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Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden and the New United States Trade Rep., Ron Kirk, at the USTR Swearing-In Ceremony

Location: Washington, DC


12:04 P.M. EDT, FRIDAY, MARCH 20, 2009

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VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Hey, folks. How are you? In the tradition I come from, you go to the power center immediately: That's Mom. (Laughter.) Congratulations, Mom, and thank you.

Please all sit down. Please all sit down. Thank you so much for being here. I'm flattered you're all here.

And let me start off by saying to you, as we gather here today to swear in a new leader, it's worth considering just how important and what a significant part the mission of the U.S. trade representative is in our future. And it's a big deal.

Ron's going to have the responsibility of working toward opening markets throughout the world, to create new opportunities and higher living standards for our families, our farmers, our manufacturers, our workers, our consumers, our businesses. That old joke they used to tell about Willie Sutton, they said, "Why do you rob banks?" He said, "Because that's where the money is." Why do we need trade? That's where the customers are.

We start off with the premise we have the most talented workers in the world. We have the most talented entrepreneurs in the world. And we need access for those products.

And so if we do this right, we should have the -- the mission for everyone in this administration is the same as Ron's. And that is, how do we raise the standard of living for middle-class people? Everyone -- everyone -- is seeking to lift us out of these difficult times in this administration and the Congress. And it's not just to lift us out, but it's to -- it's to send us all on our way to a -- to a much brighter future.

This administration is about improving lives everywhere -- plain and simple. And the U.S. trade representative, that's pretty much his job description in a nutshell: improving the lives everywhere. In Ron Kirk, we have -- we've found a leader who has shown time and again that he is the man for this job.

He's a man who has defied the odds, and continues to defy the odds; a man who can take very complex problems and find necessary, practical solutions everybody understands; a man who can make a real difference in the lives of American families, and create real opportunities for those who need it most.

You know, Ron has blazed a trail everywhere he's gone. He's the first African-American mayor in Dallas, he's the first African- American to hold this critical position, and he's the first guy who headed up -- was the grand marshal of an Irish event in Dallas -- (laughter) -- where he got the mayor of Cork and the mayor of Belfast to sit down together. I mean, that warrants a Nobel Prize all by itself. (Laughter.)

So, Ron, I'm now convinced you can do anything. As an Irishman, that says a lot to me.

And now he has to blaze a trail beyond our borders. He has to be -- come up with innovative ways for our trade policies to inspire a new environment of basic fairness -- basic fairness in our trade relationships, and to generate some -- which is going to be one of the cores of whether or not we actually have widespread prosperity here in the United States.

And he's got the ideas I think can help make this happen. Understand that there is -- there's not a trade-off -- and I think he understands there's not a trade-off -- made between supporting free and fair trade, and fighting for American workers.

Not only can we; we have to do both. We have to do both. He understands that trade policy is more than just a series of agreements with other countries. It means a new social accountability, where American influence can shape global trends, where fairness becomes the guiding principle everywhere.

So ladies and gentlemen, quite simply, trade policy is a vital tool, a vital tool in promoting American interests and ideas around the world, a vital tool in the pursuit of a better life for every American, and God willing -- you know, no good agreement is a good agreement unless both parties prosper. And hopefully, it is good for the rest of the world, as well.

Ron will be engaged in that pursuit day in and day out. Any who know him know he's like a bulldog. He doesn't let anything go. He doesn't let it go. You give him a mission; he accomplishes it. Was he like that when he was a kid -- when he was a kid, Mom?

MS. : (USTR Ron Kirk's mother): Yes. (Laughter.)

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: All right. Okay. I -- well, you know, he has a multiple role here. He's got to be an enforcer, he's got to be a collaborator, he's got to be a negotiator, but most of all, he has to be a leader. And that's what has been the hallmark of his entire career. He's going to help create a more stable and sustainable and, I think, vibrant American economy as a consequence of his efforts.

And other than that, his job is a piece of cake, Mom. (Laughter.) There's not -- there's not much else he has to do.

Really, though, look, in these tough times, with economies everywhere -- everywhere in the world -- struggling -- there's not one that's not -- when nations around the globe are looking for new ideas, looking for American leadership, with everyone looking for a reason to be hopeful, the United States of America is poised to stand up and once again become the leader the world needs. And I know, that the president knows, the president knows that Ron Kirk will be the one that helps light the way for us on trade issues.

So, Mr. U.S. Trade Representative, I'm going to ask you to come forward and take the oath of office before I give you the -- give you the podium. I'll get out my -- (laughter). Please raise your right hand.

(Oath administered.)

Congratulations. (Applause.)

AMB. KIRK: Mr. Vice President, thank you so much for your kind remarks, and especially thank you for your graciousness and hospitality to our families, especially to my mother.

I know how much you love your mother. And many of you may not be aware the vice president's mother, who is a robust 92 years old, had a little bit of an accident and fell. And so our thoughts and prayers are with her. But you know she's in good hands, because you know her beloved Joey --


AMB. KIRK: -- was right there at her side. But being the good Irish Finnegan that she was, she shooed him away and told him to get on back here and go to work.

But I am thrilled and honored and humbled to be here, and I'm especially honored to have so many of my family and friends who've come from Texas and other places to be with us: Congresswoman Johnson, Congressman Levin, especially, thank you for being with us as well.

Now, the vice president has previously introduced you to my mom. She is the rock of our family, has provided a wonderful foundation of faith and love and investing in education for me, for my departed brother Lee, my two sisters, Saundra and Connie, that are here with us. And we love her greatly. And mother, I'm so honored that you and all those of your generation could live to see the day that our country would have the kind of leadership that it has and that I get the chance to play a role in it. And so I'm so thrilled that you could be with me.

Matrice and to Alex and Catherine, to those of us who do public service, we know what a sacrifice it requires from all of our families.

Mr. Vice President, I'd like to think we have two things in common. We have these great, wonderful, energetic moms, and we both have beautiful, thoughtful, working spouses, thank God. (Laughter.) I sure need mine -- (laughs) --

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: (Off mike.) (Laughter.) I need mine working.

AMB. KIRK: Not exactly the deal I promised her. (Laughter.) But I truly could not be here today if it wasn't for Matrice. So, honey, buck it up; get to work. (Laughs, laughter, applause.)

But I could not have a better friend, a better partner, someone to help raise our daughters whom we dearly love. And to Alex and Catherine, thank you so much for the sacrifice you're willing to make to allow me to make this sacrifice for our country.

And finally I have to extend my love and gratitude to my extended family. All of you here, I'm so thrilled -- my pastor is here, Pastor Tyrone Gordon from the St. Luke Community Evangelical First Baptist Church of God and Christ -- (laughter) -- Community United Methodist Church. We're a different kind of church. (Laughter.) But we serve the same God and we've got a great, soulful leader. And so I'm so pleased that Pastor G. would come.

To my extended family and friends at Vinson and Elkins Law Firm where I've called home the last few years, Jill and Suzie and Jeff, thank you much for being here. My friends from the University of Texas School of Law and to my extended family at Austin College, thank you all.

And especially to the Austin College family, I join you as we celebrate the passing of Dr. John D. Moseley, who was our longest- tenured president, but instilled in all of us a sense and a need to work harder, to think broadly and to make a contribution to the world.

So all of you that are here with us, those who are with us in spirit, you have my gratitude.

As the vice president said, this is a very unique moment in time. Our economy faces a wide range of challenges, but I think it also presents us with a wide range of opportunity. I believe that a robust trade agenda will help drive our economic economy. And with imagination and new ideas, we can harness the power of open markets to raise productivity and wages, to expand consumer choice and purchasing power and create millions of good-paying jobs right here in -- home, where we desperately need them.

Giving -- a level playing field, America's workers and businesses compete with the best of those anywhere in the world. And it's my job now as United States trade representative, in working with the Congress and others, to make sure, in fact, that that playing field is level.

As mayor of Dallas, I had the privilege of working to help bring free trade to our city. And we witnessed how it can work, and how it can work to help small- and medium-sized businesses grow, strengthen our local economy, and how it helped to raise the wages for our workers.

I believe investing in small businesses, as the president has challenged us to do, is a smart way to grow our economy, as when small businesses grow, so do the families -- the wages of those working families.

Free and fair trade can be a way to make that happen. Those of us who believe in a robust trade agenda as an essential component of our -- of America's economic engine have a special responsibility to accept the reality that too many Americans now believe that trade doesn't work for them. We have to squarely face this challenge and create a new trade agenda that the public believes works for America's families, is transparent and reflects our basic values, as you heard the vice president speak. I know it can be done, and I enthusiastically accept the challenge of doing so.

The United States will not retreat from the global marketplace nor our special role of leadership in shaping that policy. We have an incredible opportunity before us. We also have a big challenge before us. But I'm comforted by the fact that some of the finest talent and the best minds in the United States federal workforce reside in the office of the United States Trade Representative.

I am truly honored and privileged to have an opportunity to join them. I share their integrity, their dedication that they bring to the job, and I know that, working together, we will continue the good work that has made America the leader in global trade that we are.

To the president, I am humble and excited about the opportunity you have given me to serve our country, and I look forward to working with you to advance the ambitious agenda you have laid out for America's recovery.

To the vice president, I thank you so much for your gracious words. I look forward to working with you.

And in closing, I want to refer to the words that became the rallying cry for the president's campaign, from a school teacher somewhere in North Carolina, when she simply said, "I'm fired up, and ready to go." Thank you. (Applause.)


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