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The President-Elect's News Conference Announcing the Appointment of John Sununu as Chief of Staff

November 17, 1988

Well I'm pleased today to make a couple of new - announce - a couple of decisions in the personnel end. First, I'm pleased to announce my decision to appoint Gov. John Sununu as chief of staff for my administration. The job of chief of staff requires the ability to lead, to motivate, to direct an important organization in the best interest of the country. And John Sununu has the background and the experience necessary to work not only with his former colleagues in the nation's statehouses but also to build a constructive relationship with the United States Congress. He is the immediate past chairman of the national governors. And in addition, his chairmanship of both the Republican Governors Association and the Coalition of Northeastern Governors plus vice chairman of the President's Advisory Committee on Intergovernmental Relations shows the high regard in which he's held by his peers.

He has had a broad-base background. It includes 20 years of experience as an educator, an engineer, small businessman, community leader. He holds Ph.D. from M.I.T. in engineering, and that experience will bring to my administration a refreshing new perspective that, in my view, is critical to help move our country forward. He's the right man for the job and I'm very pleased that he will lead the Bush team in the White House.

Now I have one other announcement to make. Frank Fahrenkopf, who's here with me today has been the longest-serving chairman of the Republican National Committee since Mark Hanna - that was after Martin Van Buren but prior to my being chairman there - the turn of the century. And two Republican Presidents have been elected to office during his tenure. He's shown his commitment to effective organization raising millions of dollars for Republican candidates at all levels and after six outstanding years he's told me that he will not seek re-election to this job that he's held so admirably.

He leaves his chairman with what I think an outstanding record of success, proving that his party is indeed the best in the land. And so I want to say in front of all of you, pay my respects and extend to him my heartfelt thanks for your commitment, your dedication to Republican ideals. And your stand at the threshold, moving on to new challenges after having left a strong mark on the Republican National Committee makes good sense. I told Frank privately and I'll say to you, I hope I can find ways to use his services in some capacity or another in our administration.

I expect the party to continue to grow and to move forward. And to further cultivate those efforts I will strongly recommend to the members of the National Committee Lee Atwater to become the chairman, meeting - the committee convenes in January for its, the election of the new chairman. We have great opportunities - the Republican Party has great opportunities and challenges ahead in the next four years, continuing to reinvigorate at the grassroots level, redistricting, broadening our base across the nation. It really is a time for emphasis on grassroots politics. And Lee has worked at nearly every level of politics, from heading up the college Republicans to managing my Presidential campaign, in which he set out a game plan, stayed with it, proved to be a very effective leader.

Indeed, I worked with Lee in '73 and '74 when I was chairman of the Republican National Committee. I know this job and I know he will do an outstanding job. I believe that function should be helping win elections. And I can't think of another person in this country who brings such a breadth of political talent to this job than Lee. I think he's No. 1 and he knows the party apparatus from top to bottom. He knows the leaders all across this country. Our party needs him to make things happen. He's a friend. I'm proud of his accomplishments and I look forward to his being elected by the Republican National Committee as its chairman when they convene that meeting in January.

I will be glad to take a couple of questions, and then I'm going to go and leave these three to answer your questions. Yes?


Decision to Choose Sununu

Q: Can you tell what qualities that John Sununu has that persuaded you to choose him instead of Craig Fuller, who has been your chief of staff for four years?

A: Well, there's a number of people that would be considered for that job so I'll tell you - I'll just repeat the qualities that John Sununu has: experience, total confidence of - from me to him, leadership in the governors association, head of the National Governors Association, respect at all levels; and he's a take-charge kind of guy, he's very active, very energetic. And I am - you know, very close to him personally and so I think he'll do an outstanding job. Outlook for Fuller Post

Q: There is a report that Mr. Fuller is going to go into the private sector after the transition. Is there any way you could persuade him to stay in the administration? Do you have another job for him?

A: I'd like to, because I have such a high regard for him. But I've seen that report and, indeed, talked to Craig about it. Yes, Dave? Warning About Deficit

Q: Mr. Vice President, Chairman Greenspan delivered a pretty blunt warning yesterday about the dangers of the deficit and the need to do something about it. Could you tell us your response to that warning?

A: I agree that we need to do something about it. And when I go into office we'll do something about it. And so I agree with him. I took the trouble to read what he said and he talked about some feeling that deficits didn't matter. But he's not talking about me because I think they do matter. Yes? Structure of White House Staff

Q: Could you shed any light on the kind of White House structure you think you want to have under Governor Sununu; for example, whether the national security adviser will answer to him or directly to you? Or whatever kind of structural decisions you've made?

A: Well, the national security adviser will have - and it's essential that he or she have - direct access to the President of the United States. There has to be a certain coordination obviously, and the chief of staff will be responsible for that, certainly, when it comes to scheduling and matters of that nature. But in terms of the shaping of foreign policy and national security policy, the Cabinet secretaries in the Bush administration will have a lot of strength, a lot of input. The national security adviser will be an honest broker, obviously entitled to his own opinion, being able to say, "Here's what I think," but it's got to have a direct factual input, particularly from the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense.

Under this national security arrangement, the C.I.A. will clearly be an intelligence agency. It will have no function in policy at all except as provided under the law for the execution of certain properly found covert actions. Decision on Budget Director

Q: Since you said that the budget deficit is a priority of yours, have you decided who you want as your budget director? Will you announce that person soon?

A: I'll announce it probably soon, and it is important, and I want to get our economic team in place. I would also like to ask that people put these things in the proper perspective in terms of how fast we have moved. If you go back into history, and I think most people will tell you that we've already made some substantial progress in putting people in place. And I'm going to continue to press on that. I certainly am grateful to Craig and Bob Teeter - Craig Fuller and Bob Teeter -who just opened the doors to the transition office on Monday, and there's an enormous amount of activity. But I'm determined to take whatever time is required, and yet I think most people would agree we've moved very fast so far. But I will go forward with the economic team. Jewish Reaction on Sununu

Q: Do you expect any problems from the Jewish community over the fact that Governor Sununu is the only Governor in the nation who did not sign a resolution condemning the U.N. Zionism resolution. There's been some criticism about that.

A: No, I don't expect any at all.

Sununu Relations With Dole

Q: Back in the snows of New Hampshire, Mr. Vice President, there was some bad blood between the Governor and Senator Dole. Did you discuss this selection with anyone on the Hill including Senator Dole and how do you expect the two of them to get on?

A: They'll get along just fine. John Sununu has a reputation for being able to work effectively with people, and that's one of the reasons I recited that litany of being anointed by his peers to these various jobs.

Sununu's Experience

Q: Mr. Vice President, do you feel that Governor Sununu's lack of Washington experience is more of an asset or a liability?

A: I think he brings - I think he has just the right - got just the right amount of experience in both. He knows Washington. And he'll get plenty of help from good people in the White House and on the Hill and so he'll do just fine. Yeah, Jerry.

Type of Appointees

Q: Mr. Vice President, there has been a lot of discussion about what type of personnel you're looking for and what seems to be emerging is the fact that you're appointing people who tend to be strong-willed and have their own power center. Is that true? Is that what you're really looking for in terms of your key appointees?

A: Sure. Absolutely. Cum experience. And I think that we need - we need experienced people. We need people that understand the legislative process. I've got to work with Congress and when I said I intend to, I really do. And so I think - I hope that's what's emerging and I want it to emerge. Yeah, Kathy, and then -Doubts About Sununu Q. Mr. Vice President, there were some reports that some in your inner circle had reservations about Governor Sununu. Is that correct, and is that why you've kept the announcement until today?

A: Well, this is very quick if you look at it in - I've only been back for about three days, or whatever, I've lost track of how many days it is that I've been back here. And so we're moving very fast on these appointments. And I don't think there's any reservation at all. But I indicated the other day I'd make this - make an announcement regarding this and I am. And I'm very happy with the choice.

Is Sununu a Signal?

Q: Mr. Vice President, in selecting Governor Sununu, are you trying to send a signal that the conservative faction of the Republican Party that you're on their side so to speak?

A: No. I want to be on everybody's side. And I decided to send a signal that I have a strong chief of staff who in my view will be able to work with the Congress and the various strong secretaries that we will have in the Cabinet departments. And that's it. Now John Sununu does have a good following, you might say, amongst conservative elements in our party and in the political spectrum, but the prime reason I selected John is for the reasons I gave you here. Yeah, right back there.

Issue About Zionism

Q: Mr. Vice President, you said earlier you did not expect any problems due to Governor Sununu's failure to sign the proclamation concerning Zionism. Did you consider that issue at all in selecting him? Did you consider the criticism that various Jewish leaders have expressed? And if so, why did you discount it?

A: Because I think overriding all that is his reputation for fairness, the fact that he was one of the architects of the strongest platform, Middle East platform plank that the party has ever had and it is one that expresses my conviction about the importance of Israel in the strategic equations. So, I think that is, overrides any reservation he might have had as a Governor about the Governor endorsing a particular resolution in foreign affairs.

Yes, Jess. I can take one more then I've got to turn it over to these, these - one, two, that's it.

Talks With Salinas of Mexico

Q: Did you initiate this meeting with President-elect Salinas? And what do you expect to talk about?

A: Which meeting? Has a meeting been announced for Tuesday? When the meeting has been announced - when and if such a meeting is announced, I will address myself to the question. But if I were to have a meeting with the incoming President of Mexico before he is sworn in on Dec. 1st, while I am still in transition, it would be to symbolize the importance I place on the relationship with Mexico. And I know something about that relationship and I have met with his two predecessors, admittedly while in office.

And I would say that if such a meeting takes place it will symbolize some - one thing I talked about in the campaign, the importance of what I called our front yard, our, our neighbors, and that is what it would be about. But if it takes place in the time schedule that you're talking about, it will not be official in the sense that I am not going to try to act like a President before Jan. 20 and take over the foreign affairs responsibilities from this President. I don't want to do that. And that would not be the intention, but it would be easier if a meeting could be worked out before we're both sworn in. It would just seem to me to be a simpler thing to have a meeting now for the reasons I've given you. I hope there would be one. Now, the last one over here. Yeah.

Position on U.N. Proclamation

Q: Do you believe it was a mistake for Governor Sununu not to sign that proclamation?

A: No, I accept what he says as the Governor of the State of New Hampshire. Everybody knows my position on it, that I think that resolution is outrageous. I'd like some day the United Nations to do that which it should do - repeal that outrageous resolution. But for a governor to make a decision on what a state should be doing, that's well within his prerogative. And I don't think, in any sense, any fair-minded person should reach from that to suggest that he is less than fair in terms of the way he would approach this -the interest of the State of Israel. His record is good, as I've told you, please read our platform.

And listen, thank you all and I'll turn, turn the meeting over to our three stars up here.

Chat With John Tower

Q: Can you tell us about your chat with John Tower? Does that mean you're any closer to a defense decision too?

A: No, but we're going to start working on the national security portfolios pretty soon. But I do want to do what I indicated here, a little more action in the, in the economic side. There may be some - there may be decisions on that sooner than the others. Thank you all very much.

Opening Statement by Sununu

MR. SUNUNU: Let me just make a brief statement and I will open it up to questions.

I am honored and gratified at the opportunity to serve as chief of staff. I am eager to take up the challenge. It is going to be, I think, a very important few years. I'm very aware that my principal responsibilities will be to make sure that the new President gets the information and the tools that he needs to make the policies that dictate the programs that will go forth from the White House. I am also very aware that once those policies are made, I have a responsibility to try and get them implemented as effectively they can.

Clearly, the challenges this country has have to be dealt with on a bipartisan basis, and I recognize that and I look forward to working with both Republican and Democrat leadership in the House and Senate. And one of the nice things I feel about having the announcement this early is that I will get a chance to begin to spend some time over there, working out the kind of agenda that's necessary to get good cooperation.

I'll open it up to questions. Yes?

Sununu Role Model

Q: Who would be your role model for chief of staff, Jim Baker? Dick Cheyney? Don Regan? Who do you think you'd -- A. Well, I've been accused of serving as my own chief of staff in New Hampshire, so between what Sherman Adams did here in a constructive way and the way I handled -tried to handle that structure as Governor back in New Hampshire, is probably the closest you can come to that. All of us have our own styles. The key to that, frankly, is the way the Vice President, when he becomes President, wants the White House run. I will sit down and talk to him about the constraints he feels we have to build into the system. And I recognize the chief of staff operates under a structure that maximizes the wishes of the President, both in terms of policies and in terms of convenience, for him to deal with issues.

Stand on U.N. Resolution

Q: Would you comment on the U.N. resolution?

A: I tried - I'm very sensitive to that issue and I tried very hard in putting - working to put the platform together to make sure that it was clear that I supported that in context and put that into the platform at the - that - in a way that it corresponded both to the Vice President's wishes and my feeling that that resolution ought to be repudiated. The problem I had as a Governor is I just felt it was inappropriate to deal with that in terms of a gubernatorial resolution. But on terms of the issue I have no problem saying that that ought to be repudiated, that should be repudiated, that we ought to take actions at the U.N. to take that off the rolls, so to speak. And I am comfortable with the fact that I performed in a, I think, a way that delivered a platform that is as strong on the Middle East for the state of Israel as has been acknowledged.

I will make another point on that. I understand very clearly that the key to peace and tranquillity in the Middle East is to guarantee and continue to guarantee the integrity and security of Israel. I have no problem in stating that unequivocally. I have stated that in the past and I assure the - those who are concerned about the State of Israel. as part of the overall balance that has to be maintained for the free world, that that commitment is there.

International Issues

Q: But people say you were involved in other international issues as Governor - Afghan and some others. Why not this one?

A: Let me tell you - the other issues were issues that were days of commemoration -Afghanistan Day, Bastille Day, has to do with a heritage day. We were very careful in New Hampshire not to endorse resolutions that decided on partitioning of Cyprus, on issues such as this that would try and establish a foreign policy position with a country. There's a fine line there, but it is a real line. I issued proclamations associated with the Holocaust. I issued proclamations associated with celebrating the 40th anniversary of Israel. I issued proclamations endorsing the B'nai B'rith. So yes, there were issues associated with Israel, the Middle East, Anti-Defamation League activities, and so on, but that was a line in terms of trying to say that there ought to be this or that as a foreign policy that we drew. I took office after a Governor who had come before me that had a reputation for raising and lowering the flag on international issues - passing proclamations on international issues. I was sensitive to that fact as a result of that, and tried to establish that as a criteria. Q. Governor? A. Owen?

Mediator on Middle East

Q: You were quoted in an article last year as saying the reason you did not vote against that resolution is because you felt as the nation's highest ranking Arab-American, that you had a special role to play as kind of a mediator, talking to both Arab diplomats and pro-Israeli groups, to help bring peace to the Middle East.

A: Yes, I've seen that article. I've seen that article - the quotes about that conversation were wrong. I indicated that I had, on a number of occasions, primarily social occasions, had an opportunity to express my opinion. I thought there was some capacity for me to talk to Arab leaders with a slightly different voice because I was an Arab-American, but I made no effort to indicate that I had any interest in participating in anything in a formal or informal sense. Owen?

Hindsight About Issue

Q: If you could decide that issue again, not necessarily knowing you would be chief of staff to the President-elect, would you take the same position and abstain, or would you vote to condemn it.

A: I would probably try and work so that I could make it clear that I supported the condemnation of that - probably rephrase it so it wouldn't be in the context of establishing foreign policy. You're right that one learns from what goes on. That's why when I had a chance in dealing with the platform, I made awfully sure that that particular component stayed in there as clearly and unambiguously as possible.

Q: Governor -

A: Let me go on this side, and then I'll come back.

Role in Transition

Q: Could you give us some idea of how you're going to be spending your time now? Are you going to be a full-time transition player? Is there any context you might already had on - A. I've discussed it with the Vice President, and I do have an obligation to continue my service as Governor through Jan. 5. I will do that. I will work with Craig Fuller and Bob Teeter, who are running the transition -providing some input, guidance on appointments. I will certainly work to fill out the staff appointments in the White House. It probably will be on the basis of a day or two a week down here - meeting my obligations back home, and it'll probably pick up then, between Jan. 5 and Jan. 20. It obviously will be a full-time commitment and we'll get ready to roll and go.

Function as Chief of Staff

Q: Governor, you yourself described the Vice President recently as much more active than, say, President Reagan. Under President Reagan we had a series of chiefs of staff who became very powerful, because the President himself was somewhat passive, and I just wonder - if you look ahead -you've worked with the Vice President now - to what kind of chief of staff you're going to have to be - what things you're going to have to do to complement his - how would you describe it?

A: I think my responsibility - well it may be a little bit different - I think I have a responsibility to gather as much information, as many options to him. I have found that he likes to explore a variety of options - that he doesn't like anyone to present something that is relatively cut and dried. It makes it a little bit harder, because you have to flesh out more than one or two choices. I recognize that. It'll make it, work, a little bit more difficult. I suspect that the way I'll measure my success is that after a few years of George Bush - as seen as having a great Presidency, and people wonder who the chief of staff was - struggle hard to remember his name that provided the information that allowed him to do that.

Personality Difficulties

Q: Governor, your critics say that you'll have a tough time working as chief of staff because you haven't been around Washington enough, and because of your so-called combative personality and hot temper. How do you respond to those criticisms?

A: I'm a pussycat. Let me tell you about Washington. Certainly I have a lot to learn in terms of details of operations down here. I think I'm a quick learner. I had dealt, on a bipartisan basis, with governors, and I have dealt as chairman of the N.G.A., as chairman of N.G.A. committees and involvement with N.G.A. on legislation that has been important to the state. So I consider a great number of senators and Congressmen close friends, both on the Republican side and Democrat side. And I'm going to try and build on that relationship that I've established over the years, to go on from there. I understand that there are assets and disadvantages to bringing someone from outside of Washington into the process. I'm going to exploit the assets, and I'm going to work as aggressively as I can to undo whatever disadvantages they are in the shortest period of time.

Principal Responsibilities

Q: Governor, you've pretty much described your role here as chief of staff as procedural, in terms of gathering information and moving paper, and what not. Do you see it also as an opportunity for you to give your [brief electronic interruption] to the President on domestic and foreign policy matters?

A: Primarily on domestic policy - the Vice President clearly has all the experience in the world on foreign policy - has his own vision as to where he wants to go on that. But in terms of domestic policy issues - how to deal with some of the budget items, some the initiatives we might want to take in child care and so on - I have two responsibilities. One is to be an honest broker and present the views on the various sides of the issue, and if I - after I fulfil that, then I have an opportunity to indicate my recommendations. But I think my recommendations and my biasing of where the decision ought to be ought not to come until after all the options have been presented, until all parties have had a chance to present their views on it. It's the only fair way to allow the person on whose desk the buck really does stop to make the best decisions for the country, and I don't feel uncomfortable with that role at all.

Conservative Philosophy

Q: Do you see yourself as a conservative voice within the White House?

A: I am considered a conservative Republican Governor. I certainly am not going to change my personal philosophy, but I recognize going into the White House, my responsibility is [another electronic interruption] that the President sets. If I have an opportunity to speak with the conservative perspective as those issues come along, I will do that. But I do understand that my principle responsibility is to serve the President, who has the mandate of the people to take charge.

Relations With Dole

Q: What about Bob Dole?

A: Bob Dole and Elizabeth Dole, I really do consider two of my close friends. And yes, there was a tough campaign in New Hampshire. Bob Dole is a mature politician. He understands you win a few, you lose a few. I am going to look towards Bob - to Bob Dole for advice, guidance, and suggestions on how I ought to deal, not only with Republicans in the Senate, but Republicans and Democrats in the Congress. There's a wealth of knowledge and experience there that I look forward as being one of the assets I can draw on.

Deficit and Low Taxes

Q: One question about the deficit. On domestic policy issues, you have your own view of economic growth and low tax - the benefits of low taxes. Do you think the Vice President has got himself at all into a corner, by ruling out taxes?

A: I really don't. I think there is a framework around which a solution to the deficit can be addressed consistent with what he has said. He did not say that lightly. If you remember, there was a meeting, last June I believe, at Kennebunkport, the number of renowned economists who spent a lot of time exploring the constraints that one ought to establish in terms of a policy. And what came out of that was reflective of a very realistic policy that could be put forward. And I think we are going to move as aggressively as we can on - obviously have to deal with bipartisan leadership in Congress to try and frame that. The Vice President, I think, has in mind a series of steps of his interacting with Congress, and I think a solution within the framework of the way he campaigned can be put together.

Thank you.

George Bush, The President-Elect's News Conference Announcing the Appointment of John Sununu as Chief of Staff Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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