For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 6, 2008
President Bush Attends Ceremonial Swearing in of Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer
Department of Agriculture
11:07 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for the warm welcome. Before we begin the ceremony today, we turn our thoughts to those suffering from yesterday's tornados.
This is a bad storm that affected a lot of people in a variety of states. Our administration is reaching out to state officials. I just called the governors of the affected states. I wanted them to know that this government will help them; but more importantly, I wanted them to be able to tell the people in their states that the American people hold them up and -- hold those who suffer up in prayer. Loss of life, a lot of loss of property -- prayers can help and so can the government. And so today before we begin this important ceremony, I do want the people in those states to know the American people are standing with them.
It's good to be back here at the Department of Agriculture. I first want to say how much I appreciate the hard and good work the people in this Department do on behalf of the American people. I'm also pleased to witness the swearing in of an outstanding public servant, the new leader for this Department, Secretary Ed Schafer. I welcome Ed's wife, Nancy, and all their family members. (Laughter.) They got four children and eight grandchildren, which means he's got valuable experience when it comes to the food supply. (Laughter.)
I know Ed's family is proud of him, as am I, and I congratulate him on taking his place as America's 29th Secretary of Agriculture.
I appreciate the members of my Cabinet who have joined us. Thanks for coming. I very much appreciate the members of the Senate and the House who are here, and I know the Secretary does, as well: Senator Harkin, Senator Chambliss, these men happen to be the Ranking Member of the -- Chairman and Ranking Member of the Agricultural Committee in the Senate. I appreciate Colin Peterson, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and I want to thank the other members here, as well. I appreciate very much the fact that John Block, former Secretary of Agriculture, has taken time to join us. Secretary, thanks for coming.
The roots of this Department stretch back to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. In 1862, President Lincoln established the first federal agency devoted to agriculture -- and he called it "the people's department." Nearly a century-and-a-half later, the USDA can still be called "the people's department." With your nutrition programs and support for farmers and ranchers, you help ensure that our people are healthy and well fed. With your food safety measures, you give peace of mind to families across America. And with your conservation efforts, you help preserve our natural resources.
Secretary Schafer is going to be a strong and effective leader in all these areas. I know him well -- we're members of the ex-governors club. (Laughter.) He's a fellow you can trust. He's a skilled manager who knows how to focus and get results. Among his many other distinctions, he is the first North Dakotan to run this Department. (Applause.)
He had an interesting first night on the job -- he spent it in the House chamber listening to me give the State of the Union address. (Laughter.) I can report that he didn't go to sleep -- (laughter) -- and applauded just at the right times. (Laughter.)
Our priorities for this department are clear. We will work to make our strong agriculture sector even stronger. Ed understands what I know -- it makes a lot of sense to make sure that we can grow our own food. It's in our national security interest that we're self-sufficient in food. Farm income, farm equity and farm exports have all reached all-time records. The best way to keep the ag economy growing is to open up new markets for America's crops and farm products around the world.
So Ed is going to join with other members of my administration to work to pass free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama and South Korea. We will support a successful conclusion to the Doha round of trade talks. Ed and I are going to work tirelessly to open foreign markets for U.S. beef.
We recognize that farmers also have the potential to help our nation solve one of its greatest challenges -- and that is our dependence on foreign oil. I'd much rather our farmers be growing energy than trying to buy from other parts of the world. So we will continue to work for renewable fuels -- including a new generation of ethanol and biodiesel.
Finally, Ed understands the importance of a good farm bill. More than a year ago, we proposed a fiscally responsible farm bill that provides a strong safety net and makes important reforms to farm programs. Farm payments would be targeted to farmers who truly need them -- especially those involved in production agriculture.
Congress is considering legislation now. It seems like to us it lacks reform, it spends too much money and raises taxes. It's critical for farmers and consumers have a good farm bill in place, so Ed is going to work with members of both parties on a bill that spends the people's money wisely, doesn't raise taxes, reforms and tightens subsidy payments -- a farm bill that will benefit the entire economy. I'm confident we can come together to get a good farm bill -- but if Congress sends me legislation that raises taxes or [does] not make needed reforms, I'm going to veto it.
In all the work ahead, Ed can count on a strong partner in Deputy, Chuck Conner. He's a talented public servant; he's devoted his life to agriculture issues. And he did a superb job running this department while Ed was being confirmed. And Chuck, I thank you. (Applause.)
We also owe a debt of gratitude to Secretary Mike Johanns. In his three years at this department, Mike delivered impressive results for farmers and ranchers -- from helping expand trade, to promoting biofuels, to providing assistance after natural disasters. I know he's enjoying his time in Nebraska -- I hope he'll be back soon. (Laughter and applause.)
There's no doubt in my mind that Ed Schafer and the good men and women in this Department can build on these achievements. I thank him and his family for answering the call to public service once again. I know he's going to do a fine job here in "the people's department." Congratulations, my friend.
And now I ask Deputy Secretary Conner to administer the oath. (Applause.)
(The oath was administered.)
SECRETARY SCHAFER: Thank you very much. Mr. President, I had my hand on the Bible opened to Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you, declared the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." I tie that to you, Mr. President, because of something you said to me long ago. I greeted you shortly after you became President, and I greeted you with a "God bless you." Your response to me was, "He has already." And, you know, to both of us he has, indeed.
Welcome to all of you here who have joined us today. Nancy, it's just a thrill to be here on the stage with you. All of you know that Nancy is the love of my life, that she is the most beautiful person inside and out that I know, and she's my guide along the path. So you will be seeing -- you get two of us, you know, in this job.
I wanted to thank certainly our family that comes here, mostly. It's just warming to be surrounded by your children and the little grandchildren. And it's an honor that they could be here today. Fellow Cabinet members that could join us, I appreciate your being here, thank you. And it is really a pleasure to see members of Congress join us today -- Chairman Harkin and Chairman Peterson -- who we'll be working strongly with in the farm bill. Thank you; thank you for being here.
It really is a tremendous honor to serve you, Mr. President, because you have done so much for agriculture. I think you inherited a farm economy that was ailing. Today we have record farm income, record exports and record high prices for most major commodities. That's a good record, and I'm excited to be able to step into an agency and be able to lead in an effort of good agriculture economy out there.
And I appreciate your comments about the farm bill, Mr. President, because I support your direction. I, too, have listened to farmers and ranchers and landowners about what they want in a farm bill. And I am looking forward to engaging in the process because I believe in the principles that were set forth for the new farm bill from the President of the United States.
It is, as I said, exciting to be a head of this agency at a good time. As we put together a strong finish to put the farm bill in place, I am confident that USDA has the resources, the people, the capabilities to implement this extremely important piece of legislation for the people of the United States.
Finally, Mr. President, when you were visiting with Nancy earlier, she said, you know, we look forward to serving you. Your response was, together we'll be serving the people. And I appreciate that, because as President Lincoln commented when he put this agency together, this is the "people's agency." And that's very important to me, and I have to tell you, I've been here a week, and I love this agency. (Applause.)
It is the people's agency, and when I get a chance to walk the halls, to greet people, to have briefings on the mission of their agency or department, I am over and over reminded again of the dedication, the commitment that the people have made here to advance the mission of the United States Department of Agriculture. And it is a thrill to do that, to lead this agency.
And I was reminded of that yesterday, when I came over to look at this auditorium, to see how it was set up. On my way out, as may happen to some of you, I got a little disoriented -- (laughter) -- and I wasn't sure -- all these doors were blocked off. I figured I could shortcut across the street, I couldn't even do that. (Laughter.) There were employees here that led me in the right direction. (Laughter.) And I know that we will be surrounded by the 110,000 employees of the United States Department of Agriculture -- Mr. President, we both will be surrounded in knowing that they will be moving us in the right direction.
Theodore Roosevelt had a great comment. He said, "Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords." And I've tied into that. My motto has always been: Do the right thing, and work harder than you ever thought possible to get it done. And I'm convinced that we will do the right thing, that we will respond to the people of the United States of America and produce an agriculture economy of food and nutrition safety program out there to take care of people that are in need, and to deliver from agriculture economy an important link to the foundation and the economy of the United States of America.
I know that surrounding ourselves with the employees of the USDA, that we are in an opportunity to provide this country with hope and a future. Thank you. (Applause.)
END 11:24 P.M. EST