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The President-Elect's News Conference Announcing the Nomination of Clayton Yeutter as Secretary of Agriculture

December 14, 1988

Well, I'm pleased today to announce another Cabinet selection and a very, very important one. It is my intention to nominate Clayton Yeutter to serve as Secretary of Agriculture. His wide knowledge of the issues, obviously demonstrated skill and broad experience make him quite simply the best man for this very important job. He himself has worked in farming. He's a noted scholar of agricultural economics and he's twice before held sensitive regulatory and trade posts in the Department of Agriculture. And for many years now he's served the nation with highest distinction as trade representative and international negotiator.

Since 1985, Clayton has served in the Cabinet as U.S.T.R. - United States Trade Representative - the man principally responsible for the development and execution of American trade policy. And in that office he's accomplished much in the way of notable work for our country on a number of fronts. Our new and historic free trade agreement with Canada is as much as anything the product of his personal dedication and his personal diplomacy. He's the man who persuaded Congress to remove dangerous protectionist provisions from the omnibus trade and competitiveness bill of 1988, and then his ongoing work in international trade will make a perfect jumping-off point for the important work that lies ahead in American agricultural policy.

Ambassador Yeutter has just returned from Montreal where the 96 member nations of GATT completed this midterm review of the Uruguay round of multilateral trade negotiations. Now President Reagan's objectives in these negotiations are mine, and I know they're Clayton Yeutter's as well - a comprehensive reform of world agricultural trade rules by 1990. And I'm confident that Ambassador Yeutter will continue to ably pursue this goal in his new post, and that our shared national goal of free agricultural trade and expanded agricultural exports abroad will have no better spokesman, no greater advocate. So he knows foreign policy domestically, he knows it internationally, and I am just delighted to think that I will be serving with him as our new - when he becomes our new Secretary of Agriculture.

You're entitled to equal time:

MR. YEUTTER: Well, thank you Mr. Vice President. I won't take equal time, because that was a very eloquent statement. I would simply say, Mr. Vice President, as you already know, that I really had intended to return to the private sector at the conclusion of the Reagan Administration, and as I said to you this morning there are only a few people in the world who could convince me to carry forward in another stint in Government, but you're one of those few. And I am deeply honored to serve you, Mr. Vice President, in the coming years, and I hope we'll have a lot of fun in dealing with some very difficult issues - difficult and challenging issues in agriculture. But those are the kinds of issues that make life interesting and rewarding.

Mr. BUSH: I'll be glad to take a few questions. and then Clayton said he'd take a few so why don't we start. Yeah, Ann.


Confidence in Tower

Q: Mr. Vice President you've been praised for these appointments to the Cabinet that's shaping up, but there's been a lot of criticism about John Tower. And let me ask you what would make me think, given all the criticism of his work in the past, that he would be the best qualified person for such an important post?

A: I will discuss that when I've reached a final decision, which I haven't reached, and I've expressed my confidence in Senator Tower, my belief that if I decide to go that route he would make an outstanding Secretary, and if that's the decision I will discuss it more fully at that time. Yes.

New Markets Seen

Q: Has Mr. Yeutter agreed to stay the full four years or for just a limited period of time?

A: There are no limitations at all. We didn't discuss, you know, "I'll stay four years," but I expect he would, and it's open-ended like every other Cabinet appointment.

Q: What specifically are you asking Ambassador Yeutter to pursue as Agriculture Secretary, particularly in terms of trade. Have you --

A: Well, we have a new farm bill coming up and that, of course, will occupy him. But we also - on the trade side - we're going to have to gain more access to the markets of others. And I'll be honest, I believe that this announcement today will send a significant message to our trading partners abroad, because they know of his personal commitment to opening markets abroad. They know he's fundamentally a free trader, but when they hear fair trade, they also know that Clayton Yeutter is dedicated to that concept. So we'll have the whole array of domestic policy issues on agriculture, but then, which he was perfectly capable of coping with before, and did a beautiful job in handling before. But now, with this new addition of international trade in his quiver there - these new arrows - why. I just think it's a perfect blend for where I want to see us go. And I said and talked in the campaign about the need to have more access to the markets of others, the need to stand up against anybody proposing grain embargoes. So we think alike on these important issues. But the key is, the signal that will go out right from this get-together right here, will be my emphasizing that I, as President, will continue to press for access - to a fair access - to the markets of others and to stay with our concept of free trade, and we will have a man that is so widely respected, that we're off to a running start in that regard.

Cost of Nuclear Cleanup

Q: Mr. Vice President, there's a report coming out from the D.O.E. tomorrow that by some estimates shows something like a 100 million - billion dollars it will cost for this country to clean up defense plants - nuclear arms plants. No matter what the figures, will you take that money that required cost out of the defense budget or elsewhere?

A: I have not gotten into where money will come from for anything yet. We're just beginning to sit down now with Dick Darman and others on the budget so I just can't - I'm not ducking, the question, I just don't know the answer to it yet. Yes, sir?

Plight of the Homeless

Q: I have a similar question, Mr. President-elect. The cold spell this week as focusing attention on the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of homeless people who are in need of help immediately. Have you and your advisers discussed what you would want to do once you take office and how you're going to deal with the problem problem?

A: We will be addressing that as we go into our, going forward with our own budget. It has not been addressed in a specific meeting yet. We're in the process now of trying to select the people to cope with these issues. It is a national shame, and I'd like to feel we would address it with sensitivity and the needed compassion. But I have not gotten into that specific yet. Yes?

Gorbachev's Initiative

Q: Mr. Bush, some experts are now saying that Gorbachev's troop reduction announcement last week is actually going to increase the Soviet threat to Europe because it's a means of getting rid of obsolete material as far as the Soviet modernization program. Is that part of what you're taking into consideration in the announcement plan of yours to delay the resumption of arms control negotiations past this February?

A: Well, one I haven't made a specific announcement of that nature. Secondly, I have said and made very clear to Secretary Gorbachev that I need time in order to assess the new proposals and to come up with our own. But I would salute the position that he took there at the United Nations. We have not fully assessed what it means in terms of the overall threat, and that is in the process of being looked at now by the experts in the Federal Government. And then when our National Security team is together, we'll have a hard Bush Administration look at it. But really, it is too early to give a full analysis because I just don't know yet. I'm one who has been -always been a little bit cautious, and yet I don't want to seem negative. I'd like to welcome change, I'd like to welcome a step when it is taken, but what it fully means we aren't in a position to say yet. So I'll just have to wait on that one. Yes?

Q: Mr. Vice President, while you are analyzing the Gorbachev speech, it's already had some political impact, as you know. There are some who say this may lessen need for increases in defense spending in Western Europe. There are some who say this may undercut support for modernization of the short-range weapons. How would you respond to these political ramifications of the speech?

A: Well, I - for those who have already reached those conclusions, they haven't - I would say if they'd take a little more time to analyze the proposals, because I don't think anybody could fully have analyzed those complicated proposals and what they mean in terms of a threat - conventional force threat in Europe yet. And so, I'd simply urge them, feel free to give your political opinions but don't ask me to have reached conclusions on that speech at this early date. And I'm not going to change that back to the question of the February resumption of talks. There is no way that we are going to have by Feb. 15 or 16 a detailed point-by-point program to to - on arms talks. We're not going to have it. And I'd like to use this opportunity to make that clear to people. We are going to start working vigorously, and I will send whatever signals it takes to make sure that we want the relationship to continue to move forward and that we want to move forward with arms control. But - and some will say if you're not there with a 20-point program on February in Geneva on the 15th or 16th that maybe you're dragging your feet, that you're not interested in progress. And I will keep saying I am interested in progress, but I want it to be prudent. I want whatever that we take to be lasting. And so I welcome the flexibility and the innovative steps that Mr. Gorbachev has taken but understand that we are not going to rush in to some proposal just to be hitting his bid. Yes.

Role for Quayle Seen

Q: Mr. Vice President, on Monday Dan Quayle said that he's been meeting with you and that he plans very soon to be able announce what he's role is going to be in the new Administration. When that announcement will be coming --

Q: Right now. Let me help you with it. It's going to be very much like the Reagan-Bush relationship. There may be some specific assignments,but he will be included in. I will welcome his advice.

He will be key player in the National Security Council and in the Cabinet meetings if he desires to be. There may be specific assignments. Right after President Reagan became President, he assigned me the chairman of the regulatory relief task force. That may be an area. Under the law now, the National - the space - a lot of the Space Council activities will be headed by the Vice President. The drugs legislation changed my conviction that - it didn't change the conviction - changed my desire to have him head that up. But that now, I am told by our lawyers if I did that it would be looking like I was circumventing the law, which I'm not going to do. There's still to be a useful role for the Vice President there. I still believe I was right that you need - you need a - somebody who is a little - a level - a protocol level above the other Cabinet officers to effect the change that is needed in the anti-narcotics fight.

So, those who are saying the Vice President hasn't even been given specific assignments yet simply missed the point over the last eight years. They just don't understand that the importance of the Vice Presidency has emerged and one of the reasons it has emerged is that the Vice President is a generalist, has the confidence of the President and - so I - the mold will be very much like the one that President Reagan cast and forged in 1980, building, incidentally, on the Carter-Mondale operation, which I think elevated the Vice Presidency. And with all apologies to those who traveled with me, close your ears, 'cause I know you don't want to hear it again, but Nelson Rockefeller told me one of his great frustrations was when he was assigned specific programs and then for various political reasons, his legs were cut off by the White House staff. And I'm not going to have that kind of arrangement, and I don't think now Senator and former - future Vice President Dan Quayle wants that kind of arrangement.

So the Vice Presidency has emerged, and for those who don't believe it, ask Martin Van Buren. Yes.

Farm Program Spending

Q: Mr. Vice President, the Agriculture Department currently forecasts farm program spending at $14.5 billion next year. Will you expect Dr. Yeutter to take a sharp knife to that $14.5 billion?

A: Hey listen, he knows how to - how to take a sharp knife to a lot of budgetary things. But he also knows what agriculture needs, and I think it's far too early to say what he's going to be recommending as we go forward with the Bush program, which I've told the members of, you know, George Mitchell and Speaker Wright and others I'm going to have. Yes, Jerry, and then . . . .

Economic Commission

Q: The Electoral College meets next week to make you the official President-elect, I guess and after that you're free to name your selections for the National Economic Commission. Do you expect you'll do that early next week so they can join the work . . . .

A: I'd like to feel I'll have that decision made and name those in accordance with that schedule.

F.B.I. Check of Tower

Q: Craig Fuller said today that the F.B.I. investigation check of Senator Tower was virtually at an end, and that Senator Tower was meeting today with Boyden Gray to go over what it turned out. Is there anything that's been turned up in that investigation that would preclude his selection?

A: Well, I have not been presented with the F.B.I. report, and so I can't answer the question. It would surprise me if there was, however.


Crisis Management

Q: Back to Senator Quayle is - will you give him the same job you had as the head of crisis management?

A: I don't know. That will be - I'll discuss that with Brent Scrowcroft and those others in the National Security apparatus. The crisis management job really was substiting for the President when he did not attend the National Security Council meeting. That's all it was. It - I acted in that capacity - Oh, heavens, I would say less than 10 times and maybe not five - maybe, maybe, maybe five - somewhere in there. So, it's been - it's been, it's been really blow out of proportion. What it was, really, was standing in for the President.

For example, at the Grenada meetings when the President wasn't present, and that's all it was, and whether we decide to keep that in the N.S.C. or not, I don't know. But I will welcome the advice of - certainly I'd be interested in Dan Quayle's view on it, and Brent Scowcroft's and Secretary Baker's and others. But that's the way it evolved, and it wasn't an ongoing committee - you know, presiding over committe meetings or anything of that nature. Yes.

European Farm Subsidies

Q: Does this appointment today signal a signing on to the position that insists on elimination of the E.E.C. subsidy to small farms as opposed to a modification of it?

A: I'll let - I'd like to ask the Secretary-designate to answer that question.

MR. YEUTTER: Sure, well, the preface of the question needs to be corrected slightly. We never had said that we are seeking the elimination of all of Europe's farm subsidies. Some of our European friends rather consistently argue that that is the American position. But it never has been the American position. All we have said with respect to their small farm agriculture or any other size farms in Europe is that we would like the European community to phase out over an agreed period of time - that is a time period agreed to in the Uruguay round negotiating process - phase out over that period of time their trade-distorting subsidies, not all subsidies, subsidies that distort international trade. And we believe that is a completely reasonable, rational and sound position that everyone including the European community ought to be prepared to accept and, in fact, ought to endorse enthusiastically.

MR. BUSH: Just what I would have said. All right. Ellen?

New Faces on Scene?

Q: Mr. Vice President, during the campaign and in the transition period, you said there would be wholesale change, that we would see a lot of fresh faces. With all due respect to Mr. Yeutter, almost everybody named so far has had a familiiar face. Is the --

A: The face is familiar but the job is very different in being trade representative.

Q: Are we going to see people that are not familiar faces in Washington?

A: Yes. Stay tuned, come on. I would like for self-serving purposes to point out we're still ahead of schedule - still ahead of schedule.

Q: Paula took the question right out of my mouth, Mr. Vice President. But to follow on, or follow up, Some of the people who met with you earlier this week, Benjamin Hooks, for example, came away saying that he felt there was a commitment to name a black to the Cabinet. Is that correct? Would you name a --

A: I don't think there's a commitment, but I expect that'll take place.


Congressional Ethics

Q: Mr. Vice President, last week, the House Republican Leader, Bob Michel, called Congressional ethics a national disgrace. Do you share that view and --

A: I missed - I'm sorry I wasn't - I was focusing on the last answer.

Q: Bob Michel, the House Republican leader last week called congressional ethics a national disgrace. One, do you share that view? And secondly, do you sanction a Republican effort in the House to dump Jim Wright for a coalition Speaker?

A: What the House does is the business of the House of Representatives, and I will have ethics legislation. I spoke about it in the campaign, my commitment to high ethical standards. And I will have proposed legislation go up very, very early. But the House of Representatives - I am not going to get into the business of the House of Representatives. Yeah.

Cuts in Agriculture?

Q: Mr. Vice President, in a campaign appearance in Sioux Falls, S.D., just before the election, you promised that you would not cut any farm programs. Will your instructions to Mr. Yeutter include orders that he keep that promise?

A: I don't recall saying any farm programs. I have no intention to do that. I thought I was speaking to the farm bill. And one of the - I think, the context was that my opponent in the debate had talked about substantial cuts in the agricultural budget. And I will not be proposing substantial cuts. In terms of whether we can do better on individual programs, perhaps we can. And I would welcome the advice of our new Secretary of Agriculture in that regard. And there may be some that we'd propose that can take care of some of the needs of the agricultural sector. So I think that was the context, but I don't believe that we are going to balance this budget eventually on the backs of the farmers. That simply cannot be done. But whether we can have more market forces that lead to lower supports and lower, lower subsidies that, that I think we should aspire to.


Q: Mr. President you spoke --

A: One and two and then I'm going. I'll leave you to Clay.

World Trade Access

Q: You spoke earlier about your adamant desire to have clear access to other markets. Does that mean your Administration is willing and has the money to pay for an agricultural trade war with Europe?

A: Nobody's looking for a trade war. What we're looking for is persuasive arguments to make to our European trading partners to give fair and equal access to world trade. And that is what it's all about. And the concept of going into this job anticipating a trade war, that is not what I anticipate. That is not what our Administration has stood for and that is not what my Administration will stand for.

But there have been times in the past where there have been rifle shots fired, selective - I'm thinking of the wheat flour decision, and things that were taken - that, that showed our determination to have fair trade and equal access. And it's those kinds of things that I am in total agreement with Secretary-designate Yeutter on, and I would think that this message, once again to repeat it, that goes out today, is that we're very serious about working the agricultural sector of our trade - of our international trade.

And yes, we aspire to a world with, with no controls, if we could ever have that, in the utopian sense. We realize this causes great difficulty for the Japanese and for the Europeans. So somewhere short of that, though, we can make progress. And Clayt has devoted a lot of his life now, his time now to going forward in that regard. And, as I say, there are some signs of optimism. The Canadian Free Trade agreement is a good one.

So, the signal to Europe is, look, we want to do business. We believe the lower the barriers the more two-way trade there is. And that's the message that's going to go out from here. And that's my message, but we're not anticipating any trade war. We're dealing with friends. We're dealing with allies. We're dealing with reasonable people. But we're entitled to forcefully send out the message that we need more access, that our farms, farm products should have fair access.

Last one, and then I'm going.

Reaction to Arafat

Q: In light of Mr. Arafat's comments in Genevea yesterday, do you see your Administration reaching out to him, to the P.L.O.?

A: I see that my position has not changed. I want a clear statement on renunciation of terror. I want a very clear, unambiguous statement on the right of Israel to exist as a state. And I want a clear endorsement of Security Council Resolution 242 particularly, which talks about secure and recognized boundaries and pulling back from the occupied, occupied lands. So, that I want, and I want it clear. I want it unambiguous. I want it so that nobody can argue with what has been said and I want to have a feeling it is more than a personal statement. I want to have a feeling that it has the support of the P.N.C., the Palestinian National Congress. I want to see that loud, defined and clear. And if Mr. Arafat takes a step that brings a little closer to that, fine, that's good. We're for that. We're glad that, that happens.

But before we have dialogue with the P.L.O., the signals have to be clear, unmistakble, unambiguous. And I have been involved peripherally in the Middle East problem and sometimes directly, and I know it's very difficult. But I am not going to change the existing Administration policy in that respect. And yet, if he takes a step, you welcome it. Come on, take another one. Let's do it this way. These are the three non-negotiable - you want to call them demands - but these are the three non-negotiable criteria that must be met if we are going to have a dialogue with the P.L.O. I see a lot about recognition. That's not what's at - at the first step. It would be dialogue at whatever level was to be determined. But only when there's an unambiguous acceptance of these three key points.

Q: Are you encouraged by what you've been hearing?

A: I sometimes get encouraged and then sometimes I think things, things slide. But I think there's some movement there, but it's not enough to do what I think would be in the interest of the - really, of peace in the Middle East to eventually do. It's not enough to have the dialogue that is - could be helpful, could be catalytic for peace. But we got to have this, we got to have this clear recognition of Israel's right to exist as a state. That, that must be. There can't be any equivocation on it. And it can't be masked by protective language or anything of that nature.

Clay: thank you, sir, for undertaking this very important assignment.

MR. YEUTTER. Thank you, Mr. Vice President.

MR. BUSH. It's all yours.

George Bush, The President-Elect's News Conference Announcing the Nomination of Clayton Yeutter as Secretary of Agriculture Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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