Ronald Reagan picture

Interview With Katherine Lewis of the Houston Post About the Vice President

April 29, 1983

Ms. Lewis. [Inaudible]—how it's worked out. You two really didn't know each other. At the time of the convention, even, did you two know each other well?

The President. We had met, of course. But I could say, no—[inaudible].

Ms. Lewis. There were a lot of stories at that time there was some reluctance on your part to select him.

The President. Yes, I have to admit that. But the Lord was watching out for me.

Ms. Lewis. How has it worked out?

The President. What?

Ms. Lewis. How has it worked out—the relationship between the two of you?

The President. I don't believe from—looking from the outside, I don't believe there's ever been a better relationship or a working combination between the President and Vice President than we have had and that we have now.

Ms. Lewis. And how did that come about? What made it work?

The President. [Inaudible] For one thing, I've always believed, and did when I was Governor, that the Vice President is sort of like an executive vice president in a corporation. He's part of the team and makes a great contribution. And I must say, George is—he's a part of everything we do in policy-making and carrying out the policy and he's—believe me, he works hard. And his experience in the past in the CIA and in the field of diplomacy, as well as in Congress, have been invaluable.

Ms. Lewis. I have been told that he is, particularly in foreign affairs, and obviously his recent trips reflect that in foreign affairs, and his trips sort of reflect an increased role there. Is that

The President. Oh, yes. Yes. We're together in every briefing and every National Security Council meeting that has to do with those affairs.

Ms. Lewis. I've also been told that it's not just Jim Baker, who obviously was his long time friend, but even the Californians have come to recommend that he talk to you about certain things, that his advice is respected and that—

The President. Yes, yes.

Ms. Lewis. by them. By staff, as well as by you?

The President. Yes. Usually, I'm a little ahead of them. I've asked for it before they tell me. He and I, we try—in addition to everything else, we're in Cabinet meetings and everything there together—but even so, then just the two of us try to have lunch at least once a week in the office.

Ms. Lewis. He, of course, will not tell me what those conversations are because that's a policy of his. He doesn't talk about what you talk about. Are there any examples you would feel free to tell me, of the kinds of conversations you have with him, the kinds of talk that goes on at those lunches?

The President. Let me just say that just in addition to the conversation that you have about the overall situation in the executive branch, whatever is the policy matter or the thing that—there's always something hanging over you where a decision has to be made and, yes, we talk those things out.

Ms. Lewis. Do you talk staff problems? Do you ever talk staff problems with him?

The President. Sometimes.

Ms. Lewis. What about a personal relationship between the two of you? Is that there, too?

The President. Yes.

Ms. Lewis. What's it like?

The President. I think we like each other. I know I like him very much, and he and Barbara and—yes, they're

Ms. Lewis. Do you see them socially much?

The President. Yes, yes.

Ms. Lewis. You and the Vice President don't really share the same sports. You're a horseback rider and he's tennis player, but I understand you have at least once been

The President. and a boater.

Ms. Lewis. And a—right. But he has been horseback riding with you?

The President. No.

Ms. Lewis. No?

The President. No.

Ms. Lewis. No. Okay, my information is wrong on that, okay.

What about the conservative opposition to Bush? Have you seen that diminish? Has he won some people over in the last 2 1/2 years?

The President. I think very definitely yes. And if he hasn't, then it's their fault, because he has really been, without any reservations, a total team player.

Ms. Lewis. He tells me that there really are no basic differences on broad issues between the two of you. Do you—

The President. I don't recall any.

Ms. Lewis. [Inaudible]

The President. No.

Ms. Lewis. Perhaps nuances here and there which he does not speak publicly of, but on broad issues?

The President. We seem to be together on all that we're trying to accomplish.

Ms. Lewis. Are you aware that his schedule is taking him to Nashua, New Hampshire, this evening? [Laughter]

The President. Yes, but I must say, he's-and on that, he is most unselfish and generous in what he does both for the party, on party events, and out there in the hustings, selling the things that we're trying to do.

Ms. Lewis. Have things come along between the two of you that you could joke about Nashua now? Have you ever joked about some of those campaign—you were opponents who ultimately became a team. Can—

The President. I don't think—no, not really, we haven't. Oh, I remember one joke. We were having a kind of a sample briefing. I can't describe it too much, because it had to do with security and kind of practicing what and where. And there was a certain threat, and those who had put this situation together told me that I was in the White House and that-changer coming. And then they said to George that he was in a plane, and I'm there and target number one, and George said, "What am I doing in a plane?" And I said, "You're coming home from a fund-raiser." And then I got to thinking for a second, and I turned to him and I said, "George, I'm there in the White House where, you know, it can happen. You're in a—I thought I won." [Laughter]

Ms. Lewis. But there is a comfortableness between you.

The President. Oh, yes.

Ms. Lewis. It's relaxed. None from the campaign incidents, as always happen in every primary race.

The President. No.

Ms. Lewis. That's behind.

The President. That—all. There's no hangover of any kind.

Well, I think in part the whole thing that took place at the convention went a long way toward changing that. Just as I say, the Lord was watching out for me.

Ms. Lewis. When would you say the relationship actually started to click? You didn't see each other, I suspect, that much during the campaign.

The President. Well, we did to the, you know, the thing of having meetings and so forth, coordinating. And it was already working then. You'll remember during the campaign he made the trip to China.

Ms. Lewis. And that is about the only thing that I remember that caused sort of a major flap in terms of—the signals were crossed on that trip during the campaign as to what he was saying and what you were saying. And

The President. I think there was—not a misunderstanding between us, but there was a misunderstanding about where we were on this. But there was never any difference on our part but that we were pledged to the support of the Taiwan Initiative.

Ms. Lewis. Does he influence you on policy on some occasions?

The President. Well, I could say that about all of them, because my way of doing business that I brought from California is not one in which a Cabinet member presents a case and everyone else remains silent rather than step on his turf. It's more like a board of directors. I want input from all sides, every shade of opinion. And then the only difference between that and a board of directors meeting is, I don't take a vote. I know that I have to make the decision. But everyone speaks up and presents views, and out of that is where I get what I need to know.

Ms. Lewis. Does he have as much authority with you as Mondale did with Carter?

The President. Well, now, I don't know what authority Mondale had with Carter. But we sit there as equals, except that we both know that I have to make the decisions.

Ms. Lewis. He has walk-in privileges to your office at any time-

The President. Yes, yes.

Ms. Lewis.—and uses that privilege.

The President. Yes.

Ms. Lewis. You say you think there's never been a team quite like this.

The President. I don't think there has.

Ms. Lewis. What does that mean in 1984? I suggest you're not going to announce to me your plans, but is there any reason to believe if you did run you would be making a change in running mates?

The President. No, I—you don't break up a combination that's working.

Ms. Lewis. Is that a firm commitment?

The President. As far as I'm concerned. I hope he feels the same way.

Ms. Lewis. So if you run, he will be your running mate in 1984. No doubts? No questions?

The President. No question in my mind about that.

Ms. Lewis. And the reason for that is-what? Loyalty? But what besides loyalty?

The President. Because it—as I say, the relationship and the job that he's done. I don't think that I can recall many Vice Presidents who have been as involved and much a part of things as he has.

Ms. Lewis. How helpful is he to you on the Hill? In legislative battles? Close votes? He has a lot of friends up there that

The President. Oh, yes. Oh, you bet. And he's a great help.

Ms. Lewis. Do you remember any particular votes that he worked the phones—as well as you, of course?

The President. Yes, there have been a number of them. All of those tough ones.

Ms. Lewis. Any recently that come to mind?

The President. They're going on right now and will be again on the budget and all.

Ms. Lewis. Have you and he talked about if you were to run, that he would be your running mate?

The President. No.

Ms. Lewis. So, you have no commitment from him that he would be willing to

The President. It's up to him.

Ms. Lewis. Had you really thought it would work out this well?

The President. I have to say that the way events took place at Detroit at the convention, I had a very definite feeling when it finally came down that way that that's the way it was supposed to be.

Ms. Lewis. In the personal as well as professional?

The President. Yes.

Ms. Lewis. You tell each other jokes. You enjoy each other's company.

The President. Oh, yes. Yes, I found that he likes them as well as I do, so we exchange material.

Ms. Lewis. He tells me you not always talk matters of state, that sometimes you just talk as friends, about family and about—

The President. Oh, yes.

Ms. Lewis. the hostages coming home, sentimental things.

The President. Yes, I'd be—particularly-such as those lunches and all. Oh, there are many times that it's just the way business associates or anyone would talk..

Ms. Lewis. The last one was last Thursday, yesterday. Do you happen to remember anything that came up you wouldn't mind sharing with me?

The President. What happened yesterday?

Ms. Lewis. The day after your New York trip and the day after your speech.

The President. Oh, I know. I think we had to miss yesterday. That happens sometimes.

Ms. Lewis. But at a previous one, do you happen to remember recent—like, for example, did you talk to him about going out to the airport, out to Andrews to meet those families, those

The President. Yes. And sometimes it's discussions of when there are visiting foreign ministers and so forth, that he will meet with them, perhaps, or entertain them while I'm doing something else, in addition to participating in the meetings together. And then, he'll bring me up to date on those things they've talked about. But also it is true that many times it's family and discussions and just general conversation.

Ms. Lewis. He'd be an asset to you, I would think, in some areas that perhaps you've had some problems with—blacks, Hispanics, labor—areas the administration would like to improve in. Is that an accurate assessment?

The President. [Inaudible]

Ms. Lewis. Would that outweigh any conservative opposition to him?

The President. I can't believe that there's much of that left, because his record has been so obvious.

Ms. Lewis. It's not easy being a Vice President, many people have said.

The President. Well—

Ms. Lewis. It's not easy being a Vice President, many people have said. Do you think he can do 4 more years of the kind of rigorous, on-the-road—and then also not-while he obviously has been totally loyal to you, another 4 years of representing someone? Does he have the kind of personality that could—

The President. No, I think we get along just fine. But it would be his decision to make. I understand that, that there could come times when someone says, "Enough. Enough already." But I've been very conscious of what could be the difficulties in that, because there's no—tried very hard to minimize them.

Ms. Lewis. You said you've done everything you possibly could, as well as your staff. Is it true there virtually have been no problems with George Bush and your staff?

The President. Not a problem.

Ms. Lewis. If you had to name one area, what is the area he helps you the most in?

The President. It's so general, I don't think I could pin it down to one. That's like asking two fellows in a football game on the same team what part of the game did—and under the best—and it's just been a constant partnership.

Ms. Lewis. He also is playing an active role on the travel schedule, and that's something that—on the travel schedule?

The President. Yes.

Ms. Lewis. In a sense, is he your eyes and ears at times or—he has a little more freedom than you do

The President. Yes.

Ms. Lewis. in terms of getting out.

The President. He tells me experiences he's had out there, reactions of audiences, and so forth.

Ms. Lewis. You were pleased with the political appearances he made in '82 on behalf of the party.

The President. Yes, very much so.

Ms. Lewis. On another matter, you're headed into Houston. As you probably know, there's been a lot of talk about mass transit funding in Houston, and some disagreement as to what this administration promised during the gas tax. Can you share anything

The President. Well, no, only to tell you that at the moment that's in our Department of Transportation, and Elizabeth Dole, the Secretary of Transportation, has not yet come to us with any recommendation. And we're certainly giving it full consideration, and I am waiting to hear what the recommendation will be.

Ms. Lewis. Do you have any idea when that might be coming?

The President. Well, I would think it would be—I don't know. Maybe Jim [James A. Baker III, Chief of Staff and Assistant to the President] has an idea better than mine as to when—

Mr. Baker. I'm sorry. I—

The President. when Liz—when Libby Dole.

Ms. Lewis. I asked when Elizabeth Dole—[inaudible].

Mr. Baker. I don't think we have a time frame on it, Kathy, no. I don't think we can give you a specific time frame.

Ms. Lewis. Your personal position is you believe in the idea of new starts. You believe in the idea of funding new systems, new transit systems. Houston is prepared to pay its own operating costs. It's prepared to pay 56 percent of—

The President. I know that.-

Ms. Lewis.—to start—

The President. Well, everyone, I think, has to be treated individually. This one, of course, is unusual in the amount of local and private support for it, but it is a rather unusual situation, of course. It reflects something I believe in: the local autonomy and the private sector.

Mr. Baker. Those funds, Mr. President, the gas tax funds, you will recall, were going to be carefully allocated between maintenance and new starts, and it's a question of exact allocation.

Ms. Lewis. [Inaudible]—how the list is going—[inaudible].

Mr. Baker. It's a question of determining what the proper allocations should be.

Ms. Lewis. One more, last question on Bush. I sort of asked you this before, but I'm not sure I understood your answer. You really have been able to put behind the primary race of 1980 and—

The President. Yes, completely, because I think we're friends.

Ms. Lewis. And why has this worked out for you two when it could have been what many have called a mismatch at the time, when other Vice Presidencies haven't worked out?

The President. Well, I don't want to seem to denigrate anyone else or anything, but maybe in part because of the 8 years in California. You know, a great many of our Presidents have come from other areas of government, but a Governor, in reality, is about the closest as a job, a governorship, to the Presidency that you can have in politics. And so for 8 years I had a lieutenant governor

Ms. Lewis. [Inaudible]—and you knew what your relationship was.

The President. made him an active part of the administration and the Cabinet process and all. And it worked. And maybe there's been less that—but it had never entered my mind that if I got this job, that I wouldn't do the same thing with the Vice President.

Ms. Lewis. You are a very secure person. And that's why you were willing to bring in a former opponent as the Vice President, staff members who came from other campaigns. Is that accurate? Is that an accurate assessment?

The President. That's a hard one for me—

Ms. Lewis. For you to answer. Okay.

The President. for me to answer. Somebody else should answer. I can—all I can say is that I sleep well.

Ms. Lewis. Thank you very much.

Note: The interview took place on board Air Force One as the President was traveling from Washington, D.C., to Houston, Tex.

As printed above, this item follows the text of the White House press release, which was released on May 2.

Ronald Reagan, Interview With Katherine Lewis of the Houston Post About the Vice President Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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