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Excerpts of the President-Elect's News Conference in Little Rock

November 12, 1992

Q: Governor, you campaigned on a theme of economic hope and a pledge of putting Americans back to work. Are you finding it increasingly necessary to scale back the expectations you might have raised?

And second, what do you think you'll have to accomplish in the early months of your campaign to keep alive the hopes you might have raised during the past year?

A: Well, I campaigned on a theme of economic hope and creating jobs and increasing income. I also told the American people repeatedly we didn't get into this business overnight and we're not going to get out of it overnight.

I think what I have to do is to present an aggressive plan to the United States Congress and pass it, and to put together a world-class economic team and to take whatever steps that can be taken without new laws being enacted by Congress to revive this economy.

I think all along the way I have to do my best at one of the most important jobs of a President, which is to communicate to the American people, to explain exactly where we are at this point in our history, how we got here and where we're going into the future. There is -- there has to be a short-term economic agenda, we've been in this deep recession for a long time now.

There also has to be a long-term economic commitment to increasing the productivity of the American economy so that we can not only create more jobs, but that we can begin to raise incomes of ordinary Americans again for the first time in well over a decade. And I expect that we'll be able to do that.

I expect to keep the focus on these economic issues, and I'm not trying to scale back, or scale down, or anything else. I think the American people understand that these problems are of long duration, and there won't be any overnight miracles, but I think they expect aggressive and prompt action, and I'm going to give it to them.

Q: Governor, along those lines, do you intend to propose a middle-class tax cut in January as you advanced through the campaign?

A: I intend to propose a tax package that is consistent with what I recommended in the campaign. I have not made any decision to change it.

Q: Governor, the top savings and loan regulator says $50 billion is going to be needed to complete the bailout program and finance the deposit insurance fund. Do you intend to ask Congress for this money? If so, how quickly after you take office and will this hurt your ability to finance some of the programs you would like to see implemented?

A: Well, it's interesting, they came out with that figure, which is a bigger figure than they were using before the election, as soon as the election was over, but I have not -- I'm not in a position to accept the figure because I have not been advised about it.

Let me, let me tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to devote a lot of attention to the condition of the S&L bailout, the R.T.C., as well as to the condition of the banking system in the country and the potential impact of the new capital requirements coming in on Dec. 19, and make a judgment on that, and as soon as I do I'll be glad to share it with you.

I'm just not in a position -- I don't have all that much confidence in all the decisions that have been made by the R.T.C. I don't know what our options might be. So I can't tell you precisely what I'll do. It is -- it concerned me that that announcement was made, when it was made and the way it was made, with the figure that was tacked on to it, and I think it probably came as kind of a jolt to the American people. But I will do what I think is best and responsible, but I can't accept the figure yet. Andrea.

Q: Governor, Bob Dole said that you're going to have a honeymoon and that he's going to be the chaperon. Do you anticipate that you're going to have a tough time with the opposition? And how do you respond to his comments that you did not have a mandate?

A: Well, I think -- let me say a couple of things about that. First of all, I think that I -- that the American people hope that I have a honeymoon, not for me, but for them. If a honeymoon means a break in partisan political behavior, and an honest attempt by people of goodwill to reach agreement on something that's good for the country.

I had a good talk with Senator Dole on the phone yesterday. I'm looking forward, when I go to Washington next week, to see President Bush. I am also looking forward to a meeting, a bipartisan meeting with the leadership in Congress, and I'm going to hold out the hand of cooperation to them, and I think that they will extend it in turn.

I think that the clear mandate of this election, by the way, from the American people was an end of politics as usual, and end to the gridlock in Washington, an end to finger-pointing and blame. I think there is no question that there was a mandate in this election.

In terms of whether I got a mandate or not, you know, having a 100-vote electoral majority more than you need is not too bad. There are only a couple of Democrats in this century who've gotten a bigger percentage vote. But arguably, the greatest President we ever had, Abraham Lincoln, was elected with under 40 percent of the vote.

So I think the American people will all now evaluate what I do and whether I do it well and whether they support it.

Q: Governor, there's a lot concern abroad about what the Clinton foreign policy would be. I wonder if you could tell us what will be your first 100 days plan in foreign policy and what are the attributes you'll be looking for in a secretary of state and in a national security adviser?

A: Well, I think I've laid out my foreign policy in great detail and with clear specificity. I've certainly tried to, and I believe that I spoke more to foreign policy than anybody else running in the Democratic primary, at least, and arguably more than my opponents in the general election.

Q: What do you think will be your top priorities?

A: Well, my top priorities will be settling on a multi-year plan for a defense budget that I think keeps the defense of this country the strongest in the world and deals with the necessity to downscale; pursuing our continued efforts to reduce nuclear weapons with Russia and with other nuclear powers; working hard to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction -- nuclear, biological and chemical; keeping the Middle East peace process on track and doing whatever I can to make sure there is no break in continuity; and doing what I can to strengthen global economic growth, in terms of resolving outstanding matters with Mexico, hopefully resolving the outstanding issues in Europe, and proceeding with a cooperative strategy with the other major economic powers to promote global growth, something which will help us very much.

Q: Governor, the second half of the question?

A: Well, I want a secretary of state who understands that we have obligations of continuity and obligations of change, and that basically the pillars of our national security and foreign policy ought to be a different but still very strong defense, a commitment to global growth and economic regeneration here, and the fulfilling of our responsibility as the world's sole superpower to try to promote democracy and freedom and restraint the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

I want someone that I think really understands that and can relate well to those issues and to the people around the world dealing with that.

And in terms of a national security adviser, I want the same thing. I want people -- by the way, I do think that President Bush's group worked pretty well as a team in that area, and that's something that I want. I'm very much committed to picking a national security adviser, secretary of defense and a secretary of state who can work together on this agenda. I think that's what I ought to be doing.

Q: Governor Clinton, how quickly are you going to move on your pledge to allow gays and lesbians in the military? You're getting some heat for it now. You're getting pressure to do it in January, three days after you take office. How quickly are you going to move?

A: Well, I think that -- first of all, I am going to move forward on that.

Q: On your 100-day agenda?

A: Let me tell you what I'm going to do. My concern here is to do it in a way that is most appropriate for the management of the whole national security and military interests of the country. I want to consult with a lot of people about what our options are, including people who may disagree with me about the ultimate merits. And let me just remind you one more time of how this all came up.

This whole issue really came to light when Secretary of Defense Cheney was asked to comment on a study which said that there were many thousands of men and women who were homosexuals in the military forces who served our country with great distinction and never did anything in their conduct that was destructive of the morale or the purpose of the military.

And I think he referred to this rule as "an old chestnut" or something of that kind.

What I want to do is to come up with an appropriate response that will focus sharply on the fact that we do have people who are homosexuals who served our country with distinction, who were never kicked out of the military. Others, who are being kicked out of the military -- one of whom has just been reinstated by court. And the issue ought to be conduct. Has anybody done anything which would disqualify them, whether it's Tailhook scandal or something else. And so what I plan to do in an appropriate fashion, in a prompt fashion, is to put together a group of people and let them advise me about how we might best do this. But I'm not going to change my position on it.

Q: There are things that Presidents can do. Right now there is for instance -- there are two executive orders in effect, one of which bans abortion counseling by physicians at clinics, which use Federal funds. The other is an executive order that President Bush issued last May which effectively bars Haitian exiles from this country.

Have you made up your mind on what you're going to do with those two issues?

A: Yes. Well, I have made up my mind that I am going to change the policy in both areas. I don't believe in the gag rule and I think it should be repealed. And with regard to the Haitians, I think my position on that has been pretty clear all along. I believe that there is a legitimate distinction between political and economic refugees. But I think that we should have a process in which these Haitians get a chance to make their case. I think that the blanket sending them back to Haiti under the circumstances which have prevailed for the last year was an error and so I will modify that process.

I'm not in a position to tell you exactly how we're going to do it or what the specifics will be, but I can tell you I'm going to change the policy.

Q: On the economic summit, we're told that you're going to be bringing some of the top business leaders from across the country here to Little Rock to give you their views on what should be done about the economy. By almost anyone's standards, Ross Perot is one of the more successful business leaders. You agreed with some of his economic strategies during the campaign and you appealed to his supporters to be comfortable with voting for you. Would you be comfortable with having him come and be a part of that team?

A: I wouldn't be uncomfortable doing that. I have not made up my mind who's going to come.

Q: Will he be invited?

A: I've had no discussions on that. But I'm going to have business leaders here. We'll have some people from labor here who understand the changes that are going on. We'll have some distinguished economists here. We'll have a lot of people who were part of this campaign and some people who weren't. And it will be more in the nature of a retreat in that sense. I mean, I'm asking people to come here and go to work. You know, there's not going to be much posturing and show about this; it's going to be a lot of work.

Q: Governor, are you satisfied with the way in which President Bush has handled the State Department probe into your background during the campaign, or do you think more needs to be done?

A: Well, I'm glad Ms. Tamposi had to leave her job about six weeks early -- I thought that was an appropriate thing to do. I don't know that I know enough to give you a final judgment. Let me just say this: If I catch anybody using the State Department like that when I'm President, you won't have to wait till after the election to see them gone. I don't want to talk about what happened in the past. The election is over, we don't have a minute to waste looking at the past.

I just want you to know that the State Department of this country is not going to be fooling with Bill Clinton's politics, and if I catch anybody doing it I will fire them the next day; you won't have to have an inquiry or rigmarole or anything else, because it is too important to me that the rest of the world see us as having a coherent and, as much as possible, nonpolitical foreign policy.

And let me say, you will see that I've gone out of my way since I was elected to support the idea that President Bush is our President, that he makes foreign policy, and that we're all going to stick with it until there's a change, and this is a part of that to me.

Q: Little Rock is not Washington and you face increased security as President-elect -- -- and you also face increased media scrutiny. Will we see you on the streets of Washington a lot jogging and are you frustrated by the bubble?

A: Well, I'm a little bit -- you know, I'm a real sort of informal person. I live in an atmosphere that is highly personal and informal and I know my friends and neighbors, and my constituents can come up to me and talk to me on the street. But I would hope that both Senator Gore and I would be able to maintain some greater level of ongoing personal contact with folks than is typically the case. Now I know there are security concerns and we've talked to the Secret Service about that, and I have no criticism of them. I think they do a fine job.

But I think that one of the reasons we made this campaign a success is because we went out of our way to demonstrate, both of us together and separately, that we could be genuinely accessible to the American people and that we were interested in them, and I think that there are a lot of things you do in your own personal habits that send that signal out. So I hope I'll be able to do it. May not.

William J. Clinton, Excerpts of the President-Elect's News Conference in Little Rock Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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