George Bush photo

Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters

January 21, 1989

The President. Good morning, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International].

First Day as President

Q. How are you? How does it feel to be President?

The President. It feels just fine -- setting in now, after the glamour and excitement of the inauguration. It's a great joy to have my mother here, the leader of our family, a great joy to have our ten kids over there last night. One got sick, so I had the duty at about 6 a.m. this morning. Ellie LeBlond -- pumped a half a Tylenol into her, and she's looking good. Ate two pancakes -- what you'd call a rapid recovery.

Q. Which one was ill, sir?

The President. Ellie, Doro's daughter, the Thousand Points of Light kid that ran across in the commercial. No, but it's so exciting over there and just a joy to have the family all there. They'll start leaving. We have a luncheon today with 240.

Mrs. Bush. Oh, really?

The President. Yes, 240 -- family.

Mrs. Bush. Oh, my Lord!

Q. Are you responsible for all that? Are you responsible for 240?

Mrs. Bush. No. [Laughter]

Q. What are your thoughts, Mrs. Bush?

Mrs. Bush. What did you say?

Q. What are your thoughts about today?

Mrs. Bush. Oh, I think it's the most exciting day of my life so far. It's just been wonderful. Everything has been perfect. Everything is so beautifully arranged.

The President. This is the one that told me not to brag about myself and to bend my knees when I volleyed. Right here, you're looking at her. [Laughter]

American Hostages

Q. Mr. President, you seem to be holding out an olive branch to Iran or the Shi'ites in terms of Terry Anderson and the hostages. Were you hinting a movement there, or a change of policy, or -- --

The President. No, Helen, I don't think it's a change of policy, but I wanted to be sure I mentioned in that speech my absolute determination not to forget either category: POW - MIA or these hostages. And I wanted that right in there. It was one of the few specific points in an otherwise thematic speech. And in terms of your question, I hope it was heard around the world. You know, we keep hearing rumors that countries want to have improved relations with the United States. I wanted to make clear to them that good will begets good will. I also know enough about the situation to think, in fairness, that because of the nature of the hostage-holding you can't finger any one country for holding Americans hostage against their will. But people have, in the past, facilitated the release of our citizens, and I'd love to see that happen again. And I won't forget it. Having said that, we're not going to escalate the currency of holding Americans hostage. We're not going to have people feel that we are going to make concessions in order to free those precious lives. We simply can't.

Q. You talk about a fist, sir.

The President. Yes. That is a broad term to indicate that the United States will stay strong, and occasionally Presidents are called upon to use force in one situation or another around the world. And this President will be no different. It wasn't in the context of the people held against their will necessarily.

Relations With Congress

Q. Do you plan any official business today, Mr. President?

The President. There just is -- no, today -- --

Q. Like the ethics order, for instance.

The President. -- -- I haven't talked to John Sununu. We had one or two formal things we were going to do, I think.

Mr. Sununu. Yes, but ethics is not today.

The President. Ethics won't be today. We're going to talk to the leadership early next week -- the bipartisan leadership of the Congress -- on how we proceed on the budget. We're contemplating how we best make clear to the Hill my determination to do one of the things I talked about yesterday and try to reach for bipartisanship in foreign affairs. And so, we're thinking of a meeting that will say to those who have shown the most interest in that in Congress, Look, we're ready. The President has unique responsibilities under the Constitution for foreign policy and for the national security. But we want, through consultation, to have the Congress in as much as possible on the takeoff. We've got to figure out how we do that.

There was a very good letter sent to me before I was elected President by David Boren and Senator Danforth -- Senator Boren and Senator Danforth. I'm sure that has been released. There's been some editorial comment on it, and that caught my imagination. And I wrote him back and said, "Okay, let's talk about it." We can't do it one way. The President has certain unique responsibilities, and I intend to carry those out. But we can, I think, do a better job of having the Congress understand initiatives that we might take. Certainly, in some difficult areas I need their advice. I welcome it, but I'd love to think we could go back to the Vandenberg days, partisanship stopping at the water's edge. But I'm not naive. I know they're very difficult.

One thing, however, having said all those sweet and nice things, I am concerned, as a lot of Congressmen are, as a lot of Senators are, about the erosion of Presidential power, and I have been. And so, I want to talk with reasonable Members in the Senate and the House, Democrat and Republican. Some have told me they share that concern. And I say, what do we do about it? How do we work with you people in consultation not only to avoid the erosion of power but to reestablish in the Presidency the firm hand that I think the Constitution gave the President?

Q. Well, the Constitution also lets Congress declare war.

The President. Well, that's right.

Q. And Vietnam was the part of the not keeping Congress really informed as they made these moves. So, don't you think that what you're really saying is, you want something different from the Reagan administration.

The President. I'm saying I've just spelled out what I want for the Bush administration.

Inaugural Address

Q. Sir, there was criticism of your speech that there wasn't any meat in it, that it set a tone, but that you didn't have any specific initiatives. What do you say to that?

The President. I haven't heard too much criticism about that. I've been very pleased with the wonderful -- well, put it this way -- very overly, perhaps, generous response, at least from the Members of the Hill. But I say, stay tuned. February 9th we'll have something a little different, if that's the date that's settled on.

Q. Is that the State of the Union?

The President. Yes. That'll be up there with the Congress.

Communications With Foreign Leaders

Q. Mr. President, often, a President on his first day makes some kind of communications with foreign leaders. Have you spoken or sent notes to any of the allies or to Mr. Gorbachev, or has he tried to contact you?

The President. Well, he has contacted me through a nice, very generous letter, pledging to work for world peace, something of that nature. And clearly I will respond not only to that communication from Mr. Gorbachev but to expressions of good will from all around the world. It's been very heartwarming, and I want to be sure we do get these responses out.

President Reagan's Farewell Note

Q. What did the President's note say?

The President. Grab it out of the drawer there, Tim. Tim, could you get the note from the President there?

Mr. Fitzwater. Wait. Wait. Let's restore the lights here. The stills are okay.

The President. Am I violating any rules here, Marlin?

Q. They're your rules, sir. They're your rules.

The President. Oh, I set the rules. Okay, but we've established one thing, haven't we: that this is not a "photo op."

Q. That's right.

Q. Whatever you say, sir.

The President. No, that was -- Marlin, help me.

Mr. Fitzwater. That's right. We've talked earlier and said you'd have a chance for a discussion here and questions and -- --

Q. We don't care what you call it, just so you answer the questions.

The President. No, no. I care what I call it because I don't want to demean your profession further by making you raise your voice, Helen. I love it when it's tranquil and peaceful like this.

Q. We do, too.

The President. I know you do.

Q. I know about Presidential power.

The President. Let me see if I can -- [laughter]. And I know about UPI [United Press International] -- [laughter] -- let's see whether I dare read you this:

"Dear George" -- this is from President Reagan -- "You'll have moments when you want to use this particular stationery. Well, go to it. George, I treasure the memories we share and wish you all the very best. You'll be in my prayers. God bless you and Barbara. I'll miss our Thursday lunches. Ron"

The heading on the paper is "Don't let the turkeys get you down." So, nobody here should take personal to this at all. I mean, this is a broad, ecumenical statement: "Do not let the turkeys get you down."

Q. That's not written.

The President. Don't know who he's speaking about there. And it shows a bunch of turkeys trying to get an elephant down. And it says "Boynton" on the bottom.

First Day as President

Q. How does it feel, sir, to be in the Oval Office the first day?

The President. It's wonderful. I can't wait to get to work -- I mean, serious work. And we're going to do some here today with the Chief of Staff -- go over some. But it really feels wonderful, and I know how to begin. And we're going to start right in Monday, and then we'll have a good, full schedule on Tuesday. And I couldn't wait to come over here this morning. I did because we had some people, you know, come through the White House just to symbolically open the door of the people's house. I must say that was kind of interesting, the expressions. I was saying to myself, Now, what does it take for somebody to stay awake all night to come into the White House? What kind of people are they? Well, they were all different kinds of people: a lot of kids, a lot of young people, some older, some with their children, a couple of families. Three had been to one of these balls -- black ties -- and just pitched -- you know, like we used to do when we were little, maybe -- slept out there. But the common thread was that they felt they were lucky to be there, which amazed me, in a sense, because I thought we were so lucky to have people that would care that much.

Q. Do you feel the same way, sir?

The President. A lot of people -- I do. I do. All right.

Q. Have you gotten lost?

The President. What?

Q. Have you gotten lost?

The President. I got lost in the White House yesterday evening when we came in, trying to find a couple of kids' rooms, yes.

Q. Thank you.

The President. Thank you all.

Q. And there was one for every room?

The President. Ten children. I mean -- five kids and ten spouses and ten grandchildren, and then Paula, who has lived with us for 29 years.

Q. It's a nice hotel, isn't it?

The President. It's unbelievable, Helen. It's unbelievable.

Note: The exchange began at 9:09 a.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. John H. Sununu was Chief of Staff to the President. In his remarks, the President referred to Timothy McBride, Assistant to the President, and Marlin Fitzwater, Assistant to the President and Press Secretary.

George Bush, Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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