Ronald Reagan picture

Interview With R.W. Apple, Jr., Gerald M. Boyd, and Bernard Weinraub of the New York Times

March 21, 1986

The Philippines

Q. Thanks very much for seeing us. We appreciate that. We're going to ask several foreign policy questions, and domestic also. I thought we would, possibly, start with the Philippines and that whole area. Sir, several administration officials were quoted as saying that they were disgusted at what they found in Mr. Marcos' luggage when he came to Hawaii. Do you share their surprise about the scale of his overall corruption when he was leader of the Philippines?

The President. Well, I'll tell you, I'm not going to comment on that. I think here, now, we're talking about something that is—there are legalities involved. And I think, rather than comment on that, our interest is in continuing our historic friendship with the Philippines. And I'm going to let the law and justice take its course, and we'll abide by the laws. But also, that will involve not just hearsay and gossip and so forth but a determination of what's actually happened. I'll wait for that.

Q. Do you think he should escape prosecution by courts in the U.S.?

The President. I've said that I think the laws of not only our nation but the Philippine Government and international law, or the laws of whatever country he may go to, should be observed.

Q. With no intervention?

The President. No.

Q. Or special treatment?

The President. That's right.

Q. So you think he should be, in a sense, prosecuted by, if anything

The President. If and when. So, as I say, I'll let the law take its course.

Q. One more question on the Philippines, sir. You said that you wanted to give Mrs. Aquino time to form a new government and create a cabinet and get things rolling. Why have you waited so long and not personally called her?

The President. I don't think there's been any occasion to, and I don't think that we can say that she's through with the process or the business of getting her government underway and going. And we've maintained contact with her through our Ambassador and others. She's still organizing a government. No need to.

Q. Would you like to meet with her, sir, at some point?

The President. If that will improve or continue or help to continue the relations we've always had, fine, I'll do whatever-..

Q. Any prospect of that on your Asian trip?

The President. No, because there we're going to Indonesia, and I'm going to meet with the ASEAN leaders. It's a meeting that was once scheduled and put off. There will be a representative of the Philippine Government as a part of that meeting.

Q. But not she herself?

The President. No, not to my knowledge.

Soviet-U.S. Relations

Q. Sir, on U.S.-Soviet relations, Mr. Gorbachev pledged to you in Geneva last November that he wanted to have a summit, and now he's been seemingly sounding like he really is not interested in it. Do you feel personally deceived?

The President. No, because I don't feel that any decision has been made. There was one government official—not the General Secretary—who discussed with some of our people the possibility of a different date than the June date we'd originally suggested. But that is not formal; there hasn't been—a formal objection to it. And so far, I'm going to continue to operate that we're waiting to hear from them as to—we've extended to, say, June, July. They had suggested possibly later in the fall, and we've called attention to the election that will be going on here and that that will be difficult for us to—

Q. Late November?

The President. I did, the other day, say to someone that we'll possibly, if it went beyond, then, the election and before the end of the year, I don't think that—I'd prefer not to wait that long. That, then, makes it a long time since the previous summit. And I'm still hopeful that it will wind up June or July.

Q. I've got a little broader, sort of more philosophical question, Mr. President. You have a little bit more than 2 years left in your Presidency now, and I know you had wanted to leave a legacy of peace. Are you concerned, in some form, that the time is running out to reach a major breakthrough with the Soviet Union in the peace area?

The President. No, I don't think time is running out to that extent of it being a-you might say a kind of do-or-die moment here. And I guess I'm not surprised that the negotiations haven't been faster than they've been, because if you look back at the pattern of such negotiations with the Soviets, there never has been any speed in those negotiations.

Q. But other Presidents, it seems, have been able to achieve some kind of breakthrough into arms control or some area that they could say really tried to alleviate tensions. You haven't so far.

The President. No, that's right, because of one fundamental difference. The other discussions and the other agreements that have been made and proposed have all had to do with the rate of increase in weaponry. And I said back when I was campaigning that I'd stay at a table as long as it took to see if we couldn't get a reduction in the numbers of weapons. And this has never before been discussed with them. And the very fact that they have made proposals themselves calling for reductions is something new and, I think, something that gives us cause for optimism. Under those other agreements, the effect of some of them—granted that they may have held down the rate of increase—but take from the time of the agreement of SALT II, they've added about 6,000 warheads in that time. Maybe you can call it arms control in one way, but it certainly isn't arms reduction. And arms reduction is what we need.

Q. You sound like you're hopeful on U.S.-Soviet relations?

The President. Yes, because I think that they've got some practical benefits to get from them themselves.

1986 Congressional Elections

Q. Mr. President, I wonder whether I might turn you temporarily toward domestic politics; this is an election year. First, may I ask about realignment, which has been a theme you've followed for a long time, partisan realignment. Do you think that Republican victory in the Senate this year is an essential to getting the kind of partisan realignment that you want? In other words, would Republican loss of the Senate set the cause back a great deal?

The President. Well, it would be a setback. Then there'd be another election for other Senators in 2 more years. I have to say that I would hate to see the loss of the Senate, because I don't believe that we could have achieved the things economically and in other fields that we have achieved if we did not have one House of the Legislature.

Q. To what degree do you intend to involve yourself directly in individual campaigns where Republican candidates are hard-pressed in the next few months?

The President. I'm going to do everything I can on behalf of our candidates and everything that I'm asked to do.

Q. Travel? Speak?

The President. Yes.

Q. If the Republicans were to lose control of the Senate, in what specific areas do you think you would encounter the most trouble? Where would that limit you the most in the rest of your term?

The President. Oh, that would be hard to speculate on. It would depend on who was gone and who was still here. We've had, if you've noticed, in the very beginning-even though we have a majority control of the Senate, most of the major issues have found a bipartisan vote in there, with us losing some of our own Republicans to the other side, but with them, in turn, losing some to us. And that, I think, is a part of the democratic process. The main thing with having the majority, however, is that that gives you the majority and the chairmanship of the committees.

Q. The right to control the agenda to a degree?

The President. Yes. I remember back in California I only had for one brief period—a year or so—a bare majority in both houses of the legislature. But to show you what that difference meant, in that single year, after we attained that bare majority, we passed 41 anticrime bills. All of them had been buried in a committee operated and controlled by the majority until that change where we became the majority; they weren't new bills at all. And strangely enough, those 41 bills that had been lying buried in those committees, once they were brought out in the open on the floor, there weren't very many people that dared to vote against them.

Gun Control

Q. Sir, could I change the subject to the issue of gun control? You, yourself, were seriously wounded, tragically, in that event as well as your Press Secretary, Jim Brady. In light of your own experience, in light of the opposition of various police groups as well as Mrs. Brady to this legislation that's now up on the Hill on gun control, why do you support virtually no limits on gun control at this point?

The President. Well, I don't think that it is a no-limit thing, but I'd like to point something out. Yes, I was shot here in the District of Columbia, where the gun control laws are probably as strict as they are anyplace in the United States, where everything about the possession of that gun and having it on his person was against the law. If you will check those States, such as New York, with all the great gun control laws that they have—check the use of guns in crime in those States against States like some Western States like in Arizona, where there is very little of what we would think is control.

Q. But which is cause and which is effect?

The President. The point that I think is made is that as long as there are guns, the individual that wants a gun for a crime is going to have one and going to get it. The only person who's going to be penalized and have difficulty is the law-abiding citizen, who then cannot have—if he wants the protection of a weapon in his home for home protection. What I think is—rather than gun control of this kind, when I was Governor we passed a law in California that I think is the most effective kind. It controlled—or made more costly—wrong people having guns, criminals in using them. We passed a law there that said that if an individual is convicted of a crime, such as burglary or anything, and had in his or her possession a gun at the time the crime was committed, whether that gun was used or not, add 5 to 15 years to the prison sentence if found guilty.

Now, if you remember back in England some years ago—lately there's been some talk that now we see the English bobbies having guns and all. What has changed? Well, back in another day when they didn't carry guns in England, in the old times, the carrying of a gun in the commission of a crime, you were tried not for the crime that you'd committed; you were tried for murder. It was considered that you had shown the intent to use that weapon by carrying it in the commission of the crime. And therefore, a fellow that was only a burglar said, "Wait a minute. I don't want to get threatened with hanging if I'm caught with a gun in my pocket." So the criminals didn't carry guns, and the police didn't have to carry guns.

Space Program

Q. Mr. President, on another matter, on the shuttle. The shuttle disaster really shocked all of us. But the Soviet Union and some other countries have been moving forward with their space programs. The United States is essentially grounded right now. What do you plan to do to get us back into the space business?

The President. Well, first of all, I think we must go forward until we know exactly what caused this so that there will not be a repeat of it.

Q. Let's not go forward?

The President. Yes. We want to be able to assure those ladies and gentlemen who go up there as astronauts that every provision has been made for their protection and safety, which all of us, more or less, had assumed was true before. But once that's straightened out, then I believe we must go forward with the program. And I think, Jerry, you'll find it was interesting that my first calls to the bereaved families—every one of them said to me: "Please, don't let this program be stopped by this. The program must go forward."

Q. But other countries are already going ahead?

The President. Yes.

Q. Are you concerned that the U.S. is losing ground at this point?

The President. I don't think the period involved here is going to—they were going ahead anyway. And what's wrong with the exploration of space by others? There's been a great cooperation, you know. We've had their people come and go up with ours so that they would have some experience in this field.

Aid for the Nicaraguan Contras

Q. Time to talk about the contras, I guess. You lost yesterday. You said you were going to keep fighting. My first question is: How do you intend to keep fighting beyond the Senate, and what are the prospects in the Senate? What are you going to do after it passes the Senate, if it does, in other words?

The President. Well, first of all, my loss was only the loss of a vote. The people who really lost were the people of Nicaragua, who I think have a sacred right to struggle for freedom. And, yes, I feel badly about this, and I think the outcome was a mistake. But I do know that they have admitted— the House, itself—in fact, the leadership told their own people that there would be another chance to vote on this after the Easter vacation when they came back, that there would be another vote. The Senate is dealing with it now. We've been discussing with the Senate leadership here what they're going to do. And this coming week, they're going to have their vote. Now the Senate votes this. When the House comes back, that Senate bill that has been voted will go to the House. And once again, we'll make an all-out effort to get this passed.

Q. Do you mean that you expect the same bill to go back to the House to be voted on again? You don't expect to have to make any modifications?

The President. We've been discussing with the Senate something we didn't have time to do on this one, and that is my proposed Executive order

Q. Being included in

The President. that I would be willing to see that included as legislation.

Q. But with that exception, you expect essentially the same proposal to go back? You don't feel that you'll have to change the proposal to get it through the House?

The President. There may be minor changes. I don't know just what's on the Senate's mind; they haven't passed their bill yet. But it would have the general format of what we did, yes.

Q. The whole $100 million still?

The President. What?

Q. The whole $100 million?

The President. Yes, yes. And you know, there were many ramifications about the-or restrictions about the use of that. I do know that there were people in the House vote—from my own contact with them-who expressed a wish that my Executive order was legislation. So, that might be enough to change

Q. Do you think that that more or less technical change would be enough to get

The President. Well, just by contact that I had with some individuals and knowing that they voted against this, but things that they'd said in our discussion leads me to believe that some of them will change.

Q. Would you be willing to make any change on the $100 million package or on the timing or on anything else in order to assure House approval the second time around?

The President. I don't think that I should suggest anything of the kind now. This was a very close vote, and I know that there were individuals in there who did not feel sure about their position and the way they voted. There were many people that had some minor thing that they thought could enable them to vote the other way and—

Q. Before there is another House vote, Mr. President, do you have any intention of talking with the Democratic leadership or with others to try to smooth the way a bit for the second go?

The President. Well, it's too soon, I think, for us to come up with a new strategy on this.

Q. Well, let me ask you just one quick question on the old strategy. Some people speaking with the usual anonymity on your own staff, some people—Republicans included in Congress speaking without anonymity-said after the vote yesterday that the rhetoric had been too hot from the White House—mentioned Mr. Buchanan in particular—and criticized it and said that hurt. Do you agree with that?

The President. I don't think that the rhetoric was. I think the rhetoric was played and reported and indeed that the media added in its interpretation of the rhetoric, and it was not fairly portrayed. But I feel very strongly, and I think all of us do, and all that we're pointing out is that every bit of proof and evidence that can be asked for is there that Nicaragua is literally already a satellite of the Communist bloc, and its goal is the continued expansionism of communism worldwide. And.—

Q. I think what some of these people whom I was quoting meant was that a lot of Members of Congress, a significant number of Members of Congress, given the closeness of the vote, felt that their patriotism had been impugned.

The President. And it hadn't. It hadn't. No one's motive was impugned at all. There were efforts to point out that the clear issue here was one of attempting to halt the establishment of a Communist-bloc base in the Americas, with all that that portended, and, on the other hand, to permit the going forward of such a Communist, expansionist move. In other words, this wasn't, as some tried to portray it, this wasn't the usual legislative battle of both having a same goal but differing on the way to reach it. Here were the two goals, and they were separate. And we were trying to call attention to this fact.

Q. What were the goals.-

The President. I think that it was—

Q. —of the Democrats?

The President. I think the—I'll have to tell you, if you talk about shrill rhetoric. I listened on C-SPAN [Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network] to a portion of the debate on the floor and some, not all—I'm not impugning motives at all—but some of the opponents of our program engaged in some of the most scurrilous, personal attacks against me, for example, the most dishonest use of distortions and outright falsehoods that I have heard in a legislative debate.

Q. Why do you think that was done?

The President. I guess they were very hungry for victory. But

Q. You said there were two separate goals, Mr. President, in this debate as opposed to the usual pattern.

The President. No—results.

Q.—of different means to reach the same goals.

The President. No—but results, two different results. To vote one way was to continue to fight against the creation or the continuation of this Communist government. To vote against that was, in effect, to simply say that there it was and we weren't going to do anything about it except sit back and keep asking them to change.

Q. Did-

Q. Well, what's the motivation for that, as you see it? Why would somebody say it's all right to have a Communist government in Central America and we can't do anything about it anyway? Why would somebody do that?

The President. I think all of the specious arguments that were used against us—that this was only a forerunner to my desire to put troops in there. You're looking at an individual that is the last one in the world that would ever want to put American troops into Latin America, because the memory of the Great Colossus of the North is so widespread in Latin America, we'd lose all our friends if we did anything of that kind. And we haven't been asked. What we've been asked for—for people down there who want to try for democracy, who need the tools with which to do the job.

Q. Did these legislators, Congressmen, do you think exceed the boundaries of fairness in their debate?

The President. Yes. And, remember, I'm only talking about several—

Q. Yes.

The President. —in there. There are others.—

Q. Do you care to name names?

The President. What?

Q. Would you care to name names?

The President. No, I'm not going to name their names.

Q. Would you care to exclude any

The President. Why don't you rerun the tape?

Q. But they did, in your mind, exceed the boundaries of fairness?

The President. Yes.

Q. Do you think they'll continue, sir? The President. What?

Q. I mean, you think as the debate continues, that

The President. Well, they feel so strongly, maybe they will when it comes up again-they'll do the same thing. All right. But, again, the fiat declaration that I was going to open a war involving the United States, their fiat declaration that the things that I had said about the situation in Nicaragua were lies—they weren't true.

Well, there is one thing about this job-and even with all regard to the information available to a legislature—the President does have access to all the information there is. Now, unfortunately, some of that information cannot be—or the proof of it cannot be used because it would compromise sources; it would endanger other individuals; and it would render impossible further use of intelligence sources.

Q. I haven't seen you steamed up about anything in a long time as you are on this issue.

The President. Well, the subject came up about shrill rhetoric, and I just thought so far they've only been pointing the finger in one direction, and frankly I think in the wrong direction.

Persian Gulf

Q. Mr. President, another area. Iran has been having recently some successes on the battlefield in its war against Iraq. Are you concerned that Kuwait or Saudi Arabia might now be in jeopardy by Iran?

The President. Oh, I think we have to be concerned about that. You know that earlier on it's been fairly quiet for a time now. And because of actions taken by the Saudis and others to show that they were willing to defend themselves—but, yes, the potential for throwing a match in the powder box is there in the Middle East, and I believe Saudi Arabia has been largely responsible for helping continued stability there in the gulf.

Q. Are they threatened, do you think, by this kind of—would Saudi Arabia be threatened by this—

The President. Well, as you recall, earlier there were some attacks on some ships in their waters and so forth and there were forays into their airspace that made them then establish a patrol and to chase other planes out of their airspace.

Homosexual Rights

Q. Mr. President, can I ask you a New York question? New York City, after considerable debate and controversy, has just approved a bill banning discrimination in housing and jobs for homosexuals. What is your position on that?

The President. Well, I know that this is a very touchy question, and I am one who believes in the rights of the individual-individual freedom. But I do have to question sometimes whether individual rights are being defended in this particular field, freedom of the individual, or whether they are demanding an acceptance of their particular lifestyle that others of us don't demand. For example, should a teacher in a classroom be invoking their personal habits and advocating them to their students as a way of life?

Q. Yes.

The President. Teachers habitually don't do that. Their personal life—

Q. But this bill, I don't think really covers that. It basically guarantees to homosexuals equal treatment in hiring policies and gaining housing, these sorts of things. Essentially applies the same antidiscriminatory measures as are applied to blacks, as to women, to other people. Do you think that's all right?

The President. Well, I've said—but again, I haven't actually involved myself in what this law contains up there, so I don't know what I'm speaking of. But what I'm saying is that how would we feel if a teacher, male or female, a heterosexual, insisted on the right in the classroom to discuss their sexual preferences and why and whether they believed in complete promiscuity or not? We would be quite offended and think that our children should not be exposed to that. Well—

Q. Tax increases, Mr. President.

Q. One minute, would you vote against it, do you think?

The President. What?

Q. If you were a member of the city council, would you have—

The President. I'd have to see what the bill-

Q. Okay.

Q. Just one quick question on tax increase-

The President.—what the bill was. I don't want them discriminated against simply on that basis as to housing and jobs and so forth. I, on the other hand, don't want to give them—

Q. Taxes.

The President.—privileges beyond what the rest of us have.

Taxes/President's Gaffes

Q. This is the last question, so I'll make it a double question. Tax increases—you've got Senate Republicans coming out for a tax increase. Do you have problems with that? And we would like to give you a chance to respond to Jimmy Carter who said some not too favorable things about you in a recent interview with the New York Times. He said you distort things; you exaggerate.

The President. Well, the first thing about the tax thing, I've made it plain. I not only do not believe that a tax increase is needed, I believe it is counterproductive, and it could threaten our economic recovery. And therefore, I am going to oppose a tax increase. Now, we have some revenue increases in our own budget plan, but they are increases not in the amount of revenue we're going to get—that stays revenue neutral. But they are increases in fees, for example, that will be paid in return for certain services that presently are being paid for by all the taxpayers. We think it is only fair to do this. We also have in there some sales of assets that we believe the Government would do well to get out of certain ownerships and businesses it's in. But the total revenue remains neutral because those increases are offset by loopholes and so forth—things that we close.

Now, I'm afraid I'm not too familiar with—can you be specific? What are one or two of the things that he might have said?

Q. Well, he said that you have a habit of saying things.

Mr. Speakes. You have to talk fast because you've got folks waiting for you.

The President. Yes.

Q. Okay, he said that you have a habit of saying things that you know are not true, basically.

The President. Well, maybe he's just been too much victimized by that tendency of the media for a time to accuse me of gaffes and that I am guilty of saying things that aren't true. Do you want to know something about that?

Q. Yes.

The President. Anyone, of course, if you're talking figures or something, you're apt to misspeak, say something. And I'm, I suppose, as guilty as anyone of that. But most of the things they've called gaffes—a great majority of them—I have been able to document that I am right and they are wrong.

And one day there was a press conference in which, after it—I didn't know that you fellows all talked to each other so much—but every story of the press conference came out with six, all the same and six in order, grievous errors that I had made. I can document—but everybody told me I'd be sounding defensive if I made it public—I can document that I was correct in five of the six; and in the sixth, it was kind of a tossup because I had made a reference to the marriage tax penalty and that in our tax program, I used the word "eliminate." Well, "eliminate"—yes, when the tax program was fully implemented—was correct. But at that point, I should have said "reduced" because it was phased in—what we had done, as so many elements of that tax program were.

Q. So, you don't think you lie all the time? [Laughter]

The President. No. So, I don't have a habit of saying things that aren't true.

Q. Thank you.

The President. Why didn't he just accuse me of lying? [Laughter]

California Senate Race

Q. What do you hear from home about the chances of beating Cranston? Anything?

The President. I understand from all reports that he is probably as vulnerable as any Senate candidate. Now, our problem is you've got virtually a football team of candidates against him. How this is going to react in—

Q. Sort out.

The President.—sorting it out and getting it out

Mr. Speakes. Don't forget, you're still on the record here.

The President. That's all right. I think I- [laughter] —he is vulnerable.

Q. You can trust us. [Laughter]

Q. Okay. Thank you very much.

Note: The interview began at 11:40 a.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. Larry M. Speakes was Principal Deputy Press Secretary to the President, and Patrick J. Buchanan was Assistant to the President and Director of Communications. The transcript of the interview was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on March 23.

Ronald Reagan, Interview With R.W. Apple, Jr., Gerald M. Boyd, and Bernard Weinraub of the New York Times Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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