Speech

The Opening Statement of Congressman Asa Hutchinson
before the Senate Judiciary Committee

July 17, 2001

photo - Rep. Hutchinson listens to questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee.Chairman Leahy, Senator Hatch, distinguished Members of the Committee, thank you for this honor and for the courtesies each of you extended to me in recent weeks as my nomination has moved through the Senate. I particularly want to express appreciation to Chairman Leahy and Senator Hatch for their generous comments.

Mr. Chairman, it would have been easy to yield to those who expected a critical view of my nomination because of previous controversies, which found us on different sides. Thank you for taking a different approach and for seeing my nomination as an opportunity to demonstrate to the American people that despite any differences, we can be in harmony on one of the most critical problems facing our nation.

I also want to thank Senator Hutchinson and Senator Lincoln for their support and confidence in my nomination. I am gratified that my colleagues from Arkansas share in the excitement of this challenge.

I also want to express appreciation to my wife of twenty-seven years, Susan, who has never failed to join me with a smile as I seem always to choose "the road less traveled by." Now we are embarking on a noble crusade for the hearts and minds of a generation. It is good to travel this road with you.

I am pleased also to introduce my daughter Sarah Wengel and her husband Dave Wengel, who are able to join me for this occasion. I also have some family in Arkansas who could not be here: my son Asa III and his wife Holli, and my sons John Paul and Seth. I am proud of all of my family and am grateful for their support and encouragement.

It is an honor to be named by President Bush to lead this effort as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. I will consider it a privilege to work in a Justice Department led by Attorney General Ashcroft. I am grateful to the President for the nomination, but more significantly, I am grateful for his heartfelt desire to strengthen the American character by reducing our nation's dependence on drugs. This is accomplished, in part, through vigorous enforcement of our laws, but there is more. It is also important to focus on new approaches that include an emphasis on educating our youth for the best life choices and the rehabilitation of those who have become addicted to drugs. I fully support the President's balanced approach to the problem of drug abuse.

As everyone in this room knows, it is a high privilege to serve in Congress. It is a distinct honor for me to represent the Third District of Arkansas. People ask me why I would leave an institution I love in order to engage in an effort in which success is doubted, and progress is hard to measure.

The answer as to why I would take on this responsibility goes back to what I learned as a United States Attorney appointed by former President Reagan in the 1980s. I learned that drug abuse destroys individuals, shatters families and weakens the fabric of a community and a nation. I also learned that the anti-drug efforts of this nation can be effective in saving lives and rebuilding families and communities. Surely, this is a noble purpose worthy of a great crusade.

Finally, I learned about the extraordinary and dedicated men and women of the DEA. They put their lives on the line to make a positive difference for our nation. They deserve the support and praise of the American people for the great work they do. I hope to .provide leadership that is worthy of such dedication and sacrifice.

When I came to Congress, I continued my personal commitment in this arena by serving on the Speaker's Taskforce for a Drug Free America and by my oversight work on the Judiciary Committee. The oversight hearings I chaired on methamphetamine and club drug abuse in California and other states gave me an appreciation for the risk our front-line .officers take every day. In California, I was also able to see the California drug court system. Drug courts impressed me as a very useful tool to provide intensive, long-term rehabilitation for non-violent drug abuse offenders.

As a result of my work on the front line as a federal prosecutor, working with our drug agents in the field and my legislative efforts as a Member of Congress, I have experience to bring to this noble cause. This experience includes personally prosecuting scores of drug cases; providing leadership for more cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies; and encouraging communities to develop anti-drug coalitions to encourage young people to make the right life decisions.

But more than experience, I will bring my heart to this great crusade. My heart will reflect a passion for the law; a compassion for those families struggling with this nightmare; and a devotion to helping young people act upon the strength and not the weaknesses of their character.

I also want to emphasize that the work of this committee is critical to our anti-drug efforts. Your dedication, counsel and leadership are essential to building an effective federal team. I pledge my cooperation and availability to this committee. I look forward to working with you.

Finally, it is important that the laws be enforced fairly. The federal law enforcement agencies should set the example for equal treatment and equal enforcement. Without a fair system, there will be no confidence or support from the citizenry, and our enforcement efforts, will be severely damaged.

Charles de Gaulle, the former leader of France, once said that France would not be true to herself if she was not engaged in some great enterprise. It is my belief that America cannot be true to its Own character without engaging our young people, our families, our communities and our leaders in this great, just cause of reducing drug abuse.

Thank you.

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