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Interview With Bob Orr of WBNS - TV in Columbus, Ohio

November 25, 1991

The Economy

Q. Mr. President, thanks for seeing us today. I want to ask you about the economy, sir. Americans say, almost across-the-board, it's the one issue they care most about going into 1992. Yet, their perception is that you haven't paid much attention to it. Is that a fair criticism?

The President. No, it's not a fair criticism. But I recognize that's the perception of some. I think we're getting caught up a little in the political polemics for 1992. I think the political opposition is the game plan, that's to convince the American people that I haven't and I'm not concerned about that. I am. We put forward a really good growth package, again, in my State of the Union message. We've been plugging for certain parts of it. But it's difficult when you don't control the Congress, when you've got ideas different than those who control the Congress.

So I don't think it's a fair perception. But much more important than that perception is for me to identify to the American people with the concept: I do care. I am concerned about it. Some things are pretty fair; a lot of things are not right. And then make proposals, and try to get them enacted, that will help people. This is a people problem. Some people are hurting, and I want to try to help.

Q. Two-thirds of the Americans questioned in a new CBS-New York Times poll say they don't approve of the way you're handling the economy. What do you think that means? What do they want to hear from you?

The President. I think it means when times are tough on people that the President has to take some heat. I think it also shows that, quite a bigger percentage, they don't approve of what Congress is doing. My view of it, though, it isn't time for blame. It's a time to try to get things done. And we have been trying.

As I say, if Congress had enacted my growth proposal some time ago, I think we could have avoided if not all the grief that we're in, a lot of it. So I've got to now take the ideas I've got, add to them, take a look, a hard look, at this economy as soon as Congress -- just before Congress comes back, and we'll have a big event, the State of the Union message, and then propose: Here's what we must do now. Let's put politics aside, and let's get it done.

I think it's going to require that, because we've tried going up there with sound ideas and getting overwhelmed by the numbers of the opposition in the Congress.

Legislative Initiatives

Q. Could you give me an example, sir, of some of the ideas that you've put forth and they've turned down?

The President. Yes. IRA's, for example, that would help on first-time homebuyers; capital gains that I really believe would help get people to work and create new businesses. We've got a good transportation bill. Parts of that may pass today. But that's job-intensive. That's something that would really help.

I'll tell you another one that I feel strongly about that's just been stonewalled, and that is banking reform. You see, I think we need to make our banking institutions not only more sound but more competitive, so we can get out and loan more money. So there's four of the ideas that I think would be very helpful had the Congress enacted them.

Q. You mentioned the capital gains tax cut that you've been proposing for some time. Some people see that as a rich man's tax cut, and they're saying why doesn't the President do something for the middle class.

The President. You see, I think it would do something for the middle class. I think it would do in 1992, 1991, that which it did in '78 and '79: stimulate the creation of new businesses and new jobs. It's not these big companies that are the major employers. It's smaller business. And so I think it would help.

Incidentally, I notice that several of the Democratic challengers are now talking about capital gains. I wish they'd use their influence with those who control the Congress to get them in, but maybe they will during the campaign season. But see, I don't accept that it's a tax cut for the rich, divide class, divide American society into classes. I think it's good, sound tax policy for entrepreneurs, for those who want to take risks, good for homebuyers. I'll tell you what it would do, raise the value of homes, as a matter of fact.

So we'll keep plugging away on it. But maybe I have to do better in getting people to understand that the political charge, that it's a tax cut for the rich, is just wrong.

Q. You mentioned that in the State of the Union we'll hear some specifics about what you're going to do to get the economy going again. The guy who's unemployed and whose benefits might be running out says, "That's going to be in January. What can he do for me now?" What would you tell that person?

The President. I would tell him we may still be able to get things done now. Congress is still there. I'd like to say that in the last few days we might get a transportation bill that would help. It would be job-intensive. I think on a broader scale a lot of the things we're talking about longer run, education and these things, will help. I think that the unemployment compensation benefits is of immediate help. And we did that one, incidentally, by not busting the budget and putting further tax burden on all the Americans that are working. We beat back a bad idea to get a good one. So, I think that's the most immediate to people that are out of work, would be these unemployment compensation benefits. I think that will help.

Public Opinion Polls

Q. You brought up the campaign. We haven't heard an official announcement from the Bush-Quayle team yet, but we know that's forthcoming. Your approval rating after the Persian Gulf war was an astronomical 88 to 90 percent. Yet, the new survey says it's down to 51 percent, and it's dropped something like 37 points in 8 months. Do you think you are politically vulnerable?

The President. No.

Q. Do you think the American public feels that you might be? Because fewer than 50 percent of the people in this survey asked, this is the New York Times-CBS poll, fewer than 50 percent believe that you will be reelected.

The President. I don't believe these polls. I didn't believe them when they were 86 percent, either. That was euphorically high and that was because people saw this Desert Storm reawakening the pride of America. I think you've got to look at the conditions at the time. I think people, when they are worried about the economy and then they got a lot of political record to add to those worries, of course, I think there's some concerns. I've learned, though, not to comment on individual polls. I didn't get into the euphoria of 86 percent. And I would simply cite that that is not too bad, given the economic problems we're facing.

Q. You would agree that the numbers would indicate that there are a number of people that are concerned about the direction of your domestic policy.

The President. Well, I'm concerned about the economy. You don't have to go any further than me. And I wish that many of the ideas we've put forward had been enacted. But I'm going to keep fighting for them.

National Drug Strategy

Q. I want to talk about crime for a minute. It's a big problem in our town. Columbus is on a record murder pace like many other cities. And the police tell us a lot of it can be traced right back to the prevalence of drugs in the community. Some people are hopeless about this, saying we cannot win this war on drugs and, therefore, the war on crime. What is your personal view of that?

The President. Mine is that we can't be hopeless about it. We've got a good national drug strategy that's beginning to work. I don't know if you've seen the numbers on use of narcotics. It's going down. The interdiction problem is better. But there's two things that we've got to do. One of them is continue on education. I'm talking in addition to rehabilitation. But education is very important. Then we've got to pass legislation that will be stronger in support of our police officers, tougher on the criminal, more sympathetic to the victim of crime.

And there's another area where we have been fighting diligently in the Congress trying to get that done. And the American people there want it overwhelmingly. But it doesn't seem to be happening. So I've got to keep pounding on the Congress, taking my case to the American people and saying, "Don't despair. We're making some progress here." But we've got to win this war. And I'm not going to give up until we do win the war.

John Sununu

Q. And I want to ask you about your inner circle of advisers. There's been quite a bit of speculation over the weekend about the status of your Chief of Staff John Sununu. How does he stand with George Bush today?

The President. He stands fine. You know something, I've been in Columbus for a few hours, had a chance to visit with some people, the Committee of 100 and students and some teachers. This is the first question I've got on that. And I think people are more interested about the first of this: What can you do to help people that are hurting? What's your program on crime or transportation, rather than the inside, what I call the inside-the-beltway belief in going -- chase, running down all these rumors. But I think we've got a good team. What I want to do is see us make more headway with the Congress in getting our sound legislative proposals through.

Q. Let me just follow up quickly on the John Sununu question. Are you saying then when he stands fine that he is a firm member of the Bush-Quayle in '92?

The President. Sure. And I'm saying, look, how I organize the White House in terms of people, we'll sort that out. And I've got a lot of confidence in him. But we've been blessed actually, when you look over your shoulder at previous administrations, about not having too much what I call internecine warfare. And I've also learned when there's kind of a firestorm out there of the nature there may be swirling around, it's better just to calm things down, get on about the Nation's business -- how do you help them.

Columbus Anniversary Celebration

Q. And in the 15 seconds I have left, we're going to host an international floral festival in 1992 called Ameriflora. We have the Santa Maria downtown. Can we expect to see the President here as one of our guests?

The President. Is this a firm invitation? I mean, I don't know what -- --

Q. I guess I can put it out there as an invitation.

The President. Listen, I love this town. A lot of people don't -- they think of me as an Easterner or a Texan. My father was born in Columbus, Ohio, and grew up here. So we have some distant roots. And we'll just have to wait and see. But I wish the city well. I wish the State well. It's going to be marvelous, the celebration, 500-year celebration. Whether I come or not, it will be a great success because I know the spirit of Columbus.

Q. Mr. President, thank you.

The President. Thank you very much for coming.

Note: The interview began at 12:35 p.m. in the chorus room of the Veterans Memorial Auditorium. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this interview.

George Bush, Interview With Bob Orr of WBNS - TV in Columbus, Ohio Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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