Remarks at the Swearing-In Ceremony for Ann D. McLaughlin as Secretary of Labor

 

December 17, 1987

 

The President. Thank you all, and welcome, and special greetings of course to John and the other members of Ann's family. And by the way, John, today you are not allowed to interrupt anyone by saying, ``All right, let's close this issue out.''[Laughter]

 

Mr. McLaughlin. I will remain silent. [Laughter]

 

The President. All the same, I will keep my remarks this day brief. I often think that when Grant arrived in Washington in 1864 to be nominated General-in-Chief the longest speech he managed was: ``Gentlemen, in response it will be impossible to do more than thank you.'' Then there's the comparison of course between George Washington and William Henry Harrison. Washington gave an inaugural address of fewer than 200 words and went on to become a great President. Harrison spoke for almost 2 hours at his inauguration, caught pneumonia, and was dead within a month. [Laughter] I told him that day to keep it short. [Laughter]

 

The reason for brevity today is that this is virtually a family event. Ann McLaughlin has served our administration in the Treasury Department and the Department of the Interior. She's proven her skill and dedication. She's placed her stamp on our so-called revolution. And today she's stepping up to a position in which she'll be able to do still more.

 

The purpose of the Department of Labor is, in the words of the act that created it, ``to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners of the United States.'' Ann will bring to the Department her own special competence, to quote her before the Senate: ``I will be fair but firm.'' Well, then, too, she will bring to the Department her passionate sense of commitment. As I said, she'll work to further the economic beliefs that have gone into the making of our revolution, especially the belief that the best we can do for America's workers is not give them endless government programs but provide them with new jobs and a growing economy. Indeed, for some 60 months now, the American economy has averaged well over 200,000 new jobs a month.

 

Ann, you must ensure that the work force of the future is ready and willing to keep America the most productive and innovative nation on Earth. At the same time that she'll be planning for the future, Ann will be on Capitol Hill dealing with Congress on major issues, such as parental leave and mandatory health benefits. And underlying all Ann's energy and skill, all her immense administrative ability, will be an abiding faith in the dignity of work. In her words: ``Hard-working women and men built America. To be able to assist them is a singular responsibility, because it is in our daily work that we find some of our greatest opportunities for good.'' -- her words to the Senate. Ann McLaughlin, congratulations.

 

Secretary McLaughlin. Thank you, Mr. President, for those gracious comments, and to be quoted by you is quite a tribute. Thank you. Your trust is very special to me, as I rejoin your team, I might add.

 

I want also to thank Judge Riley for administering the oath. Judge Riley is a longtime, very special friend to John and to me, but more importantly, I think he will be serving as a mentor. Judge Riley served as Solicitor at the Department of Labor under Mrs. Frances Perkins, the Secretary of Labor -- the other woman Secretary of Labor. [Laughter]

 

You know, Mr. President, in the months that I spent away from official Washington, I never really felt apart from this team at all. This is a testimony to what your leadership means to me and what I think it means to every American. We're all renewed by your vitality, by your ideals, and your focus on America's future. Evidence of that during this last historic week was certainly ample.

 

Now, no one knows better than you, Mr. President, the importance of family and friends, and today I am so pleased and tremendously honored that so many are able to join us here, from as far away as London, England, and as close as 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue. I'm proud of my government service. I am proud that we as an administration have made a difference in the life of every American.

 

Today the American worker's take-home pay is no longer ravaged by that double-digit inflation or by spiraling taxes. Today over 14.5 million more jobs exist in this the longest peacetime recovery in history. Today we are confident of ourselves and of our nation. But also, today I think of what remains to be done. American workers deserve safe and protected workplaces. They need affordable child care. They deserve secure pensions, fair and equitable wages, benefits, education, training opportunities. You know, workers are people we know -- our parents, our sons, our daughters, our friends, our colleagues, and our neighbors. The future of the American work force and the American workplace will look nothing like it does today and will bring tremendous challenges. My responsibility to you and to the millions of American workers is to prepare them, and us, for that tomorrow.

 

I believe the Labor Department's role is to ensure the transition to a continuing competitive and productive future. We must provide for an economy where labor and management will work together to meet the competition from abroad. The day must never come when skilled workers have to be imported. We must never have a worker deficit in this country, because we've failed as a nation to provide opportunities for excellence in education and training. These past 6 years, we have put millions of Americans back to work. Now our goal is to keep America working.

 

Now, on a personal note, people have told me to expect some scrutiny, because I am a woman. The first in 50 years named to this job, and the second to hold it. If that proves to be the case, so be it. But I will do my part to make that attitude a thing of the past. Simply by doing my job responsibly, I shall, perhaps, help everyone understand that women running the Government's business is business as usual. [Laughter and applause] It's no secret I went to an all women's college, and I think many of them are here, with that applause. [Laughter]

 

I am deeply honored, Mr. President, by the office you have entrusted to me. With your support and the support of friends and family in this room and with my dedicated staff at Labor and the wonderful Labor Department workers, there is nothing we cannot achieve in this next year. I feel awed by the responsibility, but tremendously eager and enthusiastic to take on the challenges. Thank you so much.

 

The President. I not only agreed with all your remarks there, but on the very subject of education and the place of women in the workplace, I think that you'll be happier if you know that I didn't go to an all-male school. [Laughter] I had to work my way through school. But with regard to people in workplaces, I had one of my better jobs in my entire life --  --

 

Secretary McLaughlin. Working for a woman?

 

The President. I washed dishes in the girls dormitory. [Laughter]

 

Note: The President spoke at 1:39 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. In his remarks, the President referred to Secretary McLaughlin's husband John, who was a political commentator.