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Excerpts of the President-Elect's News Conference Announcing the Appointment of Brent Scowcroft as National Security Advisor

November 23, 1988

Well, before leaving for the Thanksgiving holiday, I wanted to announce another very important appointment, an important member of the Bush Administration. Before doing so, though, I want to pay my respects to Gen. Colin Powell. He has been a national security adviser of outstanding performance, an outstanding adviser to the President of the United States. He's won the confidence of the President, the Capitol and all of us with whom he's worked.

Coming in at a difficult time, he strengthened the national security staff, its procedures in many important areas. And most of all, he is a model, as one who fairly and clearly presents the views of the national security community - the entire community -to the President.

And I have great admiration for him, and he and I have spoken at length during the past few days. And while I'm not sure that he knows exactly what he's going to do, I am absolutely confident that his future will be bright and challenging.

As you now know, today's announcement concerns the important position of national security adviser, and I have chosen as my national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, a man with whom I have worked in various capacities in the past, a man for whom I have extraordinarily high regard. Brent is a trusted friend and he understands the White House. He understands the military, the State Department, and the way the Hill works, and the intelligence community as well.

He knows too the importance of approaching our foreign and national security policy on a bipartisan basis, and he brings to the White House the respect of many of our nation's leaders on both sides of the aisle. He also has earned the respect of world leaders around the globe, and he's made and will continue to make important contributions to the design of U.S. foreign policy.

I'm going to count on him to coordinate the development of my national security policy. He and I met recently with Jim Baker, our Secretary of State-designate; he agrees - General Scowcroft agrees with Jim Baker and me - that the immediate future offers tremendous challenges and also great opportunity.

I told many young people during the campaign that in my view they had a real chance to grow up in a freer and more peaceful world. To enhance those possibilities I will put together a strong national security team. Now, with Brent Scowcroft at my side in the White House, we've taken a large step in that direction.

We're going to take whatever time is necessary for a thorough review and analysis on our policy initiatives, and then come out with our own strategic objectives, and then move this country forward together for a strong America, determined more than ever to work for peace and freedom, to strengthen our alliances, to help those around the world who need our help, to enhance the quest for human rights around the world and to deal realistically with the Soviet Union and other world powers.

I am optimistic about our foreign policy agenda, I am even more optimistic because Brent Scowcroft has agreed to take on this very important role.

Now what I'll do is take a couple of questions, a few questions, as we've doing, and then I'll be glad to turn this over to a man with whom most of you in this room have dealt. Andrea?

Q: Mr. Vice President, would you define the role that General Scowcroft will have? Will he report directly to you, or will he report to the chief of staff. Do you envision the Secretary of State as the chief spokesman on foreign policy? There's some confusion as to what a national security adviser is.

A: Well, I think - I have very clearly in mind what a national security adviser is, and I would say that both Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft before him represent the ideal. He is not a policy-maker in the sense that policy - the Secretary of State will be the chief spokesman, obviously, on foreign policy matters.

He will be an honest broker. He will convey to me exactly the feelings of the Cabinet members that are involved in international affairs, national security affairs, whether it's on the economic side of the House or on the policy side or the defense side. He will bring those together, but because of his tremendous experience, obviously he will convey to me unvarnished his own view on policy matters of tremendous importance.

So I see it as in the - the Scowcroft N.S.C. leadership will be modeled after the Scowcroft N.S.C. leadership. And I think people around the country, particularly in this room, understand what that is. It's an honest broker and yet it's an honest broker possessed of enormous experience and a person in whose judgment I have confidence.

I worked with Brent - maybe I should put it this way: I worked for Brent - when I was the President's D.C.I., Director of Central Intelligence. Here's an example: Brent Scowcroft made very, very sure that the intelligence community stayed out of the policy business. I was the intelligence officer; General Scowcroft knew that and it was very clear from - that the President, because of this advice and other things, understood that too. So he knows the way the national security community works, and I really go back and say the model will be as he did it -as he did it before.

Is this what they call a follow-up?

Q: No (unintelligible).

A: Yes, oh excuse me. I didn't tell - absolutely. And of course there has to be order in the White House. I mean, he's not going to go charging in there when another meeting might be scheduled, so he'll work closely with the chief of staff.

But a national security adviser has to have direct access, day and night. And I will be one who takes a keen interest in these matters. I have a lot of ideas and they need to be tempered by his experience and judgment, and the same for Jimmy Baker's and the same for whoever we have in the Defense Department and Treasury, of course, is set now. So it makes for - it'll make for a knowledgeable and experienced approach in the White House. Yes, Jim?

General Powell's Future

Q: Do you consider, Mr. Vice President, that General Powell is now on track to be Army Chief of Staff or chairman of the Joint Chiefs?

A: Well, I would simply say that General Powell and I had a good discussion about the future. I have enormous respect for - for the General, but I just don't know what he -whether he wants to stay in the Army. I expect that the Army would welcome him back. His record as a military officer was just terrific. But I don't - I would be reluctant to intervene in the Army process. But if he wants to know does he have a friend in the White House if he goes back into the Army, not only a friend but an admirer.

Choosing a Defense Secretary

Q: Sir, can you define for us what kind of Secretary of Defense you're looking for and what kind of commitment do you want from that person to cut the deficit?

A: Well, I'd want somebody to manage that department, to institute the reforms that I talked about in the campaign; to work closely with the national security community that I'm putting together, in terms of arms control; to work compatibly for bipartisan objectives with the Hill. But, Bernie, I haven't sorted it out - you know, that's the broad description and I'm sure I've probably left out parts of it here. But exerience has to be a part of it, an ability to get along with the Congress has to be a part of it. Conviction about the need to keep America strong has got to be a part of it. But I would also say a willingness to take a fresh, tough look in these times of budgetary crunch at the Defense Department. And so those are the broad parameters and we will continue to work to put together a team that can accomplish those ends. Yes?

Problems at Security Agency

Q: President Reagan had some problems with the National Security Council staff during the Iran-contra era. Do you feel any further changes are needed in the way it operates, to make sure you don't have similar difficulties?

A: I don't think so. I think, well, crediting General Scowcroft, I think the changes that should have been made were not only recommended by the Scowcroft Commission but have been made.

Unauthorized Disclosures

Q: Back to the Secretary of Defense, I know you've been a little troubled by the leaks coming around. Are you at all troubled by a sense that Senator Tower might be left out there twisting in the wind for another week, another two weeks, whichever way you decide?

A: Well, yes, on a human basis I am, and that is one of the damaging things about leaks. As I said here before, look, I understand the insatiable curiosity about who's going to be staffing this Administration - I understand it - and leading it. And so - but there is a hurtful human side when a decision hasn't been made, and so I do worry about it.

But I'm less tense about that kind of thing than I used to be. I think we've demonstrated that things can be announced without leaks. But that's - I think you put your finger on something that does concern me because there's speculation that I read - leave out the Tower matter right now - that, you know, people's hopes are up there and then they - then it doesn't work out, so there's a human equation that is exacerbated by unauthorized stories.

Q: Just to follow up, are you going to put him out of his misery one way or the other, soon?

A: I'm asking you to do that. Yes, Saul.

Briefings on Intelligence

Q: Can you give us as much detail as to how you're going to receive briefings from Brent Scowcroft, and the D.C.I., on a daily basis? How are you - what are you -

A: Well, what I've said - one of the things that I have valued over the last eight years is sitting with the briefers from the State -from the C.I.A. Every morning I do that. And then what I have been doing is going over -while the national security adviser briefs the President.

I haven't gotten into the detail of how to do this but I have said, and I will do this, that I will have the briefer, that level of C.I.A., sit with me first thing. And if we can wake up General Scowcroft, why he will be included in this meeting. All I want to ask is that I not be asked to keep up the hours this man has historically kept up. But I will take that briefing, and I think that's a departure from the way other Presidents have worked. But at my side, if he elects to be there for each of those briefings, will be the N.S.C. adviser.

Then, at some - you know, time, later on in the morning, he will come to me with the trouble spots around the world, with a report on initiatives, with - you know, where we stand with negotiations with some arms control objective, or little battles that are brewing in our bureaucracy or whatever it is. I will be kept up to date on events by the national security adviser, in direct face-to-face meetings. And I will personally read that P.D.B. every morning.

Q: Will the D.C.I. be briefing you? And why do you want that sort of separate briefing rather than one that General Scowcroft will brief you.

A: Well, because the intelligence comes every morning fresh from the best that the agency can put together, and other agencies in the community, and I want - I don't want to read unfinished intelligence, I don't want to go off on some tangent based on some rumor. But I want to - I believe that there's an awful lot of people in the Federal Government that know a lot more about it than I do, and I want their - the best that they can offer me.

And I find the people that are selected to brief every day are good, and they have no ax to grind politically. And I just am much more knowledgeable than I would have been if I'd have gotten that second- or third-hand. And I want to continue that. That's why I'm going to do it.

Waking Up the President

Q: Mr. Vice President, you mentioned the long hours General Scowcroft . . . (unintelligible). What will your orders be to General Scowcroft?

A: Keep me informed.

Q: - on post-midnight . . .

A: Yes, wake me up.

Q: At any -

A: Wake me. Shake me and wake me. But I don't know how well you know this guy, but there's - he'd do it anyway. That's one of the reasons I'm just delighted he's willing to do this. Yes?

Women and Blacks

Q: Mr. Vice President, as your choices of key positions now shrink down, what about the prospects for Democrats, women, blacks in key posts in your Administration?

A: It's something that must be accomplished and it is - I was very pleased that -with the appointment, for example, fitting into that category - but he wasn't appointed for this reason but fitting into that general area is Barry Cavazos, a Democrat. And so that's - you know, but I don't want tokenism. I want to get the best but I want to be sure that we are reaching out to those areas, groups, that have been historically underrepresented at high levels of the Federal Government. And I keep saying this to people, and I expect results. Yes?

Choices at Pentagon

Q: Mr. Vice President, how far down in the Defense Department will you actually be appointing people? And how many of those with second tier positions will be appointed directly by the Secretary of Defense?

A: I will want to have the White House, and our whole national security team, have an input on - I don't know how to say this other than key appointments. But here's the way I look at it: a Cabinet secretary has got to feel compatible with the people he's asked to work with. A national security adviser has to feel compatible with the people that report to him.

But a President must know that those people are going to work towards fulfilling the objectives that that President has set out. And so it'll be consultant. And I don't want to say to some secretary, "You've got to use Shirley Smith, or Joe Jones," but I want to know that they're not putting in a team that has a different - not even inferentially -has a different agenda than that which I am determined to carry out. Yes, sir?

Legislation on Ethics

Q: Have you changed your support for the ethics bill, and if not, are you opposing the veto?

A: Well, let's wait and see what the President does on it, but I'll say this: I am going to have an ethics bill and it'll be a strong one. It'll be a fair one. I think there is some recognition that the Thurmond bill was a very good start. There were some changes made in it that I guess nobody's really totally happy with, and there are some problems in it. But we'll see what happens on this one, but if this bill is not signed, I will send up early on an ethics bill. I'm determined to fulfill that general posture that I have taken, in terms of ethics in government.

Q: Well, what changes would you make?

A: Well, let's wait till we see what action is taken and then I'll address myself to that if new legislation is required. Yes?

Dealing With Russians

Q: General Scowcroft has expressed some caution about how fast we should go on arms control with the Soviets, and just caution in general in dealing with the Soviets. Is that caution one reason why you picked him, and are you comfortable with that?

A: I don't think he was reading my lips, but he and I have been in touch for a long time in this and I think we are in agreement that caution is called for. And that doesn't mean there won't be forward progress, because I do think we have a great opportunity.

But what I want to do, and whether it's in arms control or any other bilaterial relations with the Soviet Union, is to take enough time to set our course, to be sure that we're all on the same wavelength, to work with Congress to move that whole relationship forward. But if your question is do I share the caution that he has sometimes signaled, the answer is yes. But that should not be taken as a negative sign that I don't want greater progress with the Soviet Union. And I will have an opportunity early in December to make that very clear to Mr. Gorbachev.

But what I won't be able to make clear to him is here's our detailed arms control formulation. I want to have a new look. And that doesn't mean we're not going to build on the record of this Administration, which I salute, and an Administration of which I have been a part. But we're going to formulate our priorities.

In the campaign I talked about trying to move that conventional force reductions up to a little higher priority, or to at least get that going faster if we can. I think that'd be very good for the alliance, very good for our relationship with the Germans, for example, and certainly good for us at home.

But we've got to spell this out ourselves. We need the time to formulate it. So there will be a signal to the Soviet Union: Look, we want progress to continue but we've got to set our pace. It's a new day, a new Administration.

Let me just take a couple of more and then go peacefully.

Fate of 'Star Wars'

Q: I think General Scowcroft also has expressed some reservations, I believe, about S.D.I. Does his appointment signal any kind of a pullback by you . . . (unintelligible).

A: Not at all.

Choices for Posts

Q: Were you indicating earlier that you had not yet received the names of what you would consider to be qualified women and black Americans for appointments in your Administration?

A: No, we're working with a good list now. Even my son is involved in this project. And I think we're going to have some very good, able representation from the minority community. But I - that whole process is going forward. So it's not a question - it's a question of fitting talented people to the jobs that are coming up. It's not a question of finding names so much, but we are outreaching, as they say.

Two more. Once, twice, and then I'm going peacefully.

Thurmond's Bill

Q: I'll make mine short. Would you, if you were President today, have signed the Thurmond bill were it on your desk?

A: I think I said in the original Thurmond bill, before it went through the whole process, that I would have.

Q: As it now reaches Mr. Reagan?

A: Well, I haven't said that.

Q: That's what I'm asking.

A: But that's what I'm not answering.

Delay on Tower?

Q: On the Tower situation, why has there been such a delay? And also, does Senator Quayle have any say-so in these appointments?

A: May I ask you what do you mean by "delay"? Do you realize, have you not read the propaganda we put out and how fast that we have been fulfilling these key roles? Are we not entitled to reasonable deliberation, in a process that has resulted in more appointments than any of my predecessors, I think. So I don't - I just can't accept the premise that there's an unreasonable delay.

And I've got to do it at my own pace. I've got to feel comfortable with these - all these appointments. And so if there does seem like a delay, I ask your forbearance because we've got to staff this Administration with people who can work with each other, can work compatibly.

And yes we do, Dan Quayle is consulted on these - what we - we have a - what do you call it, when you have initials add up to something, acronym or something - CASAG, which is a group that gets together and talks about these Cabinet appointments.

But the process goes forward in terms of sub-Cabinet and it'll get much, much more hectic after Thanksgiving. And I don't know that I can sit in on every one of those meetings - or something - or that Dan Quayle can or will. But he's more than welcome at these meetings because I do think he's got some very good judgment on the Hill and on - you've heard me speak about his commitment in retraining, and certainly in defense areas. So we'll -

Q: Are you meeting with Governor Dukakis?

A: No, not that I know of. Maybe - Q. There's a report, Friday or Saturday, in New Hampshire that you are - (unintelligible)

A: Well, as I said, I think here, the other day . . . I talked to him on the phone . . .

Talks With Mexican Leader

Q: The reports would seem to indicate that President-elect Salinas would like to have Cabinet-level discussions with members of your Administration after he's inaugurated. Do you think that's proper, and did you discuss any of that yesterday?

A: I think it's proper in some cases but not in others. I don't think a Bush secretary, for example, designate, who has not been confirmed by the Senate, should involve himself in those kinds of deliberations. I think in the case of the Treasury, which is a matter of great concern to Mr. Salinas, and to Mexico generally, it would be appropriate if ongoing . . . take place with, in this case, the . . . secretary-designate who has also been confirmed by the Senate.

So I would use that as a raw guide but the problems that Mexico faces, and that we face, need to be continually addressed. And one thing about this marvelous Martin Van Buren transition is that it can be, there is an ongoing bureaucracy with whom we are very, very compatible; an Administration of which I am a part.

So, for example, I don't expect it would be inappropriate for Jim Baker, who has . . . confirmed by the Senate, to start serious negotiations with the new Government. I do think that it's important that Mr. Salinas, as he forms his Government, announces his new Foreign Minister, that that minister have access to the foreign policy establishment in the United States. So that's the way I'd try to draw the line.

Q: So you'd allow Mr. Brady to talk to Mr. Salinas about Mexico's debt problems?

A: Yes, he - already has before Mr. Salinas came into office - concerns him greatly and we'll all be wrestling with trying to be helpful. But - incidentally the meeting yesterday was really good. I'm very much impressed with Mr. Salinas, with his determination to work with the United States. It was very friendly, very frank. I had a couple of -three - one-on-one meetings with . . . and I'm . . . I feel that we can work very closely together . . . .

George Bush, Excerpts of the President-Elect's News Conference Announcing the Appointment of Brent Scowcroft as National Security Advisor Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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