White House Oval Office Washington D.C. October 8 4:47 P.M. EDT
Thank you very much. And I want to thank everybody for being here. This is a very special event. Today, it's my tremendous privilege to present our nation's highest civilian honor to a absolute titan of American law and a heroic defender of the American Constitution: former Counselor to the President and Attorney General of the United States, Ed Meese. Very special man. (Applause.)
Ed, congratulations on receiving a really incredible award. This is something that - we have the Congressional Medal of Honor and we have the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And this is something that's very special for me to present it to you. I've heard so many incredible things over the years about you. So, congratulations. It's my honor to be with you.
We're delighted to be joined by Vice President Mike Pence; Attorney General William Barr - Bill; Acting OMB Director Russ Vought; and Heritage Foundation President Kay Cole James. Hi, Kay. Also - he did a good job, didn't he? (Laughter.) Huh?
Also with us is Ed's terrific family: his wife of 61 years, Ursula. Thank you, Ursula.
You're welcome. (Laughter.)
It's a long time. Good husband, right? (Laughter.) He was a good husband.
First 38 years.
(Laughs.) At least for the first 38 years. (Laughter.)
Along with his children, grandchildren, and his great grandson, Liam. I know you. Huh? (Laughter.) He grabbed me. I said, "I like this guy." Good. Thank you for being here.
Ed Meese was born into a deeply patriotic family committed to public service. His father worked in local government for five decades, including many years as police court clerk. His dad's stories of - I mean, and he had some incredible stories, from what I was told. His stories of serving the people of Oakland inspired Ed's lifetime of passion. And his law enforcement career was unparalleled.
After graduating from Yale in 1953, Ed attended the University of California at Berkeley Law School and served two years of active duty in the United States Army. He remained in the Reserves for another two and a half decades, retiring as a Colonel in 1984. I didn't know that, Ed. That was pretty good, right?
Ed married Ursula, the love of his life, in 1958. And they wanted me to say that, and he meant it. Truly, the love of his life. That's a beautiful thing.
He then became Deputy District Attorney of Alameda County, California, the same county where he had grown up. He regularly rode with local police on patrol. One officer later said about Ed, "Finding someone around here who doesn't like Ed Meese is like trying to find a four-year-old who doesn't like Santa Claus." (Laughter.) So, in other words, he was a popular guy.
When chaos and violence broke out on the campus of UC Berkeley, Ed was instrumental in restoring order, peace, and public safety.
In 1966, still the deputy district attorney of his native county, Ed was introduced to Governor-elect Ronald Reagan for the first time. At the end of a 30-minute one-on-one meeting, the new governor offered Ed a job. He said, "This guy has the potential to be great."
Ed joined the administration as Legal Affairs Secretary and quickly earned Governor Reagan's trust. Just two years later, he became Chief of Staff. In that position, Ed worked tirelessly to serve the people of California. He helped negotiate the first major welfare reform in the nation, fought for the Governor's legislative priority, and helped propel Ronald Reagan onto a national stage. And it was a stage that was a truly great one; he became a great President.
After Governor Reagan narrowly lost the 1976 presidential primary campaign, Ed joined the faculty of San Diego University Law School and became the founding director of its Center for Criminal Justice Policy and Management.
In 1980, Ed became a key leader in Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign. And Ed knew that was going to happen; it was just a question of time. After Reagan's victory that November, he oversaw the presidential transition.
In the new administration, Ed was appointed Counselor to the President and was the only White House staff member included in President Reagan's Cabinet. In that position, he drove sweeping reforms of the executive branch and ensured the departments worked together to achieve the administration's goals. And he was a star.
Ed was among President Reagan's closest advisors as the administration implemented tax cuts, a dramatic defense build-up, and a relentless campaign to defeat communism. Ed helped spearhead an initiative to fight organized crime and public corruption, supported a task force on victims of crime, and chaired the first White House meeting on missile defense that led to the Strategic Defense Initiative - a strategy that helped win the Cold War.
In 1984, President Reagan nominated Ed Meese to be Attorney General. We have our Attorney General with us, and he's also doing a great job, I will tell you that. (Applause.)
In the course of a grueling nomination process, he showed incredible grace and grit. The Democrats tried to derail his nomination, but Ed stayed strong. And after 13 months, he was finally confirmed. That sounds like the kind of things we go through. (Laughter.) You know, if you get - if you win by one vote today, it's like considered a landslide. That sounds no different. Boy, things don't change very much, do they? Do they, Kay? I don't think so.
Over the next three years, Ed would deliver monumental change for the American people. As Attorney General, Ed led the battle against drugs. He aggressively targeted traffickers and their assets. He also chaired the National Drug Policy Board and coordinated the administration's response to the drug crisis.
In the years that followed, the strategy proved successful. Between 1982 and 1992, drug use by young adults plummeted by 50 percent nationwide. Would you like to make a comeback? That's a pretty good number. (Laughter.) You know, we've got it down 18 percent, but I like 50 percent better. But we're dealing with a whole new set of drugs, unfortunately. It's getting - it's a very tough situation.
Perhaps Ed's greatest contribution to American law has been his unwavering advocacy for the legal principle that judges must adhere to the original meaning of the Constitution, setting aside their own personal and political views.
Through the decades, Ed has been one of the most eloquent champions for following the Constitution as written. To ensure fidelity to our founding documents, Ed supported the growth of the Federalist Society and worked to confirm supremely qualified judges, including the late, great Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, whose son just became the Secretary - you know that - Secretary of Labor. Gene. Just had him in, and it was a great ceremony we had.
After concluding a historic tenure as Attorney General, Ed joined the Heritage Foundation. Over his 30 years at Heritage, he helped create the Foundation's Legal and Judicial Studies Department, which is now named in his honor. And we're talking about judges. And I will say, Heritage has been very helpful with us also, as you know. And I just had, on that desk, a little while ago, another six. And we'll be up to, very soon, about 182 federal judges and 2 Supreme Court judges. That's not including two Supreme Court. So we really - (applause) - we really have made tremendous strides. It's a number that few people have been able to even come close to. So, it's great. And we appreciate all the work you've done, too, Kay.
Ed has advocated for effective law enforcement against over-criminalization, and is always in defense of the Constitution and the system of government designed by our Founders.
Ed, you are a loyal fighter for freedom, a champion of law and order, mentor to young Americans, and faithful defender of our Republic. You are an inspiration to liberty-loving citizens everywhere. You're just an inspiration, period. Everybody that knows you uses that word: You're an inspiration. On behalf of the grateful nation that I love and that we serve, I want to thank you. I want to thank you for your incredible lifetime of exceptional service and of devotion to our country.
And I just want to say to your family that this is an extraordinary man, and I looked at all of your wonderful children and grandchildren and your great-grandson and you. I'm especially talking about you. (Laughter.) You have very good genes. Just remember the President - you have great genes between the two of them. Okay? Great genes.
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