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Oval Office

4:47 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  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.

MRS. MEESE:  You’re welcome.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  It’s a long time.  Good husband, right?  (Laughter.)  He was a good husband.

MRS. MEESE:  First 38 years.

THE PRESIDENT:  (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.

So it is now my honor to ask the military aide to come forward and present Edwin Meese III with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Thank you.  Congratulations, Ed.  (Applause.)  Ed, I think we may — we’ll do this first.  Okay?

MILITARY AIDE:  Edwin Meese III has long been thought — a thought leader and strong conservative voice on matters of law and policy.  As Counselor to President Ronald Reagan, Mr. Meese helped to craft the foreign policy strong enough to help end the Cold War and played a pivotal role in helping to secure historic tax cuts.

As Attorney General, he promoted federalism and the original public understanding of our Constitution.

Since leaving public service, Edwin Meese has continued to champion our nation’s founding principles through his extensive work at the Heritage Foundation.

The United States proudly honors Edwin Meese III, who has dedicated his life to serving our nation and protecting our liberties.

(The Medal of Freedom is presented.)  (Applause.)

MR. MEESE:  Thank you, Mr. President.  Thank you very much both for this very fine award — an award which I will cherish, obviously, forever — but also for the kind words that you gave and what you have mentioned, but particularly for the privilege of being here with you and to have my family here to meet you and also to listen to this particular ceremony.

It’s just a great privilege that I appreciate very much, and appreciate all that you have done to make us welcome here, and, as I say, for those kind words.

I’m also very grateful to the Vice President for being here.  Mr. Vice President, you and I have been friends since the day you were in Congress here, not so many years ago.  And it was great to have known you and followed your career also.  And I think you and the President make one of the finest teams we’ve had in our country.  And I’m very grateful particularly to have this award coming from the two of you.  And I thank you.  (Applause.)

I also want to mention Bill Barr, and I thank you, Bill, for this.  You and I started work together in the first term of Ronald Reagan; you were in the Office of Policy Development.  And you’ve risen to continue the string of great Attorneys General in this country, and I certainly appreciate what you’re doing now.  I must say, from my own experience, I understand what you’re going through now.  (Laughter.)  So it’s even better to wish you well in the fine work you’re doing.  (Applause.)

Mr. President, I’m also really honored by the members of your administration who are here today.  As I look around, I see so many good friends here.  I can’t name them all or it would take up the rest of the afternoon, but so many of them and so many who’ve I’ve appreciated the chance to work with as I look around.  And, really, I’m very honored that you would all come out to see this particular ceremony.

As I stand here today, I can’t do anything other than to thank and praise God for the opportunities and the blessings that I have received in the course of my life.  And, of course, one of the greatest blessings in my life has been wife, as you point out, of over 60 years, who is with me today and who is my best friend, a partner in everything I have done, and a great teammate.  Particularly, I attribute to her the handsome family of kids we have here.  (Laughter.)

And also, to my whole family.  Family has been my foundation throughout our married life, and it’s just great to see and to be with all of them today.  And, Mr. President, you honor me by allowing them to participate in this particular event.  And, you know, it’s just great to know that we have here today four generations of Meeses.  And so, it’s a great, great honor to have them here.

You spoke about the privilege that I had of working for Ronald Reagan.  And I will always be indebted to him not only for the honor he did by having me honored — or appointed to serve under his leadership for 30 years, from 1967, when I first served, as you pointed out, as his Legal Affairs Secretary, to 1997, when he went into the social — total security — total isolation, really.  And I had that privilege to work for him in the state of California; here, as you pointed out, obviously in Washington, D.C.; and then following that both in the building of his library and then — and today, I still have the privilege — in the Young America’s Foundation, they now have taken over his ranch in Santa Barbara, and I have the privilege of serving as the co-chairman of that Ranch Board of Governors.  So Ronald Reagan was a pivotal part of my life, and I am always grateful to him.

But, you know, the things that you mentioned — and you were very kind and generous in all that you said — the things that you mentioned are something that I could not have done by myself.  I was always very lucky to have a team of people that I was able to work with.  And over the period of time, I can’t think of better people than anyone could have as teammates and people participating in the work of the United States of America, both obviously in my early days, but particularly over the last 30-some-odd years as I was privileged to work here in Washington, D.C.

One person who has been a friend, a counselor, literally, and also a great teammate has been Ken Cribb, who is here today.  And he has — (applause) — Ken has always been there by my side and giving me excellent advice and help, and, as they say today, always having my back.  And I am very grateful, Ken.

Another person who was with me — and who will join me — in the Department of Justice — two people, actually, that are here today that I want to mention: One is Mark Levin.  This was before he became famous.  (Laughter and applause.)

He was just kind of a young, mild-young — you know, easygoing, young man.  (Laughter.)  And we’re happy to have him here with his wife, Julie.

And a third one was Becky Dunlop who was in the Department of Justice with me and did a terrific job.  (Applause.)  So it’s great to have them.

And, of course, Bob McEwen, who is here, has been an advisor and a helper to me in the conservative movement, and an inspiration, as well as a great teammate.

And then, also, it is great because, as you pointed out when I was privileged — when I left the government in 19- — the end of 1988, I was privileged to be asked to join the Heritage family,  And under Kay’s leadership, and Kim Holmes, and now today with John Malcolm heading up the legal center, and with Bridgett Wagner, who is here — Becky was with us there — we’ve had a — just had a great time and a great team of people that I was privileged to work with there.

It’s been just a great thing for me to have all of these opportunities, as I mentioned earlier.  And it’s — I’m very grateful to all of those people that are here.

I also am grateful to another guest, our pastor, Pastor Bill Barr — Bill Mann.  Bill Mann has been a great spiritual leader for our family, and I’m grateful very much for that.

I’m just — as I say, there’s so many things to be grateful for today.  And the only thing that I would do, Mr. President, is mention a couple of things that particularly are meaningful to me.  You’ve done so many things, but there are three things that have been particularly meaningful.  You’ve mentioned one of them, and that it your commitment to the Constitution and your commitment to making sure that it’s interpreted as it actually reads.  And for that, you have appointed these outstanding judges now, which is a monument to justice and the rule of law that will last literally — literally, for decades.  And I’m grateful for that.

The second thing is your emphasis on religious liberty.  Your speech to the United Nations was, I believe, the first by any President to talk about that subject before this august buddy — body.  And there’s no group that needed that encouragement more on that particular subject.  (Laughter.)

And finally, I am grateful and Ursula is grateful, because of our family, for your support for the Armed Forces of the United States.  You have not only given them leadership, you’ve given them the resources they need, but you’ve gone beyond that.  You have shown your personal respect for every man and woman in uniform.  And that’s something that really is not only good for them, but also for their families so that their families can see the dignity that you appreciate in the work that our military folks are doing.

All of these things are very important to us.  And as a result, today I couldn’t be happier and I couldn’t be more grateful to any person for what you’ve given us here today.  Thank you, sir.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Ed.  That’s so nice.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)  Beautiful.

Well, you know, you’re right about Mark; he has become a star.  Maybe I’d like to have Mark say a few words and the Attorney General say a few words, and our Vice President say a few words.  Could we do that?  Come on up first, Mark.  Just nice and easy now, Mark.  Nice — (laughter).  Good.

MR. LEVIN:  Well, it’s a great honor to be here with two great men, President Trump and Attorney General Meese.  And it was an honor to work for you as Special Assistant, then Chief of Staff, through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And you accomplished many, many things as Attorney General of the United States.  And you’ve always been wonderful to my family, you and Ursula.  You’re family to us, and you always will be.  And this is a great honor, and I can’t think of a better person to receive it.

And, Mr. President, I want to thank you — (laughter) — I want to thank you for everything you’re doing for this country.  I’ve known two great Presidents: Ronald Reagan and you.  And I’m sorry you’re going through what you’re going through, but I want you to know there’s tens of millions of people who stand with you.  So, God bless you.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  Bill?  Mike?  Come up.  Come up.  Please.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Mr. President.  And it really is my great honor to serve alongside this President and to be able to share this moment with you, Attorney General Meese, and with your wonderful family.

It is extraordinary to think of the life of consequence that you have lived, coming alongside one American President, but also being there every step of the way as this President brought forward a vision to rebuild our military, revive our economy, reground the courts of this country to constitutional principles of limited government.

And on behalf of the President and on behalf of a grateful nation, it’s my honor to add my congratulations to you on the President Medal of Freedom.  Congratulations.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)


5:11 P.M. EDT