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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 3, 2005
President Welcomes Newly Elected Members of Congress
The East Room
3:39 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for coming. Welcome to the White House. Hope you're feeling pretty excited about what's about to take place. We are excited for you -- after all, we ran together. (Laughter.) And there's nothing like winning. (Laughter.)
I want to welcome you all here; Laura and I are so thrilled you're here. We want to welcome your spouses. I particularly want to say a thanks to your spouse for having supported your run for the Congress or the Senate. Laura and I know how hard it is on a family to be in the political arena. It's the ultimate sacrifice, really: sacrifice your privacy; it's a sacrifice of time with your kids. But you're going to find it's worthwhile -- serving this great country is an unbelievable honor, and both the elected official and the spouse are serving our great country.
The Vice President and I share something else in common with you, besides having run together in 2004, is that we've all run for the Congress -- I'm the only one who never won. (Laughter.) I ran in 1978, came in second in a two-man race. (Laughter.) The Vice President won, as did Dan Lungren. Welcome back.
CONGRESSMAN LUNGREN: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for agreeing to serve your great state and our country once again.
Also elected that year was a young attorney from Sacramento, California, named Bob Matsui. Bob went on to serve with distinction and integrity in the House of Representatives for more than 25 years. He was a principled advocate for the people of northern California and he will be deeply missed.
We're also saddened to learn about the passing of former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, of New York. She was a fine lady, a pioneer in education and public service, and the first African American woman elected to the Congress. Laura and I send our condolences to both the Chisholm and the Matsui families. May God rest their souls.
One of Matsui's colleagues was Lungren, as I mentioned, and he is typical of what is a pretty interesting group of folks who've run and won in 2004. I mean, after all, there are former House members who are coming back to the Capitol with a new job -- that would be Senators Coburn and Thune; and two members of the Congress, like Dan, who has served once and are now returning -- Inglis and McKinney. Welcome back.
There are some familiar names, after all, four new senators have moved over from their House seats and Senator Martinez was in the Cabinet. Welcome, Mel, it's good to see you and Kitty.
There are new members of the House who were preceded in Congress by their mom or dad -- that would be four members of the House -- I get a little nervous when the son follows the father. (Laughter.) The state of Colorado has sent two brothers -- I know something about having a brother in politics, too. (Laughter.) In the 2004 class, we've got ranchers and farmers; we've got attorneys, physicians, educators, entrepreneurs, and a sheriff from King County, Washington. It's a diverse group, a widely talented group and there's no doubt in my mind, some of your finest achievements lie ahead of them.
You know, I've learned about Washington in four years. This town is sometimes too partisan and too political. People sometimes say what's more important than the country is my politics. And my hope is, is that we can show the nation that we can come together to achieve big things for the good of the country. After all, we've -- we did some of that in my first four years here. The election, obviously, is a political event and so sometimes that obscures what did take place in the first four years of my time here.
I mean, we were able to find common ground -- after all, I'll never forget signing the education bill at a high school in Boston because Ted Kennedy helped carry the bill in the United States Senate, along with George Miller in the House and Judd Gregg in the Senate and John Boehner in the House. And on big issues, it is possible -- not only possible, important for the Congress and the White House to work together; issues like war and peace, issues like homeland security, issues like making sure seniors are treated well.
I think it's important, as we head into a new session, to confront problems, to not pass them on to future Congresses or a future President. I don't know about what your time frame is for the amount of time you anticipate spending here, but mine is about four more years, and then I'm going home. And so I want to confront problems, and I will. I'll call upon Congress to take on big issues. And I look forward to working with members of both parties to do just that.
The first order of business is going to be to provide disaster aid for the millions of people devastated by the tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. Today, my dad and President Clinton and Laura and I went to the four embassies of the countries most affected. And I told them, I said, this is a compassionate country and we will help, and we will help in a way where the aid makes a difference. I know Presidents Clinton and Bush went on TV afterwards and called upon our fellow citizens to contribute in a wise way. The most effective way for U.S. citizens to contribute is to contribute cash dollars to agencies which are on the ground and are able to assess the needs and able to direct that money to make sure the people get help.
We'll help, and you'll hear us call upon -- I see my OMB man, Josh Bolten, here -- we'll call upon the Congress to contribute, to help make good on our pledges of $350 million in cash grants; to help make whole our military, which is providing a lot of important relief efforts right now. But the American people are generous and compassionate people. And I know they want to step forward and help. And we've now got a mechanism for them to be able to do so.
We've got to make sure that we win the war, we've got to make sure we support our troops. We've got to make sure we simplify the tax code. I don't know whether that's an issue in your district or in your state; I suspect it might be. It's a complicated mess. It takes millions of man hours to fill out the tax code. I think we ought to work to simplify it, to make it easier to understand.
We've got to make sure health care is more accessible and affordable for our families; got to make sure we reform the legal systems. We've got to make sure we raise standards for schools, including high schools, in America. I look forward to working with you to pass a budget that fits our times.
And I look forward to working with you to make the Social Security system work for future generations. I know you've heard a lot of discussions about Social Security. I ask you to keep an open mind as we move forward to make sure the system works. Seniors have nothing to fear when they hear talk about reforming the Social Security system. Every senior in America will get their check. And the fundamental question is do we have the will necessary to make sure the Social Security system is sound and available for future generations of Americans, for younger generations of Americans. I'm going to call upon Congress to take this issue on, and I look forward to working with you to modernize the system.
I look forward to your energy and your ideas. I'm ready to work with you. And there's no doubt in my mind we can accomplish big things for our country. The work begins tomorrow for you. And when you're sworn in, I hope you'll take a moment to appreciate that you're a part of our history; that when you made a decision to put your name on the ballot, and ask people for the vote and became successful, that you're a part of a small, distinguished group of men and women who've had the honor of serving the United States of America in the Congress.
So I want to congratulate you on your victory. I wish you great success in your career. If you're so interested, Laura and I are willing to -- would love to have a picture with you in the Blue Room, and then we'd like to share some of our food with you.
Good luck tomorrow, congratulations, and may God bless you all. (Applause.)
END 3:50 P.M. EST
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