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Special Event

George W. Bush Names Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Housing

Aired December 20, 2000 - 3:53 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Joie Chen at CNN Center in Atlanta. We want to bring you to Austin, Texas in just a moment. We are expecting the latest announcement from President-elect Bush on his next choices for Cabinet positions. This is expected to happen within the next few moments. We're going to go live to the podium there as soon as the president-elect comes in.

First, though, we want to check in with CNN's Major Garrett, who's also in Austin.

Major, what is the president-elect expected to announce this time?

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're expecting three new Cabinet appointments from the president-elect, and if there's a theme behind all three appointments, it would be close ties to the Bush family and strong political connections in key places around the country.

We're expecting Cabinet appointments for the positions of commerce secretary, agriculture secretary, and secretary of housing and urban development. Going in order, Don Evans, the chairman of the Bush campaign, is expected to be announced as commerce secretary. He raised more than $100 million for then-Governor Bush's campaign, has very strong ties to corporate America. A strong political ally at the commerce department for the president-elect.

At agriculture secretary, we're expecting the announcement of Ann Veneman, who is a longtime friend of the Bush family, served With Governor Bush's father, then-President Bush, in his Agriculture Department, was the No. 2 official there. She would become the first woman ever to lead the Agriculture Department, and as a Californian can give Bush a strong foothold in that very important political state.

Lastly, Mel Martinez as secretary of housing and urban development. He is from Orlando, Florida. He is the chair of Orange County, an elected official since 1998. Also has very strong ties to Florida's Cuban community.

At age 15, he defected from Cuba, was later reunited with his parents, and he testified quite passionately before the Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of Elian Gonzalez's Miami relatives, imploring President Clinton to allow Elian to stay in the United States.

He has strong ties not only to the Cuban community in Florida, but also to President-elect Bush's brother, the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush -- Joie.

CHEN: Major, this has been a busy day at the announcement podium for the president-elect. Early in the day, he made another announcement. Tell us about that.

GARRETT: Yes, the busiest day so far, kind of a two-pronged effort. Earlier today, we learned about the new treasury secretary- designate, Paul O'Neill, currently chairman of Alcoa Aluminum, previously the president of International Paper, a corporate chieftain, but someone who also packs a substantial amount of government experience.

He worked for 10 years at the Office of Management and Budget, rising to the No. 2 position there. Also a good friend of the vice president-elect, Dick Cheney. They have close relations there. And also a very good friend of the Federal Reserve Board chairman, Alan Greenspan. The two go back almost 30 years, know each other on a first-name basis.

And during his introduction to the press, Mr. O'Neill made it very clear that often at times Mr. Greenspan has called him in and asked his advice, not only on the national, but the world economy. He said he was glad to dispense it.

Mr. Bush clearly sees Mr. O'Neill as a key ally, because he will need Mr. Greenspan's if not help, certainly his cooperation as he tries to sell not only his budget, but his big tax-cut plan to a Congress which at times seems somewhat skeptical about cutting taxes by more than $1 trillion -- Joie.

CHEN: And Major, in making these announcements, he has talked a bit about his concerns, repeated his concerns about the economy and where it's headed.

GARRETT: Yes, the president-elect was careful today. He said that there may be signs of a slowdown. He doesn't want to talk the economy down, but he also made it very clear that his economic team, which will include Mr. O'Neill, will be ready in case things turn south.

He said, I'm not trying to talk the economy down, but I am a realist and we will play with the hand that we're dealt. And since the hand he is dealt is somewhat unpredictable right now, there are some signs -- lower corporate profits, sagging stock prices on Wall Street especially today -- the president-elect clearly mindful of things that might be coming his way, wants to have a good economic team together.

And if I would say something about the sequence or sort of the method behind the Bush approach, the first person he announced, secretary of state, Colin Powell. The next secretary, secretary of treasury. Bush aides tell us that the entire message there was to send a message to the country and to the rest of the world that international policy is in good hands, in the hands of Colin Powell, and now that fiscal policy is also in good and steady hands with Mr. O'Neill -- Joie.

CHEN: Major, as well, you talk about laying these things out. There's a bit of a separation, a noon announcement, and then just about 4 o'clock in the afternoon we're expecting a separate announcement. Why split them up?

GARRETT: Well, I think what the Bush people wanted to do was to make the appointment, the announcement of the treasury secretary an announcement all in itself, where the president-elect could take questions not only on the economy, but also give Mr. O'Neill an opportunity to talk about his support for the president-elect's plans. There have been some published reports that in 1992 at an economic conference called by then President-elect Bill Clinton Mr. O'Neill spoke in favor of higher energy taxes, something this president-elect is absolutely opposed to.

So the Bush people wanted to give Mr. O'Neill a chance to say, I'm with the team, I support the president-elect, and also I think make it very clear his longstanding relationship with Mr. Greenspan, a message the Bush people hope will calm the financial markets -- Joie.

CHEN: Major, we'll ask you to stand by here for a moment. We just want to remind our viewers who maybe are just joining us here at the top of the hour, we are waiting for an announcement, the next announcement from President-elect Bush, about his next appointments to the Cabinet. We're expecting just within the next minute or two to hear from the president-elect himself. That is his podium in Austin, which he's gotten quite a bit of use out of in the last day or two.

This afternoon, he's expected to announce his choices for commerce, agriculture and HUD as well, and earlier in the day, Mr. Bush came forward with his choice for treasury secretary. That is Paul O'Neill, as we've been talking with Major Garrett about.

We see Mr. Martinez coming up, Ms. Veneman as well. And as -- well, the president-elect at the podium. Let's listen.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good to see you. Thanks for being here.

Today, I have the opportunity to name three outstanding Americans to three very important Cabinet positions.

When I campaigned in Iowa, I told many of the folks involved in the agricultural community there that I would name a secretary of agriculture who understood the importance of agriculture in the larger scheme of things for America; that agriculture not only is an incredibly important part of our economy, agriculture is an important part of our international policy as well; that agriculture represents an incredibly important way of life; that the values of the farm are ingrained in the American soul.

And I found the right person who shares that philosophy. Ann Veneman has been in government before.

She was deputy secretary at the Agricultural Department, so she has experience in that office in Washington. She was also the secretary of California's Department of Food and Agriculture. She was the first woman to hold that post, and now she'll be the first woman to hold the post at the USDA.

She's an accomplished attorney, she's bright, she's capable and she'll do an outstanding job.

I also have picked a secretary for Housing and Human Development, Mel Martinez from the state of Florida. Mel is the executive of Orange County, which is a sizable county in central Florida, and he's done a really good job. He's an administrator. He's a good executive. He also is a good lawyer. In spite of that, I named him to the position.

He's got a wonderful story.

He was a refugee, as a young boy, from Cuba. He understands American values; he's grown to appreciate them. And there's no greater American value than owning something; owning your own home and having the opportunity to do so. Mel is the perfect pick to run this important department, and I'm honored that he would agree to serve.

And finally, I'm going to name a new -- obviously, name a new one -- but I'm naming a secretary of commerce named Don Evans. Evans has been my life-long friend. He has been the chairman of my campaign. He has been a valuable adviser. He is a free enterpriser. He understands free trade. And he'll do a fabulous job as the secretary of commerce.

I will continue to name members of my Cabinet as this week progresses. Will do so between the holidays, Christmas and the New Year's, as well.

Today I've named three outstanding Americans. I would like all three to have a few comments to you, starting with the secretary- designee of the Department of Agriculture, Ann Veneman.

ANN VENEMAN, SECRETARY-DESIGNATE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE: Thank you very much.

Mr. President-elect, I am honored and humbled to be asked to join your administration and to serve with you and your highly qualified team.

It says a good deal about your commitment to agriculture that one of your first appointments is that of secretary of agriculture.

Agriculture is part of the fabric that makes America great. Our farmers feed and clothe not only the people in this country but people around the world. And it's important that we work together to expand markets for our food and fiber both at home and abroad.

President-elect Bush, like you, I want to find common ground and promote common sense. And I want to promote policies that will help all of our farmers reap a bountiful harvest for years to come.

Thank you again for placing your confidence in me. Thanks very much.

BUSH: Good job.

Mel?

MEL MARTINEZ, SECRETARY-DESIGNATE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT: Thank you, Mr. President-elect.

In my city eight years ago, as a 15-year-old refugee, I arrived on the shores of America. And I had no family. I was alone. I did not speak the language.

I had only a dream to live in freedom. And after living for four years with wonderful people in foster homes where I learned the goodness of America and its people, I was reunited with my family here in freedom.

Today, that immigrant, that refugee, that young man looking for freedom is standing before you, receiving the nomination of the next president to serve in his Cabinet.

And, Mr. President-elect, I am proud to receive your nomination and I accept it.

Today, for me, is a fulfillment of the promise of America; the promise that regardless where you come from, what language you speak, the color of your skin, or your economic circumstances, if you share the dream of a brighter tomorrow and you're willing to pursue it with respect for others and an abiding faith in God, all things are possible.

As secretary of housing and urban development, I will continue to carry that dream of freedom with me. After all, the dream of freedom is the American dream.

President-elect Bush, as you know, for too long, too many Americans have been left out of the American dream. And as you said last spring, home ownership lies at the very heart of the American dream. I agree with you. And I will work hard to ensure that every American has every opportunity to have affordable housing.

This is a vital element of compassionate conservatism.

I know you will help low-income Americans achieve the full promise of America. After all, that is the American dream.

It is my blessing that the dream has come true for me, and now it is my responsibility to help it come true for others.

Thank you.

DON EVANS, SECRETARY-DESIGNATE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE: Let me begin by saying thank you to an old friend who's offered me a new challenge.

Mr. President-elect, I'm both honored and I'm humbled. I proudly accept this challenge, and if confirmed will humbly dedicate my best efforts to uphold your high standards.

At this moment I'd also like to give thanks to my family, who has supported me through the years and given me advice. In fact, I got advice from my wife this afternoon before coming here, telling me to remember where I came from, and I will.

Yes, I am ready to serve this great nation. And since our founding, we have been a nation of free men and free markets. You see it everywhere in America from the corner merchants in Washington, D.C., to the oil fields of west Texas. Our business in America is truly business, and as a result, our economy is the envy of the world.

But as President-elect Bush has suggested, the delights of today tell us little about tomorrow. Now is no time for small plans or shrinking ambitions.

Governing, like business, is about setting a course, setting priorities, setting goals and objectives and making the right choices for the right reasons. And if I'm fortunate enough to be confirmed by the Senate, the road the Department of Commerce will travel is clear: The promotion of free enterprise, first in America and then abroad, will be our first priority; free flow of capital; free and open competition.

And we will strive to be an advocate for U.S. businesses first in America and also those wading into the waters of the global marketplace.

In short, we will endeavor to keep the genius of the American free enterprise system strong and dynamic from sea to shining sea and around the world.

I know there are many more responsibilities of the Department of Commerce, and we will be good shepherds and stewards of those responsibilities. But first and foremost, we will be thinking about the great free enterprise system of America.

It is an exciting challenge. And after almost 25 years in the energy industry, the chance to bring the experience of the private sector to the exercise of public service is a welcomed one.

So, Mr. President-elect, I stand before you ready, sustained by my faith, humbled by this opportunity and prepared to serve.

Thank you very much and God bless you.

BUSH: Thank you all.

CHEN: Brief announcements there -- no questions from the reporters taken, but president-elect Bush announcing his choices for Commerce, Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development. The commerce secretary, designee, you saw there: Don Evans, an old friend of the Bush family and of Mr. Bush in particular -- Ann Veneman, from California, for the agriculture secretary. She is the first woman who will run that department, if she is confirmed.

And Mel Martinez from Florida as the Housing Urban Development secretary: Mel Martinez, we note, was an elector, one of the much competed for electors in his state of Florida. He's also the chairman of Orange County, Florida.

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