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THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary


For Immediate Release February 13, 1998
                          REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                         AT SWEARING-IN CEREMONY OF
                    DR. DAVID SATCHER FOR SURGEON GENERAL

The Roosevelt Room

10:00 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President, Secretary Shalala, thank you for your heroic efforts in this regard. To the Satcher family, Senator Kennedy, Senator Jeffords, Senator Frist, Congressman Stokes, Congressman Waters, to the members of the Satcher family and friends, and all the people who've worked so hard for this nomination, including the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Medical Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the National Medical Association. Dr. Sullivan, it's nice to see you back here.

This is a good day for America. It should be a happy day for America and it bodes well for the health of the American people, and especially of the American children.

I am very, very grateful to the bipartisan majority of the United States Senate who made it possible for us to swear in David Satcher as the next Surgeon General and Assistant Secretary of Health. Besides being superbly qualified, I can't help noting, he also looks good in his uniform. (Laughter.)

Only once before has the President had the honor and the opportunity to appoint one person to fill two of the most demanding public health positions in the nation. Dr. Satcher is more than capable of meeting this challenge. From the overwhelming bipartisan support he received, and the strong support he received from professional organizations, it is clear that we have found the right advocate for America's public health.

He takes on his role at a pivotal time in American health care. Stunning medical breakthroughs, new treatments for some of our most deadly diseases, a rapidly changing health care system make it more important than ever that our Surgeon General truly be America's family doctor and guide us through this time of change.

As Surgeon General, Dr. Satcher will give us plain talk and sound advice about what each of us can do to live healthier lives. He'll guide our nation on the most important public health issues of our time, from increasing public awareness on how to prevent some of our most devastating diseases, to helping free our children from the deadly grip of tobacco. Later today in Philadelphia, I will be talking to some of America's premiere scientists about what we as a nation can do to protect our young people from tobacco. And I know that Dr. Satcher will continue to lead our efforts.

This is a time of great opportunity and great challenge. We are also going to try this year to pass in the Congress a 21st Century research fund to make unprecedented efforts to find cures for diseases from diabetes, to Alzheimers, to Aids. We are going to do our best to deal with the challenge of cloning by securing legislation that would ban the cloning of human beings but permit necessary medical research to go forward. We are going to try to pass a health care consumer bill of rights, increasingly important with over 160 million Americans in managed care plans. We are going to try to expand coverage -- and the law is already enacted -- to five million more children and to increase opportunities for people between the ages of 55 and 65 to have health care coverage.

All those things are important, but in the end, the decisions the American people make day in and day out about their own health care, collectively will have a bigger impact, certainly in the near- and medium-term on the welfare of their families, the health they enjoy, and therefore, the strength of our country. David Satcher is taking a very important job. And I am very, very glad that he is doing it.

When I nominated him, Dr. Satcher told me how proud his mother would have been that a body who's parents never had the chance to finish elementary school, and who nearly died from whooping cough, could grow up to become Surgeon General. Well today, Dr. Satcher, we here, and indeed, all Americans, share that pride.

Under your leadership, an old fashioned, genuine, honest to goodness, all American dream story will go forward to lead America into the 21st Century stronger and healthier than ever.

Now I'd like to ask the Vice President to swear Dr. Satcher in.

(Dr. Satcher is sworn in.)


DR. SATCHER: Thank you. Thank you very much. I'm delighted to be able to greet all of you. To Mr. President -- President Clinton and Vice President Gore, thank you for this extraordinary honor and opportunity. To Secretary Shalala and the members of our department, to members of my family who are here, and friends and colleagues, not only those who are here but those who are watching from throughout the country, I am truly delighted to be able to greet you on this very important occasion.

Someone whom I've quote often, John Gardner once said, "life if full of golden opportunities carefully disguised as irresolvable problems." (Laughter.) As Surgeon General, I see America's health challenges not as irresolvable problems but as golden opportunities. It's an opportunity for us to come together, to work hard on work that is worth doing, to make the greatest difference for those with the greatest need, regardless of race, color, or creed.

As I plunge into this new job, I know that personal effort alone did not grant me this chance to serve. My pastors are here and I'm thankful for -- I'm thankful to God and I'm thankful for my faith in God, faith that has been nurtured by many, beginning with my parents.

I'm very grateful to President Clinton for his confidence in me, which he exhibited when he appointed me to the very important position of Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and now to be Surgeon General and Assistant Secretary for Health. I'm grateful to Vice President Gore for his support and his friendship -- he and Tipper have been family friends -- for his advice through the years. Very grateful to Secretary Shalala for her undaunted spirit and inspiration, which guides all of us within the department.

I want to especially applaud the Senate for conducting such a lively and healthy debate --(laughter)-- that led to my confirmation. I feel good about that. I thank Senator Jeffords, who chaired the committee. And I thank Senator Lott for ensuring that we received a fair hearing. I thank Senator Kennedy for his lifetime of dedication and experience, insight and initiative, and for the passion with which he defended my nomination. I thank Senator Hatch, who has worked so closely with Senator Kennedy through the years. I thank him for his probity and principle defense of my nomination. And the many other Senators from both sides of the isle who supported me, but also to the Congressional Black Caucus. Congressman Waters is here my long-time friend Congressman Stokes. And I've often told Congressman Stokes that I cut class at Case Western 30 years ago to work in his campaign. (Laughter.) I've never been sorry and I'll never let him forget it. (Laughter.)

But seriously, I especially want to thank my good friend, Senator Bill Frist, for his personal devotion to this nomination and the way he carried it through the process. And I know that during this time he grieved the loss of both of his parents within the last two months -- Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Frist, Sr. They were friends of mine, they supported me as I was President of Meharry Medical College, so, Bill, you know that your loss is also -- has a special significance for me and my family.

On the winding road that came to this day, my load has been lightened by many helping hands: My former colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control who are so committed to excellence and committed to people; and to other colleagues within the public health service, which has served this country so well for almost 200 years now -- this bicentennial year; and as you've heard, the American Medical Association -- vigorous defense; the American Academy of Family Physicians and my great friend Bob Graham; the National Medical Association -- all of the offices there; the American Association of Medical Colleges; the Association of Minority Health Professions Schools; and numerous other institutions and organizations. To Dr. Louis Sullivan -- Lou -- who's support was unflagging as he challenged others to know me as he knew me, and appreciate the public health issues as he does, to his wife Ginger and for the friendship they have provided to Nola and me over the years, and to all the helping hands whom I can't call by name.

I'm particularly gratified that the support for my confirmation came from across racial, religious, political and across the gender spectrum. I think it shows that when it comes to public health, what unite us is greater than what divides us. And we must not forget that.

But to become the Surgeon General, you need something more than faith, and support, and advice and consent -- you need love and inspiration. And I will never forget the role of my family -- a loving family, steadfast friends, a bottomless well of unconditional love which I will often return to as I carry out this responsibility.

I want to mention two other people. Senator Kennedy, in one of his statements on the floor of the Senate, mentioned the free clinic which I directed from 1974 to 1979 in Los Angeles, and that was at the church of Pastor Thomas Kilgore. And some of you know the role that he played in civil rights and as chair of the board at Morehouse, but to me he was a pastor for five years. He died last week and I missed his funeral. But I want to say to the Kilgore family how much Tom Kilgore in his life meant to me. And also, to the McIntyre family. Neal McIntyre, my research advisor at Case Western, called me after my nomination and told me he was not doing well but how proud he was. Well, he died a few weeks later. So to the McIntyre family, I also want to say how much his life meant to me. They did not live to see this occasion, but they helped to send me here and I will not forget it.

On the strenuous road that beckons ahead, I will need all of the faith, support and love that brought me here. And I know that the American dream does not end when it comes true. Achieving this dream presents a new challenge, to give to others the chance to achieve their own American dream.

As Surgeon General, I have -- as Robert Frost said -- "I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep" -- The promise that every child will have a better chance for a health start; the promise that teenagers will be challenged to treat their minds and bodies and their spirits with the respect and responsibility they deserve; the promise to bring clarity to a changing health care system and to help ensure that it serves well and that it serves all the American people; the promise to help to harness science and technology and to advance health and healing; the promise to work to ensure that every American will have an equal chance for a healthy life; the promise that all Americans will understand what they can do to have a healthy life, and that includes physical activity, good nutrition, avoiding drugs, and avoiding tobacco -- our leading killer.

Every day in this country, as you've heard, 3,000 children become regular smokers, falling into the grip of an addiction that eventually will claim many of their lives. More than 80 percent of adult smokers became regular smokers before the age of 18, meaning that many of the would be addicted before they are lawfully able to buy tobacco. Our promise to our children is to take bold action to help them to take tobacco out of their future.

Finally, it is my personal promise to live and to share the fundamental values that my parents instilled in me and that brought me to this day, values about right and wrong, values about work and commitment, values about helping those who are too often left out in the cold of life, values evoked by Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, the long-time President of Morehouse College, when he said "if it falls your lot to touch the lives of others, then be sure that you touch them in such a way that you leave them better than you found them."

It is a privilege to have this opportunity to give back to America what America has given me: a chance to extend the American dream to many others. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Q Mr. President, the Russian Defense Minister, very publicly yesterday read the riot act to Secretary Cohen. How big an obstacle is the policy that they are pursing, which might have to use military force, is it?

THE PRESIDENT: Let me say, first of all, to the members of the Satcher family who aren't from Washington, when all the people from Washington started smiling when Sam asked the question, you should understand that proves that this is a truly important event. (Laughter.)

Q Flattery will get you everywhere. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: I'm just trying to do it an inch at a time. (Laughter.)

Let me say that's a very important question because of the reports of the meeting. I have talked at some length with President Yeltsin about this matter. This is a difficult thing for the Russians because they have long had -- going back decades -- a relationship with the nation of Iraq that long predates Saddam Hussein.

The Russians agree with us that they are not in compliance with the United Nations resolutions. They agree with us that they must let the inspectors go back to work, do their job, open the sites. They want a diplomatic solution. I want a diplomatic solution. I have bent over backwards for months now to try to achieve a diplomatic solution. I am still working with the Russians, the French, the United Nations, anybody, to try to find a diplomatic solution.

The difference here is that I simply do not believe it is acceptable to permit Iraq to walk away from its obligations. Because what we want to do is to significantly diminish the capacity of the Iraqis to reconstitute, to develop, to deploy their weapons of mass destruction and to threaten their neighbors. That is the difference. We don't believe it is acceptable, if diplomacy fails, to walk away.

And our relationship with Russia is very important to us. My relationship with President Yeltsin has been very productive and I believe we have advanced the cause of world peace in substantial ways and advanced our future partnership. But I don't think you can have a United Nations set of resolutions about something this important to the future of the world and simply walk away if diplomacy fails. And so, that the rub. But we're going to keep working with the Russians and with everybody else. We're trying to find a diplomatic solution. And I hope that whatever happens that our relationships with Russia will continue to be productive and constructive and strong because that's very important to the future of our people.

Q When push comes to shove, are you going to be able to go forward -- if Russia says nyet?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't believe -- nyet is not no for the United States under these circumstances.

Q Sir, if nyet is not no, how close are we to having troops in harms way in Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, what -- we are simply doing what we always do under circumstances like this. We're taking the necessary steps that you would expect the United States to take. But I will say again, if there is military action over this matter in Iraq, it will be Saddam Hussein's decision, not mine. It's up to him to make that decision. And I hope and I pray that he will permit qualified, honest, non-political, technically-competent inspectors to have access to those sites which have been forbidden, and then to permit the monitoring system to go.

Just look at the volume -- look at the shear volume of stocks and weapons in the chemical and biological area. Look at the nuclear work that's been done since we ended the Gulf War. The inspection system works. It has made the world safer. If he would let that inspection system be completed, and accept the offer of the international community, which the United States strongly supports, to sell more oil and have more funds for food and medicine and for reconstituting the basic fundamental necessities of human life in this country, we would be well on the way to resolving this. This is not a complicated thing. A country like Iraq can be a great country and succeed without having a chemical and biological weapons program and the means to visit those weapons on their neighbors. And this is a decision for him to make. I think it is a no-brainer in terms of what's right for the people, the children and the future of Iraq. But the rest of us have to worry about the children and the people and the future of all the people that are around Iraq or might someday find their way in harms way if those weapons of chemical and biological destruction are more widely disseminated.

Thank you.

END 10:22 A.M. EST