Vice President and Mrs. Cheney's Remarks and Q&A at a Town Hall Meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
American Serb Hall
11:40 A.M. CDT
MRS. CHENEY: Thank you. We've got to get ourselves rearranged here. This is not the first time we've done it, though it might look like it, when we come out here and try to figure out who is going to sit where.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sit down, please.
MRS. CHENEY: Yes. (Laughter.) Well, I do get to introduce Dick. I get this assignment because I've known him for so long. I have known him since he was 14 years old. I know, it is worth thinking about. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: But not too hard. (Laughter.)
MRS. CHENEY: And his job that summer, when I first knew him, was sweeping out the Ben Franklin store in our hometown in Casper, Wyoming. And I've known him through many jobs since. I've known him since he was digging ditches at the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo Grounds outside our home in Casper. And I've known him since he was loading bentonite, 100 pound bags of bentonite onto railroad cars. And I've known him since he was building power line all across the west to help pay his way through school. And I have known him, and Jim mentioned this, since his job was to follow Warren Knowles around to various county fairs in Wisconsin and hand out "We Like it Here" buttons. Do you remember "We Like it Here" buttons? I've got a lot of them. (Laughter.)
Well, and of course it has just been such a special honor these last four years to be beside Dick as he's been Vice President of the United States and working with our wonderful President, George W. Bush. (Applause.) I feel I'm so privileged. I've had a front row seat on history. And I have felt so enormously proud as I watched our great nation rise up after those awful attacks of September 11th, our great nation rise up and comfort people whose lives were changed forever by that event, and then watch our President's leadership as he went after the terrorists who had attacked us, and as he changed our security policy, changed the policy of this country so that we would also go after states that sponsored terror -- very strong, very steadfast. This has been an historic time, one that will be in the history books.
George Bush has been such a steadfast leader. And like a lot of you here, I'm a mom, and I -- well, maybe not like a lot of you, I'm a grandma, too. And I remember 9/11. I remember that day, and not knowing where my kids were, not knowing where my grandchildren were, and that feeling you have in the pit of your stomach, until you're sure everybody is safe and you're sure everybody is okay. And there are a lot of issues that are important in this election, a lot that are important to me.
But I've got to tell you what is foremost in my mind is knowing that the terrorists are going to try again, and thinking about who is it, who do I want to have standing in the door? And I'll tell you, it is not John Kerry and it is not John Edwards. (Applause.) It is George W. Bush and it is my husband, Dick Cheney, Vice President of the United States. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Is that my cue? (Laughter.)
MRS. CHENEY: That's your cue, that's you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much, all of you for being here this morning. Let me thank my good friend, Jim Sensenbrenner for his kind remarks. Jim and I -- he didn't tell you -- we also went to Congress together. We were classmates. And he ended up Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and look what I got? (Laughter.) But we served together for many, many years. And he's been a great friend. He does a superb job for all of you here in Wisconsin, and really, for everybody in the country. (Applause.)
I'm delighted to be back at the Serb Memorial Hall. We had a great fish fry here four years ago. And of course, we didn't carry Wisconsin that time, but we did win the election, and this time we're going to carry Wisconsin, too. (Applause.)
So we're delighted to have the opportunity to spend some time with all of you today. What we ordinarily do at these events is I make a few remarks, and then we'll open it up to questions, and I'll have an opportunity to respond to some of your comments and concerns as well, too. We have spent a lot of time in Wisconsin this year because it's an extraordinarily important state, and it's always fun to come back, because we spent an important part of our lives here, many years ago. This is where our oldest daughter was born, and she now has four children of her own, as a matter of fact.
Of course Lynne said she's known me since we were 14. She wouldn't go out with me until I was 17 though. (Laughter.) I like to point that out. And I explain to people that we actually got married because Dwight Eisenhower got elected President of the United States. (Laughter.) The fact was -- it's a bit of a stretch, but you'll understand here in a minute. (Laughter.)
In 1952, when he ran, I was a youngster living in Lincoln, Nebraska, with my folks. Dad worked for the Soil Conservation Service. Eisenhower got elected, reorganized the government, Dad got transferred to Casper, Wyoming, which is where I met Lynne. We grew up together, went to high school together, and just recently we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. (Applause.) I explained to a group the other night that it hadn't been for Eisenhower's election victory Lynne would have married somebody else. And she said, right, and now he'd be Vice President of the United States. (Laughter.) It's true, it's absolutely true.
But what I would like to do this morning is spend a little bit of time -- I want to talk about what I think is front and center in this election, and that's the question of, obviously, of picking the Commander-in-Chief for the next four years. And I think if you look back at our history, you'll find there have been times when we've come upon what I would describe as a turning point in history or a watershed event or series of events, where we've had to develop new strategy, a new way to deal with new threats, and figure out how we were going to defend the country and guarantee our freedom and our security and safety in the future.
And we had one of those times right after World War II, after we'd won a tremendous victory in Europe and the Pacific. And then, all of a sudden, we found we were faced with the problems of the Cold War. The Soviet Union had gotten very aggressive and developed nuclear weapons, had occupied half of Europe. And we had to develop a brand-new approach, a new strategy, basically develop a strategy of deterrence to deter the Soviets from ever launching an attack against the United States, by holding them at risk.
We created new institutions; created the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a whole series of steps we took in the late '40s to put in place a national security strategy that then put us in good stead for the next 40 years under Republican and Democratic administration alike, until finally we prevailed in the Cold War in 1990 and '91, when the old Soviet Union went out of business.
I think we're at another one of those turning points in our history, and it dates specifically to 9/11 and the events since 9/11, and that we're now at one of those points where we've had to make some decisions about national security strategy, about what the basic threat is facing the country, about how we best organize ourselves and conduct ourselves going forward, once again, to protect against that new threat and to guarantee that the United States will be safe and secure in the future.
And 9/11 represented a dramatic departure from the past for all of us. I think everybody looks back on that day and remembers where they were. We lost 3,000 people, approximately, in New York and Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania -- more people than we lost in Pearl Harbor, the most serious attack ever on U.S. territory. And it forced us to adjust and to adapt to a whole new threat, because the most serious threat we face today, now, is the possibility of terrorists ending up in the middle of one of our cities with a deadlier weapon than we've ever seen before -- a chemical or a biological agent, or even a nuclear weapon. That's the ultimate threat we're faced with today.
And of course, should they be able to do that, they would be able to threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans, not just the 3,000 we lost on 9/11. It's a very sobering thought, but it's essential for us to get our minds around that concept, the nature of that threat, if we're in fact, then, going to adopt measures adequate to the task of defeating them, and making certain that we do everything possible to ensure that we stop that kind of an attack before it can ever be launched against the United States.
That's the prospect the President was faced with on 9/11 and in the immediate aftermath of that. And we did embark, then, upon a fairly dramatic, new step -- strategy, if you will, to deal with that threat. First and foremost, of course, you do everything you can to defend here at home -- create the Department of Homeland Security, you pass the Patriot Act which gives the law enforcement tools they need. The same tools we use to go after organized crime and after drug traffickers, we now apply those same tools to terrorists. Project BioShield that was passed just this past year, that gives the federal government the authority and the resources to be able to do a better job of developing technologies and countermeasures to be used against a possible biological weapons attack against the United States.
But having said all of that, and as we continue to work aggressively to make America a tougher target, to do a better job of being able to defend the United States against a possible attack, we also concluded that there is no such thing as a perfect defense, because you can be successful 99 percent of the time on defense, but given the nature of the threat, terrorists armed with a WMD, the possibility that they might get through, even if it's only 1 percent or one-tenth of one percent, the consequences of that are so enormous that you have to go beyond simply a good defense. And those Green Bay Packer fans know a good defense isn't enough, you've also got to go on offense.
And that's exactly what we've done. The President made that basic, fundamental decision early on, that we would use the full might of the United States to go after the terrorists, wherever they plan and train and organize, and also to after and hold to account those who sponsor terror and support terror. And that was a new departure, because it had not been done previously -- not to the extent that we've done it since.
Of course, our first efforts we mounted were in Afghanistan, where we went in and took down the Taliban and closed the training camps where some 20,000 terrorists had been trained, by one estimate, in the late '90s, between 1997 and about 2001, including some of those who struck us on 9/11. We captured or killed hundreds of al Qaeda. We put the rest of the organization on the run. And of course we've been working since to complete the final task, if you will, which is to stand up a representative, democratically-elected government to govern Afghanistan in the aftermath of having removed the Taliban and ended Afghanistan's status as a safe harbor or a sanctuary for terrorists.
It's absolutely essential we do that last step. We don't want to go into Afghanistan, take down the old regime, and then turn around and walk away, because it will simply, once again, become a breeding ground for terror as it did in the late '90s.
So what we've embarked upon in Afghanistan is to get that democracy up and running. And the Afghans registered 10 million new voters, nearly half of them women, and on Saturday, just three days ago, held the first election in the 5,000-year history of Afghanistan. (Applause.)
Now, it didn't get as much coverage as I think, frankly, it merited. I think this is a historic, historic event. And millions of Afghans flocked to the polls, stood in line for hours and hours to be able to cast that first vote for a President of Afghanistan. It's going to take them weeks to count all the votes because some of ballot boxes have to be brought down by donkey and mule from the mountains. It's very rough, rugged country. But they're getting the job done. And the international observers who were there to watch all of this have concluded that it was, indeed, a free and a fair election -- but a remarkable event.
Now, you can find a lot of people out there who will say, well, you could never pull that off, that will never happen. Afghanistan has been wracked by civil war. It was occupied by the Soviets. The Taliban had taken over and been a very heavy hand for a very long period of time, that the Afghans aren't capable of self-government. But I think everybody who said is dead wrong. And they're off to a good start. We've still got a lot of work to do to help them, and the key is to get them stood up and governing themselves, as well as able to provide for their own security. We're working on that by training and equipping the Afghan security forces. But that's the same basic fundamental approach that we're taking, as well, in Iraq.
Iraq, different situation -- we went into Iraq because Saddam Hussein had a long track record of having produced and used weapons of mass destruction in the past, because he had started two wars, because he had, in fact, been a safe haven and a sponsor of terror. He had been carried on the State Department terror sponsor list for at least 15 years. He was paying $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers. He had provided a home for Abu Nidal, a terrorist organization. Palestinian Islamic Jihad had operated out of there, and he had a relationship with al Qaeda -- go look at testimony by George Tenet, Director of the CIA, two years ago in open public session before the council on foreign relations in the Senate, where he made out the specifics of the 10-year relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq.
Now, once we've gone into Iraq, we've gotten the job done. Obviously, Saddam Hussein is in jail, and the world is much better off for it. (Applause.) And now we're embarked upon the hard work there of standing up a democracy. We've got an Iraq interim government in place. It has been there a little over 90 days. Contrary to what you'll hear from our opponents and some others, talking heads on the tube and so forth, it's a little premature, I think, at this point to judge the Iraqi effort a failure. They're up and running. They've got a lot of work to do yet, but they'll have elections in January -- a significant development. And hopefully by the end of next year, there will be a democratically elected government with their new constitution in place in Iraq, just as there will be the end of this year in Afghanistan.
Again, as I say, it's absolutely essential we proceed down that course and execute the strategy as we've laid it out. Now, what we're hearing from some on the other side is a concerned voice that this is never going to work. Nothing works; everything is fouled up. We've heard this from John Edwards and John Kerry. John Edwards, two-and-a-half years, six months after we went into Afghanistan, made a big deal out of Afghanistan has turned to chaos, the Taliban are taking over again, et cetera. He was dead wrong. If we'd listened to him and to that view of the world, obviously, we wouldn't have made the progress we've made today.
Now, part of the challenge going forward and the decision we're going to make on November 2nd is specifically, are we going to continue to pursue and aggressively use the power of the United States to go after not only terrorists, but also those who sponsor and support terror. Now, when we are tough and aggressive, as we were in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are side benefits. Moammar Ghadafi five days after we captured Saddam Hussein went public and announced he was giving up his aspirations to acquire weapons of mass destruction. (Applause.) When he got ready to surrender his uranium, the centrifuges to enrich uranium, and the design for nuclear weapons, he didn't call the United Nations. He called Tony Blair and George Bush. And all of that is now here in the United States. (Applause.)
But the key for us in the future is: are we prepared to continue to pursue a strategy that I think clearly is working that requires the United States to be tough and aggressive? Or are we going to revert back to what I call the pre-9/11 mind set. And I think that's a choice we're going to make on November 2nd because I firmly believe that John Kerry is trapped back in that pre-9/11 mind set. And I see it based on his history, of his record in the United States Senate. I see it based on his comments during the course of this campaign. And let me talk about that for a few minutes, because I think it's very important.
We saw -- if you -- I know there's nobody here who reads The New York Times, but if you did, on Sunday there was a piece in the Sunday magazine talks about John Kerry's view of the world and these set of issues. And in there, he's quoted as talking about winning back -- or getting back to the time when the whole question of terror didn't represent as big an issue as it does today. What was the word he used for it, Lynne? Nuisance was the way he described it -- that we could somehow manage and control it back to where it was just nuisance level, and then he drew this comparison with law enforcement dealing with problems of illegal gambling or prostitution, for example. Now, think about that for minute. When was it that terrorism was just a nuisance? When I look back at our history and ask the question, well, let's see, was that in the spring of 1983 when terrorists took out our embassy in Beirut and killed several of our people, including our CIA station chief? Or was it maybe in the fall of 1983 when a suicide truck bomber drove into the ground floor of the building where we had our Marines in a barracks in Beirut, and we lost 241 killed that morning? Was that just a nuisance attack? Or maybe 1993, the first attack on World Trade Center in New York, when they first tried to take down the tower. They failed that day, but they drove a truck load of explosives underneath in the hopes, I think, that they could probably topple the tower. They killed half a dozen Americans, wounded dozens more. The attacks on our embassies in East Africa, simultaneously in 1998, where they killed hundreds including several Americans? Or maybe it was the attack on the USS Cole was just sort of nuisance level, where you hit a U.S. destroyer and we lost 19 sailors that morning, and nearly lost the ship? I can't think of a time when it made any sense at all to think of terms of these kinds of attacks upon Americans in the nuisance category, or to -- the equivalent of what he talked the other day when he talked about the illegal gambling and prostitution, just a comparison that strikes me as totally foreign. He says that there's some level of terrorism that we can quote, "accept or live with."
What we've learned over the years is, if you look back at recent history that in fact, the terrorists learned a couple of lessons because 9/11; one, that they could strike us with impunity, because they had repeatedly. And they rarely paid a price for it. We'd go out and aggressively pursue individual terrorists. We got Ramzi Yousef, for example, who did the first World Trade Center attack in 1993. He's doing a life sentence up in Colorado, the federal pen. We never reached behind the individuals and really went after the organizations that were behind some of these attacks. We did fire off a few cruise missiles at some training camps in Afghanistan in '98 after they hit our embassies. But there was never a very effective attack back on those who launched those strikes against the United States. It didn't happen. They basically felt they could strike us with impunity because they had.
The other lesson they'd learned was that if they hit us hard enough, they could change our policy because they had on more than one occasion. After we got hit in Beirut in '83, within a matter of months, we'd withdrawn our forces from Lebanon. And then in 1993, you may remember -- if you saw the movie "Black Hawk Down" it portrays the events where lost 19 soldiers in the battle in Mogadishu, and within weeks, we'd pulled all of our forces out of Somalia. So two lessons, one, they could strike us with impunity; and, two, if they did hit us hard enough, they could change U.S. policy.
Now, that's still their ultimate strategy. But what happened, of course, on 9/11 was they escalated, an ever higher level, killed 3,000 Americans, struck us here at home, and so that the approach that we'd taken before that, sort of, well, it's just a law enforcement problem, approach clearly didn't work. It didn't discourage them from doing anything. In fact, it did just the opposite. They grew bolder. They decided they would launch ever more deadly attacks. And of course, now we know that if they could get their hands on deadlier weapons, there's no reason in the world why they won't use them against us -- no restraint that operates with respect to the al Qaeda or their fellow --
Now, I look at John Kerry's track record; I hear him talk about those considerations with respect to terrorism, getting it back to the point where it's nuisance level, and as I say, I have trouble coming to grips with what that means. I remember when Pam Am 103 went down in late 1988 over Scotland, how many Americans did we lose that day? This is has never been a nuisance. And the danger here is that we will ask a man to take over as Commander-in-Chief who, in fact, doesn't get it, who still wants to hark back to that pre-9/11 mind set, who is not prepared to aggressively pursue the war on terror with the kind of aggressive strategy that will make certain we take down the terrorists overseas so we don't have to fight them here at home. (Applause.)
Now, he's got a record that stretches back 20 years in the Senate and even before that. He first ran for office in the early '70s when he ran for Congress. He went to the convention in Boston this year, and he didn't want to talk about that record, so he emphasized his service in Vietnam. We have always praised his service in Vietnam. I did in my acceptance speech at the Republican Convention in New York City. I got up and praised John Kerry's Vietnam service -- we've never challenged his patriotism -- and the Republican audience applauded. What I challenge is his judgment. When he ran for Congress the first time in the '70s, he did so on the basis that we should not commit U.S. troops unless we have United Nations approval. In 1984, when he ran for the Senate the first time, he ran on a platform, a lengthy platform of all the weapons systems he wanted to cut and eliminate that were part of the Reagan build-up that were vital to our being able to win the Cold War.
Of course, in 1990 and '91, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and we had to respond to that in Desert Storm where we had not only 34 nations alongside us -- we've had 30 now in Iraq -- but we had 34 then; the United Nations Security Council approved it; everything John Kerry says he wants by way of a quote "global test" before we would use force, what did he do in 1991? He voted no. He was against Desert Storm. If he'd had his way, Saddam Hussein would have kept Kuwait.
And now in the period since then, in 1993, after the first attack on the World Trade Center, he was a member of the Senate intelligence committee. As best we can tell, he didn't attend any meetings of the Senate intelligence committee for the year after that attack. But what he did do was offer an amendment to cut several billion dollars out of the defense budget -- or the intelligence budget. It was such a radical proposal even Ted Kennedy wouldn't support it.
Now we fast-forward to the campaign of 2004. Terrorism is a big issue. The war on terror is a big issue. The American people understand there's nothing nuisance-like, if you will, about the problems we're having to deal with today. They understand full well the cost of our failure to deal effectively with it, though we've got to continue to be aggressive. We've got to continue to go after the terrorists. And there's a premium today on a strong figure who understands that and who will, in fact, be an effective Commander-in-Chief in terms of the decision we're going to make this year.
So what we've seen obviously is some tough talk about out of our opponents on the other side of the aisle. But tough talk in a 90-minute debate cannot obscure a 30-year record of being on the wrong side of virtually every national security issue that's come along. (Applause.)
So anyway, that's what I think is at the heart of the choice we're going to make three weeks from today. It's an absolutely essential decision. I think it's maybe the most important election of my lifetime. Some say, well, you're on the ballot. (Laughter.) That's true. But when I looked at the elections that I've been involved in, and I've been involved in a number of them now going back many years in some capacity or other, I have trouble finding another one where I think the choice is as stark, or the consequence is as great as are the consequences for the nation and for my kids and grandkids, and for the future of our nation as the decisions we're going to make three weeks from today -- very, very important piece of business.
So we appreciate very much your willingness to be here today. I say, we want to thank everybody. And let me close my remarks, and then we'll open up to questions by saying how much we owe -- obviously, I think we owe a lot to the President for the way he has handled an extraordinarily difficult challenge that nobody anticipated when you win election. (Applause.)
But I also want to thank our men and women in uniform, and all our veterans for what they've done for all of us. (Applause.)
Now, we've got some folks around here in these attractive orange vests with numbers on them. (Laughter.) And they've got microphones. And if you've got a question or a comment you'd like to offer for the good of the cause, get their attention and I'll come around and try to call on somebody. Number three over here.
Q: Mr. Vice President, as a fellow conservative and sportsman, will summarize the efforts made by your administration to protect and set aside federal lands that some day will be used not by just our children, but their grandchildren and future generations?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we've worked on the general question of resource conservation of lands now for -- well, I guess, the three plus years we've been there. At present, we're working with all of the states in the West, where you've got significant public lands that have been set aside as roadless areas. Those are being reviewed with the governors of the various states, where the governor is authorized to come in and specifically recommend additional safeguards, or areas that can be set aside to be secured for the future -- protective status.
We've been big supporters of the CRP program, this is the program that we've used for agriculture. I think total funding as I recall is committed over a 10-year period of time, I believe it's $39 billion. I'd have to check the number. But basically, the purpose being to encourage people -- private landowners who've got agriculture land that they don't want to have in production, that they can set aside and not produce on, protect it -- develop it for habitat and so forth. And the CRP program is alive and well. It has been significantly expanded. And it's a vital piece of conservation going forward.
The President has also made a commitment that differs from the one in the past. There has been a standard up until now, for example, on wetlands that we wanted a no net loss of wetlands. This is the basic policy that guided the federal government in making decisions in that area. We've changed that. We actually want to go forward and increase the total amount of wetlands that we've got set aside and protected in the country. Those of you who are duck hunters understand the enormous importance and value of that -- hunt ducks myself.
But the Wyoming Wilderness Act, my own situation, back when I was in Congress, the most important piece of legislation I got through, added nearly a million acres of wilderness to the designation of wilderness in Wyoming. So those of us from that part of the country value very highly those resources, and they're always balancing the important requirements in terms of what you need by way of other uses, agriculture, tourism, recreation, and so forth, as well as preservation. But they go hand-in-hand. And if we do it wisely and intelligently, there's no reason in the world why we can't protect and preserve those resources for future generations. As an avid hunter and fly fisherman, I care a lot about all those items. (Applause.)
Number six, right behind -- you somebody there.
Q: Thank you for being here today with us again. As I understand it 72 percent of the Heinz products are manufactured outside the United States. Wouldn't that not be a form of outsourcing? (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I didn't know that -- 72 percent of the Heinz products are manufactured outside the U.S. and isn't that a form of outsourcing? It sounds like it to me. (Laughter.)
Yes, over here.
Q: Good morning, Mr. Vice President. Thank you very much for signing my Roberto Clemente jersey -- increasing value, by the way. (Laughter.) Somebody offered me a lot of money -- recently.
Mr. Vice President, in the next three weeks you drive the point of security and terrorism. How do you and the President intend to drive the point and contrast that with Mr. Kerry's position of global test, that we always have to go to a United Nations to get approval? And you and I know that the United Nations is the number one terrorist enabler organization in the world right now. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, see, I think the notion of a global test that Senator Kerry mentioned the other night in the debate is flawed. In effect, what he said was that the President of the United States somehow is going to impose a qualifier, or perhaps delegate to somebody else the ultimate authority to decide whether or not to use military force. That's a constitutional power he has under Article II of the Constitution as the Commander-in-Chief, that's his responsibility first and foremost. The President and the Vice President and other of us take the oath of office to protect and preserve the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. That's sort of your number one obligation. So Senator Kerry hasn't been clear what he means by global test, but that's all right, he hasn't been clear on a lot of things, I guess. (Laughter and applause.)
You raise an interesting question on the United Nations. Now, the
U.N. has served a useful purpose over the years in various capacities. But obviously, there are some problems there. And one of the things that stands out that has developed recently, that has come to notice over the course of the last year or so has been the extent to which the oil-for-food program that was set up specifically to provide food and medical supplies for the Iraqi people -- it was to allow the government of Saddam Hussein to sell oil to be able to finance his urgent needs for his population appears now, based on the Duelfer report completed just recently, that it has been that the program was totally corrupted, if you will by Saddam Hussein, that he was, in fact, using it to generate revenue, and then the allegation is that he was using the revenue generated that way to pay off other people outside Iraq, possibly officials of other governments. A lot of this has not been confirmed yet. It's just laid out in the report, and there's still a lot of work yet to be done. But what it looks like is that the sanctions that were place were, in fact, being seriously eroded, that he was finding a lot of people outside who were prepared to violate those sanctions to sell him prohibited goods, such as conventional armaments, and that the program instead of being a part of an overall successful international package of sanctions that could be imposed on him to force him to live up to his international obligations was -- had been converted so that in fact being used to enrich him and to help him evade sanctions, to get around the prohibitions that were there. It is -- it's an interesting proposition. I think it badly needs to be cleaned up.
Paul Volcker, who is running the investigation in behalf of the United Nations, is a very able and talented individual. I'm sure he'll do a good job. I think all of us, including -- colleagues in Congress will wait to see what finally emerges from that, and what steps need to be taken to make certain that the United Nations cannot be corrupted if you will, the way that apparently Saddam Hussein corrupted it.
Somebody over here.
Q: Mr. Vice President, thank you for being here. We have a daughter that is a very high risk OB surgeon. She'll be featured this Thursday on the Oprah show, in fact. Yesterday, she delivered quintuplets. The husband is badly wounded in Iraq, but they got him stabilized and he's on his way home. What plans does the Bush administration have now to protect our daughter and other physicians like her?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: She's an OB/GYN?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, this is a problem I've encountered many places around the country because the fact is that the need for medical liability reform is out there, because the number of lawsuits that have been brought, especially targeting an OB/GYN specialty has gotten to the point where it has driven up malpractice insurance rates so that we've, in fact, shut down a lot of OB/GYN practices.
I met the other day -- we were in New Mexico with a group of docs who -- about five or six of them were at a particular session I held -- talked about the extent of the problem. There are some 20 or 21 states now around the country that are listed as crisis states by the American Medical Association; where there are no limitations, if you will, on non-economic damages; where the result has been that one out of 10 or one of our 11 practitioners in the OB/GYN specialties have now gotten out of the business. We're not filling all the slots in medical school that are available to train new docs in that specialty, which is another sign of the problems that are there, and the insurance rates are just -- are astronomical.
My home state of Wyoming has been hard hit. We just had a special session of the legislature to try to deal with it. We can't recruit new docs coming into the state. The rates have more than doubled in the course of two or three years. The main insurer in the state has pulled out now, and what is needed we believe is medical liability reform. The best case I heard the other day was a woman OB/GYN practitioner who because of her past experience, and the danger to her practice has now decided that she has to screen out high risk patients because there were the ones where you're most likely to have a problem, and could conceivably lead to a lawsuit -- another lawsuit could, in fact, put her out of business. She'll no longer be able to afford the insurance to be able to continue to practice.
But think about what that means -- what that means is that the people in the community who most need good care, probably because they didn't have really top notch prenatal care up to the point of delivery, are the ones most at risk now, and they can no longer get treatment. Now, they've got to go someplace else. They've got to drive farther, obviously are more at risk because again of the liability that has been developed as a result of these lawsuits.
We think the answer is to put a cap on non-economic damages. We've gotten legislation through the House to do that. It's been blocked in the Senate. Senator Kerry has voted against medical liability reform, I believe, altogether now about 10 times. John Edwards certainly as a personal injury trial lawyer doesn't believe in what we think is effective liability reform. We also think it would be valuable to place a limitation on lawyer's fees. That is to say as the settlements go up, they ought to get a smaller and smaller percentage because right now today on a national basis close to 50 percent of the award now goes to administrative overhead and lawyer's fees. It doesn't even go to the person who has been injured or wronged.
And California has done that. They've capped both non-economic damages, as well as legal fees. And it has worked in California to the extent that their rates have not gone up as rapidly there as they have elsewhere. So we'll continue to push very hard on it. One estimate is that these costs add perhaps as much as $100 billion a year to the overall cost of care in this country. And it's a serious problem. We want to make certain people who have legitimate grievances have access to the court for redress of grievances. That's important. But it's also clear that a lot of the efforts that are underway here, frankly, are counterproductive, or adding dramatically the cost of medical care in this country, and as I say, driving many good docs out of business. And we can't have that. (Applause.)
Q: Mr. Vice President, and Mrs. Cheney, this is a great honor. I have kind of a different question for you.
MRS. CHENEY: That's always scary. (Laughter.)
Q: No, no, I think you'll like this one. As a security mom for George Bush, I was wondering, instead of asking you what you're going to do for me, or us, I would like to ask what I, and people like me can do for you and President Bush and our country so our kids can be safe, and our country can remain free? Do we have to make some sacrifices, work at something, join something? I would love to help you. (Applause.)
MRS. CHENEY: Well, just let me offer my own personal experience. We have got to be sure that the men and women that we elect to high office have this as a priority -- one of the greatest things about our country, one of the things that makes what happened in Afghanistan and what's going to happen in Iraq so moving is that we have the power, each of us as individuals, to go to the polls and to vote, and to be sure that the people we vote for understand what our priorities are. And that is so powerful.
I have been working in politics a long time. You don't have to be doing this at the national level, you do it at the local level, where you're sure that our first responders are getting the support that they need. That is so important -- and where they're getting the kind of moral support, too. It is really a good thing every once in a while to say thank you, as I know you probably have, for the police and for the firefighters who keep us safe. And it is a really good thing to be sure that you do everything you can -- and I -- it is an election, and I don't mean to make this seem too political, but it is a really good thing to make sure that people understand the record of the men and women who run for high office -- not just the President and Vice President, but all along the line. Where have they been on these issues of security? Where are they when it comes to keeping our nation strong, to making sure that the men and women in our military have sufficient support.
When I think back over the whole course of the arguments about flip-flopping, the one that makes me really indignant is the fact that John Kerry and John Edwards would vote to send our troops into battle, and then vote not to fund the ammunition and the fuel, the body armor that they needed to be in battle. That's the kind of thing that I think we all do ourselves a favor if we call it to the attention of our neighbors, if we call it to the attention of our friends.
And here in Wisconsin, I got to tell you, getting to the polls on Election Day and being sure that all of your discerning friends get to the polls on Election Day could not be more important. So let's try for that. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Let me add one additional thought. At a time like this, when we're involved in this kind of conflict, the very special responsibility for all the military and for their families -- they take on a burden that nobody else does. And they're all volunteers, they all volunteered to wear the uniform and to serve. I think, back over here we've got a young mother who -- as I recall, she already had two children, now she's got five. She had quintuplets. Her husband is a Marine, wounded in Iraq, now making his way back to the U.S. So that family probably needs a hand.
And we've got so many people out there who serve -- folks in the Guard and Reserve who have got their normal, regular lives, they've got families to support, they've got financial needs, and then, because they signed up and made a commitment to be available if we needed them, get called up and get deployed. Their families get left having to do without them for some considerable period of time. It affects them economically, it affects them in terms of who's going to get the car fixed -- all those things that all of us have to -- well, not all of us. I don't have to right now. I will when I get back to the private sector -- all that everybody has to do on a daily basis. And I can't think of a more deserving group to demonstrate support to, and to help them with whatever they need help with, to provide those family support services that are so vital when you've got, as I say, young men and women willing to go in harm's way and put their lives on the line for the nation. They really deserve all of the assistance and support we can give them, and we should never forget that. (Applause.)
Right down here, number five.
Q: Mr. Vice President and Mrs. Cheney, I've been following your career, Mr. Vice President, since you were a pup. (Laughter.) Honestly. And my concern is that I'm concerned about my children and my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren and one great-great-granddaughter. So I worry about the hatred and the -- by the opposition, some on the other side that has turned the whole country around. It's something that we value here in Wisconsin --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You mean, in terms of the political war? Well, there's no question this is a hard-fought campaign this year, that when you're in the trench you're receiving incoming periodically. You adjust to all of that. It's appropriate that this should be a tough campaign, we should be taking on tough issues. I can't think of a more appropriate setting than a presidential campaign to have the kind of debates we're having. And obviously, there are certain things that people say out there occasionally about me that I think maybe go a bit far, but I don't think we ought to let the -- when I look at it, sort of the noise in the system obscure the basic fundamental principles of what's going on there, the enormous privilege we have as Americans to participate in the political process.
And it has gotten very contentious at times, without question. But there have been other times in our history when we've had hard fought campaigns. If you think about contests in the past that took place amidst a great national emergency -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the middle of World War II -- you'll find ample times when emotions have been high, when we've had important decisions to make, we managed to get on with our business and conduct the presidential campaign, make those national choices. And that's really the hallmark of the greatness of our nation, that we, in fact, have that opportunity, that we get out there and lots of times duke it up, you need a pretty thick skin for this business, without question.
I've got a lot of scars now I didn't have when I was a pup. (Laughter.) But all of that is outweighed by this enormous sense I have of what a privilege it is to have the opportunity to participate in this process, to campaign all across this country. Lynne and I have been in 48 states now in this election cycle, and to get to go out and meet so many fantastic people, to have them say thank you, to welcome the participation by everybody, even those on the other side who are supporting our opponent, that's the way it ought to be.
And I keep thinking about the privilege that goes with participating in the process, even though it does sometimes get kind of nasty out there, involving -- and you really do need pretty thick skin for it. I think we're all blessed to get to do what we do, and there have been a lot of times when this business has been pretty rough in our history. My friend, Al Simpson, I served with for years in Wyoming, said a politician is a bean bag, or something like that. I'm not sure what he means, but it is a rewarding, rewarding enterprise. And you sort of have to sort through some of the noise in the system and stay focused on what's really important.
MRS. CHENEY: I just want to add that I do think that a well-developed sense of indignation is not bad once in a while, and that I encourage it on my grandchildren. It's -- dialogue should be civil, but when you see something that's going wrong, you should stand up and say it's going wrong. When there are rumors on the Internet that there's going to be a draft, you stand up and you say, that is wrong, that is something that the other side is starting.
But Dick's point is exactly right, that you have to kind of take a step back, maybe, and indignation is great, but a little humor, a little distance also helps. I have to tell a story -- this is our granddaughter, Katie, who is 10. And she was coloring on the floor with one of her friends. And somebody was on television just whaling away on Dick. And the friend said to Katie, oh, he is saying some pretty awful things about your grandpa. And Katie said, oh, don't worry about it, he's nuts. (Laughter and applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: One here, we got someone. We got a young one over here.
Q: How can we help the Democrats who I believe John Kerry lies to, to form their own opinions?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: How can we help Democrats to form their own opinions? (Laughter and applause.)
Well, I have a soft spot in my heart for Democrats because my folks were Democrats. Before I ran for Congress on the Republican ticket and needed every vote, I got them to reregister in the primary. (Laughter.) And Mom kind of liked being a Republican. Once she switched that was okay, she liked it. Dad always said, well, this is conditional. Every few years I had to renew it.
I think probably the best advice we can give is advice I heard that a Boston policeman gave to a group of folks leaving the Democratic Convention up in Boston in July. As they were leaving they stopped and asked him for directions. He said, leave here, and go vote Republican. (Laughter and applause.)
But we want everybody, regardless of party affiliation, obviously. And again, this is an important election this year. We appreciate the fact that you all were here this morning. And remember us on November 2nd, and get all your friends out there and -- and be thankful and grateful that as Americans we have this tremendous privilege to participate in the process and we should not take it lightly.
Thank you very much for being here. (Applause.)
END 12:35 P.M. CDT
Richard B. Cheney, Vice President and Mrs. Cheney's Remarks and Q&A at a Town Hall Meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/282094