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 Home > News & Policies > October 2004

For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
October 6, 2004

Remarks by the Vice President and Mrs. Cheney Followed by Question and Answer at a Town Hall Meeting
Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center
Tallahassee, Florida

12:15 P.M. EDT

MRS. CHENEY: Well, I do think I ought to ask everybody how did you like that debate last night? (Applause.) See, Dick, they liked it. (Laughter.) Well, it was pretty awesome. It was awesome. I've been playing through what I'm thinking of as Cheney's big hits. So many favorites from last night, but, okay, here's one I really loved. I loved the part -- I loved the part where the Vice President was explaining why flip-flop. You know, we all know about the flip-flops, but why flip-flop. So he started out by talking about how John Kerry and John Edwards voted to support the war, authorized sending troops, and then how they flopped and they voted against the $87 billion that our troops need for ammunition, for fuel, for body armor. Why?

Well, as Dick pointed out, Howard Dean is the answer. Howard Dean was surging in the polls, looked like being anti-war was a good idea, and so they voted against our troops. Big flip-flop. But what I loved was when the Vice President said this: Look, if these guys can't stand up to Howard Dean, how can we expect them to stand up to al Qaeda. (Applause.) It's a very good line.

All right, well, one more. (Laughter.) Thank you, thank you. Now, this was when -- oh, I love this -- this was when the Vice President was talking about John Edwards -- how did you put it? -- undistinguished record in the Senate? The Senator attended 33 -- missed -- oh, thank you, thank you -- missed 33 out-of-date of 36 business meetings of the Judiciary Committee on which he served. Now, the Senator talks frequently about being on the Intelligence Committee. He cites this as an example of his foreign policy expertise. He's missed 70 percent of the public meetings of the Intelligence Committee. He has one of the worst attendance records in the Senate. What am I forgetting here? Oh, he has missed so many votes in the Senate, he has such a poor attendance record in the Senate, his hometown newspaper is calling him "Senator Gone." Yeah. (Applause.)

Now, the Vice President observed that as Vice President, he is the presiding officer of the Senate and he goes up there most Tuesdays. (Applause.) And he noted that last night at the debate was the first time he had met Senator Edwards. (Applause.) Now, the Edwards people have been scrambling around ever since trying to come up with places where the Cheneys and Edwards might have crossed paths. They have. They say we met at a prayer breakfast nearly four years ago. Now, I know all of us will agree it is a really good thing to go to prayer breakfasts, but don't you think the Senator ought to go to the Senate once in a while? (Applause.)

Well, Dick, I got to tell you, this has been energizing. You were really terrific last night and -- (applause) -- ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce to all of you my husband, Dick Cheney, the Vice President of the United States. (Applause.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you all very much. That's a great reception, a warm welcome. And I think I'm going to take Lynne on the road with me. (Laughter and applause.)

Actually, she travels with me a lot and usually introduces me at these events by talking about how she met me when I was only 14 years old. And she wouldn't go out with me until I was 17. (Laughter.)

I tell everybody we have a marriage that came about because Dwight Eisenhower got elected President of the United States, because in 1952, I lived with my folks in Casper, Wyoming; Dad worked for the Soil Conservation -- excuse me, Lincoln, Nebraska. (Laughter.) Good thing I brought her along. (Laughter.) Dad worked for the Soil Conservation Service. Eisenhower got elected, reorganized the federal government. Dad got transferred to Casper, Wyoming -- which is where I met Lynne. We grew up together, went to high school together, and a few weeks ago celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. (Applause.) I explained to a group the other night that if it hadn't been for Dwight Eisenhower's election victory, Lynne would have married somebody else. She said, right, and now he'd be Vice President of the United States. (Laughter and applause.)

Well, let me touch on a couple of subjects this morning. The way we usually do these town halls is I make a few remarks. I don't want to make a long-winded speech. But there are a couple of things I'd like to talk about this morning, and then we open it up for questions so you have an opportunity to ask questions or make comments. You see the folks around here in the attractive orange vests. They've got microphones. And if you've got a question you want to ask, when the time comes, just attract their attention and they'll bring a mike over to you.

Let me begin first of all, by thanking Dr. Lentz and his colleagues in the Florida Medical Association for their endorsement this morning. It means a great deal to us. (Applause.)

The medical malpractice problem is a very real problem. I run into it all over the country. In our home state of Wyoming, we're one of those states like Florida that's described as a crisis state. And that's because the number one malpractice insurer in the state has pulled out. It's very hard for doctors to get medical malpractice insurance now. In my hometown of Casper, the rates for a general practitioner have gone from $40,000 a year for insurance to $100,000 a year just in a couple of years. We can't get new docs to come into the state. We're losing doctors and specialties, especially OB/GYNs. The net result is that our quality of our health care and the availability of health care in a state like Wyoming is being damaged and jeopardized as a result of our failure to reform the medical liability system.

Recently, I was in New Mexico and sat down specifically and had a cup of coffee with a group of doctors. One of them told an interesting story. She is in an OB/GYN practice. Her rates have gone up so much, and she's fearful of another lawsuit, so she's in a position now where she's screening patients. She will not take high-risk patients. Now, the folks that get excluded are -- tend to be those who've got special problems, didn't receive the proper kind of prenatal care, oftentimes haven't been able to afford coverage in the early months of pregnancy. But she's fearful if she takes a high-risk patient, something goes wrong, she gets sued, her rates go up, and she could easily end up driven out of business. The net result of all of this, of course, is lower quality care, less care, especially for those possibly most in need as a result of the failure to deal with the medical liability problem.

Now, there are ways to do it. There are states that have done it. California has been very successful because they, in fact, have capped non-economic damages as well as placed limitations on attorneys' fees. And there's been a study recently done by the Rand Corporation of the California program. It works. California's rates are significantly below those in the rest of the country. My home state of Wyoming, I'm supporting and working with folks there that are trying to get an amendment to the constitution adopted on Election Day this year to deal with this crisis. And I know you've got an Amendment Number Three on the ballot here in Florida. I think you ought to support it. (Applause.)

And it's one of the most important things we can do, looking forward to make certain that quality medical care is available and affordable to all Americans. So whatever you can do to support that effort, I would highly commend it.

Let me shift gears and spend a few minutes this morning talking about a subject that dominated, I thought, the debate last night because it is so important, and that's the global war on terror, and the situation we're faced with now as a nation because of the events of 9/11, and what we've had to do to adapt to that.

9/11, in effect, changed everything and forced us to think in new ways about the threats to the United States, about how we deal with those threats, about how we secure the country and safeguard the nation from those kinds of attacks. We saw that morning the damage that 19 men armed with knives and boarding passes could do. We lost some 3,000 people -- more than we lost at Pearl Harbor, worst attack ever on American territory.

The net result of all of that, of course, is it was necessary to develop a new strategy. The old strategies that we used during the Cold War of deterrence and containment against the Soviet Union are meaningless when you're talking about an organization like al Qaeda. There's nothing you can put at risk that they value highly enough to deter them from attacking the United States, especially when they're eager to die in the attempt.

So the President has developed, I think, a successful strategy. First of all, of course, we do everything we can to improve our defenses here at home. We created the Department of Homeland Security, passed the Patriot Act, did a number of other things to make it tougher for the terrorists to strike America. But we also know and the President is absolutely convinced and absolutely right that there's no such thing as a perfect defense. You can be successful 99 percent of the time, but the 1 percent that gets through can kill you. So you also have to go on offense. That recognizes, among other things, the objective of the terrorists these days is their desire to get their hands on deadlier weapons than had ever before been used against us, that includes chemical weapons, or a biological agent, or even a nuclear weapon, smuggle it into the midst of one our own cities, and threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. That's the threat that we're faced with today.

And to deal with it, and to cope with it, you have to go on offense. And that's exactly what we've done. We've used the power of the United States to go out actively and aggressively after the terrorists wherever we can find them, and to destroy them, capture them, disrupt their operations. But you also have go after those who sponsor terror. And that's what's new. That's the so-called Bush doctrine, the decision the President made that it wasn't enough for us just to get terrorists, we also had to go after those regimes that had sponsored them, that have provided them with weapons or training, or safe harbor and sanctuary. And on that basis, we, obviously, went, first of all, into Afghanistan, where we took down the Taliban regime. We've closed the training camps that had trained 20,000 terrorists, including some of those who attacked us on 9/11. And we've captured and killed hundreds of al Qaeda. And now we're in the business of the third phase of the operation of, in effect, standing up a democratically elected government in Afghanistan. In three days, they will have for the first time in history, a free, fair, national election for a President of Afghanistan. They've registered 10 million voters, almost half of them women. (Applause.)

In Iraq, we went in and took down Saddam Hussein's regime. Today, Saddam Hussein is in jail. (Applause.) Iraq was an important part of the global war on terror for a couple of reasons because this is a man who had a long history of supporting terror. He's been on the State Department terror-sponsoring state list for 15 years. He has hosted Abu Nidal. He has made $25,000 payments to the families of suicide bombers who would kill Israelis. He's had a relationship with a number of terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda. And at the same time, he had previously produced and used weapons of mass destruction, and produced and used chemical weapons against his own people the Kurds and against the Iranians. Iraq represented the place where you were most likely to get a nexus, if you will, between the terrorists on the one hand and weapons of mass destruction on the other. And it was very, very important, and the world is far safer today since Saddam Hussein is in jail. (Applause.)

Now, the job won't be complete until we finish that last phase of establishing democracy in Iraq, just as we're doing in Afghanistan. It is very hard to do. No one should underestimate the task that we've taken upon ourselves. But it's the only way long-term to guarantee that those states won't again become breeding grounds for terror, or for the development of deadly technologies to be used against us. And in Iraq, just as in Afghanistan, we're making progress. We've got an interim government in place in Iraq. They've only been there 90 days, a little over 90 days. They took over in late June. Mr. Allawi is the Prime Minister. Iraqis now control all the government agencies in Iraq, and we're rapidly training Iraqi personnel to take over the security function, as well, too -- doing the same thing in Afghanistan. There are two things that are crucial through this whole process. One is to get the Iraqis and the Afghans to take responsibility for governance, and secondly, to get them trained and equipped so they can take on responsibility for providing for their own security. And we're doing that.

There will be free elections in Iraq in January. So we're on the path we need to be on in order to succeed. Now, there's going to be considerable violence, as we've seen -- both in Iraq, especially in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan, that's driven by the election timetable in those countries. The terrorists understand -- we've intercepted messages telling us that they understand that if we're successful at getting a democratically elected government in place and establishing stable regimes that reach out and govern those nations, their day is over with. They must disrupt and destroy the progress towards democracy, or they lose. They understand the power of freedom and the idea that that's the best antidote to terror. So we will complete the task. It's absolutely essential that we complete this mission. And under George Bush, we'll do it. (Applause.)

Now, the question, of course, that comes up in connection with the election is, well, what about the other guys. What about John Kerry? How would he function?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm going to take you on the road with me. (Laughter.) How would he function as Commander-in-Chief?

And of course, what we've seen during the course of this campaign and especially the debate the other night, is a lot of tough talk. And John Edwards goes out and says, we're going to crush the terrorists. The problem with that is, there isn't anything in John Kerry's background -- oh, for the last 30 years -- that gives you any reason to believe that he would, in fact, be tough in terms of prosecuting the war on terror. If you look at his track record -- and I'm not here by any means criticizing his service in Vietnam. I said in my acceptance speech at the Republican Convention in New York City that we honored John Kerry for his service in Vietnam. I got a round of applause from a purely Republican audience. And we do. We don't challenge his patriotism at all. We challenge his judgment.

And that track record, if you go back and look at it includes everything from having advocated when he first ran for Congress in the early '70s that American troops should never be committed without U.N. approval; from having advocated when he ran for the Senate in the early '80s that we ought to cut or eliminate a great many of our weapons programs, those programs that were crucial to winning the war -- the Cold War that Ronald Reagan recommended back when he was in power. It included such things as in 1990 and '91, when I was Secretary of Defense and Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and we mounted Operation Desert Storm, John Kerry was against it -- voted against it, didn't want to support it. And of course, we've seen in his record since during the course of this campaign, the vote to go to war two years ago. A lot of tough talk about the importance of taking on Saddam Hussein and dealing with that emerging threat, and then later on -- as Lynne mentioned -- deciding not to support the request for funds to support the troops once they were committed to combat. One of the most important obligations and requirements of a Commander-in-Chief is to support the men and women he sends in harm's way. John Kerry did not do that. (Applause.)

Now, he purports to have a plan for how he would handle Iraq. I don't think it's a plan; I think it's an echo. It's things that we're already doing and have been doing for some considerable period of time. But I was intrigued by a statement put out just in the last several days by the Polish Embassy. Senator Kerry has been saying that what he would do is go out and get allies to help us, and he'd get more nations to pony up troops because he has in the past said, the coalition we've put together is a coalition of the coerced and the bribed. Not a way to win friends and allies. He's also said, wrong war, wrong place, wrong time, and oh, by the way, send me some troops. Not likely to happen. But most of all what they've done is to denigrate the contribution others are making to this effort. We've got 30 countries who've sent troops to fight alongside us in Iraq. They say all the time we did it alone. Wrong. We've got a lot of support in the international community. Yesterday, the President of Poland, Mr. Kwasniewski said:

We accepted this challenge convinced that terrorism had to be fought, that we had to show international solidarity, and that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the world. It's really sad that a senator with 20 years of experience did not notice the Polish input into the coalition, and the Polish sacrifice. It's immoral.

One of our allies. (Applause.) Now, the same could be said of our Italian allies, our British allies, our Australian allies, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Thirty countries have sent troops. Now, they often hold out the Desert Storm coalition we put together what 12, 13 years ago. We had 34 countries then, and we've got 30 countries today. They say that Americans are taking 90 percent of the casualties. They choose to totally ignore the contribution of the Iraqi armed services because they are now in the battle alongside Americans. And when you add up the allied coalition, and the Iraqi contribution to this whole effort, the U.S. casualties come out to about 50 percent -- not 90 percent that John Kerry and John Edwards habitually complain about. The bottom line is this effort, obviously, places a very special burden on the U.S. military, and on military families. And we owe our men and women in uniform an enormous debt of gratitude for what they're doing for all of us.

But we also know that turning the other cheek, putting back behind the oceans and thinking we can go it alone and be safe and secure here in the United States is no longer an option. It doesn't work. We found that out on 9/11. We know that the longer we delay dealing with this problem, the costs will only get higher and the terrorists will grow in number, they'll gain strength and they may ultimately get their hands on those deadly weapons that they want to use against us. So that's not an answer. As difficult as the sacrifice is now, it would be far more difficult if we fail to face up to this threat and deal with it now and eliminate the terrorists before they can launch another attack against the United States.

Ultimately, of course, what this whole debate is all about is choosing a Commander-in-Chief on November 2nd, setting the course of action for this nation for perhaps the next 25 or 30 years; putting in place those policies and that kind of strategy that will guarantee the safety and security of this nation for our kids and grandkids. That's what that choice is all about on November 2nd. (Applause.)

Now, try as he might, John Kerry and John Edwards cannot talk tough talk -- obscure a record that goes back 30 years that had him consistently on the wrong side of virtually every issue that dealt with the nation's security. I think the choice is very clear. I think it's absolutely abundantly clear, I hope, to most Americans that the man whose steadfast leadership and whose vision and whose determination to complete the mission is -- is there for all to see, and the man who will get the job done is George W. Bush. (Applause.)

Now I've talked longer than I had planned. But it's a very important subject. We've got proctors in the audience. If you've got an ugly orange vest on, please stand up. (Laughter.) They've got microphones, and if you've got questions you'd like to ask, or you want to make a comment, offer advice, I can take it straight to the top. (Laughter.) So now is your chance. Somebody over here?

Q Mr. and Mrs. Cheney, I am from Poland. (Applause.) This is good, I need at least a minute, please.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Be my guest. (Laughter.)

Q Thank you. I was in college when I was 17 years old, and then drafted to communist military from divinity school, where I went through tremendous persecution. I came here as a refugee, political refugee, went to American army, served four years -- (applause) -- thank you very much. And as a clergy, as a Catholic married clergyman, I have to tell you that Mr. Kerry, I'm sorry I have to use the word, is scum -- (laughter and applause) -- who defiled God by coming to communion and going for abortion. He's not only flip-flopped, he wants it both ways. He wants it hot and cold. And the way he express himself when President -- our President Bush, after all day long assessing the damage of hurricanes, went to debate and he was tired. But he also, on the substance he won, of course he did. (Applause.) However, I have to say this, when it came to Korean issue, this is what Kerry is all about, he wants it both ways, unilateral and coalition of the willing. And we cannot have, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Kerry, who does not recognize that two days before the debate, President Bush -- we received in Poland three body bags from Iraq. And I called my sisters and we grieved. And I have to tell you that I went to military post here and I said, I, too, want to go to Iraq. They tell me, you are too old. (Laughter.) And I have to tell you, for me to speak to you, Mr. and Mrs. Cheney, is just a miracle. Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you. Let's move around here. Do we have somebody over here, back here? There you go.

Q I just wanted to know how's your health?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's very good. (Laughter and applause.) No, I've been a great beneficiary of the wonders of modern medicine. We've got some docs here who practice the specialty of those guys who look after me. And I've been extraordinarily fortunate in my life because I do get top quality care. Our objective needs to be to make certain that all Americans have access to affordable care and can live full and normal lives, no matter what disease they might have. (Applause.)

We've got some people down front here.

Q Mr. Vice President, I have a question for you regarding future conflicts over -- well, anywhere in the world, really. Do you have any plans to change the way that we fight the wars? Because I don't think people in America really like to see the troops, like, on street corners being shot at. Do you have any plans for, say, airplanes and that kind of -- that kind of tactic?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure. One of the things that's going on now that hasn't gotten much attention because so much of the focus is what we're doing in Afghanistan and Iraq is the efforts that are underway within the Department of Defense to restructure and reorganize the way our forces are set up, the way they operate, the kinds of equipment they use and where they're based.

We still have the remnants of the old Cold War structure, for example. When I became Secretary of Defense in 1989, the Cold War was still on, the Berlin Wall was still up, we had 330,000 troops in Western Europe, and they were there specifically to guard against the potential Soviet attack into Western Europe. Now, once that went away, we pulled down our force level there to about 100,000, but we still maintain two heavy divisions in Germany. We probably don't need to do that; there's no longer that kind of threat that requires that kind of presence. And we're looking more now today at reorganizing our basing structure worldwide, basing more our forces here at home. Simultaneously, equipping some of them with new equipment, we've got the so-called Stryker Brigade. These are people you'll see, we've got at least one of the brigades now in Iraq, they've got large rubber-tired vehicles instead of track vehicles, armored cars that are much more mobile, easier to move around, more flexible. And that's one line of development that we're pursuing.

The Army is also working on -- taking with the same end strength -- reorganizing internally, so we'll go from 33 brigades to 43 brigades, which is exactly the right way to go. There's an effort underway to beef up our Special Forces, the kinds of troops we used in Afghanistan. Think about what happened in Afghanistan, a remarkable thing there was the fact that we were able to go in with a few thousand troops, hook up with locals on the ground, bring in our air power, our precision munitions, and within a matter of weeks take down the Taliban. The Soviets had been in there for 10 years, with well over 100,000 troops and never been able to do that and deal with it. The combination of technology, mobility, the enormous talent of our forces, but also the ability to get the locals into the fight. And what you'll see -- it doesn't get as much attention as it should, especially in the war on terror -- we cannot do it all for them. But in Afghanistan and Iraq, we had to go in and undertake basic, fundamental military tasks.

But the success in each of those countries -- and it's also been true in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia -- the success, in terms of taking down al Qaeda is getting the locals into the fight; they have to want to take them on; they're the ones, ultimately, that will have to provide long-term for their own security, we don't want to stay a day longer in Iraq or Afghanistan than we have to -- we want to stay as long as necessary to get the job done. But as soon as we can get them up and running and equipped and trained to take on these basic responsibilities, we'll be only too happy to turn it over to them. This is not an empire. We don't go out and occupy a territory for personal gain. We're there because we know that if we change the situation on the ground in a place like Iraq or Afghanistan, that freedom is the best antidote to terror, that democracies don't produce and breed the kind of terrorist extremists that hit us on 9/11. And that's the ultimate safeguard against further attacks. And that's why it's so important that we follow through on this mission. And as I say, the best we can do to honor those who have fallen is to complete the mission. (Applause.)

You're on.

Q Mr. Vice President, I'm a voter, veteran, citizen, taxpayer. I want to thank you personally for all that you do for our country. God bless you and your family. You and the President are in our prayers. (Applause.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, sir.

Q My question is about energy. I'm very concerned about the cost of gasoline in this country at the pump. I'm concerned about the impact of energy prices on our economy and the future, and the prospects for your reelection. I'd like to know what we're doing to ensure the good supply of oil from Iraq at a fair price for us, and also, how we can make progress in removing ourselves from energy dependence from foreign countries.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, that's a good question, because the access to affordable supplies, adequate supplies of energy is absolutely crucial for our economy. It's a fundamental foundation that underlies everything we do. Whether it's heating and cooling our homes, or our transportation system, or our power plants, our entire economy ultimately depends upon energy.

And one of the things the President began shortly after he came into office was to put together an effort to try to address what were mounting problems. And we put together the energy plan. It had 106 recommendations in it. That plan is available for anybody who wants to look at it. It did several things. It emphasized conservation; it emphasized new technology, research into hydrogen fuel and fuel-cell technology with respect to transportation; it looked at the whole area and concept of renewable fuels and made recommendations for changes there, as well, too. It also called for development of the Alaska natural gas deposits that are there. Right now it comes out of the ground as part of the Prudhoe Bay production, but the gas gets pumped back into that ground because there's no gas pipeline to deliver that gas to the Lower Forty-Eight. We've provided some incentives to go forward with that -- a whole series of measures.

That energy bill has been passed through the House and through the Senate, then went to conference. We got a conference agreement between the two bodies. The House passed the conference agreement. When it got back to the Senate, it got filibustered. Filibuster means you need 60 votes to pass instead of 51. We only had 58. We were missing two -- John Kerry and John Edwards didn't show up. Okay? (Applause.)

So the key for us ultimately, I think, lies in the area of technology. But also, we have to recognize the fact today that demand has grown so dramatically, not only here in the United States, but worldwide -- China's economy increasingly demands more and more energy as they grow, and it's to their great benefit and our benefit, we've doubled our trade with China in the last four years. But as their economy grows, they will consume more and more.

We -- on an oil basis, the world consumes a little over 80 billion barrels -- 80 million barrels a day now. And we're right up against it in terms of the world supply. That's why prices have gone up. We've got to find a way to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. It's going to be vital for our economy long-term.

The President has got a plan. It's laid out there for anybody who wants to see it. We'll continue to push it very aggressively, and hopefully, in the next election, if, for example, the good people of Florida saw fit to send us Mel Martinez as United States senator, we might get an energy bill. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: Mr. Vice President, excuse me, I hate to be the one -- they told me I had to tell you this -- I think we only have time for one more question. I apologize for interrupting the Vice President.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: We've got a young man up here who is going to ask Lynne a question.

Q How did you like your high school, and what are you doing to make them better?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: How did I like my high school, and what am I doing to make it better. Well, I loved it. That's where I met my bride.

(Laughter.) Lynne and I went to high school in Casper, Wyoming, went to public school. It was an excellent public school. And Wyoming, as you may know, is kind of sparsely populated. There aren't that many of us, and we're spread out over the countryside. And this was a high school that drew from the entire central part of the state, the students. So we had a fairly large high school that covered a very large area.

But we had great teachers. We were the beneficiaries of a first-class education, the kind of education that every American ought to be able to get when they go to high school. And that's the kind of thing that the President and I want for all Americans, is to have public schools as good as the one Lynne and I went to.

How do we do that? Well, the President's first priority when he got elected, legislatively, was what we call the No Child Left Behind Act. He had, while he was governor of Texas, firsthand experience at being concerned that we had a lot of failing schools out there, that in fact we were leaving children behind, that kids were being promoted from class to class without ever acquiring the basic skills they needed to be able to function effectively in this society. And so he worked to improve the schools in Texas, and he brought those same concepts to Washington. And his first piece of legislation, major piece of legislation we passed -- I think it was actually numbered HR1 -- was No Child Left Behind.

And what it did was, it set standards and provided for testing so that we could know how individuals and individual schools are doing, and establish the basic fundamental principle of accountability in the public school system. This is for grades K through 8th grade. We, going forward, want to now take that concept and in a second term will do the same things that we've done with respect to the first eight grades with respect to high school. We want to take those same basic concepts and principles of testing and standards and accountability and apply it to high schools across the country. We think that's the right way to go to guarantee that everybody gets a shot at a first-rate education.

The parents, for example, have the ability, if their kids are stuck in a failing school and they don't make progress in terms of improving performance, that they can move their kids to another school, or they can get tutoring that will help their children achieve the objectives, obviously, that they have for all of us. Whether we're talking about poverty, we're talking about jobs, we're talking about the health of our economy, or we're talking about just basic fundamental rights of Americans, every American, regardless of where they come from, or ethnicity, or their standard of living, to take advantage of the American Dream, to be able to pursue their hopes and dreams and aspirations for the future, to enjoy to the fullest extent possible the privilege of being an American, they need a first-rate education, and we're committed to providing it. (Applause.)

I want to thank all of you for being here this morning. It's been a great session. We enjoyed it very much. I'd like to stay longer, but you had so many hurricanes here over the course of the last six weeks, I guess it is, that we've had to cancel visits all over the state, so we've got a lot of time -- lost time to make up for.

Let me say, by the way, one of the things that we've been tremendously impressed with, and I think all Americans have been impressed with, is the way the people of Florida have responded to crisis after crisis as those hurricanes blew through. We want to make certain we do everything that helps as appropriate in terms of getting everybody here in Florida back on their feet. But we've been tremendously impressed with the courage and the way you've dealt with adversity. It's really been remarkable.

Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

END 12:57 P.M. EDT