George Bush photo

The President's News Conference

March 17, 1989

The President. -- have my green tie when I climb off. How are you guys?

Japan-U.S. Jet Fighter

Q. Do you think you're going to approve the FSX?

The President. No decision on that yet.

Q. But do you think that it -- is it a hard decision for you to make? Very complicated?

The President. Well, it's a good one to be sure you listen carefully to all sides of it, and that's what we were doing. We had a meeting on it just the other day, and I may have another one when we get back. Certainly I'll be talking about it over the weekend. Tom [Tom Baden, Newhouse Newspapers], it's -- you know, you're torn several ways on it, but we'll make the right decision. No decision has been made.

Q. Have you generally decided to go ahead with the project?

The President. I just said I haven't made any decision at all, and I will, you know, wait until we have the benefit of all the Cabinet officers weighing in. The first meeting was very helpful. It went on a long time, and we'll have another one now. I've asked certain Cabinet members to get certain pieces of information.

Q. Some of your aides have suggested that the basic decision has been made and it's just a matter of you signing on -- --

The President. Well, help me with what aide has told you that, because I'd like to speak to him about it.

Q. So, you're still -- --

The President. Any aide told you that? Has he got a name to -- --

Q. We don't want to name any names.

The President. Is this a vicious assault on Marlin Fitzwater? [Laughter]

Q. Not on Saint Patrick's Day.

Mr. Fitzwater. I deny everything. [Laughter]

Q. Just so we know that no decision -- --

The President. I told you the answer. I make this decision. And so, some aide -- if you would help me with that, he'd be looking for employment at the Associated Press, because he's not going to -- [laughter]. I'm serious. I mean, I see all this stuff.


Q. Let me ask you a question. Have you decided that the Chilean grapes and fruit ought to now start coming in?

The President. I was told that we're going to lighten up on that, and I think that's fine.

Q. Do you think that restricting all those fruit imports was too severe?

The President. No, I think when the health of the American people might be threatened you've got to take prudent action. And I think HHS, working with others, have done a good job on this. It has caused some economic hardship, which I regret, but these are just some of the things you have to address yourself to.

Q. This wasn't an overreaction?

The President. Well, I don't think so. If one person had been adversely affected healthwise, maybe the charge would be the other way. So, I don't think so.

Q. What do you make of this grape scare? It's sort of one of those what's-this-world-coming-to questions.

The President. I know it; it worries you. Well, it ties into the whole concept of terrorism. When you try to effect change by action -- you know, political change by action on the terrorist front -- there is a similarity here, if the calling-in is accurate. You never know on a case like this. I mean, that's the trouble.

Q. On this same subject, apparently, Pan Am had been warned to watch for tape recorders that could be bombs.

The President. I haven't been briefed on that, so I'd be very careful about responding until I get the facts.

Gun Control

Q. Mr. President, do you have any reaction to the decision by Colt to ban sales of its own semiautomatic -- --

The President. Who?

Q. By Colt, the maker of the PR - 15.

The President. I don't know whether they're totally banned or whether they're waiting to see what happens on this import decision. No, but I'm certainly not going to differ with that decision.

Q. There's a story today that actually the administration considered a ban on a number of about 25 other weapons along with what Secretary Brady -- --

The President. They've not discussed that with me.

Q. Do you think the temperature of the national debate over assault weapons has gotten too hot, or do you think -- --

The President. Yes, a little bit.

Q. How so?

The President. Just because it's gotten pretty hot. But we'll make our decisions from the administration in you know, a cool way, based on facts and not swayed one way or another by the temper of the debate. But I can understand when kids are shot down by a semiautomated weapon or automated -- whichever it was -- why, I can certainly understand the public outcry.

Q. Are you looking at a whole package of other things to do?

The President. Well, we'll let you know what we decide. We've got a brand new drug czar who has been in there about a week now, and so, we'll be sure to let you guys know when we make more decisions on this line. It's important.

American Hostages in Lebanon

Q. Sir, as you know, the hostage, Terry Anderson, started a fifth year of being held yesterday. Do you foresee any reformulation of our hostage policy?

The President. No.

Q. What are your thoughts about the plight of these people? President Reagan -- --

The President. I think it's terrible. It's with me every single waking hour. Very, very concerned about it. And any time anyone, particularly Americans, are held against their will, it is an enormous concern. But I'll stick with my answer in terms of reformulation of policy.

Q. Do you foresee any reissuing of the statement you made in your inaugural speech -- "good will begets good will" -- anything along those lines that you would say to those people?

The President. I think those people know how I feel, and I'd just leave it right there. I've really tried to make that very clear then, and I think it was.

Secretary of Defense-Designate Cheney

Q. Mr. President, have you been in contact with Mr. Cheney in recent days, since his -- --

The President. Dick Cheney? I talked to him 2 days ago, but I didn't talk to him since the committee acted. Very pleased the way it's going.

Q. I don't know -- have your heard whether Cheney's -- --

Mr. Fitzwater. They were getting ready to, but they hadn't as of about an hour ago.

The President. I thought they were going to vote about 1 o'clock.

Q. Are you tempted to swear him in days -- plan to get him on board?

The President. That's not a bad thought. He'll go to work right away, whether he's officially sworn in or not. What I've been doing with most of the Cabinet officers is going to the Cabinet Departments, and I think it does show an interest on the part of the President in those Departments. It might be a very important thing to do with Defense, given the delay that's taken place. But I'm very pleased about it, and I'm convinced he'll be a wonderful Secretary of Defense. I'm very happy with the public reaction, people that are in the decisionmaking process on the Hill and people he'll be working with at the Pentagon. It's been very well-received.


Q. Mr. President, the Producer Price Index was up a full 1 percent this morning for February. That's the second month in a row it's been 1 percent, or more than 12 percent annual inflation so far, on wholesale prices. How do you view these figures? Do you still contend that inflation is not increasing substantially?

The President. My view is that you have to always be vigilant against inflation, always vigilant. As you know, there were other figures earlier this week that sent out a different message -- plant capacity. And actually, these figures are based on mainly food and energy prices from a couple of months ago.

Having said that, I'd make two points: We can never relax in our concerns about inflation. And the best thing to do about it is to get the budget deficit down and to have speedy action along the lines of the budget proposals I've made. And I'll say this -- I don't want it to come out that I think there's foot-dragging, because the meeting we had this week, Tom, with the leadership of the budget committees, appropriations committees, finance committees, was a very good meeting. And the leaders themselves are trying to be -- on both Republican and Democrat -- want to be cooperative. So, I can't fault the Congress at this point. But I do think that a signal of this kind, PPI, should not be overlooked and should be another clarion call for doing something about the deficit. We'll just keep saying that.

Q. Fed -- [inaudible] -- interest rates?

The President. I'm not about to fight with the Fed. I think there's a lot of indications that the economy is still in good shape, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be vigilant against inflation. But anytime there's an indication of this nature, I would say please, let's everybody -- executive branch, congressional branch -- go the extra mile on getting this deficit down. It's the best answer to it by far.

Gun Control

Q. Mr. President, can I go back to the gun issue one more time? There have been some news reports that charged that a decision by your administration this week to halt the imports represents for you a change in position on gun control. What's your reaction to that charge?

The President. It represents, certainly, a heightened concern on my part about AK - 47's.

Q. But not a reversal -- --

The President. It's a pulse change.

Q. What's that?

The President. Pulse change -- we're enforcing the law. Incidentally, it talks about the suitability of weapons for sporting purposes. And we're not changing the law by doing this or trying to have a different interpretation of the law.

Q. Some gun store owners say that they had no demand for this until the media hyped the issue, and that's why -- --

The President. Well, then they should address that to you, not to me. I'm not in the media.

Q. The police had a concern long before the media started talking about it.

The President. Absolutely, the police have been very concerned about this, and we've got to find an accommodation between the police and the sporting interest. In my view, there can be an accommodation. There must be an accommodation, but that's the way I look at it.

Aid to the Contras

Q. Mr. President, are you ready with a contra aid package?

The President. Not as of this minute. I think we'll be talking about that -- I talked yesterday to Jim Baker [Secretary of State] and Brent Scowcroft [Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs] just before I left; we had an early meeting in the White House. And I've not talked to them since we've been gone, but I expect it will be awaiting me when I get back. I want to see something worked out where America speaks with one voice. It is not helpful to the foreign policy objectives to have divided voices: the Congress going in one direction and the Executive, who is responsible for foreign policy, going in another. So, we're trying to work all that out. And I think Jim Baker has been well received on the Hill from both Republicans and Democrats.

Q. I've got a really long question once we change this tape. [Laughter]

The President. How about a long answer while she's changing? [Laughter] Come on, a little hustle!

President's Personal Schedule

Q. While they're changing tapes, we were wondering whether you'll have a full weekend your first whole weekend in the White House?

The President. We're going to unleash all the athletic events. Horseshoes are ready, although the official opening of the pit -- we now refer to it as the horseshoe pitching court -- will take place probably 2 weeks from tomorrow in a very big gala opening with horseshoe pitchers from across the country coming, some of the very best. And that event will be, weather permitting, in a couple of weeks. I think the date is close to being set for Saturday, 2 weeks from tomorrow. But in the meantime, there'll be some preliminary pitching, which we would welcome participation from those who claim to have credentials in this sport right here. But then the tennis court, I'm going to hit today and tomorrow -- tomorrow and the next day, I think. Might get the running going again -- I felt pretty good yesterday. Although, I ran out of oxygen there, so I had to go down to less than the 2 miles -- I like to run, but I'm going to do that. We've got great machines for that, too, incidentally -- the Schwinn Aerodyne and the Pacer's latest running track, both of those are at the White House. So, I am excited. We have a lot of events going on.

Q. And you have the grandkids coming in next weekend?

The President. Next weekend -- big event. That'll probably be at Camp David, though, Easter Sunday.

Q. How you been able to get in as much exercise as you had expected to?

The President. Yes, I can get it in. But I had that hiatus in there because of the lingering flu that I've never had before. So, I cut down on the running. A little overweight, but I really feel good. I was up early this morning, which was not early DC time, but went for a long walk out there. And wanted to tee it up on their golf course, it looked so good.

Q. Do you have the caged-in feeling -- --

The President. No.

Q. -- -- living in the White House that some of your predecessors complained about?

The President. Not yet. I don't think I will.

Q. -- -- living over the store, as President Reagan used to -- --

The President. No. It's wonderful -- get to work quicker.

Visit to Cheyenne Mountain High School

Q. What did you and the kids talk about yesterday, running around the track? Conversation seemed to be -- --

The President. Well, one of them had just come back from China -- a big, tall guy on my left. And he was asking me -- I was very impressed with the guy; he kept hanging in there. I'm not sure he was their most athletic student because he was breathing even harder than I was. [Laughter] But he asked me which school would be the best to go to for foreign policy and things of that nature. He was talking about Lewis and Clark and Stanford. I said, Well, they're both fine schools, but I think the Fletcher School or Georgetown is also good in that regard. Another little guy, the guy on my right, heavy-set kid -- he's going to Baylor next year, and he started talking a little about Texas. And we got into a long discussion of different sports out there and what's popular in Colorado -- lacrosse coming in now and soccer, mainly in the girls, but coming up in the men's side, too -- hockey. It was wonderful. The baseball team was working out. So, it was mainly that kind of thing. But they were very nice, and they didn't seem to think I was disrupting their events.

President's Dog

Q. How many puppies are you going to have?

The President. If I had to bet -- and we've done no sonograms -- I would bet six.

Q. Are you going to keep any of them?

The President. Millie is one of eight -- I don't think so. A tremendous demand out there, Tom, enormous demand for these puppies. And I'm particularly interested in the op-ed page in one of the great newspapers the other day, where they had two English spaniel breeders saying this was the most outrageous thing they'd ever seen -- the attention to having these puppies there at the White House. And then, off-setting opinion, counterpoint, came by an 85-year-old woman who has written a book on English spaniels, who announced that this was one of the greatest things that had ever happened. So, it's causing a very lively debate, much like the AK - 47 debate -- [laughter] -- a tremendous interest in this.

Q. So, you'll be happy when it's over.

The President. Yeah. It's changed my life. Seriously, you think I'm kidding about that. It's awful. Can I tell them what Barbara told me on the phone?

Mr. Fitzwater. Sure.

The President. She said, "Tonight, you're in the Lincoln bed, alone." I said, "Well, why?" She said, "Well, Millie had a very bad night last night, thrashing around, and you would be irritable." So, I'm being sent down the hall, which just suits the heck out of me.

Q. Well, who's in the doghouse? You or the dog?

The President. The dog refuses to go to the doghouse is the problem. There's a beautiful pen made for her to have this blessed event in. It's wonderful -- little shelf built out so that the puppies can scurry under there and they don't get rolled on by the mother. I never thought we'd go through something like this again, after the 6 kids and 11 grandchildren. But it's a whole new thing.

Q. Is this worse?

The President. In a way, it is. In a way, it is. It's mainly because of Barbara's biding interest in it. She can't move without the dog being 2 feet away from her. But it's exciting, and we're real thrilled. Millie's mother gave birth on the Farish bed at night. He woke up, and he heard a little squeak, and there were three pups and more arriving -- right on the bed. So, we're trying to avoid that. It's wonderful -- [laughter] -- great new dimension to our lives.

But, no, there's no -- at least at this juncture -- any confinement or all of that. I mean, you move and go out and do stuff, and the Secret Service are very -- you know, they do their job, but they're very flexible in approach if you want to go someplace. You all have been most cooperative, for which I'm very grateful. Nobody's griping about it if we decide to do something on short notice.

Is that it? Painless. Does this get credit now -- what is this? A photo-op? We're trying to count up the -- a mini press conference?

President's Press Conferences

Q. I think this is the equivalent of the airport-Oval Office -- --

The President. What is it called?

Q. Plane-up.

The President. Plane-up?

Q. Yes. We came up with a new rule. These are unlimited.

The President. These are? [Laughter]

Q. We're used to the big East Room news conferences.

The President. I was talking to Marlin about that. I think we probably ought to do both. But I don't feel under any -- I don't -- put it this way, I don't think that my side of it is not getting out, and therefore, the thing is I need some other form of press. On the other hand, I don't want to deny everybody wearing the bright dress and the fancy necktie having the opportunity to get the question on TV -- [laughter] -- that kind of thing.

How do you all feel about it? Do you think there should be more of those -- big, formal thing?

Q. We like it daytime.

The President. You like the day better?

Q. Absolutely!

The President. Wonder whether you could do a formal one in the daytime -- more formal?

Q. Jimmy Carter used to do them at 4 p.m., in the afternoon, on a regular basis, saying he wanted -- I think the evening ones are kind of fun if you've got something to announce or -- --

The President. I think there ought to be something to peg it to so it's not just some kind of an extravaganza. But we were just talking about that this morning, as a matter of fact.

Q. President Ford tried to have them out on the South Lawn and over in the Rose Garden, various different -- --

The President. Press conference on the South Lawn? How did that work? I don't remember that.

Q. It was early in his administration. They watered the grass that morning and all of us were knee-deep in mud.

The President. The press room, I think that's probably as good as you could do. I mean, most people have a little time to get there, and it always seems to be full.

Q. It doesn't become an extravaganza. That's probably part of the appeal.

The President. I don't know whether we get as good a coverage, but I would think so, except for the time. Prime time versus afternoon. I don't know.

But, no, we're going to have a good weekend if the weather holds. I hope you all do. I would have liked to have stuck around out here.

Easter Egg Roll

Q. -- Easter Egg Roll? [Laughter]

Q. With puppies?

The President. I don't know what's happening on the Easter Egg Roll. It's being worked on, I know that. I went last year. It's kind of a push. It's a push.

Q. -- families wait for hours.

The President. To get in there? Yes, well, I haven't seen the grassroots side of it. I just kind of walk down the center aisle.

Well, back to work. We've got to go.

Q. Have a good weekend, sir.

The President. We will.

Note: The President's eighth news conference took place aboard Air Force One en route to Washington, DC, from Colorado Springs, CO. Marlin Fitzwater was the President's Press Secretary.

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

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