MADISON, Miss. – President Bush on Wednesday renewed his pledge to punish executives involved in corporate scandals like the one that struck WorldCom's headquarters and impacted many in the audience that had come to see the president speak.
"There will be no more easy money, just hard time," he said.
On a trip away from his Texas ranch, Bush was also raising cash for a Republican House member under fire for taking $82,000 in WorldCom contributions over the years, more than any other member of Congress.
Bush told those in attendance that he understands the anger of people at companies that "have betrayed the trust of their employees and shareholders alike."
"Here in Mississippi, you know what I'm talking about," he said. "You know what it means to be let down by shady corporate practices."
"People dedicated their lives to building these companies and they deserve better," Bush said. And he said that "raising the standards of conduct in corporate America will protect jobs."
Approximately 1,000 people were invited to the speech at Madison Central High School's gym, hosted by Mississippians for Economic Progress.
Bush spoke under a retracted basketball backboard to a crowd that could only be distinguished as admirers. One shouted, "Dubya, we love ya!" when Bush introduced Sens. Thad Cochran and Trent Lott, both Mississippi Republicans, and they got a standing ovation.
Earlier, the president attended a roundtable where he highlighted the medical malpractice ''crisis'' in Mississippi. Among those attending the discussion were community leaders, small business people, physicians, nurses and one laid-off WorldCom employee.
Bush said there has been "an explosion of medical malpractice litigation" in Mississippi that has caused many communities to lose family-practice doctors, obstetricians and gynecologists.
Medical liability insurance rates for Mississippi doctors who deliver babies have soared 20 percent to 400 percent in the last year.
Bush said that states and the federal government need to reform tort law, and singled out trial lawyers for frivolous lawsuits that he said drive up the cost of health care for doctors and patients.
The president also discussed pension protection and retirement security and renewed his call for steps to ensure that workers can sell company stock and expanding worker access to investor advice.
Bush said he also wanted Congress to put aside "political turf" issues that are distracting some senators and pass legislation to create a homeland security department as its first act when they return from summer recess. The legislation, he said, should give him maximum flexibility to respond to terrorism.
Without mentioning Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein by name, Bush said that he would consult Congress on any attempt to depose the dictator.
"We'll discuss these threats in real terms. And I will explore all options and all tools at my disposal: diplomacy, international pressure, perhaps the military. But it's important for my fellow citizens to know that as we see threats evolving we will deal with them. We must deal with them," he said.
The president combined his trip with a fund-raiser for Rep. Chip Pickering Jr., who is running in a tightly contested race against Democratic incumbent Rep. Ronnie Shows. The two are up against one another after redistricting dropped one seat from the Mississippi delegation.
Pickering introduced the president, after accompanying him on Air Force One to Mississippi, where the two worked a rope line of about 200 people.
The fund-raiser for Pickering is projected to raise $500,000 each for the candidate and the state party.
Lott predicted that Pickering would win, saying he currently enjoys a double-digit lead in the polls. Pickering, previously a staff member at the Department of Agriculture was tapped by Lott to be his legislative director in the early 1990s before he rose to become a congressman in 1996.
Pickering's father was denied a seat on the appellate bench after Democratic senators voted against him in a committee confirmation hearing. Democrats say he took too much latitude in interpreting law in his judicial decisions involving discrimination cases. Republicans argued Pickering was subjected to a witch-hunt.
Fox News' James Rosen and the Associated Press contributed to this report.