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Text: Chavez Abandons Bid for Labor Secretary
Tuesday, January 9, 2001 Following is the transcript of Linda Chavez's news conference in which she announced her decision to abandon her bid to become Secretary of Labor.
LINDA CHAVEZ: Hi. I'm Linda Chavez. I guess you all know that. I guess everybody in America knows I'm Linda Chavez. Can't go anywhere these days.
My, what a difference a week makes. I saw all of you about a week ago, and as I'm sure many of you will recall, I began this adventure by invoking my parents and by talking about where I came from and how I grew up.
I didn't have an easy life growing up. I faced a lot of adversity, particularly in my young childhood. I had--often one or another of my parents was in the hospital. My father got into a number of car accidents and spent a great deal of time in the hospital; so did my mother. And in every one of those incidents there was always someone there to help me. Family members took me in. Friends helped. There was financial and other kinds of support for me when I was growing up and I needed it.
And I vowed to myself that, no matter what happened to me in my life, that I would be there for other people. And I've tried to do that. I have tried to live my life that way, throughout my life.
I've not led a perfect life. I don't think anybody has. I'm not Mother Teresa. However, I have tried to do right by people who have been in need. And some of that doing right by people recently has gotten me where I am here today.
But in order to try to put perspective some of the stories that have been out there over the last several days involving a Guatemalan woman whom I took into my home in the early 1990s, who came from a very abusive relationship, who fled Guatemala at a the time of turmoil in that country, who landed in the United States knowing no one and having no friends and having no place to live and no way to support herself, I was asked by a friend if I would, in fact, provide her a room in my home and try to help her so that she could get back on her feet and eventually return to her family in Guatemala. And I did that.
And I did that even at the time knowing that there was some risk to me in doing it. And I have to say to you today that knowing everything that has happened over the last week, that if that woman showed up at my door, if I was asked by a friend to do that again, I would do it in an instant, without hesitation.
I'd like to introduce some people to you today who have some stories to tell. And I have never been one who has been very public about the things I do for other people, but I thought it was necessary in order to give some perspective to this story, to introduce some of these people to you today.
The first person I want to introduce to you today is Margarita Viadoris (ph). Margarita (ph) has known me, I guess, probably longer than any of the other people up here, other than my family. And Margarita (ph) if you'll step forward and say a few words.
MARGARITA VIADORIS (ph): I've known Linda for about 23 years. And when I met her, you know, I hardly spoke any English. I was, you know, starting my life in this country, so she supported me in all the ways. She encouraged me to go to school. She encouraged me also to become a citizen. She also helped me to get my first job in the federal government.
Thanks to her, today I have a good life. My kids are in college. You know, I have a good job in the federal government.
I always will be, you know, grateful to Linda and Chris, both of them. They are a family who will help anybody, no matter who the person is in time of needs. No matter what they problem, you know, they're always there.
Up to now, she always have call me sometimes to make sure that my kids are doing well in school, that my family is fine.
You know she's always, you know, concerned about me and all the people that she knows. That's all I have to say.
CHAVEZ: Benson Bui (ph), if you would come forward, please?
BENSON BUI (ph): My name is Benson Bui (ph) from South Vietnam. I come into from 1979. I just say only three things. The first thing is that if I don't have Linda Chavez, so that mean I don't have everything today, because she help me when I come down here with my young brother. And she teach me everything for the customs of American people and help me go to school and to get opportunity today.
Myself and all my family right now and my children--so I don't know what I say but I with hope in my heart right now. That's all I want to say. Thank you.
CHAVEZ: I'd also now like to ask Ada Iterino (ph) to come forward and to talk. And I don't know if you want to have Josh (ph) and Selenia (ph) say anything, but Ada (ph) come forward.
ADA ITERINO (ph): Hi. I'm Ada Iterino (ph), and I met Linda Chavez about 10 years ago. She's been very helpful in my life, especially with my children. She helped them to give them a better education. I'm very thankful for that, and also she encouraged me in a lot of things, especially in my motivations to go back to school, prepare myself, that there's a future, letting me know that there's a future for me and myself and for my children also.
And I'm very thankful for that.
Now, this is my family. This is Joshua, this is Christen Selenia (ph).
JOSHUA REYES (ph): Hi, my name is Joshua Reyes (ph). I'm from Queens. You know, since the first time I met Linda, I mean, I was, kind of, afraid, I was, kind of, nervous, you know, what things she would do. I mean, but, you know, the family that she has was very loving and, you know, I really appreciated what she done. The thing is that I call her sometimes my mother because the things that she done, you know, explaining the natures and that stuff, and I was really thankful, you know, to have a family like them in their life.
And, you know, I am grateful; you know, I'm honored and I'm grateful to say, you know, thank you so much, you know, for all the life that I've ever had.
Thank you so much.
CHRISTEN SELENIA RUIZ ALTERENA (ph): Hi, my name is Christen Selenia Ruiz Alterena (ph), and I just want to say that I love Linda very much. She has been doing a lot of things in my life. And I just want to say that she's like a second--that she's like a second mother for me. And I hope that she has a good life in the future.
CHAVEZ: Thank you very much.
I don't know if we're going to be hearing from Dr. David Bowden (ph). Dr. Bowden (ph) and I have never met. He is on an airplane coming here from Florida. He called I guess it was yesterday or sent us an e-mail and said that he wanted to help.
I've never met Dr. Bowden (ph). But back when I was in the White House, he was engaged to a Mexican woman who had inadvertently during the process of her legalization gone home, I guess to visit her family. And was then informed that because she had left the country during this very critical period was not going to be allowed to return and had, in fact, jeopardized her citizenship. And we have a letter here available if you'd like to read it.
He wrote his congressman, David Bonior. He wrote his senator, Carl Levin. They said, ``Sorry, we can't help.'' At some point, somebody got him to write to the president of the United States, and I don't know exactly how it happened, but that letter ended up on my desk. And I picked up the telephone and called him and said, ``I will do what I can.'' And I called the INS on his behalf, I called the Department of Justice.
And the long and short of the story is that Dr. Bowden's (ph) fiance was, in fact, allowed to return, they were able to get married, they have been married now for about 16 years. And I, frankly, had totally forgotten about this story until I guess it was in August, August of 2000, I got a thank you letter from him.
Somehow he had come on to my web site, found out where I was and wanted to write me to tell me what an impact I had had in his life. So if Dr. Bowden (ph) gets here, maybe he'll have a few words to say. And I certainly would love to meet him.
I am here today, in part with the folks around me, to try to put a human face on a story. But I'm am also here because I think that what has happened over the last few days is quite typical of what happens in Washington, D.C., and unfortunately is very typical of what has happened in politics in America today. And I believe that what has happened is part of what we've seen over the last several years of the politics of personal destruction, is the phrase.
I believe that I would have made a great secretary of labor. I believe that President Bush is going to make a great president. I worked very, very hard for his election, and I want his administration to succeed.
Unfortunately, because of the way in which the stories have played over the last few days, the fact that all of you have made, I think, a great deal more of this story than need be, and have, in my view, not told the story of some of the people around me, I have decided that I am becoming a distraction, and therefore I have asked President Bush to withdraw my name for secretary of labor.
I do this with some regret, because I think that it is a very, very bad signal to all of those good people out there who want to serve their government and want to serve the people of the United States. But so long as the game in Washington is a game of search-and-destroy, I think we will have very few people who are willing to do what I did, which was to put myself through this in order to serve.
I want to thank you.
I would be happy to take a question or two.
QUESTION: Ms. Chavez, did you decide yourself to withdraw your name...
QUESTION: ... or were you asked by the campaign?
CHAVEZ: At no time was I ever asked by the campaign. What I decided was that this was a distraction, and that this administration needs to get about the business of forming a government and getting on with governing the United States.
QUESTION: Do you believe that Zoe Baird was the victim of the politics of personal destruction and a search-and-destroy mission?
CHAVEZ: In terms of Zoe Baird, the circumstances of Zoe Baird are quite different from the circumstances involving me.
I do believe that Zoe Baird was treated unfairly. I think the American people, as you may recall--I've actually gone back and read the news stories on this and gone back to the contemporaneous stories--the American people, largely because of talk on talk radio, began complaining about Ms. Baird and her chauffeur and her live-in maid. And that, I think, was what happened.
I have not, by the way, seen that kind of reaction in terms of the stories that have been out there about me. I have not seen a, kind of, grassroots furor. Quite the contrary, I think there has been a, kind of, grassroots support.
I don't know what Zoe Baird's circumstances were, but I can tell you that my relationship with Marta was quite different, I believe, than Zoe Baird's with her employees, and I can certainly assure you that the people around here can attest that my relationship with Marta was nothing unique, but that was a pattern that I have had throughout my entire adult life.
QUESTION: When did Marta Mercado tell you that she was actually here illegally?
CHAVEZ: She remembers that she told me after she'd been in my house about three months.
I will be very frank with you. I think I always knew that she was here illegally. I don't check green cards when I see a woman who is battered and who has no place to live and nothing to eat and no way to get on her feet.
QUESTION: Did you also help her get a job with your next-door neighbor?
CHAVEZ: I helped her in every way that I could. I drove her places to look for work. I drove her to English classes. I taught her to use the bus. I did a lot of things for her that I would do for anybody in those circumstances.
QUESTION: Did you tell the Bush people that you had housed an illegal immigrant in your home during your vetting process?
CHAVEZ: I did come to tell them that. I did not volunteer it in our very first conversation.
As some of you may know, the vetting process for nominations in this current administration are quite different than the vetting in previous administrations. And I should know something about that; I've been vetted many times before.
Normally what happens when you have someone under consideration, even after you have selected them, is that you go through a vetting procedure and it is done before that person's name is public.
In this particular administration, because of the circumstances of the Florida election, this administration has not had that normal procedure, has not been able to do that. And so they are working at some disadvantage.
One more question, one more.
QUESTION: Do you think you made any mistake at all?
CHAVEZ: Absolutely. Did I make a mistake--absolutely. I made the mistake of not thinking through that this might be misinterpreted and coming forward with it at the first available opportunity.
I will tell you that the time period that elapsed between the very first discussion with anyone about my nomination, after I was--actually, before I was selected, was less than a week. I had a matter of a few days. And as I say, the normal vetting procedure--when I've been through full field investigations in the past, the normal procedure last anywhere from two weeks to six weeks.
Thank you very much.