|The White House
President George W. Bush
|Print this document|
For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
October 19, 2004
Vice President and Mrs. Cheney's Q & A in Cincinnati, Ohio
Vice President and Mrs. Cheney's Remarks and Q&A in Cincinnati, Ohio
Price Hill Chili
4:10 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: What we usually do at these events is I say a few things at the outset, and then we open it up to questions, have an opportunity to hear from you and answer questions, things you're concerned about or comments that you want to make.
And let me take a few minutes, if I can. I really do want to talk about the national security situation, because I think it goes to the heart of the decision we've got to make this year, because we're not only obviously wrestling with all the domestic issues that are very important to us as a nation, but we're also picking a Commander-in-Chief for the next four years. And one of those events that's come to dominate our time is the global war on terror and how we respond in the aftermath of 9/11 and the impact it would have on so many of us --
The -- I think of it that periodically we come to a point in our history where we are suddenly faced with a new threat and we have to reconsider our national security strategy, what the threat is, how we're organized to deal with it, what kinds of institutions we've got in place to cope with a threat to the United States. Go back to the period right after World War II when we had a similar set of circumstances, where suddenly, after great victory in World War II, we were faced with the development of the Cold war, a nuclear-armed Soviet Union that occupied half of Europe. And that forced us to make some fundamental changes in our strategy. We developed the Department of Defense then, the Central Intelligence Agency. We created NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. We set up alliances and rebuilt our military, and I think that obviously was a major historic period for us, and we put in place a strategy that was then supported and executed by Republican and Democratic administrations alike for the next 40 years until the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union went out of business.
And I think we're in a similar period now, in a sense that the global war on terror and the events of 9/11 and the aftermath have put us in a place where we need to sort of reconfigure and, if you will, our national security strategy -- and several elements run into it.
We now have to get our heads around the proposition that the biggest threat we face is the possibility of terrorists coming into the United States and smuggling in a deadlier weapon than has before been used against us, maybe a biological agent or even a nuclear weapon, and that having something like that transpire in the midst of one our cities, obviously, could threaten lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. And we've got to, I think, come to grips with that threat if we're going to devise a strategy that's robust enough to allow us to defeat it and guarantee that they're never able to get off that kind of an attack against the United States.
Now, obviously, 9/11 brought home to everybody the vulnerabilities that we have, and part of that, of course, is based on our great strength as an open society, an open civilization, and those are strengths we want to protect and preserve, but we've also got to take the steps necessary to defend the country, to make us a tougher target. We've done a lot of that in creating the Department of Homeland Security, passed the Patriot Act that gives more tools to law enforcement, passed Project BioShield, for example, that allows us to do a better job of defending ourselves against a possible biological attack.
The President also made a decision that it wasn't enough to talk about good defenses, that we also had to be prepared to go on offense. And given the nature of the threat we faced, that possibility of terrorists armed with a weapon of mass destruction, that it's not enough to be successful 99 percent of the time against that kind of threat, and there's no such thing as a perfect defense. If they're only successful one time out of a thousand, that's not good enough, from our perspective, because that kind of an attack can be devastating.
So we decided that we also had to go on offense and we've done that. And there, it's a matter of using the full power of the United States to aggressively go after the terrorists wherever they operate and train and organize, but also to go after those who support terror, and this is a new departure for the United States, that the President insisted upon, that, in effect, we had to use the full might of the United States to confront those states that have, in the past, sponsored terror, that have provided safe harbor and sanctuary for terrorists, or financial support, or training or weapons, and that going after those sponsors of terror was just as important as going after the terrorists themselves, that we had to hold those states accountable, as we do the terrorists, for whatever acts they may commit.
And that's what we've done, obviously, in Afghanistan, where we went in and took down the Taliban regime, closed the training camps where some of the terrorists that hit us on 9/11 had trained, as well as some 20,000 terrorists who were trained in the late '90s; captured or killed hundreds of al Qaeda. And now we're in the business of standing up a new government in Afghanistan, which we need to do because it's not enough simply to go take down what was there. You can't just turn your back, then, and walk away, or you'll leave a failed state behind, and you'll get the same kind of developments that we had earlier in Afghanistan, to again become a breeding ground for terror and -- or worse.
And that effort, of course, involves now putting in place a democratically elected government. We've got a good start on that. The Afghans have done a good job standing up an interim government, then they registered 10 million voters, nearly half of them women. And, of course, a week ago Saturday, for the first time in the 5,000-year history of Afghanistan, had a free nationwide election that starts them on the path of being able to put in place a democratically elected government, should be there by the end of the year.
It's very important that we do all of those steps, and we'll stay as long as we have to stay to help them get up and running on their feet, and we're also spending a lot of time and effort training the Afghans from a military perspective so they can take over the responsibilities for their own security. We've got to get them both in the business of governance, self-governance, and in the business of defending themselves and that's what we're doing, and the mission will be complete when we've done that, but we're not there yet.
Iraq, slightly different situation. Saddam Hussein, a man who had started two wars, who had previously produced and used weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons against the Kurds and against the Iranians and had other types of robust WMD efforts underway in the past, a man who had provided sanctuary for terrorists, home to the Abu Nidal organization, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, making $25,000 payments to the families of suicide bombers who had attacked Israelis, a man who had a relationship with al Qaeda.
And so we went down and took down the government of Saddam Hussein. We're now in the business of standing up a new government there, as well. The Iraqis have had control over their sovereign territory now since the end of June when we transferred sovereignty to them. They are now in the business of -- they've got a national assembly. That has been convened once. They'll hold elections in January, and obviously, we're going to be heavily committed there again, just as we are in Afghanistan, as long as we need to be. We don't want to stay a day longer than necessary, but we're going to stay long enough to complete the mission. And the mission, again, is to get a democratically elected government in place and get the Iraqis in a position to be able to provide for their own security. By the end of this year, we'll have 125,000 armed -- trained, equipped and actively participating alongside our guys in the security operations that are necessary in the country.
We know the terrorists and the remnants of the old regime will do everything they can to disrupt that progress towards elections. They know that once we get a democratically elected government in place and they've got control over the sovereign territory of Iraq, that once that happens, they're toast, so to speak. They're no longer going to be in business, which they themselves have said. We found that in an intercepted message from Zarqawi, who's the head terrorist over there, just announced again his loyalty to bin Laden, Osama bin Laden just in the last few days, in a communication he sent to the al Qaeda earlier this year, that once this happens, we get a government in place and they've got control over the country, he's going to have to pack his bags and move on.
So I think that we'll see a high level of effort and continued violence and threats and intimidation and attacks on civilians, as well as on coalition forces, especially between now and January when they get that first election under their belts. Absolutely essential, though, that we carry through on the position again that we stand up a democratically elected government in place of what we've taken down in Iraq. It's a long-term strategy and our success depends on it.
Another fall-out from what we've done there, one of the things, of course, that happened was that, as we went through this whole exercise Moammar Ghadafi watched from Libya. He had been spending millions trying to acquire nuclear weapons. He had the uranium, he had the centrifuges to enrich the uranium, he had a weapons design he got from an illegal supplier of nuclear weapons technology. When he saw what we did in Afghanistan and Iraq, he decided he wanted to give it all up. Five days after we captured Saddam Hussein, he announced he was going to turn it all over to Uncle Sam. We've now got it here in the United States, and he's out of the business of trying to develop weapons of mass destruction.
That also let us, then, take down the network that had provided him with that technology, the same network that had provided it to the North Koreans and to the Iranians. So major progress because of what we did in Iraq and Afghanistan on the nuclear proliferation front.
I think it's absolutely essential going forward that we continue that kind of robust aggressive policy on behalf of the United States, and the best way to defend America and prevent further attacks, to disrupt those kinds of attacks is to stay on offense with respect to our adversaries overseas.
I think there's a real question whether or not John Kerry has the same perception, or the same concept of the nature of the threat or the kind of policy and strategy that's required to defeat it. Several things we could point at. He's got a 20-year record in the Senate, where he came down virtually every time on the wrong side of the major national security issues of the day. He voted against the first Gulf War operation back in '91; opposed most of the major weapons systems that Ronald Reagan put forward in the 1980s; while he was serving on the Senate Intelligence Committee after the first attack on the World Trade Center, offered up amendments to slash large sums of money out of the Defense -- out of the intelligence budget, unsuccessfully. He was defeated in those efforts.
But in my mind, he's never quite gotten it right, and when you come forward and look at the most recent set of developments, of course, everybody is familiar with his having voted to use force in Iraq but then voted against funding for the troops when that was the question before the House.
The thing I found most disturbing the other day was an interview that ran in The New York Times just a week ago Sunday, where he was quoted in the space of the interview being asked by the reporter what his goals or objectives would be in connection with prosecuting the war on terror, and basically what he said was he hoped to be able to get terror back to the point where it could be looked at as a nuisance, and managed the way we manage illegal gambling or prostitution in our cities.
Now, I thought about that, and what bothered me about it was, it said to me that he didn't understand the scope and nature of the problem if he thought he could manage terror in that way, that there was some acceptable level of terror, where you could just sort of park it over here and there would be a certain amount of it. But he would look on it as a nuisance, instead of a major problem.
And I asked myself, I said, well, when was it that terror was ever a nuisance, that you could look on it in those terms. You go back prior to 9/11, you go back four years to the attack on the USS Cole, when we lost 17 of our sailors and nearly lost our ship of Yemen; or six years ago, when they simultaneously blew up two of our embassies in East Africa, killed hundreds of people, including a number of Americans; or the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, when we had about 1,000 people injured that day to try to take down one of the towers -- failed. But go back beyond that even, in 1988, when we lost Pan Am 103, they blew Iraqi people up in the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland. Hard to look at that as a nuisance. Or 1983, when we lost 241 Marines in the bombing of the barracks in Beirut.
Now, there's never been a time in my mind when it made sense to think about attacks on that scale and that loss of life, and those attacks again, in some cases here in the U.S., obviously overseas as well, to, were something you could define as a nuisance. And my -- I guess, the biggest problem I have is I look at somebody who thinks in those terms, and what that says to me is this is a guy with a pre-9/11 mind set, somebody who has not adjusted to the reality of what's required to win the global war on terror. This is a global conflict. This is not something that affects only the United States, but obviously, we've seen the attacks since what happened to us three years ago, in Madrid, in Casablanca, in Mombassa in East Africa, in Riyadh and Istanbul and Jakarta and Bali and Jakarta again and Beslan in Russia.
This is a global conflict that is being perpetrated by a radical fringe that's got an extremist ideology based on the far-out fringes of the Islamic faith, not at all representative of Islam. But -- and they are prepared to kill anybody who stands in their way, and they've done it. And they will continue to do it. It isn't a group you can negotiate with. There's no treaty at the end of the day. There aren't going to be any Paris Peace Accords that are going to put an end to this. These are non-state actors. There's not a government to negotiate with here. These are people who are absolutely committed to jihad and that want to kill infidels and we're the infidels. And they want to do everything they can, obviously, against the United States, but also against friendly governments out there, various places around the world, that have worked with us in the past, and we have to aggressively pursue strategies, I think, if we're going to maintain the safety and security of the United States.
And as I say, my concerns about John Kerry -- I've never questioned his patriotism but I do question his judgment, and I just think his judgment is flawed, and if you look at his 20-year record in the Senate, or when he ran for Congress the first time back in the '70s and said we should never commit U.S. troops without U.N. authorization. You'll see a long record there that does not generate confidence that this is the kind of man we want to be Commander-in-Chief for the next four years.
And given that set of circumstances, I think the decision we're going to make on November 2nd is extraordinarily important. I think George Bush has done a superb job under very difficult circumstances. He's had to make some of the toughest decisions that have ever come to the occupant of the Oval Office, and that includes committing U.S. forces and sending young men and women in harm's way. It's a very hard thing, obviously, for any President to do, but I'm absolutely convinced that long-term we'll be better off if we address this problem now than if we wait, or if we try to retreat behind our oceans and keep our fingers crossed and hope they don't hit us again. I just think down that road lies disaster, and that the ultimate cost of addressing this problem of defending the nation will only go up if we delay or defer or act like we don't have to pursue a tough, aggressive strategy overseas and carry the fight to the enemy.
And that's what I think is at the heart of the decision that needs to be made on November 2nd, and so I hope that people will perceive that same set of issues the same way I do, because I think it's vital and I think we've got a great Commander-in-Chief. The President's done a superb job, and he needs, in fact, to have four more years to be able to complete the task that we've embarked upon.
With that, let me stop and I'd be happy to respond to questions or comments --
Q May I just --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure.
Q My wife and I lost our first son in the World Trace Center attack. How can we help, both locally and nationally on the war on terror? It's our number one priority.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think at the outset, there are several things that come immediately the mind. One is, obviously, I think it's very important that George Bush be reelected on November 2nd and that's going to set the tone for the entire enterprise. (Applause.)
One of the things that I'm struck by, that I run into as I get around the country now, the extent to which when you think about the kind of attack that we suffered on 9/11, that sort of our front-line troops aren't just those who are committed overseas. Obviously, they're doing a lot of heavy lifting right now for us in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we've got enormous respect and we appreciate everything they are doing for us, but also our first responders here at home.
To the a greater extent than ever before, you've sort of got a need to link together police and firefighters here at home, together with what we're doing in terms of our international presence because, of course, in New York, on 9/11, our police and firefighters in New York City were some of the first ones into the buildings, and the ones who took significant casualties, as well, too.
Another thing I like to remind people of, we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our men and women in uniform. There's no way we could do what we've been -- (Applause.) We've got a lot of National Guard and Reserve personnel that have been called up and deployed. They've all got families, most of them, and they need -- they need to know here at home that we support them, that we're here to do everything we can to help ease the burden on the families for those folks who get called up and have to leave whatever they're doing and deploy and go carry out the mission because that's what they committed to do. But I think there's an obligation on all of us to make certain that they know that we'll look after their families here at home and do everything we can to help while they're deployed overseas on our behalf. Those are just some of the things that come to mind as a way that we can express our gratitude and also help pick up some of the burden in terms of dealing with issues. But -- you know firsthand, Bob, the price that is involved in the conflict that we're now involved in.
Q Mr. Vice President, I just want to say, we -- the Price Hill community are so proud to have you here, that it's just exciting and thrilling. And we thank you for coming. I will say, if you're carrying out, don't just stick with the Coneys, but you might try something called a "Gotta and Cheese Omelet." (Laughter.) It is really exceptional.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sounds like good advice.
Q My question is a little closer to home. I am a small businessman here in Price Hill. And over the last five plus years, we've really seen an increase in crime. And I was wondering what you and the President had to offer in the way of initiatives that help local police take on gangs and drug activities here at the local levels because it is a problem that we feel not as residents alone, but as business owners alike. It really affects the community as a whole. It drives out families. What do you have to offer that will help in this battle right here on our streets?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, obviously, law enforcement -- in terms of the kinds of problems you're talking about focuses especially on state and local responsibilities in the way our Constitution is. But clearly, there's a role for the federal government in terms of backing up and supporting -- working at addressing the narcotics trafficking problems, for example, in the nation. It's an international issue.
One of the things the President has done is gotten very aggressive -- had the Justice Department get very aggressive in prosecuting gun crimes, people who commit crimes with guns and violate our gun laws. And prosecutions there are up about 64 percent over the course of the last three-and-a-half, four years -- since we came into office.
It's very important to enforce the gun laws that are on the books. It's a good way to limit the degree of violence that happens in this society when people are involved in the commission of a crime using weapons and so forth. It's very important that we go forward with that.
We've also continued to support funding for first responders -- a lot that now coming through the Department of Homeland Security, but a lot of it provides basic equipment and training to help bolster the capabilities of local law enforcement. We've tried to free up some of the federal funds that are there to give local communities more flexibility in terms of how they spend the money that they do receive from the federal government on the theory that you guys can better make decisions here in Cincinnati what you need in Cincinnati than can a bureaucracy in Washington, with respect to how we spend funds, in terms of not trying to be quite so directive, in terms of saying we have to spend it for X. We try to give those people flexibility whether they want to make it -- they want to hire more cops, or maybe they want it for training, or maybe they need some equipment of various kinds. But those kinds of decisions will be made at the local level, so we try to be supportive obviously, of those efforts. I know Steve has talked to me about it -- Steve Chabot -- about some of your problems here in Cincinnati.
Q Mr. Vice President, I'm a registered nurse. And right now there's a health care crisis, mainly in the hospitals. My question to you is we do have enough nurses to staff the hospital, however the nurses are no longer in the hospital. Now, what is your remedy -- the President's remedy to retain those nurses that they do stay in the hospitals, and that we do have more men and women going into nursing school?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You mean you've got people who -- what, are leaving the profession?
Q Yes, sir. They are leaving the profession. They are going into other professions, as well as getting advanced degrees and going into other areas of nursing besides staff nursing.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I know there has been a problem various places around the country. In Wyoming, my home state, we've been having real problems. There the focal point has been on problems of certain medical specialties -- OB/GYNs, for example. We've lost about a fourth of those in Wyoming.
Now, there the primary problem is because of the medical liability and the consequences of rising malpractice insurance. And people -- docs getting out of the business because they cannot afford to stay in the business, or having to, in some cases, restrict their practice, screen certain kinds of patients who are high-risk patients. We've got communities now where people have lost access to physicians with the right kind of specialties. And so they have to drive maybe a hundred miles to find somebody who can provide the care they need.
We're also -- I think nursing, and the whole health care area is one of the real growth industries from the standpoint of the future of our economy. If you look at specialties that are going to be very much in demand going forward, the especially as we see the baby boom generation approach retirement age, there clearly is going to be an increased demand for medical care and treatment of all kinds. And it strikes me that that's one of the areas where young people who want a career just starting out, in fact, ought to be encouraged to look.
Some of things we think need to be done there, you start with our basic education system. And the other day, I looked at -- some statistics showed that something like 83 percent of the expected high-growth sectors, in terms of professions, employment in the future will require some training beyond high school. So you got to make sure kids come out of high school with the right kind of training, math and reading skills. One of the things we're doing is taking the No Child Left Behind Act that we got approved at the elementary level is now in place and working, and apply that now to secondary schools, high schools so that kids coming out of high school, whatever their aspirations with respect to professions have got the requisite skills to be able to take advantage of that.
We also want to make certain then that we provide the help and support and assistance they need to be able to go to their local community colleges, or through Pell grants to pursue a higher education and further professional training that they need in order to be able to take advantage of the options that are out there.
I know there have been some problems with respect to nursing in terms of a shortage of being able to attract people into the profession. But we need to continue to do whatever is necessary to do it.
One of the things we did, for example, in the Medicare legislation this year with a lot of states -- I think this probably affected Ohio, as well as my home state of Wyoming and others, where you've got rural hospitals, and the way the old Medicare regulations worked, they did not get reimbursed at rates adequate to the cost of the care they were providing. And we made an adjustment in that basic formula now so that significant additional funding is available to rural hospitals to be able to pay the cost of maintaining a staff and various technologies, and the cost of providing the care and treatment that they have to provide and try to correct a significant inequity there. And I think we've come to --
MRS. CHENEY: I just want to thank you for being a nurse. Whenever I meet nurses or teachers, I just think thank you for what you do. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Other advice, counsel? I can take it right to the top.
Q Mr. Vice President?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q My question is -- has to do with Social Security. And it is in response -- my question is in response to Senator Kerry's outrageous complaining -- comments this weekend in which he announced that there was going to be a January surprise.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q And it had to that there will be privatization of Social Security. And also when he said that, he was in a large group, obviously. And he said this privatization of Social Security is going to affect all of your -- all of you medical -- or middle class people. All of you middle class people. Here's my question, I am recently widowed and I am recently retired. My husband died about a year after he retired, so as a result of his death and our retirement, I had to reckon with our Social Security and our retirement plans. And it became painfully aware to me that had we been able to just manage -- privately manage a small percentage of our Social Security contributions, I would have something of his Social Security now. As it is, I, of course, get my Social Security, plus I get a widow's benefit. But his Social Security is gone.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q And I just -- in comparison to what we were able to accumulate in our IRAs and in our 401k, my question to you is, how could optional, partial privatization of our security -- our Social Security contribution, how does that affect negatively all that middle class?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay. Well, the comments that Senator Kerry made this weekend were, I thought, outrageous.
Q Oh, good. (Laughter.) We are in agreement.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the amazing thing about it is -- I've been involved in politics for a good part of the last -- nearly 40 years. The first campaign I ever worked in as a young man was 1966. And since then I've been a candidate for Congress six times, and now this is my second run for Vice President. I've been in winning elections and losing elections. But the thing that has happened frequently during the course of that career is when we get down to the end of an election, and our opponents are running behind, they start to peddle this notion of, oh, my gosh, the Republicans are going to destroy Social Security. I've heard it year after year after year. It's absolutely not true. It is just as false as can be. For him to make that suggestion is obviously geared strictly to trying to frighten people into voting for him on the theory that somehow something will happen to Social Security otherwise. This is dead wrong. It's not true. He knows it's not true. That's the most -- the most appalling thing of all is that he would consciously peddle something like that and scare the heck out of, frankly, a lot of our senior citizens when he knows it's not true.
Having said all of that, where we are with respect to Social Security is that the trust fund is in good shape for those that are currently retired, drawing benefits, and for those who will draw benefits any time in the foreseeable future. The problem we're going to run into in terms of the basic financial well being of the system is going to be a bigger problem for those now in their 20s and 30s, people like my kids, for example. And there are legitimate concerns there. They're worried that by the time they reach retirement age 30 or 40 years from now, there won't be anything there in the system. And there is going to be a problem down the road. We know how many people are going to reach retirement age. We know when they're going to reach that age. We know how much money is flowing into the system, and there will be a problem 30 or 40 years down the road that we need to address. And the sooner we begin to address it, the better.
What the President has talked about is doing something that you would find, given the story that you told about your own circumstances,
attractive, and that is we allow that younger generation, on a voluntary basis. It will be up to them, but to take a portion of their payroll tax and invest it in something like a 401k. It would be an approved plan that would earn a higher rate of return than what they'll get out Social Security, and as you point out, it would be their personal account. And in a circumstance down the road, such as you say -- as you say when your husband passed away, that was it. You'd get the widow's benefit but none of his retirement. And this would be a situation where that would be a personal account of the person who is retired, and they could pass it on to the next generation, if there are funds left in it.
So it provides greater flexibility down the road. It's nothing that's going to affect anybody who is currently retired today. This is the kind of thing that is obviously going to be future-oriented for future generations. But we also think it's important because it helps to the extent you generate a higher rate of return, you begin to close the funding gap that is going to exist out there 30 or 40 years down the road. So we think it makes sense. We think it's something that needs to be looked at and to be explored. We've talked about it. But the notion that Senator Kerry has peddled that somehow there's a January surprise, that the system is going to be quote "privatized" is just not true. It's wrong. It's a distortion. I can think of stronger words to use, but that's exactly where we're at, at this point.
He's done this now in a number of areas. You've heard this stuff about the draft -- the draft comes back.
Q That's probably your next question.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right. (Laughter.) Let me get into it because I served as Secretary of Defense back during the first Gulf War, back in '89 to '93, and had the privilege of working with our military. And one of the good things we've done in the last 30 years is the all-volunteer force. It is a magnificent force. And in part it's so good because those serving are ones who signed up to serve, wanted to serve, want to be there. And the intriguing thing about it is that going to the all-volunteer force forced the services to get much better about how they manage themselves and deal with personnel questions.
For a long time when you operate on the draft, in effect, personnel become a free good for the individual service, for the Army or the Navy, or wherever it is, in fact, got the draftee coming in. And I don't mean to take anything away from those who served in the past under the draft. My dad was drafted in World War II and served in the Navy and was always very proud of his service. But what the services had to do when we went to the all-volunteer force was think about, well, how do I attract and recruit first-rate people? Technology has gotten tougher. We need a lot more training these days for people who serve in the military. A lot of them are married. How do we make certain that this is an attractive service for people with families, or for young people who want to pursue their education? We provide the educational benefits that they can take advantage of then after their service. They've had to get much, much better at how they manage themselves in order to be able to attract and retain first-rate people. And they've done it.
And this notion of a draft makes no sense to anybody who is currently serving, or any of our senior military commanders. There are only two people I know of who have advocated the draft. They're both Democrats. And one has been Fritz Hollings from South Carolina and Charlie Rangel from New York. And this last week, or 10 day, they brought a bill up on the floor in the House and actually voted on it. They said, okay, any support out there for the draft? There were votes for it. Charlie Rangel wasn't one of them, by the way. (Laughter.) And there is absolutely no interest --
MRS. CHENEY: And they were both Democrats.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: They were both Democrats. There is absolutely no interest in bringing back the draft. In terms of -- some people say, well, if we have to expand the service, we'll have to go to the draft. No. Today we have 1.4 million people on active duty. Another, I'm sure how many -- close to a million, I guess, Guard and Reserve. When I was Secretary, what, 12, 13 years ago, we had 2.1 million active duty military personnel -- 700,000 more than we do today. And we did it all with the volunteer force. So we can do whatever we have to do with the programs we've got in place, the policies we've got in place, the all volunteer force. And I don't know anybody who knows anything about the subject who would suggest we want to go back to the draft. We do not.
And again, it's a classic example, I think, of John Kerry who will say virtually anything in the closing days of the campaign to try to frighten people into voting for him and against the President. It's just wrong. It's dead wrong. I can't say it any more clearly than that.
He sat the other night 10 feet away from the President on the stage in the debate and heard the President say exactly that, and he's out peddling it when he knows it's not true.
MODERATOR: Mr. Vice President, I just got the word that we've got time for one more question, unfortunately. And I might want to mention here that Chris Wesseler here, who is a Cincinnati firefighter is also a veteran of both the first Gulf War --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Desert Storm?
MODERATOR: Yes, Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, as well. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Where, if I might ask, where did you serve, who you were serving with?
Q In Desert Storm I served with -- I'm sorry, 2nd MARDIV. And in Iraqi Freedom I served with 1st MARDIV. I'm a local reservist here.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Marine Reserve.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thanks for your service. We appreciate it.
Q I do work now with a program at PWST which is Peacetime Wartime Support Team that I make sure my Marines are ready to go, and then when they're gone, I take care of their families, which is a wonderful new program.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, that's great.
MRS. CHENEY: Oh, thank you.
Q And I want to say that that's -- it does a lot for the country.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Great, well, thanks again for what you did for all of us.
Q We're all in this together.
MODERATOR: Who has one great last question. Sam?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'll try to give two short answers.
Q I promise to be very brief. Mr. Vice President, I'd like to thank you for giving us this opportunity to share our hearts with you. One of the things that is very important for me as a former war veteran of the United States Navy is when I was in the Navy I thought -- I saw what (inaudible) was all about, then I come home and see it in a different light (inaudible). But bearing that fact in mind, Cincinnati has a unique problem of I think being a city with a -- smaller cities, which is home ownership. A lot of home ownership in a lot of the cities in the state of Ohio is (inaudible). Cincinnati (inaudible) about 39 percent. And I was just curious of what programs -- I know under Alphonso Jackson, who has done a fantastic job of getting the numbers up. But is there anything that could help out Cincinnati improve home ownership because I think the communities are really feeling the effects of the lack of home ownership.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we think home ownership is an important concept. For the nation at large overall, home ownership is close to an all-time record high, 64 percent, 65 percent. And it has improved in the minority communities in recent years. But as you point out, there's still -- there's a gap if you will. And we think it's important to try to close that gap as much as possible. Alphonso Jackson who is the Secretary of HUD has done a superb job of continuing to push those programs. I know Steve has worked on it -- as well as Mike DeWine and Rob Portman have been very supportive of efforts in these areas. A key is making credit available at affordable rates and making certain that basic fundamental programs are in place so that people can get the financing they need and be able to acquire and build up, if you will, the equity that goes with home ownership, provides for stable communities. People have got a stake in the community to a greater extent than if they're not living in a home that they own themselves. And that's a lesson we've learned not only here in the United States, but around the world. It does change the character of the nature of the society, people's ties to their local community. And it's a very important effort that we need to kind of continue to promote and support.
Q Mr. Vice President, I want to thank you and your lovely wife. And I want to tell you that you're doing a marvelous job in Washington, D.C. Thank you.
I am originally from Charlotte, North Carolina. I grew up during the time of segregation, and it was also during that time that men and women black and white stood up and took a righteous stand for life and for those that were being neglected.
We now have a moral issue facing us also, and that's one of life. And I'm wanting to know what I might to do -- what we might do to get people to vote for you and your stance for life?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we think this is a very important issue, as well, too. The President has spoken about it. He addressed it the other night in the debate. It came up. We believe very deeply in the culture of life, that we need to welcome every child into the world protected in law, that clearly the issues with respect that surround abortion, for example -- deep divisions within the country in terms of how people feel about that. And the thing that we think makes -- best makes sense is to look for areas where we can come together and build a majority of support for ways to reduce the incidence of abortion. And that one of the ways to do that has been, for example, the ban on partial birth abortion. We think it's a very significant development. Congress passed it twice during the Clinton administration. The President vetoed it both times. We got it passed again now, and the President signed it into law. It's now the law of the land. It's being challenged in court. And there will be -- that's got to be worked out in the courts. But it's overwhelmingly supported by the American people. It's one of those areas where we've been able to come together and support a sensible proposition that will, in fact, the effect long-term of reducing the incidence of abortion. There are other examples. Parental notification strikes me as another area where the potential is for that -- looking for ways to encourage, promote adoption as an alternative, a number of things like that where we can get I think support across the broad base that people within the community who will, in fact, step and support those kinds of efforts. A lot of things we can do through faith-based organizations, as well -- working with young people. Again, with the objective in mind here, as I say, let's find those areas where we can make a positive contribution and move in the direction of making abortion -- reducing the incidence of it every chance we get. It's something the President believes in very deeply. He's supportive. And we think it's the right way to go.
MODERATOR: Mr. Vice President -- (applause) -- again, thank you and your bride for coming here today. I know there are a lot of other folks here in Price Hill Chili. If we could make a quick round and meet some folks, we'd love to do that. But we really appreciate you and President Bush being here for us. So thank you very much.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Let me thank the Beltsoses for hosting this and thank everybody for coming by today, good to see you.
END 4:50 P.M. EDT