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Special Event

National Council of Women's Organizations Target Cabinet Nominees Thompson and Ashcroft

Aired January 16, 2001 - 9:35 a.m. ET

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

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take folks right now to a press conference we have been watching. This is a press conference that is being presented by the National Council of Women's Organizations in which they have been expressing their opposition to the appointments of actually Governor Tommy Thompson to the appoint of the position head of HHS, Health and Human Services, and John Ashcroft, who is the attorney general nominee.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ELEANOR SMEAL, FEMINIST MAJORITY: For women, and I wanted to point out his other areas that just abortion, as he opposes the United Nations Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Sex Discrimination or Discrimination Against Women. It is called CEDA. It's ratified by every democracy, by every industrialized Western country, in fact, it's been ratified but all but seven nations of this world.

Some people see Mr. Thompson as more moderate. We are putting them together, obviously these appointments are coming very rapidly, but we are also putting them together because they are indeed both extreme.

And let me just look at Governor Thompson for a minute. Thompson would criminalize abortion, and for a safe procedure, he put the penalty for physician who performed it at life imprisonment. Fortunately, it was declared unconstitutional.

Both are associated with extreme groups. In fact, Thompson is a part of the Council for National Policy, which is a group which joins with Robertson, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Phyllis Schlafly. The whole host of characters who are fighting women's rights at every turn.

And so, we don't want you to think that one is indeed better than another, in fact, when we look at this Cabinet of Mr. Bush -- of President-elect-select Bush, we are told that he is to unite, not to divide. When we look at the positions that affect women the most, these are not uniters. These are, in fact, extremists.

And frankly, the only way they're uniting is in their opposition. Women's groups, a whole host of groups are opposed to them. As you know, as we are beginning to open up Ashcroft's hearings, this is probably the largest coalition I've ever seen. I have been in this town and fighting for women's rights now for over two decades, and I can tell you, I have never seen a coalition like this on Governor Ashcroft for we have environmental groups, gun, gun-control groups, labor, women's groups, civil rights group, gay and lesbian groups. The list goes on and on.

And in fact, when you look at these records, they are very, very similar in other ways. Both Thompson and Ashcroft have been supporters of big tobacco. In fact, when it comes to the right to choose tobacco or comes to the right to choose guns, these are your guys. When it comes to the rights of women, these are, in fact, people who could do grave harm.

And we will be, in fact, organizing, mobilizing with all that we can and sounding the alarm so that indeed there cannot be this -- at the turn of the 21st century, we shouldn't be fighting a struggle that will drive us back.

HARRIS: Those are the words of Eleanor Smeal, who is a leader of the Feminist Majority, one of the organizations represented by the National Council of Women's Organizations.

They have just launched this morning their first salvo, in opposition to the appointments of Gov. Tommy Thompson as head of the Health and Human Services Division, and John Ashcroft as attorney general. And two nominations made by George W. Bush of late.

Surprising to us this morning because we have been hearing so much about this group's opposition to John Ashcroft. They also lumped in Tommy Thompson in this group. They were saying that Thompson may be presented as being more moderate, but, in their eyes, one is no better than the other. They have shown opposition to women's fundamental rights over the years, and they basically have listed the reasons why they feel that way.

Of course, we will keep our eye and ear tuned to this and other press conferences that are planned throughout the next few hours.

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