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Special Event

Bush Nominates Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense

Aired December 28, 2000 - 2:05 p.m. ET

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

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: We had President-elect Bush down in Florida yesterday, a quick fishing trip. He is back at work today. He is in Washington. He is about to make an announcement.

We have White House correspondent John King with us.

What's the announcement about, John?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, that is the big question here in Washington. We know on this two-day trip, the president-elect will make several Cabinet appointments. Some Republicans -- Let's listen in. Here we go.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

PRES.-ELECT GEORGE W. BUSH: There's no question in my mind that his record of service to the country is extraordinary. Former chief of staff, CEO, former secretary of defense, this is a man who has got great judgment, he has got strong vision, and he's going to be a great secretary of defense, again.

(LAUGHTER)

Our mission for the next four years will be to build a durable peace. This will require strong alliances, expanding trade, advancing our ideals and interests with a clear and consistent diplomacy. With General Powell serving as the secretary of state, that mission is in very good hands.

But the foundation of peace is to have a military ready to keep the peace, ready for every danger, equal to every challenge.

Today, American armed forces have an irreplaceable role in our world. They give confidence to our allies, they deter the aggression of our enemies.

I've set three goals for our nation's defense. One is to strengthen the bond of trust between the American president and those who wear our nation's uniform. Secondly is defend our people and allies against missiles and terror. And thirdly is to begin creating a military prepared for the dangers of a new century.

Strengthen the bond of trust between the president and the military, rebuilding morale, it means never forgetting that ours is a military of volunteers. Whether someone is in the active forces or Reserves or Guard, they're their at their own choosing, and we must honor that service by better pay, better training and clear missions with attainable goals.

We hope to never send our troops into combat. But if deterrence were to fail, we must send them fully prepared and equipped for the dangers that they will face.

Secondly, to defend our forces and allies and our own country from the threat of missile attack or accidental launch, we must develop a missile defense system.

I was most impressed by the chairman of the national commission's ballistic missile threats work. That chairman was Don Rumsfeld. I felt he did an extraordinary job with a delicate assignment. He brought people together to understand the realities of the modern world.

In picking Don Rumsfeld, we'll have a person who is thoughtful and considerate and wise on the subject of missile defense.

And, finally, we must work to change our military to meet the threats of a new century. Effective military power is increasingly defined not by size or mass but by mobility and swiftness. Influence is measure in information. Safety is gained in stealth.

We've got a great opportunity in America to redefine how wars are fought and won, and therefore how the peace is kept. Our nation is positioned well to use technologies to redefine the military. And so one of Secretary Rumsfeld's first tasks will be to challenge the status quo inside the Pentagon, to develop a strategy necessary to have a force equipped for warfare of the 21st century.

It's going to take a lot of cooperation and close work with the Congress. Both of us pledge to do just that.

And so, it is my honor to bring forth a man who will be an integral part of a national security team that I'm confident will serve America's interests well, a good man, an honorable man, Mr. Don Rumsfeld.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: Thank you, sir. Thank you very much.

Good afternoon, President-elect Bush and Dick Cheney. I thank you for those very generous words and for your confidence in asking me to return to public service, which I'm delighted to do.

I look forward to serving our country again and, under your leadership, working with the very fine national security team you are assembling, my former associate and colleague Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condi Rice, and your director of Central Intelligence, whoever that may be.

(LAUGHTER)

And I guess we can confirm today, Mr. President-elect, that it's not me.

(LAUGHTER)

I've admired your leadership in Texas. I have valued our discussions on defense issues over the many months. I have studied carefully your address and blue print for defense that you outlined at the Citadel, and I support it enthusiastically.

In your address there, you called for America's capabilities to be designed to meet the challenges of the 21st century. It is clearly not a time at the Pentagon for presiding or calibrating modestly. Rather, we are in a new national security environment. We do need to be arranged to deal with the new threats, not the old ones, as you point out, with information warfare, missile defense, terrorism, defense of our space assets and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction throughout the world.

History teaches us that weakness is provocative. The task you have outlined is to fashion deterrence and defense capabilities, so that our country will be able to successfully contribute to peace and stability in the world.

I look forward to building a team at the Defense Department that, as you mentioned, can help to develop bipartisan support for the many tasks ahead.

It's a great institution, the Defense Department, with a proud heritage, and with enormously talented and courageous people. I look forward to serving with them again and, under your leadership, serving with you and your team.

Sir, I thank you.

QUESTION: Mr. President-elect, much has been made about how long it took you to make this decision. I wonder if you could comment on that and also tell us whether you have a target for completing your Cabinet.

BUSH: I thought I moved pretty quickly. I can't remember the exact date the election was finally certified, but...

(LAUGHTER)

... I know it was 35 days or 36 days after it was supposed to have ended.

But I felt like we're making pretty good progress. And I hope to have the Cabinet completed at the end of the first week of January. Don't hold me to it, though.

QUESTION: Mr. President-elect, during the campaign, you spoke a lot about military -- the decline in military morale and readiness. But since the election, you've focused on education and tax relief. So what priority will you give rebuilding the military in your first 100 days?

And, perhaps, Secretary-designate Rumsfeld?

BUSH: Well, first, in my budget, I can assure you, there's going to be a military pay raise greater than the pay raise which was enacted a year ago.

And secondly, I've always believed that we're going to have a selling job to do on Congress as to how to modernize the military.

And that requires, first and foremost, a top-to-bottom -- a bottom-to-top review of what exists today and what the military ought to look like tomorrow. And that's going to be one of Don Rumsfeld's first jobs.

As to missile defense, there's a selling job to do there as well. But a good place to start is the report that he put out, which is a compelling argument of the need for the United States to develop a missile defense system that will work.

And so, Patsy, part of our job is to make sure the budget is right for the military. But part of our job in the executive branch is to provide a blueprint for change, a strategy, and then go to the Hill and sell it. I'll work with Don and Dick to do just that.

Russert.

QUESTION: I yield to Nora.

BUSH: We've just made history.

(LAUGHTER)

Nora?

Most thoughtful of you. Please take note of the generosity of spirit here, a senior correspondent such as Russert lateralling a question to one of his colleagues.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: I'll yield then back to Tim.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: If that's the case, this press conference is over.

QUESTION: I wonder, President-elect, and also the secretary can address, what kind of influence Powell and Vice President-elect Cheney will then have over the Pentagon, given certainly his experience and Powell's stature?

BUSH: Well, I think little, because I picked a strong leader who is willing to listen to others but is a decisive leader.

Secondly, inherent in your question is the arrangement that's going to be, you know, inside the national security apparatus of the White House. I think that those who follow American diplomacy and politics understand that I've assembled a team of very strong, smart people. And I look forward to hearing their advice.

One of the things that's really important for the American people understand is, I'll be getting some of the best counsel possible. And so, you bet, General Powell's a strong figure and Dick Cheney's no shrinking violet...

(LAUGHTER)

... but neither is Don Rumsfeld, nor Condi Rice. I view the four as being able to complement each other.

There's going to be disagreements. I hope there is disagreement, because I know that disagreement will be based upon solid thought. And what you need to know is that if there is disagreement, I'll be prepared to make the decision necessary for the good of the country.

QUESTION: Mr. Bush, you talked about the need for missile defense, the pay raise, where's all this money going to come from?

BUSH: Well, the pay raise is $1 billion, John. And I think it's easily attainable in the budget.

The missile defense, there is money being spent now on missile defense. But one of the things Secretary Rumsfeld will do is to work with our OMB director to make sure that the missile defense receives the priority we think it must receive in future Pentagon budgets.

QUESTION: Would you push the Palestinians and Israelis, at this point, to conclude a peace treaty? Or would you allow the status quo? And do you favor this Clinton plan, which in effect calls for a de facto division of Jerusalem?

BUSH: We have one president, and we'll have one president, and the current president is President Clinton. And our nation must speak with one voice, and therefore, his is the voice that needs to speak.

Having said that, I will tell you, I'm impressed by these efforts to bring the folks together. Obviously, we hope it works. We hope it works.

QUESTION: Do you believe that the majority of the American people think that it is appropriate that your nominee for attorney general be asked, quote, "tough questions" by Vermont's Senator Leahy who voted to condone what Judge Susan Webber Wright ruled was lying under oath and obstruction of justice?

BUSH: I suspect all my nominees will get tough questions, including Don Rumsfeld. But the good news is that they can all answer the question.

And I am confident that, when it's all said and done, the Senate will give our folks good hearings, and I'm confident they'll be confirmed. And I stand by my choices and will all the way through the process, because I made them for certain reasons, starting with the fact that these good Americans can do the job and do it well.

QUESTION: Mr. President-elect, are you having trouble getting a Democrat to join your administration?

BUSH: That's an interesting question.

(LAUGHTER)

I'm not having any trouble getting Democrats to return my phone calls.

QUESTION: That's a different question, sir.

BUSH: Yes, it was, but the same answer.

You know, we've talked to some Democrats. I've talked to Democrats about their willingness to work with us in Congress. I've talked to some Democrats about whether or not there may be an interest of leaving their current positions, and most people want to stay in place.

I think that it's pretty well-known that John Breaux and I had an early conversation. I never offered him a Cabinet position, but I did talk generically about his interests. And I said in Austin, Texas -- I don't know if you were there or not -- but when John was there, I said, you know, he wants to stay in the Senate, which I think is good news, in many ways, because he's a person with whom I can work. As I told him down there, the only thing that separates John and me is the Sabine River, at least the way we think.

QUESTION: Mr. President-elect, President Clinton announced just a while ago that he's not going to North Korea. First, do you support his decision, given the current situation in the country, the missile program? And secondly, what will be the biggest difference between the Bush administration's policy for East Asia -- Japan, China and the Korean Peninsula -- and the Clinton administration's East Asia policy, of which you have been quite critical?

BUSH: On this matter, on all matters between now and the inauguration, the country must speak with the one voice. The president made the decision he thought was important.

Secondly, let me get sworn in first.

And if there are differences, they'll become apparent as a result of what we do and how we act.

STAFF: Final question.

QUESTION: While your appointments to the Cabinet have been moving along publicly at pretty good pace, what's going on with preparation of your budget? And, you know, behind the scenes, there are a whole lot of other projects that you need to do...

BUSH: Absolutely. QUESTION: ... in short order. So how do you feel that process is coming along? Will things come in on time? Do you expect to tinker with it later? What's the status of that?

BUSH: I think we're making pretty darn good progress on the budget. As a matter of fact, Ari can brief you afterwards. But I believe the White House said that we'll have the budget -- Mr. Cogan, who is handling our budget transition, will be giving a look at the current -- what?

QUESTION: The OMB budget?

BUSH: Yes, the OMB budget.

Feel like we're making very good progress there. It's a very legitimate question. Mitch Daniels is who I've designated to be the OMB director. Mitch feels confident that our budget will be ready on time.

As to the deputy secretaries and assistant secretaries and legal counsels for all the departments, again, we feel like we're making pretty darn good progress, but it's hard to move quickly until we get the secretaries named. And, obviously, we've been somewhat delayed in that as a result of the election taking a little longer than most people anticipated it would.

But let me just put it to you this way: On Inauguration Day, we'll be ready to assume our respective offices.

I want to thank you all. I hope everybody has a good New Year. And by the way, see you in the morning.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Who with?

BUSH: I'm not supposed to say anything, I'm sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

I'm learning the discipline. I'm learning life within the bubble.

(LAUGHTER)

Yes?

QUESTION: Can we ask Mr. Rumsfeld one more question about what it'd be like coming back again as secretary of defense.

BUSH: Sure, absolutely.

RUMSFELD: Well, I won't know that until I make my calls up on Capitol Hill, to the Senate, and go through the confirmation process.

But I have been doing a number of things with respect to national security and foreign policies issues in the intervening years, and I look forward to it. I really do. It's a fine institution and a wonderful group of people. Thank you.

QUESTION: Mr. Rumsfeld, are you going to take another look at gays in the military?

RUMSFELD: I tell you, this has all happened very rapidly, and I intend to sit down and go through the confirmation process and think about a host of things. That is not an issue that President-elect Bush has discussed in his pronouncements on defense, and certainly, the priorities are in other areas for me.

QUESTION: Has he discussed it with you in your conversations?

RUMSFELD: Pardon me?

QUESTION: Do you regard the missile threat as real, and where do they come from?

RUMSFELD: I'm sorry, I couldn't understand.

QUESTION: Do you regard, sir, the missile threats for which (inaudible) have designed as real or potential? Because the Russians, for instance, say that there is no threat, at this point, to America.

RUMSFELD: There's no question but that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the delivery systems for them is extensive across the world. There is no question but that a number of nations are supplying other nations with elements that they need and assisting them in bypassing the normal period of years it would take them to develop these capabilities. And I consider that, myself, to be a real threat.

And it exists among other threats: Terrorism is a threat, cruise missiles are threats, information warfare is a threat. There's vulnerability to space assets. There are any number of things that need to be addressed. But in answer to your question, certainly it's a real threat.

QUESTION: Is the Star Wars program in need of reinvigoration? Has the Clinton administration...

STAFF: Thank you. Thank you.

WATERS: All right. The object of our attention today, that man you just heard from, Donald Rumsfeld. Chosen out to fill out the Bush national security team as secretary of defense. He has been in that position once before, during the Gerald Ford administration, 1975-77; he has also been a White House chief of staff, and counselor to President Nixon.

CNN White House correspondent John king, we were talking just before George W. Bush came out, wondering what the announcement was going to be about. I guess you could characterize this as a surprise.

KING: A bit of a surprise. We were told by sources that Mr. Rumsfeld actually was in line to be the CIA director, and then Governor Bush, now President-elect Bush decided to take another look at his options for defense secretary. The leading candidate, pushed by Vice President-elect Dick Cheney was former Indiana Senator Dan Coats. Secretary of State Powell, Secretary of State-designee Powell preferred the Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. Mr. Ridge wanted to finish out his term in Pennsylvania. Senator Coats ran into some trouble, some opposition to him from some within the Republican Party. So Governor Bush -- I am sorry, President-elect Bush -- now turning instead to Mr. Rumsfeld, which increases the possibility, Lou, that he might ask George Tenet, we are told, to stay on a bit, Mr. Clinton's director of Central Intelligence, might now be asked to be stay on.

Another name in play for the CIA, Representative Porter Goss of Florida. He met with Mr. Cheney recently to discuss the department. But this now adds another big name to the Bush national security team. And one of the questions we know Senator Coats had when he was interviewed was whether the defense secretary would have equal footing.

You have the Vice President-elect, Mr. Cheney, a former Pentagon chief, Gen. Powell, now to be secretary of state, the former chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff. This is a pretty high-powered team you will have now leading the Bush administration's national security effort. Mr. Rumsfeld, of course, has served in that position before.

As was mentioned in this news conference, led a recent investigation of the threat, or the perceived threat anyway of a missile attack on the United States. He is a big advocate of creating a missile shield.

That's a very costly program, and it will be a very difficult sell for the new administration in an evenly divided Senate and an evenly -- roughly evenly divided House of Representatives.

WATERS: They have signaled their plan already to the Congress, even George W. Bush acknowledging that it'll be a tough sell to the Congress, all of the modernization, as he put it, that will be required in a new Defense Department; plus the fact of a military pay raise of a billion dollars.

KING: Well, one of the things that Gov. Bush advocated during the campaign was perhaps skipping the next generation of weapons. Weapons already in the development system, or planned to be developed soon, he thought one of the best ways to modernize, and to save money to pay for the modernization would be to skip a generation, or at least some of the next generation of weapons. That will run into stiff resistance in Congress because, in the end, strip away the party labels, much of the fighting over the defense budget is over the specific projects and weapons programs built in specific states.

Senator Trent Lott, the majority leader, has a big ship yard in Pescagoula, Mississippi. He certainly wants the program -- the money running through there. So if you skip a generation that will bring up the pork barrel instincts of members of Congress. That would be a very, very tough sell. WATERS: The president-elect said that many sub-posts within the administration may take more time, but he expects that his Cabinet will be chosen, at least by the last week in January. He said but not to hold him to that, but by inauguration day we should be ready to go.

I have secretaries of education, labor, transportation, energy and interior, yet to fill. Can you fill in any blanks there?

KING: Well, Health and Human Services is yet to be filled officially as well, although we are told that Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson will be announced for that post as early as tomorrow. As for those other positions, one of the reasons the president-elect is here in Washington is to sit down and interview the perspective candidates for those job. Veterans affairs, some interviews on that post, we are told, in the next two days; some of those other positions as well.

One person, we are told, under the leading consideration for the Education Department is Lisa Kegan (ph). She is current superintendent of schools in Arizona. That would be an interesting choice. She was a high-profile supporter of Sen. John McCain during the Republican primaries. Obviously, she is from his home state, Mr. McCain's home state. But we are told no final decisions there, although we are told the president-elect is very close on several of these choices.

What he is doing is very similar to what President-elect Clinton did back in 1992. He has promised a diverse Cabinet, both politically and he wants diversity, in terms of race, diversity in terms of gender, but also diversity in terms of the politics of his Cabinet. And he won't finalize a few choices that he has made -- pretty much made up in his head -- until he sees what the entire team looks like.

WATERS: All right, John King in Washington. And the pace in quickening in the formation of the new George W. Bush government, as he is back at work in Washington. And he was speaking to us from the transition office.

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