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 Home > News & Policies > December 2004

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 13, 2004

President Bush Nominates Mike Leavitt as Secretary of HHS
The Roosevelt Room

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10:38 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Good morning. I am pleased to announce the nomination of Michael O. Leavitt as the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Last year I welcomed Mike to my Cabinet as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. In that office, he has enforced high standards and a spirit of cooperation and with good common sense. He has upheld this administration's commitment to sustain improvements in the quality of the natural environment. He has managed the EPA with skill and with a focus on results. I've come to know Mike as a fine executive, and as a man of great compassion.

President George W. Bush looks on as Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Michael Leavitt speaks after his announcement as nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Roosevelt Room, Monday, Dec. 13.  White House photo by Eric Draper He is an ideal choice to lead one of the largest departments of the United States government. The Department of Health and Human Services touches the life of every person in this country. From the safety of our food and medicine, to the Medicare program, to preparing for any kind of health emergency, HHS has comprehensive responsibilities for the health of Americans. To meet those responsibilities, the Department needs many thousands of skilled professionals and a leader who is able to act on many fronts all at once.

For the last four years, HHS has served the American people extremely well under the energetic leadership of Tommy Thompson. Early in his tenure, our nation went on a wartime footing and had to prepare for emergencies of a kind never seen before. Secretary Thompson led the effort to prepare the medical infrastructure for any terrorist challenge.

At the same time, he has presided over dramatic increases in medical research, adding to the promise of hopeful new cures. He's helped set in motion major improvements in Medicare, which will benefit seniors all across America. He has worked closely with state and local officials to ensure that public health programs function as effectively as possible. And throughout his career as governor and as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson has led efforts to reform welfare laws and to help more people transition from welfare to work. Tommy Thompson is a good friend, who has given every day of the last 38 years to public service. As he and Sue Ann move on to new challenges, Tommy has my deep gratitude for a job well done.

My new nominee for HHS Secretary, like Tommy Thompson, served many years as a governor. The people of Utah elected Mike Leavitt to three terms, and during his administration, Utah was named one of the best managed state governments in the country. Governor Leavitt was a leader in welfare reform, resource management and environmental stewardship. He improved child welfare services in the state, and made strides toward expanding access to health care for children. He made government services more accessible through the Internet, and he always insisted that the government remain accountable to the people it serves.

When confirmed by the Senate, Mike Leavitt will be charged with a broad agenda for the health and safety of the American people. In this new term, we will implement the first-ever prescription drug benefit for seniors under Medicare. We will expand federal cooperation with faith-based groups that provide essential services, such as counseling and treatment for addictions. We will continue pursuing the great promise of medical research, always ensuring that the work is carried out with vigor and moral integrity. We will not relent in our efforts to protect the American people from disease, and the use of disease as a weapon against us.

Mike Leavitt is the right leader to lead HHS in meeting all these vital commitments. I thank him for accepting this new responsibility. I also thank his wife, Jackie, and their son, Westin, for being with us today. I urge the Senate to confirm Governor Leavitt's nomination as soon as possible.

Congratulations.

GOVERNOR LEAVITT: Mr. President, thank you very much. I want to express my appreciation for the confidence that you've shown me. I had a chance a couple of days ago to begin sorting through some of the papers that I have accumulated over 11 years as governor and some time as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

I found one letter that expresses what I'm feeling. It actually was a letter from a young father, a man I had met several years before. The letter was actually a report on his son. He had recently passed the five-year -- the critical five-year point on a lifesaving procedure that he had that was made possible by Medicaid. It was a letter of gratitude. As I read it, I felt a sense of gratitude. I felt a sense of gratitude for living in a country where the cares and the values of people matter, and where we care for their help.

And it's gratitude, Mr. President, that I'm feeling today, for the privilege to be able to serve in your Cabinet, and, should I be confirmed in the Senate, to have this new opportunity to contribute. I feel a real sense of understandable regret after having to leave the Environmental Protection Agency. It's an agency that's filled with dedicated people whom I have come to have great affection for and have a sense of shared importance and mission in protecting public health. The quality of health and the health condition of people in this nation is a commitment that is shared among both agencies, as is the connection between science and health. As the President suggested, the Department of Health and Human Services plays a vital part of the lives of every American.

I also want to express my admiration for Tommy Thompson. His mark will be indelibly impressed on the history of Human Services programs in this nation. As governors, we worked together in helping Congress rewrite welfare reform some years ago, and Medicaid improvements, and child health insurance programs. I'm delighted -- I was delighted when he was appointed as Secretary, and in fact, Tommy Thompson's work has benefited my own state. Thousands of people in my home state have been the beneficiary of his willingness to innovate. Working families, thousands of them, now have health insurance today because of a first of its kind waiver that he provided. I admire Tommy Thompson greatly, and the prospect of following in his service is an enormous challenge.

But I look forward, as the President said, to the implementation of the Medicare prescription drug program in 2006, medical liability reform and finding ways to reduce the cost of health care. I'm persuaded that we can use technology and innovation to meet our most noble aspirations, and not compromise our other values that we hold so dear.

So, Mr. President, I'm looking forward to implementing your vision and I want to again thank you and the American people, and to give you my commitment that I will serve and give this assignment all I have. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: Good job.

END 10:46 A.M. EST