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For Immediate Release
April 22, 2005
Vice President's Remarks to the Republican National Lawyers Association
The National Press Club
12:47 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: When I ran for Congress the first time, I -- you start, you have to work really hard. Nobody knows who you are, and you got to go out and do all that meet and greet stuff. And I always remember going up to the little town of Dubois, Wyoming, up in the west end of the state, back up in the mountains, the first time I'd been there as a candidate. And I was walking, working through the town with the local precinct committeeman who was taking me around. And finally, we went down to the Ram's Horn Bar and Grille where all the local businessmen came together for lunch. And this is a small town, less than a thousand people -- probably the only bar in town, but it was busy. (Laughter.)
But I always remember walking in and there was one old cowboy over at the bar with his boot up on the rail, cowboy hat pulled down over his eyes. And I was introduced to him as Dick Cheney, candidate for Congress. And he looked up at me. He said, son, he said, you a Democrat? I said, no, sir. He said, are you a lawyer? I said, no, sir. He said I'll vote for you. (Laughter and applause.) He didn't care what I was for; he just knew what he didn't want. (Laughter.)
But anyway, delighted to be here today. This is a great organization. And I appreciate the welcome so much I'm almost tempted to run for office again. (Laughter and applause.) But just to make certain there's no confusion, let me be absolutely clear about my plans. (Laughter.) I'm not going to run for the presidential nomination in '08. We've a lot of great candidates out there, and I've got so much confidence in the field that I've agreed to lead the search committee to pick the nominee. (Laughter.) It's a joke. (Laughter.)
Well, it's good to see all of you this afternoon and to welcome you to Washington on the 20th anniversary and to bring you good wishes from our President, George W. Bush. I want to thank Harvey Tettlebaum, Bob Horn, Michael Thielen, and their team for making this such a well organized, well run, and effective association.
The RNLA has stood firm for honesty and fairness in the election process, has trained thousands of lawyers in the details of election law, and has built an outstanding network of skilled attorneys from one end of the country to the other. I also want to thank each and every one of you for giving so much time and effort to the enterprise. Life as a attorney doesn't leave many spare hours, yet you've come forward to help the President, to help the party, and our cause in so many ways -- from working on campaigns, to backing judicial nominees, to providing inputs on major matters of public policy. I know many of you volunteered huge amounts of time in the 2000 and 2004 campaigns. You made a difference, and I promise that your work was never taken for granted. The President and I knew you were out there. We remain grateful for all that you did, and I appreciate the chance to be here today to say so.
The year 2004 brought one of the most critical elections in our history -- presenting fundamental choices on the direction of the economy, and the course, for the course of the war on terror. Throughout the campaign, we traveled many thousands of miles, clarifying the choice before the voters, and sharing President Bush's message of hope and optimism for the nation's future. We took that message from coast to coast. All the effort was rewarded in the end. Thanks to people like you, we gained seats in the House of Representatives. Thanks to you, I now preside over a larger Republican majority in the United States Senate. And thanks to you, President George W. Bush won the greatest number of popular votes of any presidential candidate in history. (Applause.)
In this second term, as in the first, many members of the RNLA have turned to public service full time and joined the administration. Choosing public service carries its own challenges and sacrifices, but the country needs good men and women to make that choice. This is incredibly important work we're engaged in, and the way to get it done right is to continue to bring talented, competent, ethical men and women into the administration. We're grateful to everyone who has joined the team. And to those of you who might be thinking of following the same course, I want to encourage you to do so.
This has been a consequential presidency -- which has revitalized our economy and reasserted a confident American role in the world. Yet in the election of 2004, we did more than just campaign on a record. President Bush ran forthrightly on a clear agenda for this nation's future, and the voters responded by giving him a mandate. In this new term we are going to use that mandate to achieve great goals -- so we can leave the nation better, stronger, and safer than we found it.
Our work begins with good stewardship of the economy, and continuing a strategy that is pro-growth, pro-jobs, pro-entrepreneur, and pro-taxpayer. To keep our economy strong and competitive in the future, we must ensure that America remains the best place in the world to do business. And any sound economic policy depends on limiting the size, the scope, and the spending appetite of the federal government. The President has sent Congress a budget that meets the nation's priorities in a thorough, responsible way; holds the growth in discretionary spending below the rate of inflation; and actually reduces non-security discretionary spending -- the first proposed budget reduction since Ronald Reagan lived in the White House.
Permanent tax relief will make it easier for America's entrepreneurs to start new businesses, to buy new equipment, and to hire new workers. We'll also keep the economy strong by delivering regulatory relief, an energy strategy that makes America less dependent on foreign energy, and legal reforms that spare honest entrepreneurs from junk lawsuits.
Congress has already begun to move forward on many of today's pressing economic issues. But our changing times also require some more basic reforms, including in the vital area of Social Security. The time has come to join together to save that system for our children and our grandchildren.
Over the last several weeks, the President and I have been visiting different parts of the country to talk about the long-term health of Social Security program. We're laying out the facts as clearly as we can, so that all Americans understand that Social Security is on an unsustainable course, and therefore we have a responsibility to fix it.
With an aging population and a declining ratio of workers to beneficiaries, the system is making empty promises that everyone in Washington knows will not, and cannot, be met in the long term. To fix the problem, President Bush has outlined several principles that will guide us to a sensible, workable, bipartisan reform. First, out of basic fairness, there must be no changes in Social Security for those now receiving benefits, and for those close to retirement. Anyone before 1950 -- anyone born before 1950 can be absolutely certain that nobody is going to change their Social Security. The program as they know it will stay the same for them.
We'll also insist that there be no increase in the payroll tax rate on American workers. And as we fix Social Security, we're committed to making the system a better deal for younger workers -- and the best way to reach that goal is through voluntary personal retirement accounts.
Personal accounts hold the promise of turning every American worker into an owner -- giving them a retirement fund they control themselves and call their own. This is a wise step forward in public policy, and an approach that can unite members of both parties: Let us give all Americans the tools they need to succeed in freedom, to grow in independence, with a retirement nest egg that government can never take away.
To build a stronger, better America for the next generation, we must also uphold the values that sustain our society -- limited government, personal responsibility, free enterprise, reverence for life, and equal justice under the law. And in this second term, President Bush will also continue nominating federal judges who faithfully interpret the law, instead of legislating from the bench. (Applause.)
Staffing the federal courts is one of the most important responsibilities of any President, and is given to him directly by the Constitution. To fulfill that responsibility, President Bush has submitted the names of superbly qualified nominees for the federal district and circuit courts -- men and women of experience who meet the highest standards of legal training, temperament, and judgment.
The United States Senate has also the responsibility, under the Constitution, to advise and consent to judicial nominations. To win confirmation, a nominee needs only a simple majority of senators voting.
For more than 200 years, the Senate has exercised this responsibility by voting either to confirm or reject nominations sent up by the President. Recently, however, a minority of senators has turned away from two centuries of practice and begun filibustering judicial nominees. The filibuster, of course, is a procedural device used to kill legislation by insisting on unlimited debate. The only way to stop a filibuster is by a super-majority vote of 60 senators. Employed against a judicial nominee, the filibuster effectively prevents an up or down vote on the Senate floor, even if a majority of senators have indicated support for the nomination.
During the 108th Congress, 10 of President Bush's judicial nominees were filibustered. I see one of them, retired Judge Charles Pickering, is here with us today. (Applause.) I want to thank Judge Pickering for his many years of service to the United States of America. His nomination, and the others that were filibustered, were not held up for a lack of support. On the contrary, each one of them had majority backing and would have been swiftly confirmed by the full Senate, if only given that chance.
These nominations were held up strictly for partisan political reasons, in an astounding departure from historical precedent. Until recently, not once in the history of the United States had a group of senators ever used the filibuster to block a judicial nominee having majority support in the Senate.
This year President Bush's judicial nominees include seven who were filibustered in the last Congress. Two of them, Terrence Boyle of North Carolina and Priscilla Owen, Texas, have been waiting almost four years for an up or down vote. And very soon the Senate will face an important decision. If a minority of members again chooses to filibuster judicial nominees, then the majority may choose to institute a rule change to ensure that the nominations go to the full Senate. Let me emphasize the decision about how to proceed will be made by the Republican leadership in the Senate.
But if the Senate majority decides to move forward, and if the issue is presented to me in my elected office as President of the Senate, and presiding officer, I will support bringing those nominations to the floor for an up or down vote. (Applause.)
On the merits, this should not be a difficult call to make. First, the Senate has full authority to set its own rules, and it is perfectly legitimate for the leadership, backed by a majority, to restore traditional practice. And let me emphasize that -- to restore traditional practice.
Second, the Majority Leader, Senator Frist, has made clear that any action would be limited in scope, in no way altering the customs of debate or the availability of the filibuster where legislation is concerned.
Third, I believe there is an important principle at stake. When senators filibuster a nominee who has clear majority support, they are, in effect, trying to establish a 60-vote requirement for confirmation. A simple majority is what has been required for confirmation throughout our history. A filibuster of judicial nominees is, as a practical matter, an attempt to limit a President's ability to appoint judges who have majority support in the United States Senate.
In short, there is no justification for allowing the blocking of nominees who are well qualified and broadly supported. The tactics of the last few years, I believe, are inexcusable, particularly when you're dealing with men and women of the caliber of those nominated by George W. Bush. By any standard of judicial merit, they are fully qualified to serve. And by any standard of fairness, they deserve a vote in the United States Senate. (Applause.)
Finally, ladies and gentlemen, the President and I will never lose sight of our primary responsibility every day we serve in public office: We will do all that is necessary to protect the liberty and the lives of the American people. We will keep at the effort to defend the homeland and improve our intelligence capabilities. We will continue working with other governments to track down the terrorists, and to stop the proliferation of the world's most dangerous weapons.
And here we can point to tremendous progress over the last few years. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are working closely with the United States and our allies to fight global terrorism. The government of Libya has agreed to end its program for weapons of mass destruction. America and other countries have uncovered a sophisticated, large-scale network selling nuclear weapons technologies on the black market, and we have shut that network down.
Defending our people and pursuing our enemies are central commitments in the war on terror. Yet the long-term safety of our nation depends on eliminating the conditions that breed ideologies of murder. If the Middle East is a place where tyrants incite hatred, support terrorist groups, and gain the most destructive weapons, then America and the world will face decades of violence. The only force that can overcome hatred, resentment, and tyranny is the force of human freedom -- and that is why the United States will stand with the allies of freedom to promote democracy, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in the world. (Applause.)
Advancing the cause of freedom will require different methods in different places. Like other great duties in history, it will require decades of patient effort, and it will be resisted by those whose only hope for power is the spread of violence. Yet the direction of events is clear. Afghanistan has held the first free elections in the nation's 5,000-year history. In Iraq, voters turned out in incredible numbers to elect leaders who are now preparing the way for a new constitution and a representative government in that nation. The Palestinian people have chosen a new President and new hopes for democracy and peace. The citizens of Ukraine have stood strongly for their democratic rights, and chosen a new leader for their country. In Lebanon, citizens have poured into the streets to demand freedom to determine a peaceful future for their own country as a fully independent member of the world community. We are seeing the power of freedom to change our world, and all who strive for freedom can know that the United States of America is on their side. (Applause.)
In these four years, both at home and in far away places, the American people have faced one challenge after another. We have lived with adversity, and sometimes with sorrow, and often with uncertainty. Yet we have never been intimidated by our task, and we have shown a watching world the good, and generous, and persevering character of this nation. Because we have taken up hard duties -- and stayed at them without wavering -- we can be confident that our children and grandchildren will live in a better, stronger, safer America.
All of us know there is much yet to do, and you can be certain that President Bush and I are eager for the work ahead. Once again, let me thank all of you for standing with us. We are deeply grateful for your support, and for the high honor of serving this great country.
Thank you very much. (Applause)
END 1:04 P.M. EDT