George Bush photo

Exchange With Reporters in San Francisco, California

October 29, 1990

The President. Well, let me just say that I'm delighted to be back here. We had a fundraising event for Pete Wilson and I am very encouraged with the support we keep reading about and hearing about for a Senator now about to be Governor. This State is a critical State in the sense of this election coming up. The governorship here is enormously important. It has national importance. And I am enthusiastically for Pete Wilson, and he can give you a little vibration or two as to how he feels it's going. But I like the feel of this campaign.

Senator Wilson. Mr. President, I share your enthusiasm and your optimism. I think it's going well. We are very pleased with the polling numbers that we're seeing and even more pleased with the reaction that we're getting from the crowds. It sure is nice to be back.

The President. Now you don't have to go back there anymore. That's good.

Federal Budget

Q. Can I ask you a question on the budget, Mr. President?

The President. Yes.

Q. Even with this deficit reduction deal the deficit this year is going to go to $250 billion -- a record. In over 5 years the debt is going to go from $3 billion to $5 billion -- or trillion -- excuse me. Doesn't that mean there's a lot more painful medicine out there for the American people?

The President. Well, it means we've had to swallow some painful medicine. And I'm hopeful that this will have a beneficial effect on the economy, and if we can restore the United States to more reasonable levels of growth, the revenues will pour in. But that means we've got to guard against what I think of as this mentality of taxing and spending.

You know, the minute the budget deal was over, one of the Democratic leaders said, well, now we're going to renew our fight to raise taxes on the rich. That is the old class warfare, tax-and-spend mentality. So, what I'll be doing is taking the message across this country that this resurrecting that tired old philosophy will not get America back to work again. I think we can do better than what these numbers suggest, Terry [Terence Hunt, Associated Press]. But, no, we've taken a major step, and it's a step in the right direction in some ways, but there's plenty of reasons to oppose a lot of it.

Persian Gulf Crisis

Q. Mr. President, now that the Primakov mission in the Middle East has gotten nowhere, is there any chance for anything short of a military solution in the Gulf?

The President. Yes. And I would hope that the economic sanctions, coupled with the worldwide solidarity against Hussein -- Saddam Hussein -- will convince him that he should, without conditions, get out of Kuwait.

Q. And negotiations in any form whatsoever?

The President. No -- there's no way we're going to have negotiations with conditionality. There's no way to do that. Now, if he gets out of Kuwait and restores the legitimate government, then there's a way to work out difficulties that may have existed. But we're not going to have any preconditions. And so -- and the world is holding tight. I think -- talking to Mr. Primakov, I think he understands how strongly we feel. I know that he had the same reaction when he talked to President Mubarak [of Egypt]. And I think that President Gorbachev is holding just as firm as he can. And that's good, you see, Ann [Ann Compton, ABC News], because that sends a strong signal that the free world is united against this dictator.

Q. No hope of the Primakov mission coming up with any kind of solution?

The President. I haven't seen anything to convince me that there's anything positive on it.

Q. Mr. President, how do you plan to resupply the Embassy in Kuwait if the U.N. resolution is passed?

The President. Well, I think the best thing is to see that that resolution does pass, and then we'll see. Because this concept of starving embassies is unconscionable and inhumane. And the world reacts angrily against that kind of thing.

Q. But surely you plan to take some action if you're supporting the resolution. How do you plan to carry it out? Do you mean it to be a provocative act?

The President. I plan to see us go forward with the United Nations.

Q. Do you mean it to be a provocative act?

The President. I just will stand with what I've told you. Thank you.

Q. Mr. President, Senator Cohen said this morning that you should not commit troops to action in the Middle East without congressional approval. How do you feel about that?

The President. Well, I'm going to -- look forward to having some talks tomorrow with some of the leaders on this question. I know the authorities that a President has. I'm working to try to get this matter resolved peacefully. We have a lot of force there, and they're well-trained. They're highly motivated, and that alone is sending an enormously strong signal to Saddam Hussein. So, before going into a lot of hypothesis about what I might or might not do, let's take a look at the positive sides and hope that there can be a peaceful resolution. But I'll be talking to the congressional leaders tomorrow.

But history is replete with examples where the President has had to take action. And I've done this in the past and certainly -- somebody mentioned provocation -- would have no hesitancy at all.

Q. Mr. President, do you object to France trading that planeload of medicine for the 300 hostages they're due to get back today?

The President. No.

Q. You don't see that as a break in the embargo?

The President. No, not medicines -- and understand that it's going to be inspected to be sure that medical supplies are what's going there.

Budget Agreement and Upcoming Elections

Q. Will you be to blame if the Republicans sustain big losses a week from now? Will some of that be shouldered by the -- blamed by the Presidency and the tax package?

The President. I'm sure somebody will put the blame there. But listen, so what's new? But I'm not looking for defeats; I'm looking for victory. And I'm looking to take this message across the country that this class warfare, tax-the-rich, is really an attack on the working men and women of this country. And so, I'm not trying to make some hypothesis about if things don't go the way I want them to go. But, you know, nobody said it would be easy, so I look for -- I'm really getting fired up for the next few days.

Q. Mr. President, why shouldn't Americans feel betrayed that you caved in on raising taxes?

The President. Because I think people know that this Congress is controlled by the taxers, by the liberal Democrats. And they also know that we needed to try to get something done, and they also know that a President is elected to compromise at times -- only rarely. But he's also elected to govern. And so I think it's that message that will get -- American people are fair. They know I'm against taxes.

The same thing happened to President Reagan in 1982. But when you're up against these enormous majorities, once in a while you've got to reach out. But that's over now. We've got some good things in that deficit package, and we've got some bad things in it. And now I will try to get more Republicans so we don't have to put up with the kind of taxing and spending that we've been through as a country.

Capital Gains Tax

Q. Do you plan to push forth a capital gains tax next year?

The President. I wish we could. I saw George Mitchell [Senate majority leader] go out and say that he wants to raise income tax rates next year. Thank God we held the line on income tax rates, leveled that off at 31 percent. But this idea of as soon as you finish a deficit-reduction package, to say we're going to go out and raise tax rates -- I'm going to fight that all the way.

And, of course, I'm for the incentive and the growth and the jobs that go with capital gains. But I don't know whether we're going to -- you know, on capital gains, we had a majority in the House and in the Senate for it. But the liberals that controlled it would never let it come to a vote so we could get the action taken. That was amazing, absolutely amazing.

Persian Gulf Crisis

Q. Are you preparing the American public for war?

The President. No.

Q. Do you think it's going to happen?

The President. I'm just doing my job as President of the United States. I'm not preparing anybody for anything. We are going -- I am determined as I've ever been that this aggression will not stand. And this coalition is strong, it's diverse, it is holding together. And we're sending a very clear signal to the invader that he's got to get out of Kuwait.

President's Popularity/White House Staff

Q. -- -- stop the slide in the polls that has stemmed from the budget fight?

The President. Thank God you raised the old polling question. I want you to hear this answer.

Q. We want to hear the question.

The President. The question is about polling, living and dying by polling. Thank God when things were looking pretty good I kept telling every one of you here, these polls don't mean anything. It doesn't mean anything to me. So, what I'll do is get out and say what I believe, work for people that I'm enthusiastic about, and do the very best I can. But I don't live and die by these.

And there's another symbol of all this -- it's the inside-the-beltway bickering. God, it's so nice to be out here. You know, about staff. I want to say, I read a story today about the staff -- that I am upset with the staff. May I just say to those of you who thrive on the inside-the-beltway chatter, I have never had more confidence in [Chief of Staff] John Sununu, in [Budget Director] Dick Darman, in Secretary Brady -- ever. And they are strong, and they are able. And anytime you've got to do some heavy lifting on behalf of the President, you're bound to get caught up in a little crossfire.

So, please don't give any credence to this kind of mischievous, gossipy reporting when we have things like Iraq, budget deficits, enormously important elections. It's just crazy.

Q. But, sir, you have to govern inside the beltway -- --

Q. -- -- polls have suggested that perhaps your outfit has been running a little lean and that perhaps you need more political in-house advice.

The President. I've never said that.

Q. Do you think that Governor Sununu is stretched too thin and perhaps you do need more in-house -- --

The President. I think everybody, including myself, have been stretched thin by these endless negotiations. But I think he's doing an outstanding job. And I don't think that we're short of personnel.

Q. You don't believe Senator Wilson's polls that he's ahead if -- you don't believe the polls that show Senator Wilson ahead?

The President. I'll let him speak to that.

Senator Wilson. I believe them. [Laughter]

The President. No, I just don't like to comment -- live or die on these polls. And I told you, Ann, over and over again when polls were astronomical and "the honeymoon has lasted too long" and -- you know, don't let's deal with that. Let's stay on the issues. That's what I'm talking about. And I still feel that way.

Q. But sir, you have to govern inside the beltway. Are you concerned that the "Democrats made me do it" argument might be making you look weak inside the beltway with the people you have to work with?

The President. I don't worry about inside the beltway.

Q. But you have to govern those people, sir.

The President. This is a great American country out here -- govern what people? Inside the beltway?

Q. You have to govern with these people. They're the opposition party. They control the Congress.

The President. Oh, the opposition party. Hey, I'm used to that kind of demagoguery. And so, I'm out here on the campaign trail now laying it to rest. They talk about taxing the rich -- they want to get into the pocket of every man and woman. The House bill that was passed -- let me give you an example. They talked about socking the rich -- that indexing provision hit every taxpayer in the United States. And so, I've got to get that in focus, because they've been getting away with this tax-the-rich class warfare kind of garbage that they always resurrect at election time. And we've been under some constraints because I've been trying to get a deficit deal. Now I feel free to go out and take this message across the country.

Q. But my question is, do you think it makes you look weak?

The President. No, I don't think so. I don't think so at all. Everybody knows that the President must govern. Harry Truman was right -- the buck does stop there. And every once in a while, you have to do something to make something happen. But I don't think that's a sign of anything other than reality.

Capital Gains Tax

Q. -- -- go back and seek capital gains, do you then reopen the whole package?

The President. There is a danger to that, and so we've got to be careful how we do that. But I would simply reiterate my conviction about it in saying that it is good for jobs. You know, when you have a slow economy, the more things we can do to stimulate investment and opportunity for working people, it's important. So, there's a big philosophical debate on that, and I am absolutely convinced that it's correct to have a capital gains differential.

Incidentally, there is a small one in this new budget package -- very small. So the principle is there, but it's not as much incentive as it should be.

Q. Are we in a recession?

Q. Are you prepared in this case to trade off an increase in rates for a reduction in capital gains? You wouldn't want to trade off a further increase, would you?

The President. Trading -- we just got this package, so we'll let that sit for a while. But I'm just saying philosophically I haven't lost my interest in this at all.

Q. Recession?

The President. I don't think so.

Veto of Civil Rights Bill

Q. Mr. President, you are very strong on not wanting to see taxes raised, and you talk about class warfare with the Democrats. Why is it that you're willing to sign this bill, but you vetoed the civil rights bill, when you say you feel strongly about that? Why didn't you not agree to sign this as well?

The President. Let me tell you first about the civil rights bill. I have long stood for civil rights. I think anybody in public life knows that I have long stood for civil rights. But I just don't think it's fair to sign a bill that will result in quotas. The day I vetoed that bill I attached to it a civil rights bill challenging all these proponents of civil rights: Pass a real civil rights bill. And they didn't even permit the House and Senate to vote on it because they wanted to try to embarrass the President. I am for civil rights, and I am against quotas. It is not right to any minority group to pass legislation that is going to result in quotas.

If the leaders of the Congress had been a committed as some say they are to civil rights, why didn't they permit my bill that eliminates discrimination in the workplace to be voted on? It is because they tried to embarrass the President. And they didn't at all, because the American people are fair and they do not want quotas.


Q. Mr. President, it sounds like you're willing to veto quotas but not higher taxes. That doesn't sound like a very strong stance.

The President. Give me a chance to veto higher taxes. Send one down there that I can veto, and I will. You're darn right I will, absolutely. I'm glad you raised that. It was a beautiful question, because I am opposed to higher taxes -- strongly.

Upcoming Elections

Q. You look like you're going to enjoy this last trip.

The President. I really am looking forward to it.

Q. Are you going to draw blood?

The President. Well, I don't know about blood. I just want to get my message out there, and it's going to be good. We're going to work hard, and we're going to take a positive message across the country: that if we had more Republicans in the United States Congress -- Senate and House -- I would be able to more easily fulfill the mandate I was given when I was elected President of the United States. I don't like playing defense; I like being on the offense.

Q. Can you beat the odds that -- where Presidents usually lose seats?

The President. We're going to wait and see. But I think you raise a point. The party in power normally loses seats, but I'm going to be out there like we're going to win seats and work very hard to do that.

Q. So are these elections now a referendum on you, sir?

The President. I don't know what they're a referendum of. But I want to make them a referendum on the Democrats' taxing and spending and class warfare. I mean, it's absurd. So, we'll see. They have control of both Houses of Congress; they can frustrate the legislative agenda that I want. So, I'd like to see us change that around if we possibly can.

Note: The exchange began at 9:25 a.m. on the tarmac at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, CA. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

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

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