George Bush photo

The President-Elect's News Conference in Washington, DC

December 06, 1988

I have several announcements to make and they're part of a [laughter] - pay a little attention here - part of a continuing effort to appoint people of talent and distinction to senior positions in Government service. And I said that naming an economic team would be one of the early priorities of my transition and today I want to nominate the remainder of that top team. There are other very important posts to fill but this is the remainder of the very top team.

First I intend to submit the name of Robert Mosbacher, a friend of long standing, a very successful leader in the business community, as my nominee for Secretary of Commerce. I've known Bob for longer than he'd like to admit, but for more than 30 years. He's built a very successful business. He currently serves as the chairman and chief executive officer of the Mosbacher Energy Company of Houston. He is a leader, not only in the energy industry but in the business community nationally. He serves as a director of several companies, nonprofit organizations as well, national business organizations, including the A.P.I., American Petroleum Institute, and the American Business Conference, which brings together a lot of the leaders of the strongest and somewhat newer companies. Also he's been very active in that in terms of the high-growth companies.

Bob's going to bring his tremendous energies to the task of promoting U.S. exports abroad. Another major responsibility will be to carry out the oldest functions of the U.S. Government - that's the administration of the 1990 Census. He'll bring a wealth of experience to the department and I'll be glad to have his wise counsel in my Cabinet and I'm grateful to him for once again responding to the call.

Carla Hills as Trade Representative

Carla Hills has already served with distinction in the Cabinet under President Ford and I'm pleased to ask her back to the Cabinet table as the United States Trade Representative. As a member of my Cabinet she'll serve as our trade minister at home and abroad. There are many challenges facing the United States in the trade area. The mid-term review of the current GATT round which Clayton Yeutter is working on as we speak, the implementation of the new trade bill and the great opportunity presented by the Free Trade Agreement that we've signed with our neighbor Canada. Carla's wide experience in Government - she's been Secretary of H.U.D. and Assistant Attorney General; and in law - she's now the co-managing partner of a, of the Weil Gotshal firm here; and in leadership positions in several companies and professional organizations are going to serve us very well. And she's traveled widely abroad. Domestically, she is a tough no-nonsense attorney and Carla and I have spoken about the need to work aggressively to expand trade opportunities for American companies. And she stands for free trade and fair trade. And I'm very very pleased that she will be a part of my Administration.

The third key member of the economic team that I'm announcing today - you might say Carla is a Californian - is another Californian - the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. Dr. Michael Boskin is one of this nation's pre-eminent economists, currently serving as the Wohlford Professor of Economics at Stanford University. Professor Boskin has worked with me in these past few years to formulate a strategy to continue to create economic growth in this country. And I'll be grateful to have his expertise in this Administration.

Boskin to Head Economic Council

He is no stranger to Washington - served on several national commissions; testified many times before the Congress. He's also widely published on Government spending and taxing, U.S. saving behavior, capital formation; many other critical subjects. And he's been voted by the students at Stanford as one of the university's outstanding teachers. And so I have great hope that I can learn from him in the future just as I have in the past. And I know he is committed to jobs and opportunity for all Americans through low tax rates and low inflation and I look forward to working with him in charting the courses ahead.

Now there are two other announcements this afternoon that are unrelated or beyond the economic team. And these are in the area of foreign policy and national security.

First I've asked Bill Webster to continue to serve as Director of Central Intelligence. I know this agency well, having served as its director for a short time. I have total confidence that he is the man - the best man - to build and lead our national intelligence community. It's been - what? - 21 months since Bill Webster was appointed by President Reagan to serve in this post. But in that short time period, he's shown his ability to lead, to inspire confidence, to work with the Congress. Prior to that, of course, he served nine years as an outstanding director of the F.B.I. and prior to that as a Federal judge, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals and then U.S. District Court as well. My own view is that it is important for there to be some continuity in executing the mission of our intelligence agencies. And Bill Webster's continuing service will help set a healthy precedent. I'm grateful to him for agreeing to stay on.

And my final announcement is about another post that I know well, that I remember fondly, that I, I put as the foremost diplomatic appointment that I have to make. Recent events have made the post of United States Ambassador to the United Nations increasingly important. I believe I know the limitations of the U.N. But I also know of its tremendous potential. And so it's only fitting that my choice for U.N. Ambassador should be an individual with truly exceptional experience. Thomas Pickering, the current United States Ambassador in Israel, has given a lifetime of service to this nation. He served as Ambassador to El Salvador, to Nigeria, Jordan in the past, and as Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and Environment and Scientific Affairs.

I have a high regard for our nation's Foreign Service. I've worked with Foreign Service Officers when I was - headed the Mission in China and at the United Nations as well and as Vice President. And Tom Pickering is one of our outstanding public servants and very, very top Foreign Service officers. His expertise will serve our nation well at the United Nations and I am delighted that he has agreed to take this post. It symbolizes the importance I place on the United Nations as well as on the Foreign Service.

And so I'd like to ask each of these individuals - four - to just say - have their say and then I'd be glad to take a few questions. And then if you can talk them into taking questions, why they might do the same.


Covert Action and Intelligence

Q: Mr. Vice President, do you have a common understanding with Mr. Webster on what is the place of covert action in the intelligence work of the United States? There have been reports that [unintelligible]. Can you tell us what your philosophy is?

A: Well, my philosophy is that the law should be meticulously followed. I do believe that from time to time properly found covert actions are essential, and I know Bill feels exactly the same way. And I think that - I don't think there'll be any difference at all. And you notice I said "properly found." I don't know whether I'll promulgate a new executive order on that or not, but we follow the existing executive order to a T. We will -those orders will be properly found and properly reported to the appropriate commission. Jerry, and then you.

Membership on the Cabinet

Q: Mr. Vice President, will the U.N. Ambassador and the C.I.A. director be members of your Cabinet? And did you discuss with Mr. Webster any time period under which he should serve?

A: No, they will not be. But both will attend Cabinet meetings as they impact on their fields of interest. There is no point in the United Nations Ambassador sitting around, as I did for a while, talking about ag policy. If there's an N.S.C. meeting or a Cabinet meeting that impacts on the mission at the United Nations, Ambassador Pickering will be at the table.

I like this, because I want to have an orderly flow in foreign policy making - the foreign policy making. And the Ambassador should report, in my view, to the President through the Secretary of State. Bill Webster now is operating in our Administration, President Reagan's and mine, in this manner. I think it's working in effectively. And he will be included in those - in those meetings that affect where, where we have to make decision based on intelligence.

Bill and I are in total accord that this D.C.I. should be - not be in the policy business, but be in the intelligence business. And these lines can be very, very clear. He's in policy when a covert operation is found and he must manage that. But I think that this arrangement is the best in terms of good government.

Q: Mr. Vice President --

A: I didn't answer the last part of his.

Q: Did you discuss how long you want Mr. Webster to serve at any time?

A: Yes. Open-ended.

Role at Gorbachev Meeting

Q: On the eve of tomorrow's minisummit, is there a risk because of Gorbachev's aggressiveness and his appeal and his use of propaganda, if you will, in the fact that you are deliberately taking a secondary role and then President Reagan is on the eve of his departure? Is Gorbachev going to be the main player? And is there a down side for you in the policy on that?

A: There's no down side on policy. The Soviets know how our system works, and they know that I become President on Jan. 20. They also know - because you've given me an opportunity to define my expectations for the summit - how I feel on it. And so I will go there as Vice President. I will not be accompanied by members of my own national security team, and I'm confident that the Soviets understand that. And I'm confident they know our system well enough to know that it is only prudent to review foreign policy and to review national security policy and, certainly, to review our relationship with them.

Having said that, I will make clear to the President that we want to go forward. But I'm not going to be pressed into going beyond that prudent approach.

Hopes for Soviet Changes

Q: But during the campaign, in fact, you seemed to be a little more cautious about Mr. Gorbachev than President Reagan has been in recent statments. Do you think that perhaps we've invested too much hope in real change in the Soviet Union?

A: No. I want to - I hope that we have a reason to help be a catalyst for real change. To work with - effectively with the Soviets to - to better our relationship and, certainly, to encourage in the field of human rights more openness. That's a policy of the U.S. now and it will be the policy when I become President.

But, no, this doesn't concern me. I think that it - I think it's only prudent to get your own people together; set out your own priorities, and not go off - charging off without the benefit of those to whom I'm going to look for advice.

Status of the Cold War

Q: Soviet officials said over the weekend that the cold war may be fading and may be over. You said during the campaign, I believe, that you don't believe the cold war is over. On the eve of Secretary Gorbachev's visit, could you tell us your opinion on the state of the cold war? Is it fading, is it over?

A: I don't, I don't, I'm not going to respond in terms of those words. You have to define for me what you mean by cold war. Do we have any differences with the Soviets? Absolutely. Are they regional? Yeah. Are they on human rights? Yes. Do we have some differences on how we ought to approach the arms control agenda? Certainly. But do I see, am I optimistic about what I see in the Soviet Union? Absolutely.

And you just take a look at the human rights question. There's been some good forward steps there. And I want to see more.

I think that, I think we come into a great period of opportunity in terms of reduction of regional tensions. But there's an awful lot that the Soviets can do to make me feel I'm right in that.

I think that the arms control agenda is one where we have a chance for real progress. But there's some big problems. I keep talking about my commitment on chemical weapons and biological weapons - love to be the one to lead the free world and then work with the Soviets to, and other countries to ban these weapons. But it is an extraordinarily difficult verification problem. So we got to start talking at an appropriate time with them about that kind of thing.

So, I don't like to use these code words because they mean different things to different people. Yeah.

Reaction to a Surprise Offer

Q: Mr. Bush, you may be prudent, but if Gorbachev makes a Christmas surprise tomorrow to propose some kind of grandiose, but self-serving, conventional arms reduction, for example, Congress may not be prudent. The public opinion may not be prudent and in fact, may try to pre-empt an orderly negotiating process by even beginning in January to discuss troop reductions in response to that proposal. What would you do to prevent that kind of --

A: I would make clear to the Soviets that it's the President of the United States that is going to set the foreign policy and the national security of the policy of this country, working with the Congress. And I see no likelihood of that. That is so hypothetical that I see no likelihood of that happening whatsoever. Yeah.

Selection of Defense Secretary

Q: Sir, is it true what I read in the paper about you? That you have surveyed the reports given you about Senator Tower's womanizing and alcoholism and about his representing foreign and domestic defense contractors, and you don't think that's any deterrent in his being made Secretary of Defense?

A: I'm not sure you were at the last one of these minipress conferences we had. But I said then that I wasn't prepared to discuss the, the, who might be Secretary of Defense or anything about that until it got a little further along. And I'm in the same mode today. So I would prefer not to respond.

Q: -- but I want to know if what I read in the paper, that you've already surveyed these reports and that they mean nothing to you. That you have said, in the paper today you were quoted as saying that doesn't impress me at all. I still think he ought to be the Secretary of Defense.

A: You have to - Look, I don't want to go into this, because I don't know which reports you're talking about. There's so many out there, but I just will leave it that way. I have a great, high regard for Senator Tower. And so if you're talking about negative reports, I'm disinclined to believe anything of that nature. Yeah.

Dealing With the Deficit

Q: There's considerable debate over how much time you have, sir, to come up with a serious and definitive plan for dealing with the deficit once you take office. Do you feel that you have to go in with both guns blazing? Or do you have some time to deal with it.

A: I have some time, but I have to take the offense. And I've made clear to the Speaker and to Senator Dole and to Senator Mitchell that it is my responsibility to do that. And how, what that means in terms of form I'm not quite sure yet, haven't defined it. We haven't, we're just fleshing out our economic team here today. And I'd like to keep in a self-serving sense pointing out, I think we're quite a bit ahead of where previous President-elects have been in the selection of these teams.

So, but in terms of the urgency of the problem, I do feel the urgency of getting something moving on the deficit front. And I'll do my level best to do that early on and take the offense. What I think they're concerned about is that I'll turn to the Congress and say this is your problem. I will not do that. I'm going to lead. Yes, Jerry.

Need for a Tax Increase

Q: You had a chance to discuss the budget with Congressman Rostenkowski today. He apparently suggested a gasoline tax might be a good idea and has said in the last few days that he might feel compelled to try to raise marginal tax rates if you proceed with a capital gains tax reduction. Do you want to respond to the chairman?

A: Well, only that we didn't go into that detail with him, but having known him a long time and him having known me a long time, he knows my position. And I pointed out to him out there, I don't remember Congressmen, a lot of your colleagues on either side of the aisle running on the necessity of a tax increase. Maybe I'm missing something. Give me a few names. And look, he's a very experienced chairman of that tax-writing committee. And I know him well. And I can work with him. But I'm go out there and do what I said I'd do. And I think he understands that. Now, does he differ with it in some ways? I'm sure he does. Yeah.

Minorities in Leadership

Q: A few weeks ago, you said that you had a good list of very talented minorities for consideration in your administration. If the list is so good, if the minorities on the list are so talented, why haven't we seen them?

A: You've seen one. If you call - if you consider Hispanics minorities, you've seen my pledge fulfilled. And I'd like to get more. But stay tuned; we're only about halfway through this act.

Yeah, two more and then I'm going get - one, two. Then I quit.

Cutbacks and the Deficit

Q: Mr. Vice President, you have talked about your flexible freeze as a way of dealing with the budget deficit, and it seems that boils down to a call for Congress to give you the ball in what cuts they make. And yet you have been unwilling to suggest to us what programs might be restrained. Are you willing to take that now, since obviously you have seen enough in programs that you feel you might be able to restrain to balance the --the get rid of the budget deficit?

A: Absolutely. When I'm President of the United States, I'll do that. Yes.

Speculation About Tower

Q: On the Tower question, would you at least endorse Craig Fuller's statement that nothing has come to the transition team that would indicate that Senator Tower in any way would be disqualfied from serving?

A: Sure, I'd say that. But I don't want to get into the speculation that I'm trying to stay out of. But in fairness to the man, I'd say that, absolutely. All right, that's it.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.

George Bush, The President-Elect's News Conference in Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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