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Exchange With Reporters

June 19, 1991

Chief of Staff's Travel

Q. Mr. President, are you angry at the Chief of Staff?

The President. No.

Q. The papers said that you're ready to take some action.

The President. Well, I've looked into this matter and, given the circumstances, I think it was appropriate. We had a lot of very important negotiation on legislation. We have a very important speech that needed fine-tuning. He knew I wasn't happy with that. He made plenty of phone calls. You know, I recognize, and I think the Governor does, there's an appearance problem. But when you look at the facts surrounding this particular trip, this beating that he's taken is unwarranted in my view. And I will say it's special for reasons I've outlined to you. But nobody likes the appearance of impropriety. On the other hand, I think fairness dictates you ought to look at the particular fact about it. And so, that's my view. In fact, I back him up on this -- --

Q. Have you encouraged him to exercise more caution on the appearance question?

The President. I think when you have an appearance problem, I think all of us would agree you want to try to avoid it as much as possible, and I think all of us have. But you shouldn't be judged by appearance; you ought to be judged by the fact. And so, that's what I'm saying here. And there's plenty of reason that this was done, and it doesn't set a precedent. It doesn't say anybody that has access to a car can go anyplace anyone wants at any time. The Governor would be the first to say that.

So, that's the way I look at it. And I'd say it's special, and I've looked at the facts. And I feel very comfortable with it -- --

Q. Have you discussed this with him personally?

The President. Of course, I did. We discussed it -- --

Q. Do you think he's being victimized?

The President. Well, can I rephrase your question?

Q. Okay.

The President. Do I think there's a piling on -- --

Q. Do you think he's being targeted?

The President. Do you think there's a piling-on syndrome out there? Yes, I do. And you can interpret that one any way you want to.

Q. You got anyone in mind? [Laughter]

The President. So far, the UPI is clean as what they call a hound's tooth -- [laughter]. Don't ask me about -- --

Q. Those are the most deadly words in history. [Laughter] You're 1,000 percent behind him, aren't you? [Laughter]

Q. Is the Governor's job safe, sir?

The President. Yes. And he's doing a first-class job, and I think the people around this table would attest to that. We've done well. We've got a good domestic agenda. And I think the American people are beginning to understand it.

The problem is, to get that message out, you've got to beat down a bad domestic agenda first because we don't have the proper numbers. And so, we've got a good program. And as soon as you all leave, which I know will be very soon, we will have a chance to discuss -- [laughter] -- that's one of the things we're going to discuss today, is where we stand on some of this important legislation.

I don't think I need to tell you all again I want a civil rights bill, and I don't want a quota bill. I think the American people want a civil rights bill, and they don't want a quota bill. And that's one of the things that John Sununu and Boyden and others around here are working closely with the Congress on. The transportation bill -- we've got a lot of things to discuss -- the crime bill. We've got a good domestic agenda.

And why some people don't understand that, I don't know. I can understand the Democrats not understanding it because, very candidly, they've got a different domestic agenda. It happens to be a bad domestic agenda, but nevertheless it seems to dominate. We're asked to sing from their music, and I'm not going to do that. We haven't in the past, and we're not going to do it now.

So, there's a lot going on, and I say that John Sununu's been right in the heart of a lot of this serious negotiation in attempting to get things done, and I'm very grateful to him for that.

Civil Rights Legislation

Q. Do you like the Danforth compromise, sir, on civil rights?

The President. Well, we've got some reservations, but I like the fact he's trying, and I like the fact other Senators are working with him, because Republicans want a civil rights bill that eliminates, as best a bill can, discrimination in the workplace. I will repeat: They don't want a quota bill. And I, frankly, resent it when some of my political opponents up there -- or put it this way, our political opponents up there charge me or charge Members of Congress who agree with me as having some kind of a political agenda here.

I sent this bill up 2 years ago, or maybe year ago. Certainly when the winning political -- the '92 political connotations. And so, I wish people would interpret things that way, because that's the way the facts are. But I haven't seen much defense of that, and I haven't seen much advocacy of our bill. I haven't seen anything that says what's wrong with our legislation.

You know what my deal would be to these people? Look, if you really want an antidiscrimination civil rights bill and you're not happy with the President's, try it. Take four steps forward. You might not get all five you want; take four and see if it doesn't help eliminate discrimination in the workplace. But don't inflict the American people with something that inevitably, in the opinion of the Attorney General, our own counsel, and many of the staff people on the Hill lead to quotas. And that's what the issue is. And I get very hot under the collar when we get accused as a party or as an administration that doesn't care about the civil rights aspects of all of this.

So, I'm going to keep talking about it and keep trying to be rational and keep trying to work with Congress constructively. We've got to do that to get a decent bill passed. But I am not going to sign a bad bill.

Well, that's just one. We've got a lot of other issues that -- I don't know how I got off on this diatribe here, because -- --

Q. You don't think you're being political?

The President. No. I will be when the time comes.

Q. Not at all?

The President. Well, yes. I was out at a fundraiser, and then I loved it. I was very political. But we're moving into that season. But do you think anytime people criticize the President that they're being political? Do you think anytime they accuse me of not having a domestic agenda up there? Do you think anytime they go off down to some salon retreat down here in Virginia and come out with diatribes against me that that's political? Sure it is, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International]. We're all grown up. But we know how it works. But we've tried to approach legislation, sometimes to the distress of some, in a very nonpartisan way because that's the only way I can get something done for this country. But I'm not going to yield on fundamental principle, and that is not political. That's something I believe.

But sure, we're moving into a political season. I'm hearing all kinds of weird voices out of the past coming out criticizing on the other side. Not our side, of course. We don't do that kind of stuff.

Q. Well, it's a two-way street, isn't it? And you'll put a label on every time when it isn't political?

The President. Well, yes, label this as a nonpolitical conversation this morning, but you'll know. [Laughter] It's like Potter Stewart on pornography: You'll know it when you see it. [Laughter]

Q. That's the quote.

The President. Now, would you all kindly fold the -- hooks? [Laughter] It's been a joy. Now, get the -- [laughter].

Q. We've got to go to work. [Laughter]

The President. Does this count as a press conference?

Q. No.

Q. No.

Q. Pretty close. [Laughter]

The President. Marlin? [Laughter]

Q. Pretty close, Marlin.

Q. We were told the President wasn't going to talk at all. [Laughter]

Note: The exchange began at 10:03 a.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House, prior to a meeting with the Republican congressional leadership. The following persons were referred to: John H. Sununu, Chief of Staff to the President; C. Boyden Gray, Counsel to the President; Senator John C. Danforth; Attorney General Dick Thornburgh; Potter Stewart, former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court; and Marlin Fitzwater, Press Secretary to the President. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this exchange.

George Bush, Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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