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Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Bush Discusses Education at Elementary School

Aired January 15, 2001 - 1:07 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The incoming and the outgoing presidents are marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In Houston, President-elect Bush spoke at a predominantly African-American elementary school. He's using the holiday to reach out to a community that largely voted against him.

White House correspondent Kelly Wallace brings us the latest -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good afternoon, Natalie.

That's exactly right. George W. Bush left this predominantly African-American elementary school just about 20 minutes ago, his aides saying this event an important part of the president-elect trying to reach out to those African-Americans, who voted overwhelmingly for Al Gore versus George W. Bush back in November. In fact, this elementary school, Kelso Elementary School here in Houston, served as a polling place back in November. Al Gore got more than 1,000 votes; George W. Bush got only 19.

And so Mr. Bush came here along with his education secretary nominee, Rod Paige, who happens to be Houston's school superintendent, also an African-American member of Mr. Bush's Cabinet.

Mr. Bush appeared before a room of mostly African-American students and teachers. He did not directly address the uphill battle he has in appealing to African-Americans, but he said he would stand for everyone when he assumes the presidency, and he celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: As president, my job will be to listen, not only to the successful, but also to the suffering, to work toward a nation that respects the dignity of every single life. I will remember the promise etched in this day honoring Dr. Martin Luther King.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: And Mr. Bush's aides say he would have come to this school even if he had won 75 percent of the African-American vote back in November to celebrate the life of Dr. King and also to talk about education. The president-elect believes that reading is the next civil right. He said education reform was a priority when he was governor of Texas. He says it will be a priority when he heads to the White House. He then touted his philosophy, which is giving states and local school districts more control over federal funds.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Dr. Paige and I have a lot of work ahead of us, and we're ready, and we're ready. We're ready to bring a spirit of reform and results to public schools all across the country. We're going to urge more resources and flexibility to our schools and expect more in return, so that no child is left behind. We will insist on high standards and real accountability, but we will leave the greatest authority in the hands of the people who know best: the teachers and parents and local folks all throughout America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: But again, concerning African-Americans, Mr. Bush and his team know they will face protest from African-American leaders, who will be protesting Mr. Bush's inauguration on Saturday. Many of these leaders charge that African-American voters were intimated or blocked from voting in Florida. Others are very angry that the president-elect has chosen John Ashcroft for his choice for attorney general, charging that Mr. Ashcroft has a terrible civil rights record.

Again, though, the Bush team saying that no matter who happened to be president, it would be an ongoing struggle to achieve racial progress in this country. Bush aides say the president-elect is committed to that -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And some African-Americans already protesting Mr. Bush's choice for attorney general -- we'll talk more about that later, Kelly Wallace, thanks.

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