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Special Event

President Clinton Dedicates White House Briefing Room to Jim Brady

Aired February 11, 2000 - 10:44 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: President Clinton now speaking at the podium. Let's go there now live to the White House briefing room.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Between impossible and miserable every day.


Well, ladies and gentlemen, this is a happy day for all of us and I believe for people throughout the United States.

I want to welcome Jim and Sarah and their son, Scott. I want to welcome Mike and Larry and Gerald and Pierre here, the former White House press secretaries.

I also want to remember, as I know Jim and Sarah would want me to, Jim's press office assistant, Sally MacAroy (ph), who passed away last summer. Her husband Robert Evans (ph) is here and we welcome him.

Today we honor a man whose courage, purpose and humor make him a stand-out press secretary and an outstanding human being. Jim Brady, after all, was the man who convinced the White House press corps to abandon decades of tradition and actually raise their hands when they wanted to ask a question.


Jim Brady was the man who changed press conferences forever one day in the 1970s when he invited journalists to see a bipartisan group of senators cutting the budget with hedge trimmers.

Jim Brady was the man who, when members of Congress proposed to give themselves a $50-a-day tax deduction, responded with a press release that was one word long: stupid.


Jim Brady is living proof that you can't kill courage, that it takes more than a cheap handgun to destroy a strong spirit. As he himself once said, no one can shoot away your sense of humor. Jim Brady was the man who changed press conferences forever for me on this issue, and I want to thank him and Sarah from the bottom of my heart.

Every time I saw him in the early days of my presidency and even before when the Brady bill was being debated, I realized that his ready smile and sense of humor had to overcome despair that none of us can fully understand and pain that many of us ever really experienced.

I realize that he could have chosen to live his life out in private regret but instead he chose a public embrace. He could have been remembered no matter what he did as a good press secretary, a committed campaigner, a world-class chili cook. But he, instead, chose a connection to other human beings and an eye to the future.

Even when he was still in the hospital and had doubts about his own future, he reached out to his fellow patients to give them reasons to keep going. And for more than 15 years now, he has traveled our nation on behalf of the National Head Injury Foundation and other groups, with a simple message: persevere. Never give up.

Jim and Sarah have known uncommon perseverance and they have demonstrated to us what really counts in life. They have built a bipartisan coalition in this country to strengthen our nation's gun laws, to make our children and our future safer.

Against tremendous odds, they fought for seven years to pass the Brady bill. It was my great honor to sign it into law in 1993. In 1994, we passed the assault weapons ban. We then made it illegal for a young person to buy or receive a handgun. And what has happened? We have seen gun crime fall by more than one-third. We have seen the Brady bill keep guns out of the hands of nearly a half-million felons, fugitives and stalkers.

We cannot know how many people are alive and fully strong and healthy today because of the labors of Jim and Sarah Brady.

Sometimes in Washington, it's easy to cover the politics and not the policies. And sometimes it's even more interesting I'm sure for all of you to cover the politics and not the policy.

But when you see, Jim and Sarah, for many of you, not just colleagues but friends, you know that what we do here really does make a difference. And they have made a difference.

As we have been painfully reminded here in Washington these past days, guns still are claiming the lives of too many of our children. There is more work to do, and Jim and Sarah are ready to do it. They have called for extending Brady background checks to sales at gun shows; for mandating child safety locks to be sold with every hand gun; preventing the most violent juvenile offenders from ever owning hand guns; for ending the importation of large-capacity ammunition clips; and for ensuring that all handgun owners have a state license, so when they pass the background check and know how to handle a gun safely.

It is truly fitting that this room will be named for Jim Brady, for working here records tenacity and perseverance, and above all, a sense of humor. Joe and I also thought about enacting another one of Jim's ideas that he and President Reagan advocated, hinging the floor to give deserving reporters immediate, involuntary access to the swimming pool below.


But as much as I admire Jim Brady, I decided that I shouldn't do that.


Even though I'm not running for anything, I still need a little bit of press pander from time to time.

Today we give name to a room, but Jim and Sarah Brady have already given far more to their national crusade.

I want to finish my remarks by quoting a higher authority: Helen Thomas.


A few years ago, Helen said these words to Jim Brady's biographer: He's like a great tree standing by the river. He's a role model and that's what life is all about. He realizes life is to be lived, that we should give our all, that we're lucky to be alive.

Jim and Sarah, may we all continue to draw inspiration from your strength and spirit here in the James Brady Briefing Room and all around the nation.

Now, I want to unveil this plaque and read it to you.

It says: "This room is named in honor of James S. Brady, White House press secretary from January 23rd 1981 until January 20, 1989. Mr. Brady served his nation with honor and distinction, strengthening the bond between government and press. May his courage and dedication continue to inspire all who work in this room and beyond."

Congratulations, Mr. Brady.


HEMMER: James and Sarah Brady accepting the congratulations of the president. Very fond words from President Clinton, there, calling James Brady an outstanding human being with uncommon perseverance, a man who could have lived life in private regret but rather chose a public embrace. The briefing room now named after James Brady, wounded back in 1989.

JAMES BRADY, REAGAN WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Joe, we press secretaries don't hear that very happen.

I wanted to thank you, Mr. President, for this great honor. It's good to be back. When I cut the ribbon for this new room 18 years ago, it was my first visit since the shooting, and I said, "I miss you." Well, actually, I also said, "I miss some of you."


Today I still miss some of you.


Helen, I do miss your tapping on my window every morning. I'm sure you still have no shame.


This is a real honor. I especially want to share it with my fellow press secretaries, for only those who have served in this position know that -- what a tough job it is to serve two masters: the president of the free world and you, the White House press corps. It makes being between a rock and a hard place seem like Heaven.


I know this room is built over the old swimming pool. Joe, you must know I always planned to put a trap door so that when President Clinton...


... or Sam got out of line, I only had to push a button and, splash. That might be an improvement you can implement this year.

Seriously, I am deeply touched by this honor. Although I actually came before -- came before you lions for a little over two months, they were the best two months of my career.

Mr. President, you have been -- you have been wonderful to my family and to me in so many ways. In fact, you even gave me this tie I'm wearing today.


President Clinton, you and your administration have helped make this country safer through your support for the Brady law, and the 1994 crime bill, and your persistence in pursuing common-sense laws and strategies to reduce gun violence.

I had hoped to see my friend and old neighbor, Vice President Al Gore, who has always been there for us as well. He has been out front with you on this important fight.

It was a great moment last May when Vice President Gore cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate to close the gun show loophole. Both Sarah and I are deeply grateful for the leadership you, Mr. President, and Vice President Gore have provided. This new honor... HEMMER: As James Brady continues, you can see, obviously, the charming sense of humor the man still has there. James Brady, the pressing -- briefing room there at the White House named in his honor today. Also there, former press secretaries Mike McCurry, Larry Speaks, Pierre Salinger. Live event from the White House in honor of James Brady.


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