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Ronald, Nancy Reagan Presented With Congressional Gold Medal

Aired May 16, 2002 - 14:14   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Now we want to go and join this ceremony, which as you can see, is under way in the Rotunda on Capitol Hill.

Any moment now, President Bush is going to be taking the podium. We don't know the full extent of the remarks he is going to make, but we do know he's going to be extolling the legacy of President Ronald Reagan and will be commending him and awarding him the Congressional Gold Medal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... joyous moments of great accomplishments on the world stage. You helped them find ways to celebrate just the two of them.

In sad moments of tragedy or pain, with your help, they sought ways to persevere, the two of them.

Even to this very day, this very hour, it is you who bless them, the two of them together.

And so we here today are blessed, knowing them, treasuring the two of them, honoring them with one ceremony, with one medal, just for the two of them.

Amen.

(MUSIC)

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Please be seated.

At this time, I'd like to introduce to you the congressman from Nevada, Jim Gibbons, who was the House sponsor of the bill to make the commemoration medal -- Jim.

(APPLAUSE)

REP. JIM GIBBONS (R), NEVADA: Mr. President, Mrs. Reagan, colleagues and distinguished visitors, it is indeed my great pleasure and high honor to welcome all of you to this ceremony as we awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to former President Ronald and Mrs. Nancy Reagan.

I would like to take this opportunity right now to recognize and thank one of my dear colleagues who helped tremendously in this work, Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn of Washington, who supported me and worked tirelessly in sponsoring and authorizing this legislation for this tribute in the house that we're enjoying today.

I would also like to take this moment to remember the late Senator Paul Coverdell, who enthusiastically spearheaded this effort in the United States Senate. His dedication in promoting the Reagan legacy has been an inspiration to all of us, and today, ladies and gentlemen, as we celebrate the lives of two very extraordinary individuals who, together, have dedicated much of their lives to the betterment of our great nation.

In fact, in 1983, President Ronald Reagan said, "This country was founded and built by people with great dreams and the courage to take great risks."

Today, I maintain that our nation's future has been guided by the great dreams and remarkable courage of Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

I am sure that each and every one of you have your own special memory of Ronald and Nancy Reagan. I know I do. Many Americans remember how the Reagan's sparked a renewal of hope and optimism in a nation that was beginning to lose faith in the American dream.

This renewed patriotism will always remain one of their most enduring legacies. Ronald and Nancy Reagan shared a remarkable grace, a rare charm that set both the American public and world leaders at lease.

And that ability to shape and build relationships in spite of past animosities enabled our nation to enter the 21st century free from the burdens of a Cold War as well as allow other countries around the world to enjoy the freedoms of democracy.

Former Russian President Gorbachev, whose nation we now consider an ally, could not be here today. But I would like to read to you a portion of his letter to the Reagans:

"While working to address vitally important issues, we changed the nature of relations between our two countries, by building trust and verifying it with concrete deeds. All difficulties not withstanding, this trust has been preserved. It is our legacy to a new generation of policymakers. I have faith that our nations' political leaders will safeguard and build on it for the benefit of a world that is now facing new challenges.

On this important occasion, I salute Ronald and Nancy Reagan and all those who have gathered to recognize and honor them."

Ladies and gentlemen, I join with President Gorbachev in saluting the Reagans for their tireless dedication to making the United States prouder, stronger, and most importantly, a better nation. And when I think back on the Reagans many accomplishments, I hold one very close to my heart.

As a military veteran, I know the sacrifices that are made to preserve our freedoms and liberties. President Reagan's commitment to insuring our national security, preserving our democracy, and achieving an enduring peace will forever stand as a standard for all community as well as the commander-in-chiefs who follow him.

Mr. Reagan charted this course from the first day he arrived in Washington, when during his first inaugural speech he said, "Peace is the highest aspiration of the American people. We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it, but we will never surrender for it. Now or ever."

President Reagan's undaunted commitment to our armed forces, our nation's patriots, provided our servicemen and women with a renewed pride in serving in the United States military. This patriotism spread across the country to Americans young and old, and today we speak about the Reagan legacy. Patriotism and pride are undeniably included as enduring traits that strengthen our nation and enable us to meet the challenges we currently face.

Just as President Reagan ushered in a new era of diplomacy and patriotism, Mrs. Reagan embarked on her own mission, and started the very famous "Just Say No" campaign, which continues to teach thousands of young students, teenagers alike, the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.

And through her efforts, drug abuse among teenagers has been reduced to its lowest level in three decades.

All of here today share many fond memories and a deep respect of the Reagans. They are truly a beloved and treasured American couple.

I thank you for your dedication to the American people, and may today's tribute signify our deep gratitude to you both.

(APPLAUSE)

HASTERT: Thank you, congressman.

Now it is my great pleasure to introduce my colleague on the other side of the Rotunda, the Senate Republican leader, Senator Trent Lott.

(APPLAUSE)

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY LEADER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mrs. Reagan, President Bush, and my fellow Americans, first I want to thank Congressman Gibbons for his leadership in this area, in getting this resolution started in the House of Representatives. He did a great job, and I'm glad the Senate followed suit.

As I thought about this event last night, I remembered some speeches that President Reagan gave in this very room, at this very spot.

One day when it was too cold to have the inauguration outside, we came in here. And he stood where we stand today. From this spot, he inspired our nation and he changed the world.

And so it's appropriate today that we celebrate not only his presidency, but a wonderful partnership, a collaboration that became over the course of time a love affair with America.

Today the Congress responds to them, on behalf of the American people, with this Congressional Gold Medal. It's gold is just a metaphor for how much we treasure you, Mrs. Reagan, Nancy, if I may, and the man who has so long been the center of your life, the man who, in Margaret Thatcher's words, "won the Cold War, without even firing a shot."

No one knows better than members of Congress that public office makes great demands on families, or that leadership in the nation requires teamwork at home as well as in our nation.

As far as teamwork goes, you and President Reagan have been the political equivalent of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. The speaker referred to that last night in his remarks.

You made the fantastic look easy, but it couldn't have been easy for either of you. After all, the presidency is the world's most illustrious headache sometimes, and heartache at other times. But you both faced crisis with class, and countered criticism with good humor. It just seemed to roll off of President Reagan's back, and you took it with aplomb also.

When so many were obsessed with our country's shortcomings, you reminded the nation that dignity isn't something that happens to us, it's something we make happen.

We all wish President Reagan could be here with us today. But what you should know, Mrs. Reagan, and what I wish with all my heart he could know, is that in so many ways, he is here with us today.

Not just in our memory and our affection, but more important, in example and counsel. In the living inspiration we can still call the Reagan Revolution.

Many years ago, when he was first running for the presidency, unsuccessfully, I might add, Ronald Reagan spoke about the prisoners of war whom the two of you had entertained in your California home. He was awed by their courage and deeply moved by what they had suffered.

After those heroes had left, he turned to you, Mrs. Reagan, and asked, "Where did we find them? Where did we find such men?"

Well, we've had occasion to ask a similar question ourselves. When so much of the world was heading in the wrong direction, when the future seemed to hold nothing but problems and peril, where did we find the two of you? Where did we find such a president and first lady to restore our old faith in ourselves and in the cause of freedom?

The answer, I think, is that heaven blessed America in those eight years, and that's why these many years later, we ask the good Lord to bless you and President Reagan and to keep you both, as scripture promises, safe in the shelter of His wings.

We love you, Mrs. Reagan. We love what you have done for our president, and we love what he did for our country.

Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

HASTERT: Please join me in welcoming the House majority leader, Congressman Dr. Richard Armey.

(APPLAUSE)

REP. RICHARD ARMEY (R-TX), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Mr. President, Mrs. Reagan, Mr. Speaker and distinguished members of the dais, ladies and gentlemen, and fellow Reagan-ites. Those were the days, my friends, and they will never end in our hearts.

In order to appreciate Ronald and Nancy Reagan, President and Mrs. Reagan, you've got to remember the '70s in America. They were not happy times.

America had become a nation of doubt, of self-doubt, of worry, of concern, of reservation and fear. We were reading books like "The Zero Sum Society" that said economic growth is now gone forever. And we thought the energy crisis was real, and there was nothing we could do about it.

My own profession of economics was totally stymied by stagnation and we felt so helpless.

And then, Mrs. Reagan, help came from the West. There came this tall stranger to town, a handsome man, who said, Mr. and Mrs. America, know your goodness, respect who you are, be confident in what you can do.

If you want to know and understand the legacy of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, you must understand, these two people, together, in my estimation, within the context of three beautiful words -- faith, courage, and love. These are two people who first had faith in their Lord and God, and then secondly, had faith in his great work of this great land. Understand the goodness that God had put in his people, and had the decency and the ability to know and respect it. And their love for one another was shared with their love for this greatest nation.

We owe you so much, Mrs. Reagan, for we all shared a love of Ronald Reagan. But it was you who shared with us, and we thank you for it.

And then courage. I remember so vividly those days in 1982, 1983 and 1984, when even those of us who understood his vision of economic growth and prosperity began to have doubts. And those doubts were haunting us at the polling place. And our knees began to shake and we got worried, and there was tat one solid, unrelenting, calm, encouraging voice that said, "stay the course. Stay the course." Only a man who had no fear for himself, a man who understood that in the end it's not about me, therefore I am nothing to lose here, could have that calm, reassuring courage to just tell the rest of us who worried, "stay the course." Because his faith in the American people and our goodness never wavered. He knew we could do it, and we have.

That courage was not only an inspiration to America, but imagine the way it lifted the hearts and the hopes of people across the globe when he had the courage to say, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall." What must that have meant in the hearts of so many people who have lived lives of fear and dread.

You don't get this kind of courage and this kind of faith, Mrs. Reagan, without love. These are hard things we are called upon to do. The hours are difficult, the threats are many, the doubts are great, and the worries are large. We cannot do that unless we are sustained by a love for one another. And so it is fitting today that we recognize president and Mrs. Reagan.

I have had many of my younger colleagues talk to me with some regret. They got here too late. They didn't get the chance to meet Ronald Reagan. I've had members tell me in great remorse how they miss that opportunity. Let me say to you, you do know Ronald Reagan. You're living in Ronald Reagan's world.

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

HASTERT: It's my pleasure at this time and I ask to you join me in welcoming Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska.

(APPLAUSE)

SEN. TED STEVENS (R), ALASKA: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Mrs. Reagan, members of the Senate and House and honored guests. I'm particularly pleased to see members of the court here today.

I am here today as one of those who was honored to serve in the leadership in the Senate in 1981. As a result of the Reagan revolution, I became assistant majority leader and began a new life, really. Howard Baker asked me to go to China because Deng Xiaoping wanted to know what was coming with the Reagan revolution. And Katherine (ph) and I were married on December 30 and left to go to China on December 31.

To prepare for those talks, it was necessary for me to review completely Ronald Reagan's programs and promises and his actions as governor of California. I was more than honored to defend every part of that program. That began a most memorable period.

After Congress convened, we in the leadership met with the president about once or twice a week. President Reagan began his discussions in the cabinet room with us usually with a joke. Cabinet says to me I can't repeat them here, but every one of them was repeatable to your wife and children, I can tell you that. He always kept us relaxed, and tackled serious subjects very quickly.

But it was a happy period for us. Ron and Nancy brought sunshine to the White House, and he brought hope to our defense forces. Under Ronald Reagan's leadership we built ships and planes, trained troops, developed new weapons systems and reestablished America as the strongest nation on earth.

It was a time of challenge. But for the vision of one man, the Berlin Wall would probably still be standing. The Reagan-Bush doctrine of peace through strength, in my judgment, remains the center -- really the centerpiece of America's policy at home and abroad.

And but for one woman, we might not really realize what commitment really means. While the president's words overseas changed history, Nancy Reagan's words at home charged parents and children to just say no to drugs and drug abuse. Nancy came to Washington after having successfully promoted a foster grandparents program in California, and has been our articulate spokesperson for medical research for many diseases. Her commitment to Ron is unequalled.

One never knows what roles we will play in life. Nancy Reagan has handled all of her roles with uncommon grace and dignity through many challenging years. We thank Ron and Nancy for teaching us to believe in ourselves and believe in Ron and Nancy's shining city, set on top of the hill. Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

HASTERT: Please join me in welcoming the Senate assistant majority leader, Senator Harry Reid.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: Mr. Speaker, President Bush, Mrs. Reagan -- Senator Daschle wanted me to express his personal apology for not being here. He is doing a memorial service at Arlington as we speak. So he is sorry for not being here.

It is with the sense of honor and pride that I participate in this awards ceremony. Congressional Gold Medal is our highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievement and contributions to our country. Today we honor President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan in recognition of their service to our country.

As a Nevadan, I'm very happy to note my state's important role on this special occasion. Ronald Reagan's legendary friend and confidant, Senator Paul Axwold (ph) is here, as is another close confidant and strategist, Ambassador Sid Rogich (ph), also from Nevada. And of course, my colleague Jim Gibbons, we are all very proud for his starting this in the House of Representatives.

President Reagan is silent now, but his life has been anything but silent. Instead, speaking volumes and indeed filling volumes of library and history books, Ronald Reagan rose from humble beginnings to the highest office in our land. He made it not because of his pedigree, by virtue of wealth or through his outstanding education, but rather because he was a man of conviction whose personality led people to believe in him and his causes.

In exerting these leadership qualities, President Reagan made significant contributions and caused the world to change. He was committed to our nation's defense and invested heavily to project America's military superiority. He had confidence in himself and in the American people. And using his communication skills and considerable charm, he was able to instill the same optimistic spirit in all America. You see, his appeal transcended traditional party affiliations.

Nancy Reagan has revealed her strengths in many different ways, her grace in many different ways as first lady. She made her mark as an advocate for reducing drug and alcohol abuse by American youth. But her most important contributions have been as an adviser to the president of the United States. They worked together as partners. In recent years, she has furthered their work and added to the love that the American people have for both of them.

The Reagan legacy continues, continues to be felt, is widely remembered and will long endure. May this congressional medal, which we bestow today, these Congressional Gold Medals that we present to Ronald and Nancy Reagan serve to express our nation's gratitude for their achievements, and may their lives serve as shining examples of what individuals, regardless of the background, ethnicity, social standing, income level, race or religion, can accomplish in America. Because it's always morning in America.

(APPLAUSE)

HASTERT: Our life in this Capitol, much of it lived under this great dome, a symbol of democracy and freedom the people look at all over this world. As we live our lives here, we scurry back and forth in times from the Senate to the House, thinking about the tug-of-war between policy and politics. Very seldom do we ever stop to think and reflect of what great things happened here in this city and under this dome and in this place.

Today I am very honored to help participate in this ceremony. A boy from the heartland of Illinois, I was elected to public office for the first time the same day that Ronald Reagan was elected to be the president of the United States. What an honor to be here, to help with this distinguished body, Mr. President, Mrs. Reagan, members of the Senate and the House. To give the Congressional Gold Medal to Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

Ronald Reagan is a hero of mine. His life represents the best of the heartland of Illinois. As president, he put his trust in the spirit of the American people. He knew that freedom and opportunity would conquer oppression and evil.

Our national agenda today still reflects the vision of Ronald Reagan, whether it be making our military stronger, or to promote peace and stability, or making our streets safer to promote domestic tranquility, or making our taxes lower to promote economic prosperity. It was Ronald Reagan who best articulated these policies. Ronald Reagan helped establish the leadership to give Americans the ability to believe in America again. Ronald Reagan spent his youth in Tapaco, in Dixon, Illinois, which is my congressional district, in the 14th District of Illinois. Earlier this Congress, we honored the boyhood home of Ronald Reagan. And I have to say, there are many people in this audience today that spent their life everyday telling the story of Ronald Reagan's boyhood and his life in service of this country, and we appreciate you coming out here to join in this celebration.

Whether it was with the national historic site in Illinois or National Airport in Washington, or with the presidential library in California, this country must always remember the contributions of Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

Mrs. Reagan, we are so happy to have you here today. You are a vital, important part of the Regan legacy. As I said last night, you inspired when you served in the White House, and you inspire us now with your loving devotion to your husband.

While in the White House, you took on one of the most important causes facing our nation's youth, drug abuse. We know then that 20,000 people, young people, died every year in our nation's ghettos, in our most affluent neighborhoods in this country. Nobody could do anything about it, but you took the first step. Mrs. Reagan, you knew that this was wrong, and you came up with a simple yet effective message to stem the tide, "just say no." I still believe that is one of the most direct messages our youth has ever heard when it comes to the war on drugs.

And since departing the White House, you have continued to serve this nation as a role model. We knew the last few years have been difficult for you, Mrs. Reagan, but your commitment to your husband has been an inspiration to all Americans. We hope that this Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor that Congress can bestow, will demonstrate how much we treasure Ronald and Nancy Reagan's contribution to our nation -- as president and first lady, and as husband and wife.

Mrs. Reagan, the Congress appreciates all that you and your husband have done for this nation. God bless you, and God bless America.

(APPLAUSE)

HASTERT: Ladies and gentlemen, it is now my great honor and high privilege to introduce to you the president of the United States, George W. Bush.

(APPLAUSE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all very much.

Ever since the American Revolution our Congress has given gold medals to heroes of our republic. Today I'm honored to join the members of the Congress from both parties in paying tribute to Nancy and Ronald Reagan as they receive this high award, the Congressional Gold Medal, in recognition of their contributions to America and to the cause of freedom.

Mrs. Reagan, it's great to see you again. It's always a pleasure to be with you.

I want to thank our secretary of state, Colin Powell, for joining us today.

Mr. Secretary, thank you for coming.

I appreciate the justices from our courts being here.

I particularly want to thank the members of Congress, Mr. Speaker and Senator Byrd, and all the members of the Congress who are here.

I want to welcome all the friends of President and Mrs. Reagan, all of you all who worked in the Reagan administration. Welcome back to your old stomping grounds.

Ronald Reagan is one of the largest figures of our time. His name will always stand for courage and consistency, for patriotism and resolve, and for humor and optimism. He is a man of great talent and great character, yet his entire career is a tribute to the power of great ideas.

President Reagan believed deeply in American character and destiny. He believed deeply in the power of freedom to improve the lives of average men and women. These ideas changed America and they changed the world, not only because he eloquently explained them, but because they are right and they are true.

Ronald Reagan believed that prosperity is another name for economic freedom. And his policies of freedom laid the foundations for a prosperous and for a generous society.

Ronald Reagan believed that history is on the side of human liberty; that all tyranny must be temporary, because liberty is the universal hope of all mankind.

He believed that the aspirations of our country require the might of our military. And he knew that the cause of freedom is served by moral clarity, the willingness to call oppression and evil by their proper names.

Above all, Ronald Reagan believed in the strong character of the American people, even when some on both the left and right were quite skeptical of that character.

He would recognize the country we have seen since September 11. He would look at the spirit and sacrifice of the firefighters, police officers, men and women of our military, average Americans, and he'd be proud. He wouldn't be surprised. He knew the courage and decency and generosity at the heart of this country, because he shared it and he embodied it. At every step of an amazing life, Nancy Reagan has been at Ronald's side -- right by his side. As his optimism inspired us, her love and devotion strengthened him.

As first lady of California, Mrs. Reagan spoke out on behalf of POWs and American service men missing in action. As our first lady of the United States, Nancy Reagan led an anti-drug campaign that helped significantly to reduce teen drug use. Now, she is joining the fight against the terrible curse of Alzheimer's.

Ronald and Nancy Reagan were married in 1952, and their love for one another has only grown greater with the passage of time. They set out to make a life together and this amazing partnership helped change the world. Now on a difficult journey, we admire Nancy Reagan's eloquent example of loyalty and love.

May God bless you and your husband, Mrs. Reagan. And may God bless this country he loved so much.

And now I'm honored to present the gold medal, along with the speaker and Senator Byrd, president pro tempore.

(APPLAUSE)

NANCY REAGAN: Thank you so much. Thank you. Oh, my. Thank you, very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. My.

Well, it's such a -- such an honor to be here, and thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. And everyone. This is a very -- obviously, very special occasion for me. And very memorable, because it was in this room that Ronnie and I came after his first inaugural. And it was in this room that we found, we were told that the prisoners had been released and they were in Iranian airspace, and everything was going to be all right. It was very exciting.

But I want to thank you, all of you, for all of your expressions and what you have said and I -- I can't say any more. Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

HARRIS: Very short remarks there made by Nancy Reagan on behalf of her husband, Ronald Reagan, thanking those who've awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal, which, by the way, is the highest honor the Congress can give a civilian. Some of the notables who have received this award in the past -- Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Rosa Parks, Eli Weisel. So quite a distinguished list that the Reagans are now joining.

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