George Bush photo

The President's News Conference

August 23, 1989

The President. Nice to see you all. Thank you for coming. First, let me just -- we'll get started here. I'm glad our Chief of Staff John Sununu is with me, and Bob Gates, Brent's able right-hand man in the National Security Council. You all know Marlin Fitzwater, our Press Secretary.

For Barbara and me, this has been a delightful vacation, a place that we love very much. And I know that there's a lot of interest in her health. She went down yesterday to have her eyes checked, and you probably saw her playing tennis on the way in. So, she's feeling very well indeed, and the medicine that they've suggested for her should take the pressure off her eyes a little bit. And the doctors tell me that this is expected when you're being treated for Graves disease, but she's doing just fine. And I don't know whether she's winning or losing down there, but nevertheless, we'll find out.

But this has been a total vacation -- I am staying in touch with some foreign leaders and, indeed, with current events. And tomorrow I'll host Prime Minister Schluter of Denmark, an old friend -- he and his wife coming by. And I expect we'll be talking on NATO-related matters. And then next week, we'll have Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada, his wife, and his family here. And that will be a visit with an old friend, and I expect that we'll be talking on not only NATO matters and matters of trade but on matters of environmental concern as well. So that will probably be the total visits. We may have some of my own Cabinet up here next week to discuss the narcotics program, but that is not finalized at this point. But the Chief of Staff is working on that, and I expect we will have a national drug policy meeting here next week.

All right. I'll be glad to respond to questions.

President's Vacation

Q. Mr. President, you have this wonderful home, a beautiful cigarette boat, and yet the average Mainer makes about $14,000 a year. And I was wondering if you could tell us how you manage to stay in touch with the average man's realities.

The President. Well, I do my very best. I've got a lot of friends from all walks of life. And there is a little tendency in this job to get isolated, but you -- --

Q. We see you riding the boat every night on TV and playing tennis and having a great time.

The President. But I don't think people feel anything other than that isn't it nice to have a good vacation. And I try to have as much contact as I can.

Q. Do you think the average Mainer can afford to have a vacation like you have, sir?

The President. I don't think so. I'm very privileged and lucky in that regard, but I also don't think the average Mainer begrudges me a vacation of any kind. In fact, the response from the townspeople here has been just the way it's been for the 64 other years I've been here -- very good. They're just wonderful.

War on Drugs

Q. Mr. President, we know that you're working on a drug policy, and there's concern among the Maine congressional delegation that this policy is going to center more on urban areas, to the expense of rural areas such as Maine; which is fast becoming a favorite port of entry for drug smugglers. And crack and cocaine is already showing up on our streets here. Can rural areas expect help from you in the fight against drugs?

The President. It is a national strategy, a national policy, and that certainly would include urban and rural America. The most heavily impacted crime areas are the urban areas. Incidentally, this isn't a program just of what Federal money can do. This is a program that is national in scope, and communities and individuals are going to be called upon to do their utmost to help. Most of the solution to the problem lies at local levels, at State levels. Federal Government has, certainly, important responsibilities in interdiction and in other areas, but I will be encouraging all Americans to pitch in in whatever way they possibly can to help in this menace.

Q. Will there be money, sir? Will there be money coming to areas to help us?

The President. Yes, there will be some money, but it's not going to be the question of the Federal Government sending money to every community. That's not the way this problem will be solved, and most Americans understand that.

Q. Mr. Bush, in northern Maine at the Canadian border last year there were 28,000 illegal incursions into the United States. The Border Patrol figures they can account for about a third of them, but the border's basically wide open. Can your drug program address the problem of short -- personnel protecting the borders?

The President. It will address that problem to some degree, and there will be a stepped-up increase in funds on the interdiction side.

Chief of Staff Sununu

Q. Mr. President, turning to the Middle East for a moment -- and I'm from New Hampshire, so I'm, of course, interested in our former Governor as well. A couple of years ago, he told me that -- he cited his prominence as a Lebanese-American as a way of helping to promote peace in the Middle East. Now that he's your Chief of Staff, what role has Governor Sununu played in trying to promote peace or help you carry out your initiatives in the Middle East?

The President. Well, Governor Sununu is, of course, very interested in this question, working closely with the national security people, Defense Department people, our Secretary of State, our State Department people. He sits in on every National Security Council meeting. He is a top adviser on this and a wide array of other subjects.

Now, I feel a certain frustration about the Lebanon because we have not been able to be a catalyst for peace. We have urged a cease-fire; we have urged a withdrawal of all foreign forces; we are available to consult with the individual parties, and they know that. I've been in consultation past periods with the President of France, with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and with others -- His Holiness the Pope. And it is a problem that is plaguing the civilized world. But Governor Sununu knows the area well and is respected by the people that are involved in the sense of the Israeli side, the Lebanese side, the Syrians. And so, it's useful to have somebody that is sensitive about that area.

Flag Desecration

Q. Mr. President, I noticed you have the flag flying, and the American flag has been in the news recently. Our two Senators, Mitchell and Cohen, support a statutory approach to protecting treatment of the flag. And you've been backing a constitutional amendment. Could you support a statutory -- --

The President. Well, I'm advised that the statutory route would not get the job done. But I -- --

Q. Why?

The President. Well, because I think the recent Supreme Court decision challenged the constitutionality of the law that prohibited desecration of the flag. So, I'm delighted that the Senators are supporting legislation because I think everybody, most Americans, are concerned and would like to see the flag protected -- so that's very positive. But my concern is that our attorneys say that the legislation won't do the job.

Maine Mental Health Commissioner

Q. The State Mental Health Commissioner, Susan Parker, has come under serious scrutiny here in Maine for her handling of crises at the Augusta Mental Health Institute, including patient deaths. I'm wondering if you could tell us: What job is she being considered for in the Health and Human Services Department, and why are you considering her?

The President. Well, I'm sorry I can't tell you about that. I just don't know about Miss Parker.

Situation in China

Q. Mr. President, about China -- --

The President. What part of Maine are you from? Go ahead.

Q. From Kennebunkport, of course. [Laughter] Anna Chennault [chairman, National Republican Heritage Group Council] is in China, and she is reported to have taken a message from you to the Chinese leadership. And the Chinese News Agency said that she's told them that if they want to have a military crackdown on their protesters, that's their own affair, or something to this effect. I want to know if you did send a message or anything like that with her, or anything about, for instance -- [dissident] Fang Lizhi was also mentioned as being something that she was supposed to carry a message about.

The President. No, there was no such -- I hadn't heard that before now, Rita [Rita Beamish, Associated Press], and I did not ask her to convey any message to the Chinese. We have our own diplomatic avenues through which to do that.


Q. Mr. President, what do you think a fair price for a pound of lobster is?

The President. I don't know. Can't give it to you.

Auto Emission Standards

Q. Mr. President, the Northeastern States want to adopt an emissions standard for older cars, and they'd like to see that happen federally. Is that something that you would support?

The President. To do what now?

Q. Emissions standard for older cars -- the California air emissions standard for automobiles.

The President. Well, I would leave the States to set that, but we have a clean environment program that I think will do a lot to clear the air that comes from auto emissions. And I still feel strongly about the need for alternative fuels as a way of solving this problem.

Governor McKernan of Maine

Q. Jock McKernan stuck with you through thick and thin on the campaign trail. Do you feel a certain obligation to him? Do you feel like -- --

The President. I feel a certain high regard for Jock McKernan that is undiminished. We've been friends for a long time, and, yes, he did stand with me, and I will work hard not to let the man down, or the State down.

Federal Fiscal Restraint

Q. Mr. President, the Maine State budget has gone up $600 million in the last 3 years, and Mainers are heavily taxed. What kind of support or encouragement can you give them?

The President. Try to keep the Federal budget from going up like that percentage-wise, hold the line on Federal spending as much as possible, and that isn't easy. But we are in the longest expansion -- almost the longest expansion in the history of this country, and generally speaking, the economy is doing pretty well. And the best thing I can do to help a problem of that nature is to get the Federal fiscal program better under control. And that isn't easy, because every time you turn around, somebody's got some other way to spend the taxpayers' money on some new program. So, the best relief for the States is to have a Federal Government that gets its deficit down, and that's what we're striving mightily to do.

French Role in the Middle East

Q. Mr. President, there is apparently an Air France airliner en route to -- being hijacked to Tunis. What can you tell us about that? Do you know if there is a connection with the French military movements in the Mediterranean? And the big question, sir, is: At the very least, haven't the French complicated your life and the hostage situation by sending the carrier group there?

The President. No, they have not. And let me just say, I've just gotten a report, so I don't know the details of the hijacking. We've had a report from our Situation Room on that just a little while ago, so I can't help you with any details. But look, the French have had a longstanding interest in Lebanon. They have tried to be a catalyst for peace in Lebanon. As I indicated earlier, I've talked to President Mitterrand -- not in the last few days, but about this question. They have a lot of French citizens in that corner of the world. They made clear that the movement of ships were to protect their citizens. And so, I am not about to criticize the French for what they are doing.

President's Security

Q. You're no doubt aware of the debate in the State, and especially in Augusta, about how to pay for local security costs when you're here -- --

The President. Yes.

Q. Isn't that something the Federal Government ought to be picking up?

The President. Well, I think there's a move in the Congress to assist in that, and I would like to see the Congress move on that. There's no question that there's a security burden placed on this small community here -- and, indeed, some of the surrounding communities -- by the presence of the President. And I think the Congress should do that. And I would say that Senator Mitchell has taken the lead on that and I expect there will be congressional action.

Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant

Q. Mr. President, it's been 3 1/2 years since the Seabrook nuclear power plant has been completed. It's still not on-line. The country is searching for an energy policy. How important is it to you that that plant become operational -- full power?

The President. I remain a strong supporter of safe nuclear power. And I'm not up to speed in the last few weeks on the Seabrook, but I made very clear that in my view, if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission found that the plant could be operated safely and that there would be the proper evacuation procedures, that it should go forward; and I'm not going to change in that. We have a very able Secretary of Energy, Jim Watkins, who is formulating a national energy plan, and I am confident that a part of that plan will be the safe use of nuclear power. And besides that, for all of you environmentalists out there, it's a good thing also. You're not polluting the air with it.

Polish Political Reforms

Q. Mr. President, on Poland. There's at least some circumstantial evidence that Mr. Gorbachev told the Polish Communist Party to back down and work with Solidarity to form a government. Does it seem to you that the Soviets are playing a helpful role in the current situation in Poland and in the formation of a government there?

The President. Well, certainly, in assessing that, it does. I expressed the U.S. view, I think, quite clearly when I was in Poland. There's a lot of change taking place; the change is dynamic. It will be far-reaching. There will be bumps in the road as these countries move towards more democracy -- there's no question about that. But I felt that the statement that I saw attributed to Mr. Gorbachev was very positive in this regard -- very.

Situation in Colombia

Q. Back to a question about Colombia. Can you give us an update, please, on the extradition efforts, and could you tell us what you hope these efforts will lead to as far as the long-term impact in Colombia?

The President. In the first place, let me take that question to say that I have great respect for what President Barco is trying to do. And I did have a phone conversation with him from here just the other day. And it is a tough problem that he faces. And I am convinced that he is determined to whip the problem, to beat it, and to free his country from the grip of the drug cartels. And on the extradition, there's a period of time now in which the Supreme Court of Colombia can override him. But I am hopeful that they will see that extradition should go forward. We have a list of people that are key kingpins, you might say, that we'd like to see extradited and brought to justice for their violation of United States law. And I think we're in a position where it's -- right now, we just have to wait and see what happens. But I would like to hope that the process will go forward along the lines that President Barco wants to see it go forward.

Q. Any feel, sir, for how much time will pass before the first drug lord might actually be brought to the United States?

The President. No, I don't have any last-minute feel on that.

Administration Accomplishments

Q. Mr. President, reflecting on 8 months in office, what do you feel you are most proud of and what is your greatest disappointment?

The President. Dave [David Hoffman, Washington Post], I think in -- I don't know that it's a question of pride in something. I mean, I try not to measure my Presidency by personal pride or in personal wins or personal losses -- who's up, who's down, victory or defeat. But I think we have a good team in place, a strong Cabinet. I like the way the government process is working in the executive branch. I certainly have some pride in that -- in my Cabinet-mates, as you will. I hope that we are handling the important foreign relationships in a prudent fashion. I've tried to do that in Eastern Europe. I think we're trying to handle a very complicated situation in Asia, the Chinese relationship, in that manner.

And so, I enjoy that part of this job. But it's too early to take pride in accomplishment; I'm really just beginning here. And so I think in disappointments, I would like to have seen quicker action out of Congress on some things, some appointments, for example -- of our appointments -- good, sound nominees that are being held up. And I would challenge the Senate to move briskly forward on those when they come back. I would like to see quicker action on our overall budget, and I think that we will move fairly fast on that when we get back. I'm delighted that we've gotten the savings and loans bill through, but I'd like to have seen quicker action on that one. But nevertheless, there was some give-and-take and it worked out. So, I guess the jury is still out and I'm -- it's still early to answer.

Q. Seventy-five percent of the American public says they love you and they think you're doing a great job. Are those some of the reasons why you think they think you're great?

Mr. Fitzwater. Is this a trick question? [Laughter]

Q. You got a larger popularity ratio than Ronald Reagan ever had. Yet you've had critics that have said you haven't acted fast enough on Valdez or things like that. Yet the American public says you're the most popular President of all time.

The President. Thank you for asking that question. [Laughter] No, but these things do -- no, it's interesting and it deserves a serious response. And I -- some of it is my wife. Some of it is the fact, I think, people see that we're trying hard. It's fundamental values. Some of it is that I've tried to calm things down and work with Congress.

But these things change. You know, these polls -- look, you're looking at a guy who was standing on this lawn about a year ago at this time and -- I think it was -- some of you -- I know this guy was here -- and the numbers were quite different and a different setting, a different situation. What goes up can come down, and I'm well aware of that. So I don't make too much of polls. I don't make too much of them.

But I must say that I think there's a good feeling in the country about our institutions now, quite a change from 20 years ago. And you go as President downtown or anyplace else around here or across the country -- North Dakota -- and I sense it, I feel that. And it's not personal; I think there's a recognition as the people look around the world that we're lucky in this country. We've got problems; we've got enormous difficulties. But they sense the strength of the United States, and they see world events coming our way. And a farmer in Kansas that's hurting or a Maine individual who may be below the average in terms of income may be concerned about that, but senses that freedom and democracy are on the move and that the United States is respected around the world in spite of some difficulties. And so maybe some of that is why things are -- make it appear that I'm not doing too badly.

Murder of Colonel William R. Higgins

Q. Mr. President, what about the situation again with Colonel Higgins? Given everything you've said, there is a perception on the part of some of weakness. Directly, will his murderers ever be punished?

The President. If we can find them, yes.

Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement

Q. Mr. President, on the question of free trade, you're going to be meeting Prime Minister Mulroney over the weekend. There are some lobstermen concerned that if we set a higher minimum size for lobsters, the Canadians will catch smaller ones and flood our market. Is that something we can do anything about? Is that something you'll be discussing with the Prime Minister?

The President. It could be. Whether it will come up with the Prime Minister, I don't know. But it is something -- a matter that our trade people -- Commerce and our very able USTR, Carla Hills, have discussed with the Canadians. But I'll have to get thoroughly briefed on that because I'm not sure exactly where that matter stands today.


Q. Polls indicate that Maine will remain a prochoice State despite the Webster decision. Since this is one of your home States, how do you feel about that? And will you back any efforts to target Maine to change that?

The President. Well, my position is well-known on the question of -- I've just come down after a lot of soul-searching on the side of life. And my position is very clear nationally, and I know that different States have different laws on this, but I am not going to change one single bit. And if that helps convince others around the country that the prolife position is correct, so be it and so much the better as far as I'm concerned. But I certainly don't intend to try to dictate to each State what that State should do in terms of State law.

Situation in Colombia

Q. Mr. President, back on Colombia. In the statement on your telephone conversation with President Barco the other night, you said that appropriate assistance would be rendered as quickly as possible. President Barco said he doesn't need U.S. troops. What kinds of things can the United States do?

The President. Well, we're in discussions with Colombia on that right now, as a matter of fact, today in Washington. And I'll have to wait and see what they feel would be most helpful to them.

But they have enclaves of these narco traffickers. They might need certain technical assistance to go after those people. They can use training for some of their forces -- police, for example. Certainly, we want to be in a position to help them in any way we possibly can. But yes, the President did make clear that he was not requesting United States troops.

That whole question of troop speculation, I thought, got out of whack. The Attorney General gave a very sound and very correct answer to the question. But some people interpreted that answer as that we were getting prepared to send troops to Colombia. I know enough about this hemisphere and have had enough experience in dealing with countries in Latin America and South America, Central America -- all through the Caribbean -- to know the constraints that exist in terms, or should exist in terms of dispatching troops. So, there would not be any unilateral action of this kind.

The question that was asked of Thornburgh was a hypothetical question: If you were requested to send troops, would you do it? And, of course, I'd take that under consideration; but that is not what's being considered at all -- the President of Colombia, for example, making it very clear that that would not be something that he is requesting.

Minimum Wage

Q. Given your level of comfort here, why can't you bring yourself to back a $4.55 minimum wage to improve the quality of life for some people -- --

The President. Because I don't think it improves the quality of life; I think it throws people out of work. And that was debated openly and fully in the United States Congress. And the idea that a $4.55 minimum wage improves things for a lot of people is not an idea that I accept. I think it's wrong. That's why I didn't do it.


Q. Mr. President, you campaigned as the education President. Yet, the National Education Association seems frustrated with your -- --

The President. They've been frustrated with me forevermore. The NEA -- --

Q. They say it's a lack of direction with you and Secretary Cavazos. So specifically, sir, what are your plans for education in the United States on the Federal, State, and local levels? And if I could add, will there be money to aid in education, especially for at-risk children?

The President. We sent up a broad, comprehensive Federal program for aiding education, for making it better. It is specific; it does call for funding in certain categories. But the NEA is on a different course; they have been -- politically. They've opposed me every time I've ever run for office that I can remember, and so what's new? I mean, they've got their approach to education and I've got mine -- and I am right and they are wrong. [Laughter] So, tell them to take a careful look at my education proposals that were accepted widely -- a lot of criticism from some, but a broad acceptance when we sent them up in terms of helping in quality education, and then recognizing that 7 percent of the funds that go for education properly come from the Federal Government, and 93 from other sources. And please ask the NEA to understand that, because that ratio is not going to change.

Mr. Fitzwater. Final question, please.

President's Security

Q. Knowing that you're always a target for terrorists, do you feel safe strolling about Kennebunkport?

The President. Yes, but I can't stroll quite as freely as I used to before I was in government work. And I don't worry about it. We've got extraordinarily able Secret Service and I just don't -- I honestly don't spend one second of the day thinking about that. And that's because I have great confidence in the able men and women that are in the Secret Service. I have confidence in our intelligence, though some areas -- I've told our Washington friends here that I wish that it was better. But, no, I'm -- it just doesn't bother me. What bothers me a little bit is that you just can't jump in the car over there and drive downtown or something of that nature, but that goes with the territory.

Q. Do you mind bringing the press with you?

The President. Besides that, it's very hard to putt, especially to chip, when you have onlookers standing there. A modest kind of shy guy like me -- I like to play golf without a lot of people watching. So once in a while, I'll make a mishap. And once in a while, you take a practice putt and it doesn't go in and then you see it on the television -- CNN [Cable News Network], where are you -- and then I have to explain it to my grandchildren: "How come you missed it three times?" [Laughter] So you have those inhibitions, but not security inhibitions.

Senator Mitchell

Q. How would you assess your relationship with Senator Mitchell?

The President. Very cordial.

Q. Have you played cribbage with him yet?

The President. He bawls me out from time to time and I -- but I'd say I'm a kinder and gentler kind of guy. I don't think you can find one criticism, but that may change.

Q. How about cribbage?

The President. Cribbage -- I used to play in the service. So, I'll surrender on that one. He's a good leader and he's certainly a good Senator for the State of Maine, and he's a man with whom we have differences. But we have a civilized relationship. He'll come down to the White House and he can say, "Look, I think you're wrong on this." And I'll tell him, "Wait a minute, I think you're wrong on it." And then -- the Chief of Staff remembers one very vigorous exchange that we had in the Oval Office just before the Senate got out. But if he walked through the gate down here, I'd say, "Great, I'm seeing a friend." And that's the way politics ought to be, and I'm going to work hard to try to see that it is that way.

President's Security

Q. Do you get any feedback from your neighbors on dealing with security checkpoints, or demonstrators, or about the fireworks?

The President. No, no, not that -- there was some in the beginning. I think the lobstermen problem has been resolved. I keep inquiring on that because it is important to me that there be tranquillity in that area. I think it's been resolved. I hope that we haven't inconvenienced the neighbors over here. There was a demonstration a few days ago, and there were a few people that behaved in a very orderly fashion. It was a demonstration on Lebanon, as a matter of fact, and they were assigned a certain demonstration route here and certain numbers that could parade and demonstrate. And my only concern there was the concentration of demonstrators shouting their slogans and exercising their free speech rights -- did that inconvenience our neighbors? But I haven't had any real complaints from the neighbors on that. So, it's going pretty well, I think.

Foreign Visitors in Maine

Q. You seem to invite lots of heads of state down here to Kennebunkport. Do you find it easier to work on world issues while you're relaxing here? And where do you solve the issues that you resolve? On your boat, or golfing, or -- --

The President. Well, we haven't had that many yet. As Vice President, I had the Prime Minister of Portugal here and the Prime Minister of Singapore and one or two others. Of course, the most high-profile visit was the visit of Francois Mitterrand, and Maine -- I think he enjoyed it. And I know Barbara and I enjoyed having them as our guests at this special place.

And so, though there were no major problems resolved, background music was good. And so I would expect that that will be really what the product of the meetings with Mulroney -- who's a friend of longstanding, and so is Poul Schluter [Danish Prime Minister]. So it's more that than it is a specific agenda to work on in this setting.

Q. Would you ever consider inviting Gorbachev here?

The President. Well, he'd be welcome.

Q. Do you think he'd like it?

The President. Who couldn't like it? Yes. Everybody likes it.

A couple of more, then I've got to run.

Public Access to Beaches

Q. Maine's supreme court has ruled that Maine -- and Massachusetts is the only other State in this regard -- that the public has no rights in the intertidal zone other than fishing, fowling, and navigation, no recreational rights. You're a shorefront property owner, plus your daughter is involved with promoting tourism in Maine, and the tourism industry is very concerned that that may have a chilling effect on tourism in Maine. Do you think that the public has, or should have, recreational rights in the intertidal zone? And if you were citizen Bush rather than President Bush, would you allow us to picnic on your rocks here?

The President. Well, I think there has been an understanding that people have the rights to do that. This is a very recent court case, and I can't judge the case. I don't know what the facts were regarding Moody Beach down there, and so I can't make a broad statement of that nature. We've had people out on these rocks. I don't think they have too good a shot to get out here today, but there have been people that have come out here below the -- respecting the rights of ownership here. So generally speaking, as open as possible. But I don't want to try to intervene in some court case that I know nothing about over on Moody Beach -- which I enjoyed fishing off of yesterday.

Chief of Staff Sununu

Q. Will you settle a political argument for us in New Hampshire?

The President. I'll try. [Laughter]

Q. A couple of months ago, there were some words flying back and forth between Governor Sununu and Congressman Charles Douglas regarding lifestyles and the possibility of Mrs. Sununu running for Congress in the GOP primary. Hugh Gregg [Governor of New Hampshire] says that you mentioned something to Governor Sununu -- I don't want to say that you said knock it off -- but just somehow to simmer it down. And Lee Atwater [Chairman, Republican National Committee] has told us a slightly different story. Did you talk to Governor Sununu about this debate -- or this war of words?

The President. No, no.

Q. Not a word about it?

The President. Well, there may have been a word about it. That was before his kinder and gentler days -- [laughter] -- I don't recall any weighty discussions about it at all.

But look, this Chief of Staff has my full, unequivocal confidence. And I think the whole world knows that, and our Cabinet people know it, and others in the Government know it. And it makes life a lot easier for me and for him as long as it's out there. So, that one I can't help you with, but I will take that and use that question to just simply restate my confidence in him and the job he is doing. And I'll tell you, he's made a lot of friends for our administration on the basis of competence, sheer competence. So, if some flap comes up involving something at home, I can't help you with that one. But I've got to keep looking at the big -- --


Q. On the abortion question, I know you have some meetings coming up, for example, with Cardinal Law from Boston. Are you getting pressure from groups like the Catholic Church to do something -- enforce your position on prolife?

The President. No. I visited with -- Cardinal Law was my guest at lunch at the White House within the last 2 or 3 weeks, and I don't recall any stepped-up pressure of that nature. I think those who favor the prolife position know my views on it. And I don't think there's been a major swing in the country. I keep reading in papers that public opinion is all changed on this. I haven't sensed that at all. So, we'll wait to see. There will be plenty of election tests that people can make those judgments on.

Aid to the Contras

Q. Can I just ask you -- Vice President Dan Quayle this week seemed to indicate a shift in our policy toward the contras, saying that we have a moral obligation to continue humanitarian aid if they don't want to go back under whatever the new conditions are to Nicaragua. Is that, in fact, the case -- that we should continue humanitarian aid?

The President. As far as I'm concerned, absolutely. I don't see that as a shift of any kind.

Q. After the elections?

The President. I don't want to see the mandatory demobilization of those contras before the elections. I've felt and I am absolutely correct that the pressure from the contras has been the thing that's led Ortega [President of Nicaragua] to start moving a little bit on free, fair elections. Why should that one country be swimming against the tide of democracy and freedom? And I thought Quayle, the Vice President, ably spelled out our policy, and I thought it was a good speech, and it certainly has the full support of the executive branch of this government.

Two more, and then I am going to go.

Gun Control in Maine

Q. The Portland police chief is trying to toughen up gun ownership regulations within the city, and it's sparked a new round of gun control debate in Maine. Your thoughts?

The President. Let the able police chief there take his case to the people of Portland. And let Maine make its determinations on that. And that's the way these matters should be -- --

Q. Well, as a Mainer, do you think we should all have the right to carry guns?

The President. The Constitution gives you certain rights in that regard. So, what I want to do is get strong support for our anticrime package -- stronger, predictable sentencing, tougher terms, more judges, more people to make those pay who are breaking the law. And that's the answer on the crime side, it seems to me.

Last one.

Canada-U.S. Border Incidents

Q. Mr. President, the Canadian patrol boats have been firing across the bow of American and Maine fishermen who either wander, mistakenly or purposely, into Canadian waters. I understand there have been some incidents the other way, too. There was a chase -- Canadians chased American ships. Some of that problem has to do with the way we manage the resources. Can you tell me what, as President, you might suggest when you talk with the Prime Minister of Canada about reducing the tension and the potential for violence up there?

The President. Well, I would be happy to discuss that with him. Look, we have peaceful borders with Canada. You look around the world and we ought to be counting our blessings for our peaceful borders we have with Canada and the peaceful borders we have with Mexico. And anything that he or I could do to increase that tranquillity, the better; but I have no specific plan on it. But we must recognize that Canada is a great friend to the United States, and the United States is a great friend to Canada, and the peoples are friends. So, if there are these little incidents, let's try to get to the core of what causes them and get them solved and get them out of the way, because they are not going to and must not disrupt the relationship overall that exists -- and they won't, believe me.

Q. -- -- the Coast Guard firing across the bow of a Canadian fishing ship if -- --

The President. I will leave the rules of engagement to the Coast Guard, and they have well-defined rules as to what they can do and what they should do. And so, I am not going to go in with you into some situation that's so hypothetical that I couldn't begin to answer it. That's one way you get in trouble. And I want to avoid trouble, and now I've got to leave.

Note: The President's 21st news conference began at 9:56 a.m. at Walker's Point in Kennebunkport, ME.

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

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