Tallahassee, Florida Interview With a Correspondent From the Florida News Network.
REPORTER. It's nice to have you in Florida, sir.
THE PRESIDENT. I'm glad to be back.
CUBAN-HAITIAN REFUGEE SITUATION THE PRESIDENT'S ROLE
Q. I'd like to ask you a couple of questions, first of all, about the refugee problems as many south Floridians see the problem now.
THE PRESIDENT. All right.
Q. Some observers feel the $100 million refugee appropriation is nothing more than a token gesture by the Government; more importantly, that the Government failed to act responsibly and decisively in handling the refugees. In looking back, how would you have handled it differently?
THE PRESIDENT. There's no way I could have handled it differently. The law under which I was operating was designed to handle refugees who had been screened in an orderly fashion ahead of time, before they ever arrived on our shores. The law did not contemplate and did not give me the authority to act in a way where several hundred or several thousand each day were arriving here directly from their former home, of Cuba primarily. As a matter of fact, I probably stretched the law a little bit in allotting emergency funds, over which I did have some control, to alleviate the problem financially in Dade County and other affected areas.
We proposed to the Congress months ago legislation which would permit me to have money available to pick up the burden from Florida, and this $100 million is designed to alleviate the financial problem. We also have flexibility on how much of this cost to absorb by the Federal Government under the present law, and I've decided that it ought to be 100 percent.
Florida has responded well, in the tradition of our Nation, to people seeking freedom. And I want to make sure that everyone understands this is a national problem for which I personally, as President, assume responsibility. We'll still have some problems in the future, but I think the partnership that's been formed and the close relationship that we've developed, with almost daily consultations between myself and the Governor, local officials in south Florida, particularly, and the Florida congressional delegation, will stand us in good stead in the future.
We've tried to handle this in a way, understanding the humanitarian aspects involved. We've not made a political football out of it. We've been very careful not to demagogue this issue. And in my judgment, the Florida officials and I have worked very closely and harmoniously under the most difficult circumstances, not covered at all by the previous American laws.
THE CONGRESSIONAL ROLE
Q. You say yourself as President have—
THE PRESIDENT. Yes.
Q. —assumed the full responsibility. How about the Congress? They have to play a role in this, perhaps more directly than yourself, even.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, the Congress has now passed authorization and appropriation laws, working very closely with me, that permits this financial burden to be assumed by the Federal Government, and that will be done.
Q. People in south Florida are concerned that—what happens now in terms of the continued education for the refugees and possibly future resettlement of refugees, in terms of more appropriations should it be needed?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, we'll get more appropriations if necessary to continue this process that I've already initiated, and I think the Congress has learned a lesson, too. It won't take so long in the future to pass the necessary laws. This legislation would have been passed earlier, but it was attached to the foreign aid bill as a vehicle in the legislative process. That bill is still in conference committee. We have not yet got it passed. So we had to attach this legislation to an education bill just to get it through the Congress in a hurry before the Congress recessed.
Also, I've decided to move all the remaining refugees who've not yet been processed and settled into one location. It happens to be in Arkansas. And we're working now very well with the Governor of Arkansas and with the officials of that State to make sure that the entire process is handled in an orderly fashion.
POLITICAL ATTACKS ON THE HANDLING OF THE SITUATION
Q. Governor Reagan, of course, most recently—and then I believe last week John Anderson, again attacking your administration, you as the President, for not taking a position sooner on the refugees. How do you respond to that at this point?
THE PRESIDENT. That's a ridiculous attitude on the part of Governor Reagan. He's tried to have it both ways, depending on what audience he was addressing. Back in May when the crisis was at its peak, and I was trying to enforce the American laws and restrict the flow of aliens into this country with a flotilla of Coast Guard ships and Navy ships, Governor Reagan criticized me for that obstacle that I was placing in the ocean to enforce the American law. He also called for an air flotilla to be sent to Cuba to pick up anyone who wanted to come here and was very critical of the effort that I was making with the Florida officials to handle these refugees in an orderly and legal way.
Now that the process is over, he completely reverses himself and tries to take political advantage of this difficult humanitarian problem by taking a completely different position on the whole issue.
But throughout this process, I think the Florida people have seen that it was not something to be used for political advantage, that there were very serious legal and humanitarian problems involved. And regardless of what Governor Reagan has tried to do for his own political advantage, the Florida officials, the Dade County officials, and the congressional delegation from Florida have all worked very well with me on it.
OUTCOME OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IN
PRESIDENT'S CONFIDENCE IN WINNING
Q. Mr. President, are you confident of countering Reagan's surge in this State, even though his percentage preference at this point in the popular polls at this point is slightly more than. yours?
THE PRESIDENT. I think so. I have a close kinship with the people of Florida, both as a neighbor and also politically. We'll be mounting a major campaign in the next 3 or 4 weeks, as we have for a long time past. I recall the strong support that I got here in Florida in the 1976 primary. It was perhaps the most crucial election of the whole year when I defeated Governor Wallace in Florida and other candidates as well.
Florida gave me the electoral vote margin in 1980 and helped put me over the top. And again this spring in the campaign for the Democratic primary contest, Florida again responded very well to me. My judgment is that there's a great compatibility between my basic philosophy and my attitudes on major issues and the people of Florida. As a farmer, as a southerner, as a former Governor who worked well with Reubin Askew and now with Bob Graham, as one who's been a champion of the rights of the elderly, who works very closely with Senator Pepper and others on matters that relate to retired people directly, I think we've got a good base for strong support in Florida. So, I feel reasonably confident but recognize that we have a lot of hard work to do.
SENATOR STONE'S PRIMARY DEFEAT
Q. There is speculation already that Senator Dick Stone's defeat in Florida's primary run-off this week may perhaps cause some degree of erosion in terms of your support in Florida heading into the November ejection. Do you agree with that assessment?
THE PRESIDENT. It's hard for me to know about that. That's a judgment for the Florida people to make. I've had a very good working relationship with Dick Stone. He's been, I think, an outstanding Member of the United States Senate, and I hope that Senator Stone in future months and years will continue to play a major role in international affairs, as he has done so well in the Senate itself. That's a judgment for him to make.
But Bill Gunter is also a good man, and if he's elected to the Senate I feel that he'll represent Florida well and work closely with me. So I don't believe that that will have a direct impact on the outcome of the election for President.
Q. Okay. Mr. President, thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT. Thanks, Joe. I've enjoyed it.
Note: The interview began at approximately 8:30 a.m. at the Florida State Capitol.
Jimmy Carter, Tallahassee, Florida Interview With a Correspondent From the Florida News Network. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/250910