done, who was very much criticized by Republicans in the Senate, including Mr. Ashcroft.

BUSH: I looked at John's record in all matters, including the case that you--to which you refer. John can answer that question in specific, if you'd like. But there's no question in my mind that he will uphold and enforce the law, the civil rights laws on the books of America. He has had a very good record of reaching out to people from all walks of life. He was a governor who appointed African-Americans to the bench. He's a man who has got a good and decent heart.

And he had his reasons of blocking a single nomination. And I thought about that, and I looked at the facts, and I listened to him. And there's no question in my mind that this is a person who believes in civil rights for all citizens.

QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. President-elect. Congratulations, Senator.

Eight years ago, President-elect Bill Clinton talked about having one of the most ethical administrations in American history. During the course of this campaign, you have both criticized the Department of Justice and Janet Reno, as well as the White House. Could you give us an example or describe for us each the type of integrity and ethics that the two of you bring to the White House as a contrast to what has just ended or is about to?

BUSH: During the course of the transition, I'm sure there's going to be ample opportunity to be critical of the administration, which I'm not going to do. It is now time to move forward. That's what the election was all about. It is time, we've had our debates, we've had our discussions, and this administration is going to move forward.

STAFF: Last question.

QUESTION: Mr. President-elect, if I could take you back to the economy for just a moment. You've expressed some concern about the signs of slowdown here. You haven't talked that much about the slowdown around the world. Japan seems to be slipping back into recession. Europe has been in some trouble.

QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit about how your plans would involve not only regenerating the U.S. economy, but also any concerns you may have about how you get the rest of the world economy going and whether it could pull us down?

BUSH: Well, I am mindful that each country's going to have to make their own decisions, economic decisions, as to how best to invigorate growth.

First, we should lead by example, and the example of less regulation, rule of law, capital formation, encouragement of entrepreneurial growth, is an important example for stagnant economies to look at.

Secondly, I'm going to promote free trade. I think free trade will be a stimulus for economic activity all around the world.

Thirdly, we will have a foreign policy that is humble. We will have a foreign policy that is present, but humble. And by that I mean that we should not be divining prescriptions for people's ills. If they want to work with us, fine. But our country cannot try to impose our prescriptions on nations.

Fourthly, I'm absolutely aware of the connection between foreign markets and U.S. economic growth. That's why I answered Patsy's question the way I did. I'm mindful of the need of this country to be a place where people can get a good return on their investment in order to attract capital. And obviously, therefore, I am concerned about the lack of available capital coming from foreign countries.

But ours will be an administration of free trade, less regulations that affect the flow of capital around the world, and one based upon humility, as well as the confidence in free markets and the entrepreneurial spirit.

Thank you all very much. See you this afternoon. Then we'll have the traditional holiday greeting.

George W. Bush, The President-Elect's News Conference Announcing the Nomination of Senator John Ashcroft as Attorney General Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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