I appreciate those very kind words of introduction. I'd like to just say that not only do you always have a smile but a solution, right, folks? What a great chairman, and I enjoy so much working with you. Thank you for being so gracious.
I'm thrilled to be here with you all tonight. Let me just say, on behalf of all the candidates who will be speaking tonight, that we just thank you for all that you do to make what we do possible. So, bless you for having such a great event.
You know, I like the Dole stroll. You have given me a chance to do this. I hadn't done it in a while. The podium sort of becomes a barrier between me and an audience. I like to sort of be able to walk around and get up close. Sometimes I find some friends that I haven't seen. It's just a lot of fun.
I want to talk tonight about some of my experiences with President Reagan, since we are celebrating Lincoln-Reagan Day. The first thing that comes to my regard is when President Reagan asked me to serve as the secretary of transportation. I had two years with him at the White House as assistant for public liaison. So my husband went with me to the Commerce Committee for an introduction, you know, because I had to be confirmed and this was my hearing. The way it started out was that Bob Dole said, "I regret that I have but one wife to give for my country's infrastructure," paraphrasing Nathan Hale. Now that's okay, right? But then he said, "You know, maybe the Federal Highway Administration could use Elizabeth's biscuit recipe for filling potholes." He said that to the whole Commerce Committee. So it's time for me to think of something, some wise crack to throw out there, too, so I said, "You know something, we don't have airbags yet. We'll be working on that, but I know all about airbags because I've been driving around with one for years." Is that okay? Do you like that one? Okay.
I was confirmed. I went to work as secretary of transportation and spent five years there serving in President Reagan's cabinet. President Reagan was very much for deregulation and certainly I am, too. I said to the president, "Mr. President, there are going to have to be some areas where we are going to need to move forward with some regulation—in the safety area, for example."
So I want to share with you something that, frankly, I'm kind of proud of because there was the week in July 1984. We called it trifecta week. President Reagan had agreed that he would support Age 21 drinking rule, and the reason was, these young people were driving to states with lower drinking ages. They would drink alcohol, try to drive back, and often had a terrible accident which would cause a debilitating injury or death itself. We had a lot of these bloody borders. And so I wanted to support Age 21. The president agreed to do so. I went up to testify.
Okay, the week of July the 11th, that became effective and the president signed it into law.
But also it was the week when my Rule 208 from the Department of Transportation became effective. Let me tell you quickly what Rule 208 provided. This was remanded from the Supreme Court on my watch. Basically, we took seven weeks to gather new accident data. The idea was, not a single state in America had a state safety belt law. You had the safety belts, but there were no laws. Then we had no airbags except in a few cars. It took a long time to find one to put on the White House lawn because I said to the president, "You and the Cabinet need to go out and look at what an airbag car looks like." We found one. We put it on the White House lawn, and they all marched out there to look at it. We also had to convince consumers that they wanted airbags because a lot of people thought, "Oh my, if I have an airbag in my car and cross the railroad tracks this thing is going to go off." We had a lot of work to do, but in that week of July 11, 1984, that rule became effective. The idea was to get both: to get airbags and passive restraints into cars and to get states, the way this rule was formed, to pass safety belt laws. And so now both are accomplished and according to safety experts in Washington, as a result of that trifecta—age 21, the safety belt laws, and also the airbags—228,000 lives have been saved. Now that's the joy of public service.
I told you about his concern for regulation, and I share in that. On my watch also with the Department of Transportation when I was serving President Reagan, fell the responsibility for selling a freight railroad, Conrail. Well, now there is no reason to have a freight railroad in the federal government, right? We wanted to get it out of the government. It took us three years and some of the hardest work I ever had to do. You had to become kind of an antitrust lawyer, you had to become rail expert and understand how to go forward with a public offering on Wall Street, but we got it done. We returned $2 billion to the United States as a result of the sale Conrail in the private sector. We also got two airports out of the federal government.
I don't want to belabor this, but I do want you to understand that when we talk about less regulation, I've been there. I've had experience of getting a railroad out of government and two airports, which were the gateways to our nation's Capitol, and that's National and Dulles airports.
The little ole tiny building there was the gateway to the nation's Capitol, so I said to my husband one night—this is pillow talk—I said, "Bob, we have to go forward and figure out a way to get those airports out of the government, so that they are off the dole, so to speak, the federal dole." And they can get revenue bonds and really be able to build a beautiful new entry into the nation's Capitol and double the size out of Dulles Airport. Bob says, "Forget it, Elizabeth. It has been tried 80 times since 1948, and it's never gotten out of committee in either the House or the Senate." That's my husband talking as the majority leader of the Senate.
Well, folks, that was throwing down the gauntlet, right? If Bob Dole says it can't be done, we're going to find a way to do it, right? And you know how we did it? By putting a coalition together. This is Republicans and Democrats because it was the mayor of DC, it was the governor of Virginia, and it was the CEOs of the airlines. Instead of marching up Capitol Hill alone as the Transportation Department, we had a coalition. It took us, again, three years to do it, but we got it done.
These are the kinds of challenges that I had to face in a lot of positions over the years, whether it was the Red Cross changing the way that we were provide and test and distribute half of America's blood supply or whether it is issues like I described it when I was working for President Reagan.
It was wonderful to have a boss like him because you know something? I had the opportunity one time to talk with him when it was just the two of us about what enabled him to be able to respond to so many challenges with calmness and with graciousness. I said, "Mr. President, you've got the weight of the world on your shoulders and yet you never seem frazzled or frustrated. You're so gracious to everyone and so kind," and I said, "How do you do it?" He loved to reminisce and he'd kind of lean back, and he'd start reminiscing, and he said, "Well, Elizabeth, when I was governor of California," he said, "It seemed like every day yet another disaster would be placed on my desk. I had the urge to hand it to someone behind me to help me. One day I realized I was looking in the wrong direction so I looked up instead of back. I'm still looking up, and I couldn't go another day in this office if I didn't know I could ask God's help and it would be given." I agree.
And so here we have a man who was a person who believed in our traditions and our values and our principals. That's what we gotta get out there and fight for, folks. This may be a tough election cycle, but we can do it. But we gotta get out there and we gotta fight for the integrity and the honesty and the belief in family, love of God and the things that he stood for. Personal responsibility, right? Personal responsibility. That is exactly what he believed in and what we must do. It is our personal responsibility now to get out and win these elections and work hard at it and show the people what we really stand for.
These were just some of the things that I wanted to share about the president himself, but let me talk about a couple of issues that I think you all feel strongly about in this community. While I'm still on President Reagan, I want to stress strong national defense because no question about it. He would want to make these tax cuts permanent, and they should be made permanent. He would certainly want to continue efforts on deregulation and efforts to get rid of, for example, or at least modify somehow for the business people, Sarbanes-Oxley section 404 and also less litigation, but he would also be urging us to look at national defense. Why? Because we had a procurement holiday for a long time during the 90s. Now, we need to modernize every branch of the Armed Services in terms of next-generation equipment. I'm on the Armed Services Committee, and I've been looking at this very carefully because we need to increase, and we will be increasing our Marines and our Army by 95,000 in strength, but there are a lot of things that go with that in the way of expenses, but that's very important.
Also, we are building one Virginia-class submarine a year. The Chinese are building five Virginia-class submarines a year. They will soon have the equivalent of our force. We have to be thinking about the fact that a lot of our equipment is not only aged—I mean aging, it's aged. That F-15 that broke up recently, the fuselage just broke up. They are flying planes in the Air Force past the time when they ought to be retired. Now that is wrong. We are the United States of America, and our defense has to come first in terms of having a strong national defense.
I could give you a lot of all the reasons why we need to do this, like basic research. But the point is, let's go to at least 4% of our gross domestic product. Right now we're at 3.3%, and we've got to look ahead. So I sponsored a resolution. It's a joint resolution with Congressman Franks in the House that would require that we be at at least 4% of our GDP. We are going to get that debate started. I hope we'll get it in the budget resolution. Already senators are signing on, and I'm talking with them about why this needs to be done and laying out the reasons, but I'm so pleased that recently our secretary of defense said the same thing at one of our hearings and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, said we need to be at at least 4% of GDP. We're on our way, right? We'll get this moving.
Speaking of defense, I want to say, too, that I was very, very proud to be a part of ensuring that we did not lose any major bases in the BRAC round and also we're getting 9,000 additional jobs at Fort Bragg. Folks, this is money into the economy. It's $18 billion a year into our North Carolina economy. I understand that there is a person running on the other side who has been saying that she is responsible for all of this. I'm going to set the record straight. Let me tell you how hard we worked for this. We worked with the secretary of defense and a lot of other members of the Defense Department. In fact, it was the meeting in my office with the governor's office represented, members of the House and the Senate, and the DOD people who would be the decision-makers. We underscored all the reasons why our military installations are so vitally important to what we are doing now and to the future. I talked to Tony Principi who was the head of the BRAC Commission and all of Tony's commissioners. We worked with the communities involved. I think we came through with flying colors because there were no major base closures, and we did get 9,000 additional jobs at Fort Bragg.
I was talking tonight about Honor Air. Are there any veterans here tonight who came to Washington with Honor Air? Just raise your hands for a minute. What a great program. Isn't that tremendous? It's a North Carolinian who helped to start that. This is for people from World War II to fly to Washington and to see their World War II memorial, the monument, which my husband, I'm proud to say, had a lot to do with raising the funds to getting that done. Bob goes down every Saturday when the veterans come in. Of course, it's too cold now so they aren't doing it right now, but when Asheville came to Washington I had to tell you all what happened. Bob was out of town, and I wanted to be there. He does it just as a private citizen, just goes down to the memorial and shakes the hands of all the veterans as they came through. The Asheville group was stuck at the National Airport, the new airport over there, and they couldn't come in because of a triathlon that was underway. I'm waiting for them, sitting in the car at the memorial waiting about 45 minutes. I called somebody on my staff and I said, "You know something, we got to get an escort for our Asheville veterans." There are three buses loaded with Asheville veterans out at the airport trying to get in to the World War II memorial. They got a police escort. One of my staff really knows how to do these things. All of the sudden, we hear the sirens and we see an escort before and behind and the three busloads coming in. They started to unload, and of course, there were walkers and there were wheelchairs and there were people who had come along to help a father. There was one woman who had been with the FBI back then. It was a joy to meet them, to have lunch with them, to walk around the memorial with them. One of the things that was so funny, one of the Asheville veterans said, "You know something? We had so much fun because we came in on the wrong side all the way from the airport to the memorial. We were on the wrong side of the road, and those Washingtonians were so angry." He just laughed. He loved it. I think they got almost as much fun out of that as seeing the memorial.
But, you know, when we talk about our veterans, ladies and gentleman, and those young men and women who are out there fighting for our freedom and our security. I remember Bob Dole with somebody saying, "What's it like to be a part of the greatest generation?" He said, "No, no, it's the young men and women being deployed today. They are the greatest generation."
I know I'm probably going to be talking too long. I hope you all will be patient with me. When I get started sometimes I can't stop. I do want to tell you a story about a North Carolinian who came to my office. His name was Ed Edmonson. He said, "Senator Dole, I just want to tell you that my son just came back from Iraq with head injuries." He said, "They told me that he will be in a state of vegetation the rest of his life." He said, "I'm not going to let that happen. I quit my job in Newberg and I am up there in Chicago by his bedside. I'm cheerleading and I'm inspiring him and I'm working with him and motivating him, working with his great doctors and nurses." Bottom line, Eric Edmonson walked out of that hospital, with some help. He and his family had been in my office just before the Christmas recess, Ed and Eric and his mother and his little child and his wife. He is in a wheelchair, and he can't speak yet, but his eyes filled with tears as he was following the conversation. At the end of the visit, his father said, "Senator Dole, Eric wants to show you something." They helped him up out of that wheelchair. With some help, he walked across the room and gave me a huge, big bear hug. I just feel emotional every time I talk about it. I want people to know what these young men and women are doing for us. My husband and Donna Shalala, who was secretary of health and human Services in the Democratic administration, they co-chaired a commission to look at VA and DOD hospitals after the Walter Reed problems. One of their recommendations was that there be given six months for a spouse or a child or a parent, six months leave from the Family and Medical Leave Act so they don't have to give up their job. They have six months to go and be by the bedside somewhere in America of a veteran who is going through this, or maybe active duty, is going through this long rehabilitation period. We were able to get it that into law. We did it in a bipartisan way. It is now the law, and I'm very proud of that.
Let me go on for a moment on the illegal immigration issue because I think this is something that everyone is concerned about. I have to tell you, this, to me, was the Senate at its worst. I'm going to be honest with you. There was a small group behind closed doors that came up with a piece of legislation that affects all of us across society and our economy, huge, huge issues. It was presented to us in the Senate, the rest of the senators, on a Friday late afternoon. Harry Reid said he wanted to start voting on it Monday. We are studying pages, hundreds of pages, 500 or more, over the weekend. Then Monday a lot of it has changed. Also, Harry Reid says "I'm not going to allow any amendments." In other words, the amendments, that's when you can fix something to try to make it palatable, but he wouldn't allow any amendments. A group of us, a small group, because the way the Senate works, you can stop something. We got together and said, "Frankly, we're going to kill this bill because this is not right. It's not right." Americans, and certainly North Carolinians, because our phone system crashed in the Senate. We crashed it. People said, "Look, we want proof that the border is secure. We don't want just more promises. That's what the Senate said in 1986." In fact, Chuck Grassley from Iowa joined our little group and he said, "You're about to do it again, Senate, you're about to do it again." Because the borders are not secure. We went to 3 million to at least 12 million maybe more. We have to show people that we are serious about this. That is step number one, secure the borders.
Number two, people want us to enforce our laws. We've gotten $3 billion to help secure the borders. There will be more. We'll have to and that's underway. And then my focus has been very specifically on those who self-identify themselves because of their criminal behavior. I don't think anybody would disagree with trying to deport people who come into our state and they're involved in gang-related activities and drug-related activities. If people can't feel safe and secure in their own homes, then what else matters? What we're trying to do is work with all of the sheriffs.
In fact, your sheriff, here in Buncombe County, is on the steering committee that has been set up, eight sheriffs. Basically, here's the process we went through. We started meeting with sheriffs all across North Carolina. During the August recess, I had a chance to meet with probably 50 or 60 in different groups. We listened to them. All the things that they related, it would make your hair stand up on end. We daily sent that back to the Department of Homeland Security. In other words, we were facilitating these sheriffs and the Homeland Security working together here. We kept saying to the ICE people, this is Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security, we need not just regional plans but we need statewide plans for North Carolina. So that we can really, yes, we can drive those people out. ICE really cooperated. People had frustration with ICE, but they did a great job working with us in developing a statewide plan. It was presented at a sheriff's convention at Carolina Beach in October, and now it is underway with a steering group that meets once a month. I have a representative on that steering group with the sheriffs and with ICE. She is non-voting, but she can facilitate and tell me everything that is happening so that we can keep this moving. Sheriff Pendergrass from Mecklenburg County, he worked with 287G which many of you have heard of, which deputizes sheriffs and deputies who actually start the deportation process. At least they can find out if the people in jail are legal or illegal. They couldn't even find out. Sheriff Pendergrass has now gone to Washington. He is in ICE as the head of state and local affairs for the whole country. He was in my office last week. I said, "John, what do you think? Do you think our plan is going well?" Because we're the only state that has statewide plan. We're on the forefront of this. He said, "It's going beautifully." I said, "Well, listen, I know you've got the whole country, but you watch over this one to be sure that we continue to see it through forward well."
What we're doing is, they're auditing the whole state because 287G may be great for Mecklenburg where they've deported 3,000 criminals. That may be fine for them, but it may not be what Gates County needs or Ashe County needs or Cherokee County needs so we are going to figure out what works best. There are a whole array of enforcement tools that can be used. We'll keep trying to get more money to them so they can help facilitate what our sheriffs are doing in North Carolina. So, that's the plan.
Now, let me talk about just a couple other things real quickly. That would be the fact that here at Mission Hospital, it would cost this hospital $16 million this year if we hadn't been able to get to the postponement of a Medicaid rule, and again, I'm proud that I had the chance to take the lead on this. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services promulgated this rule that narrows the definition of public hospital. If this went into effect, it would cost our North Carolina hospitals $330 million a year. And so we worked very hard to make sure that Mission did not lose $16 million this year. The whole purpose is they are serving the uninsured and the low income people. That's a public hospital. They are trying to say that 43 of our 45 public hospitals are not really public hospitals, so we're fighting that one. We got the moratorium so there's no loss for Mission Hospital this year. Now we have to get it for another year so that's going to be one of the things that I'll be headed back to Washington to work on right away. That's very important in terms of what it would cost.
Another thing, the Tobacco-Quota Buyout. I'm really proud of that because when I campaigned on that in 2002, I had no idea how hard that baby was going to be to put into place. There were only a handful of senators who even care about tobacco, and you know, our state is number one in production. What we wanted to do is be sure that farmers could retire with dignity, to pay off their debts or transition to another crop or be able to compete on the world market because this buyout would enable them to be competitive. Before that it was not possible, really. There were a lot of reasons to ensure that this happened. Richard Burr was very helpful. He has been in the House of Representatives. I had a man named David Rouzer who really worked. That's all he did was work to get this buyout, to figure out the angles and procedures. We were able to get it through. That is in effect and it's $4 billion into North Carolina's economy again. It is the right thing to do, the fair thing to do. And you have Burley in western North Carolina so I wanted to mention that.
Finally, you know, you look at the textiles, furniture, the transition that we have been going through, and so many jobs lost because of the Chinese and all the rest of them. Pillowtex, which is near my hometown of Salisbury, 5,000 people lost their jobs in one day. So, we look at every trade agreement that comes along from a standpoint of how it would affect North Carolina. Believe me, if it is going to be a problem then we are going to be on the phone with the White House. I spent one whole weekend, Saturday and Sunday, back and forth, back and forth, changing provisions, saying I won't vote for it if it stays like this. So you have to do that, you have to watch every part of it as these trade agreements come along.
Also, we need to protect these displaced workers. I've got to tell you, I think our community college system is the best in America. I really do. AB Tech Community College here is doing a terrific job. They're on the forefront. They're trying to help people who spent their whole lives in these mills or plants since they were teenagers. I'll never forget having people surround me saying, "What's going to happen to my 401(K)?" "I'm 62, how do I get retraining?" "I had cancer. What's going to happen to my health insurance?" So you are working on all these kinds of issues. We've handled 37,000 cases now in the five years I've been in the Senate, cutting the red tape, trying to solve problems for people. That's the joy of it. That's the joy of public service—when you can make a difference, a positive difference. I want to see us get the trade adjustment assistance completed. We'll be working on that when we get back for displaced persons. It will cover people in textiles and apparel, all people who are displaced. You know, this—with the community college efforts—I think it's going to make a difference. We had legislation that was included in the Higher Education Act, and it enables community colleges to receive grants if they will train people in jobs for the twenty-first century in that area. Also, it makes it easier to transition credits from one institution to another without having to repeat the course, and it helps small business men and women to get trained for a global market place. I'm glad that that was included in the higher education bill.
One last word, and that is that in the time that I president of the Red Cross for eight years, I would go up to people and I'd say, you know as I was talking about the Red Cross and all, I'd say, "I need three things from you. I need your time, your money, and your blood." I'm not going to ask for your blood tonight, but I am going to ask for your time. I'm going to ask for your money. We're going to have raise a lot of money because we are going to be in a competitive race. I'm going to ask for your prayers because I truly believe that with all the challenges that we are faced with today, and we are working hard up there and then all over the state in 100 counties during weekends and recesses. I need an undergirding of prayer, a prayer network, prayer warriors. I ask you to be that for me and for our other officials.
Finally, let's keep those young men and women who are fighting for our freedom and security in our prayers. God bless each and every one of you, this great state, this land of the free, America. Thank you.
Speech from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlO4njCsU9A.