George Bush photo

The President's News Conference on the National Drug Control Strategy

September 06, 1989

The President. Hello, everybody. Please sit. Well, I'm delighted that Dr. Sullivan and Bill Bennett are with me -- brought the first team in to respond to questions, too.

I'm pleased with our announcement on drugs. As I've listened carefully, there has been little, if any, substantive criticism about this national strategy. And listen to the critics, if you will, but recognize that you don't hear much substance. What you're hearing the debate about is how one pays for it or whether it needs to be more in one category or another. I say that because I think that is a tribute to the work of Bill Bennett and the others who helped formulate this first-in-a-lifetime national strategy.

Now, you're familiar with the strategy, but let me just touch a couple of points and then respond to your questions. It's a fully integrated approach. We address all the elements necessary to an effective strategy: school and drug prevention programs, treatment, laws and criminal justice system, and foreign policy.

On the laws and criminal justice system, we sent a package up to the Congress several months ago on anticrime, including prisons and matters of that nature. And some of our critics fail to understand that that is already up there as a very separate program, but one that ties in, as I tried to point out last night, to our national strategy.

I'm determined that there will be no turf problems. I think, as I look back over my shoulder -- and I had some role in the interdiction as head of a task force -- we had some turf problems. I think with Bill Bennett's leadership, and he and I working shoulder to shoulder, that we can eliminate any of those that might still be lingering. But we've got to work together, and it's not just Federal; it's got to be State and local as well.

There's a bipartisan consensus in this country. I don't think there's any disagreement about the gravity of the threat. And that's important if you want to get something done. I'm challenging the Congress to give us bipartisan support in the implementation of this strategy. And I'm looking to the grassroots support of America's communities in the fight against drugs.

The evidence -- I tried to point it out last night, so I won't repeat it -- the good news being the decline in casual drug use. And that's a significant point. If we can continue that trend, it will make a big impact on the drug market and on the lives of individuals. The bad news, of course, being the persistence of cocaine, the hard users and, of course, the insidious effects of crack.

The criminal justice system -- we're increasing Federal funding to States and localities for street-level law enforcement. We're providing Federal funding to States for planning, developing, and implementing alternative sentencing programs for nonviolent drug offenders, including house arrests and this boot camp concept. Boot camp concept -- I don't know, Bill, whether you discussed that here this morning or not.

We're tightening bail and probation, parole and sentencing -- again, I touched on that last night -- requiring drug testing of prisoners. It's interesting how the country has changed its view on testing, and I think there's far more support now for drug testing than existed before. We're encouraging the States to vigorously prosecute misdemeanor drug offenses. We've got to go after users. This idea of turning the other way on that one is over as far as I'm concerned and as far as Bill Bennett and the others are concerned.

We're expanding programs to eradicate the domestic marijuana crops. Some of your areas are somehow affected by that. We're providing funding, as I mentioned last night, I believe, to HUD to help kick the drug dealers out of the public housing programs. And Jack Kemp was at the speech last night, and he feels that this is adequate funding to make a real impact in the public housing programs. We encourage States to adopt policies that revoke the driver's licenses of those convicted of a drug offense. That isn't mandated; we're not requiring that or tying it in, but we are encouraging the States to do it. Some, I think, have already taken action in that regard.

Treatment -- we're increasing the Federal spending by some 53 percent to $321 million. We're expanding the availability of drug treatment by increasing treatment capacity and the range of treatment methods that are available. Outreach and treatment efforts for pregnant women and newborn babies -- we're going to be more help there. I've just come from D.C. General. And you want to really have a broken heart and feel something in your heart, go and see these little kids, some of whom are abandoned, many of whom are given birth to by mothers who are addicted to cocaine. And we've got to help in that area, and I believe we can do a job there.

Education and prevention -- I won't dwell on that one, but it is vitally important, especially when you see the problem of teenage pregnancy and then the abandonment of these kids. So, I mentioned last night, we're going to try to get into the classrooms next week on a specially televised national hookup to the schools.

On the budget recommendations, I know some in Congress are calling for a tax increase. I'd like to identify myself with what Secretary Bennett said this morning: I don't believe we have a drug problem because we aren't paying enough in taxes -- and that's where some of this logic leads you to. We have sent specific suggestions as to how to pay for this program to the Hill, and it does not require additional taxes. And I've been in this town long enough to know that there are always going to be people out there who are saying, "More taxes." If it's not for this subject, it will be for something else. And that isn't necessary to fully fund the national strategy that we came up with, that I unveiled last night.

So, with those comments, I'm wanting to get on to the questioning. I'd be glad -- oh, I didn't touch on the international aspects, but you're familiar with our commitment to interdiction; you're familiar with our Andean strategy. I hope the country is familiar with my respect for what the Colombians are trying to do.

Why don't we start right here.

South Florida

Q. Mr. President, no area suffers more from drugs than south Florida. Are you convinced that the people who live in these crack-infested neighborhoods will very soon be able to walk out of their homes again and feel safe?

The President. If we get the proper support for this program, they'll have a much better chance to do that. And I can't suggest to you that fully funding this program exactly the way we've suggested it is going to bring instant solution to that problem. It should bring instant relief.

And I know how heavily impacted south Florida is, particularly, but I would not -- recognizing the fact that we have a regional press corps here -- suggest that you could convince the people from Chicago or New York or some rural communities that they are less impacted. So, it is a national problem; but, yes, I hope that this will be of some relief to an overburdened south Florida.

Gun Control

Q. One of the reasons that we're so concerned about drugs here in the District of Columbia is that there have been more than 300 murders this year. While most of them involve drugs, a higher proportion of them are with handguns.

The President. Yes.

Q. Besides the ban on importing some types of automatic weapons, which we heard about earlier this year, does your plan address -- or what can we do about the tremendous problem of keeping handguns out of drug dealers' hands, off the street?

The President. We do support local law enforcement, and as you're familiar with, there are very strong laws in the books on registrations, domestically -- I mean in DC itself -- not nationally, DC. And part of our backing up law enforcement is so that they can enforce local laws, and this is one. And there are plenty of laws and, regrettably, these criminals seem to have a way to acquire weapons even though the law in the District, for example, is very strong against it.


Q. Mr. President, would you reconsider approaching the tax structure, if, by chance, within 2 or 3 years you see no relief with this problem through your drug strategy? Would you consider raising taxes at that point?

The President. If I thought the only way to get money to solve the drug problem was through increasing taxes, I would do that. But that is not the only way to get money for solving the drug program. And we have made proposals that are well up into the billions that don't require socking it to the taxpayer anymore. But if somebody could convince me that all the Federal programs that are in existence are perfect and need not be eliminated, or that there's no way to move funds from one account to another in 3 years, and the country was still suffering from this malaise, this sickness of drugs, I certainly would be openminded. But that isn't the case, and it won't be the case in 3 years.

Every time you make a proposal you have somebody jump up and say: Raise taxes! So, I am not in a mode to raise taxes. I am in a mode to move this national strategy forward and pay for it in the way we have suggested.

Q. I have a followup, sir. Do you have a backup strategy for this strategy in case -- --

The President. No, I think this one's going to succeed. We're selling this one -- we don't need backup. It's a good strategy, and we want it to work.

Q. Mr. President, the Democrats nevertheless have made it quite clear that they don't think your plan is strong enough across the board -- not in terms of money but in terms of all the moves that you're proposing -- and they pledge now to strengthen it. The question is: Will you resist their efforts, and is there any flexibility on your part to strengthen what you've already given?

The President. It's $2 billion higher than the House level -- that they're talking about in the House. They're carping -- those partisan comments. Now, if somebody has a real, sincere belief that you need more in treatment and less in something, of course, the process will work this out. But this is $2 billion more than the House level. And for a man to come to a meeting -- one of the Congressmen yesterday -- and he couldn't wait to get out on the lawn of the White House and say: Raise taxes! I'm not going to do that. We don't have to do it.

And this gentleman asked a very good question. But nobody is going to convince me that the people are paying too little in taxes. And it came up in the campaign; we just have differences with some of our political opponents. So, what I'm going to try to do is say: Look, let's work together on this strategy. Give it a try like this; see if it won't make an impact. There is some encouraging news. What's happening south of our border is encouraging.

Funding of Antidrug Programs

Q. Mr. President, yesterday your czar and Dar briefed us.

The President. What is my Dar? Deputy -- --

Q. Darman.

The President. Oh, Darman. Excuse me. [Laughter]

Q. According to your czar. They -- in briefing us -- they gave us the list of a number of items that they, and we believe you, are recommending might be taken off of other appropriations.

The President. Good.

Q. What are your thoughts on other things that are a little weak in appropriations, that could be taken off to replace these funds?

The President. Well, I think they gave you a list probably of eight categories or something of that nature, and that takes care of it.

Q. Just wondered what your thoughts are.

The President. My thoughts are that this makes good sense and let's try it.

Q. Mr. President, how will it be decided which States receive x amounts of Federal money?

The President. Bill, can you help me on that? I don't know the answer to that question. Which States get what for certain of these programs?

Director Bennett. Most of it is by formula. You've got block grants. You've got grants that go out by formula with some amount of discretionary funds. It's the general programmatic rules and regulations. Dr. Sullivan can explain the detail to you -- how the money goes out through HHS, and [Attorney General] Dick Thornburgh can explain how it works in Justice. There are not going to be radical changes in that -- a few changes -- --

U.S. Military Assistance

Q. In talking about south of the border, Mr. President, yesterday as you were speaking there were new bombings in Medellin. You've been offering the use of our military in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia, and yet those countries have not been asking for it.

The President. Oh, no, I beg your pardon.

Q. What discussions have you held with the Presidents, and how desirable is it to involve our military there?

The President. Well, we are involving military assets. As you know, there were some $67 million worth of assets already there or in the delivery process. Maybe you're talking about troops. President Barco, a courageous man, has made clear to me that they don't want American troops. And what I do not want to do, and what I will not do as President, is to take public opinion in a country that is now supporting their President -- in Colombia -- and turn it around by raising the old time-worn specter of American military intervention in Colombia.

As I said last night, if requested, we'd take a very different look at this. But they're making a move. They're doing what's right; they are taking courageous steps. These cartel cowards are fighting back by killing the wives of police officers and taking just brutal steps of that nature -- but President Barco is staying firm.

So, the United States cannot and should not impose a military armed solution into some sovereign country. And so, that's the way I view this. There is a lot of interest in our G - 7 [economic summit] partners on an international force. And that's a new concept. It's a concept I addressed myself to, I believe, in the campaign. But I don't think you want to risk turning around public opinion in a country that's struggling to do something now by the unilateral intervention of U.S. force into the area.

Andean Drug Summit

Q. To follow up, sir: What about bringing this subject in the drug summit that you are proposing, and how far away are we from a drug summit?

The President. I'm not sure. We haven't set a date on the drug summit. I think it makes good sense. I did talk to President Barco about that. He is certainly enthusiastic about it. And I think in a summit of that nature there should be an open agenda, all ideas on the table, an open discussion of questions of this nature.

Penalties for Drug Use

Q. Mr. President, Mr. Bennett has written that the choice to do drugs is one of a national crisis in character. I want to ask you two things: Why do you think people do drugs? And also, with some of the penalties you're proposing -- denial of housing loans and college loans and so forth -- won't you just be eliminating two programs that might convince someone to avoid a life of drugs?

The President. No, I think by the time you get up into college loans you ought to know better than to use drugs. We've had a tolerant attitude in the past; we've condoned those things we should have condemned in the past. And now, if indeed we're going to fight this war on all fronts, to use a cliche, this makes eminently good sense. I don't think it's fair to go after the street hood and let the casual university, hip user think that he's doing no damage to society. And so, I strongly support this part of the proposal.

Was there another part of it I didn't -- --

Reasons for Drug Use

Q. Why do you think people do drugs?

The President. Why do I think they do? Some of it's addictive; some of it is that the whole national attitude hasn't changed properly yet. We're seeing it change now in casual use. We have a much bigger assignment now in education in the neighborhoods and in the communities that are adversely impacted by poverty and ignorance. And so, there's a wide array of reasons that people use drugs. Some do it because their peers do it, some do it because they're told it will make them feel good or that they can make money in it. And there's a wide variety of reasons why people use drugs.

But we should never again as a nation look the other way. We should not have entertainment media that makes fun and laughter out of something that is this serious. So, I have great confidence in the American people in turning something around -- an ethic -- turning it around, making it more sensible and up to date.

Black Community's Response

Q. Mr. President, much of the black community has been skeptical of the other wars that were waged on drugs. Is there something that you can say to them specifically that might ease that skepticism?

The President. Well, I think there is skepticism. And I would simply say to them, this is the first coordinated national strategy, the first time we've approached this problem on all fronts in a coordinated way. So, give us your cooperation. Your own communities are being wiped out by this -- adversely impacted, heavily impacted adversely, more of the pain being right there. And so, give this a try. Work with us on prevention and on education and on treatment, and help us in terms of law enforcement. And be involved, and don't look away. And so, I hope we can help the skeptic by making clear that we do care about those areas that are most heavily impacted by narcotics.


Q. Mr. President, in the past Colombia was not able to stand firm against the cartel for very long. If the Colombian Government's current effort falters, what is your plan?

The President. My plan is to work with them to see that they don't falter, and to give them the support they need and the support they have requested, and encourage our allies to do that. And that's why I was on the telephone yesterday with [British Prime Minister] Margaret Thatcher and [West German Chancellor] Helmut Kohl, and that's why I'm encouraged when the G - 7 meeting in Paris says they are going to help these countries.

Many countries have felt up till now, well, this is someone else's problem -- a lot of countries in Europe now being impacted much more heavily than they were, say, 5 or 10 years ago. So, I am not buying into the hypothetical question that what President Barco is going to do should fail. We want him to succeed, and we'll work to help him succeed.

National Guard

Q. There have been some suggestions in Detroit that National Guard troops be brought in to control areas. Would part of your program foresee using National Guard troops or federalized troops in designated areas to combat rampant drug sales and -- --

The President. Well, I haven't discussed that with Bill, and I'd like to defer it to him. I don't know whether that's envisioned here or not.

Mr. Bennett. Well, that, obviously, in most situations, would be left up to Governors. We've seen some action in this regard in Oregon. Some of the National Guard troops are backing up the police, doing office and clerical work. But we'd like to consider the use of the National Guard in some other areas, such as the marijuana eradication.

Q. Would you like to see -- or would you support National Guard people on the street in a direct line rather than in a staff support situation?

Mr. Bennett. No, generally not. And what we've found in most cities, such as Detroit, is that in most cases the police are adequate to the job. The problem is after the police make the arrest the system doesn't have enough resources to support the arrests through prosecution, conviction, and imprisonment.

International Task Force

Q. Sir, what exactly did you ask or talk to Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Kohl about? And how close are you to a G - 7 task force? Is that still something that's close to reality?

The President. Well, discussed with her a follow-on to what we discussed in Paris, and that was G - 7 united support for Colombia. And she is enthusiastic about this, and Chancellor Kohl was enthusiastic about this. The ball -- in a sense, really, the leadership of the G - 7 -- is still in the French court, President Mitterrand. Chancellor Kohl is visiting with him this week. And so, I'm hopeful and very much encouraged by this united response.

Financial Priorities

Q. Mr. President, our Lieutenant Governor in New York, where I'm from, says that the increases you've given toward treatment and law enforcement -- and, in fact, the whole budget -- don't add up to the cost of one B - 2 bomber. And people back home want to know, even though your commitment toward drug fighting is strong, why your financial priorities aren't more targeted toward the drug fight instead of toward military.

The President. This is Lieutenant Governor who?

Q. Stan Lundine, the State of -- --

The President. Oh, Lundine. Well, it's not surprising that some think the only way to solve the problem is by greater taxes. I don't know how Mr. Lundine is proposing the Federal Government pay for the program, but we've made suggestions here that I fully support. But you know, yes, the B - 2 bomber is expensive, and, yes, it is important to the national security of this country. And, yes, it's easy for a Lieutenant Governor to make an analogy of that nature. But a President has a responsibility for both the national strategy on fighting drugs and the national security of the United States that hopefully will encourage the Soviet Union to move forward productively towards even more arms control.

And so, I can understand that -- that's a good free one out there, a big target. But I don't know whether this Lieutenant Governor is proposing the elimination of the Stealth technology bomber or not. I don't know where he's coming from, but I think he was using it as a dramatic example. And I am saying to him: We have stepped up by $2 billion over the House level the resources for the fight against drugs. And so, you see, let me go back to the basic point, and then I notice Marlin's restlessness here. The basic point is this: Nobody is criticizing the strategy. No one is coming at us and saying you've left this out or left that out. And I'm very encouraged by that. I think that means that if we do our job properly in selling we can get support from Democrats as well as Republicans. We've got to do it. The country is fed up. They don't want it to be a Republican answer or a Democratic answer or a liberal or a conservative answer.

So, maybe he is attacking the strategy, and if so, I'd have to take it back -- but I haven't heard any real substantive attack on the strategy itself. So, then you come to the question of whether it's enough or how are you going to pay for it? And there's a wide array of reflexive people up there who say "more taxes" for anything, and I don't think that's what the American people want. I have a funny feeling that something about the last election was: Are we being taxed too little? And nobody jumped up and said, "Hey, please tax me more." And I think we can do this significant increase without raising taxes. And I'm certainly going to do it without diminishing the fundamental national security requirements of the United States. And that's my responsibility, and I'm proud to shoulder it. And I think we've come up with a very good answer. And so, please -- it's not your obligation, but we will try hard to convince your able Lieutenant Governor that the program we have makes good sense.

Health Education

Q. Mr. President, regarding the outreach issue in education, what role will community-based organizations and national organizations that already are involved in related programs such as AIDS education, drug and tobacco education, play in your program?

The President. Well, last night I tried to make clear that they play a significant role. We have funds in there to support certain kinds of educational programs, but as you know, 7 percent of the total funds for education come from the Federal Government. Ninety-three percent -- I've got the Secretary -- oops, he's gone. Good, I won't be corrected -- [laughter] -- 93 percent come from State and local.

So, these entities have an inordinately important responsibility in the whole education process. And nothing in a Federal strategy on drugs -- a national strategy -- should diminish the responsibility, if you will, of the local and State educational entities. We'll try to give them the financial support we can in the program here, in treatment and things of this nature, but in terms of the overall education, it has got to be done through State and local as well as Federal support. But, remember, the totals put the responsibility on State and local to even do a better job in terms of education.

I was just out -- again, I don't want to burden you with the emotion of my visit to D.C. General Hospital, but I was deeply touched by seeing these abandoned babies. They're called boarder babies in this particular hospital -- and the mother comes in, has the baby, and takes off. And there has got to be an educational role here. There's got to be a better chance for kids through education of parents, whether it's about pregnancy itself or whether it's on the need for a little kid to have love -- or whatever it is. And so, education is going to be a key here, and the local and State role will not be diminished. I hope it will be supplemented a little bit -- but will not certainly be diminished -- by a Federal education program.

And I don't get teased as much as I used to about my concept of a Thousand Points of Light, but it's a valid concept. When I talked about what Jim Burke [president, Media Advertising Partnership for a Drug-Free America] was doing last night, encouraging his associates to come up with a million dollars a day in education money that will be on public television -- I mean, on regular network television, that's a contribution to education. And there are other 999 Points of Light out there, in teachers and in parents and in others who are involving themselves in the lives of other people.

And so, to really solve this problem we owe the American people a national strategy, and we've come up with it. And I want to work my hardest to see that it is implemented, but it cannot usurp the function of these Thousand Points of Light. It's there. It's at the level of love, the level of local education, parental concern, neighbor involving with neighbor, one's involving himself or herself in the life of another, that this problem is going to be solved. And I'm absolutely convinced of it, and I'm more convinced of it than ever after holding in my arms one of those abandoned babies. You guys are reporters, but go out there and try it on for size. And you'll understand why I feel as strongly as I do about the involvement of people.

And I might say to those in the DC area: The commitment of these nurses and these doctors to these kids that are born without hope is so encouraging. The only love they may ever get in their lives is when they are a month old, and we've got to change that. We've got to change it through education. The ethic has got to change -- too late now to condone those things we should have been condemning, and casual drug use is one of them.

Thank you all very much.

Note: The President's 23d news conference began at 11:37 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his opening remarks, he referred to Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Louis W. Sullivan, and William J. Bennett, Director of National Drug Control Policy. Marlin Fitzwater was Assistant to the President and Press Secretary.

George Bush, The President's News Conference on the National Drug Control Strategy Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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