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Public Papers - 1991 - October

Exchange With Reporters at Holly Hills Country Club in Ijamsville, Maryland

1991-10-13

The President. Sunday. I'm out here to relax Sunday afternoon. Like a lot of the rest of the country, I've been glued to the television, and needless to say, I thought Judge Thomas put it in great perspective yesterday. And my heart aches for him and his family. But I saw a strong man, a man that has my full confidence, a man that belongs on the Court, and I believe he will make it. I noticed that the country appears to be strongly supporting him. So, I'm very pleased.

Confirmation Hearings of Clarence Thomas

Q. Do you think Anita Hill is lying?

The President. I just have total confidence in Clarence Thomas.

Q. What about the whole circus, sir?

Q. Mr. President, do you have any evidence that Anita Hill is lying?

The President. -- -- listening to the testimony, and I have total confidence in Judge Thomas.

Q. Judge Thomas said yesterday that he'd been killed by this. Do you think under the circumstances that he really should still be on the Supreme Court?

The President. Yes, I think so. And thank God he's decided to put up with even more abuse and go through more of this.

The American people know fairness when they see it, and they know that this process is ridiculous. And they know it's unfair at the last minute to have a charge like this leveled against a man that served -- been confirmed four times by the Senate. I think it's outrageous. But the American people are fair. They appear to be supporting Judge Thomas. I certainly am supporting him, and I see no reason to waver one iota. And when he said, ``Yes, I'm going to stay in there, they're not going to drive me out of this,'' I think that said something to the American people, too.

Q. What about your own selective process? Do you really know the people you select?

The President. Yes. In this instance, I know him well.

Q. And were you aware -- --

The President. Absolutely not. This is a last-minute charge that came out that nobody was aware of. It came out after the hearings were concluded, after he'd testified. And of course, I didn't know that.

Q. Sir, do you agree that he's under attack from special interest groups?

The President. I just leave it that he's got my full confidence. And I was rather persuaded by some of those statements, but I'm not going to go into all that right here.

Q. What about the process, the whole confirmation process?

Q. What do you mean you were persuaded by them?

The President. That's all I'm going to say about it, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International]. You can use your own imagination on it. I have total confidence in Jack Danforth, for example. He knows this man. I know this man, people that do have total confidence in his honor and his integrity. And so, let the process go on. I'm trying to stay out of the process except to express my full support.

I think when it's over I owe the American people my suggestions as to how to improve this process, and I will do my level best to provide -- --

Q. How about your own process?

The President. -- -- such as leaking Federal, FBI reports. We're going to have a new process on that, I can tell you.

Q. Are you going to hold those tighter, Mr. President?

The President. I'll talk about that at an appropriate time. And our process is fine because we've selected a very, very good man. And a lot of attacks are on him, but it hasn't wavered one iota.

Q. What about the racial overtones of all of this?

The President. I don't like it. I don't like it. I think he, when he put his finger on kind of stereotypical images, I think that hit home to a lot of people.

Q. Some critics say that this could all have been avoided if there would be more moderate people -- --

The President. Oh, yes, those who don't want a judge like Judge Thomas on the Court have said that. But I'm the President. I know what the Constitution says. And I will appoint those who I think are the best and who will interpret the Constitution. And I believe that's what Judge Thomas will do. Some want to give him a litmus test on individual issues. We know that. You know that. I know that. The American people know that. And when those litmus tests are either not addressed or when they're not passed, some groups are going to rant and rave and go after him with anything they can bring to bear on the process.

Look, nobody is naive in all of this.

Q. You don't think the American people should have known what was in that FBI report, is that what you're saying?

The President. No, I think FBI reports, because they contain raw allegations, unfinished intelligence, should not be released to the American people. And the release of them violated the rules of the United States Senate.

Q. Should they be held accountable?

Q. Did you watch Professor Hill's testimony, Mr. President, and if so, what did you think?

The President. I saw some of it. And I'm going to stand strongly in support of my nominee. I believe he deserves to be confirmed.

Q. Then you think that she's not telling the truth.

The President. I believe that Judge Thomas is telling the truth all out. Yes, he is.

Q. What should happen to those who released the FBI reports?

Q. He says he would never have accepted if he'd known this was going to happen.

Q. What should happen to those who released those FBI reports?

The President. Well, in a sense, that's a matter for the Senate. But it also comes under the heading of my business inasmuch as the FBI is part of the executive branch.

Q. He says that he would never have accepted your nomination if he'd realized he would go through this. Do you feel any regret or feel any guilt -- --

The President. No.

Q. -- -- that you subjected him to this?

The President. No, and I think that what he's saying is he never dreamed that this -- his family and him would be brutalized in this manner.

You know, I remember talking to him at Kennebunkport about this, saying, ``You know, you're going to go through a tough ordeal here.'' I remember the day well and the conversation well, sitting back in our little bedroom back there. I took him back alone and discussed this with him. But I don't think either one of us dreamed how bad it would be.

You know, there's something wrong when you parade this kind of charge in front of the American people and with this definition. There's ways to consider this kind of thing.

Q. Does that mean you don't take this charge seriously, Mr. President?

The President. It means I think the system -- I agree with what Senator Danforth said about it. And I think most Senators feel a certain uncleanliness about all of this right now. I'm pretty sure they do.

Q. Do you take the charge seriously of sexual harassment?

The President. Of course, I would. But I also know what the law says about sexual harassment, and I also think that everybody should take the charge seriously. But that doesn't mean I'm not a little like the American people when I say, hey, these hearings went on for -- the nomination was made 106 or 107 days ago, and if this was as egregious as -- the charge as egregious as is now leveled, how come the normal behavior for 10 years? How come the last-minute charge brought before the American people? I mean, I don't understand that.

Q. I know, that's why -- --

The President. Well, they could well be, but 10 years is a long time, Helen. And you have 105 days of purgatory for this man. So I don't -- --

Q. Do you think that he would have had a clear sailing had these charges not -- --

The President. Well, no, I don't think so. I think that many Senators -- for philosophical reasons -- not for ethical reasons, not for reasons of character but for philosophical reasons -- had said they wouldn't vote for him. No, I don't think it would have been clear sailing. I think he would have passed, though, yes.

Q. Do you think the statute of limitations should be over on this even if he did do these things?

The President. Of course, it's over. But that doesn't -- she's not bringing a legal case, as I understand it. The rules are very clear. You heard the testimony, and I heard the testimony. Sexual harassment is bad, but I have a funny feeling here that this is not all that's at stake here. And like the American people, I'm troubled by this, very troubled by it. But strongly in support of Judge Thomas.

Q. You don't think he ever thought about the abortion case in any sense?

The President. I just stand by the testimony, Helen.

Q. Sir, since Bork, these types of hearings have gotten dirtier and dirtier.

The President. They have.

Q. What can be changed?

The President. Well, maybe that's something good that will come because I think the people will demand of the Senate something that's a little more proprietary than this.

Q. Are you going to recommend changes?

The President. Yes, I will. But I don't know how -- --

Q. How do you influence that?

The President. Well, I've got a good way of talking to the American people and asking for their support when I feel strongly about something.

Q. Mr. President, several times you've said now that more is at stake than her testimony. Could you be more specific about what you think is going on, about what's behind -- --

The President. No. I've stated exactly what I want to say on this. Nice try, though. You want to get me into every fight up there, and I don't want to be in it. I don't want to -- --

Q. Well, you are.

The President. No, I'm not.

Q. This is why you're standing here.

The President. Well, you were yelling at me. [Laughter] I didn't want to leave you standing here. I didn't invite you out here. You don't have to -- go on home and leave me, let me play golf on Sunday. That's fine with me, Helen. And I think the American people would understand that, too, that you've got your job to do, and I've got mine to do.

Q. Come on, you'd be lonely without us. [Laughter]

The President. No, I must admit, if I didn't see you on the first tee, which I hope you won't be on, I'd be lonely without you. I agree. [Laughter]

Q. Is Gates going to make it on Friday?

The President. Just don't put me under oath on that.

Q. How about the last one?

The President. The last tee? Depending on how I do. If I'm grumpy and have been shanking them -- --

Q. Go home. You don't want to be out here. It's too cold.

Q. We came to tell you what's going on in the hearings.

The President. Yes, you can, but I brought a little set so I can tune in from hole to hole out there.

Q. Have you really?

The President. Yes.

Q. You did really, a TV set?

The President. No, it's a little radio.

Q. -- -- saw it?

The President. No, I've watched some of it, not all of it, some of it.

Q. Were you surprised that he didn't watch it?

The President. No, I think, I certainly understand that. I certainly understand that. Who wants to hear his family and good name castigated over and over again and dragged through the mud?

Q. Have you talked to him at all since -- --

The President. I had him down to the White House the other day, not since that, no.

Any others? Because this is the last shot at me. This is the last shot.

Q. Any plans to talk to him today?

The President. No plans, but it could happen. But I have no plans, no.

Middle East Peace Conference

Q. What are the chances of a Middle East peace conference by the end of the month?

The President. Now we're talking substance, foreign relations here. Let's see. I don't know how to rate the odds on that. But I do know that most perspective participants want to go to the table, and that's quite different than it used to be. So, I'm somewhat hopeful that Secretary Baker can move this forward now. It's come a long way, we've forgotten that, a long, long way.

Q. How about a -- --

The President. One more question, this counts as a full-scale press conference. [Laughter] It does. Come on, this has been 15 -- how many questions?

Q. This is the 19th hole.

The President. No, it's not. [Laughter]

Q. You're a nice and accessible President. How -- --

The President. Thank you, thank you, Helen. Did you get that, did you guys pick that up? [Laughter]

Nuclear Test Ban

Q. How about the summit on the nuclear test ban?

The President. With particular emphasis on nice. What?

Q. Will there be any meeting with Gorbachev, maybe in Rome at the NATO meeting, or anything like that? Nuclear test ban?

The President. Oh, there is no decision taken on the NATO meeting. And there will be a lot of communication with the Soviets on the proposals, and then I think, at some time, a meeting with the Soviet leaders might be appropriate.

Q. -- -- like Malta?

The President. Come on. [Laughter] You're having this developed that these Republics are having an increasingly large say in the -- and want to have an increasingly large say. So, it's a little early to say exactly how such a meeting would be put together.

Q. So, it could be more than Gorbachev?

The President. Well, I think you're finding, that I'm finding that these Republic leaders are wanting more and more say over nuclear weapons in their territory.

Q. They're coming closer to a union treaty it looks like on -- --

The President. Well, I think that would be a good thing. And it's mainly on the economic side. But as I've long stated, to give the economic support, the humanitarian support, food support, why, they have to sort out these differences between them.

Confirmation Hearings of Clarence Thomas

Q. Mr. President, on Thomas, you saw a lot of these charges in the '88 campaign leveled at Dan Quayle. What goes through your mind when you see this again?

The President. What goes through my mind is I wish the political process weren't quite this ugly. Because how do you attract really first-class people like Clarence Thomas if they feel that in one way or another they're going to be brutalized, and if they feel that, even at the last minute after the hearings are closed and there's been 105 days since the nomination, that somebody can come forward with the charge? I think it makes it hard.

On the other hand, I like to look at the glass half-full and maybe out of this some procedural changes will be made that will protect the family, for example, and make it easier. But you ask what I think, I think it's pretty rough, that public service can be pretty ugly. And a lot of good men and women say, ``I don't need this. I don't want to serve my country if this is what it takes, if my family has a chance at being destroyed by the process.''

So, that's one of the downsides, I think, the enormous downsides of all of this.

Political Campaigns

Q. Is that true also of political campaigns?

The President. Yes.

Q. That there may be a ``take no prisoners'' attitude?

The President. Yes. That's true of a lot of things about public life.

Q. Democrats felt that the Willie Horton ads didn't raise the tenor of campaigning in '88.

The President. Yes. They have a point, but they missed the point of Willie Horton. It wasn't anything to do with race. It was to do with murderers being let out of jail to commit crimes again. And that's all it was about.

But you're right. The opposition picked up on that and tried to make something ugly of it. And so, it's too bad. I mean, I think those things are difficult. But the issue was a very valid issue. It had to do with what kind of furlough policy you wanted.

Q. Well, do you think it tainted your campaign?

The President. Some think so. I don't think so. I think the American people saw right through it and agreed with me in terms of these furloughs. They don't want a man that is put into jail without any, supposedly without parole, being released -- and that's what happened -- to go out and commit another crime in another State. And that's all it was about.

But, yes, when it's picked up and made into something racist and nasty, I think that's too bad. But I don't think that has anything to do with what's happening today. I think this thing is so much -- that was on an issue, and I don't think anybody -- --

Q. Well, what is the crux then? What do you think is the basis of the opposition?

The President. To what?

Q. To what?

Q. To this nomination that you've made.

The President. Well, I'd just let every American make up his or her own mind as to what the crux is. Many have stated it: philosophical opposition. Many of the judges have, I thought that Joe Biden had a comment like that. I understand that. He has every right to do that; he's a Senator. But some to get their way will go to no, will go the ultimate in trying to drag someone through the mud and -- --

Q. -- -- campaign?

The President. What do you mean by that?

Q. Will you counterattack when they attack -- --

The President. Sure, when they go after me, I'll go right back after them, if I decide to run. And I told you I will let you know when the candidacy becomes formal. I don't want to get out ahead of all these legal arrangements.

Q. -- -- could do it now.

The President. No, but it's too small a crowd. If I do that I want a great big crowd, and I don't want the golf course in the background, maybe. [Laughter] Although this is Sunday -- --

Q. That could make -- --

The President. No, that's all right. But this is Sunday. A lot of Americans watched the Ryder Cup, and now they can see the other extreme out here, about to tee it up.

But this idea of changing your life, not showing up at golf because I might be afraid you'd ask me questions on the golf course -- not for me. Look, I'm going to get my exercise the way I want. I work hard. I'm going to continue to work hard. And the fact that this is a nice setting out here -- the only regret I've got is they dragged you all the way out from Washington. But let it be said nobody had to show up.

Q. Are you going to play with Mrs. Bush today?

The President. She's playing in another very important match right behind us today.

Q. We wanted to show up. We didn't know that you were going to hold a news conference.

The President. I want credit for a full news conference.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. This is a full one.

The President. This is it. I may not -- it is a full one. Anymore, because I'm leaving. I want everybody to have exhausted -- domestic policy, you said? The education program? Yes, I'm very much interested in that. And we will continue to push for America 2000. And I hope we can get a good crime bill.

Q. -- -- Are you sorry you vetoed the unemployment?

The President. And I hope we can get a good transportation bill. And how I'd like -- --

Unemployment Compensation Bill

Q. -- -- Are you sorry you vetoed the unemployment?

The President. No. Because now I'd like to get a good unemployment compensation bill that is not going to break the backs of those who are employed. I'm concerned about the unemployed, and I'm concerned about those families in America that are having difficulty making ends meet. And what we don't need to do is get this deficit higher and, thus, put the burden on the back of the middle class or lower-middle class, people that have jobs and are barely making ends meet.

So, I want a good unemployment compensation bill, but I want one that is not going to bust the budget agreement.

Q. So, what's going to happen to these people?

The President. So it will work. They ought to send me a good bill. They can do it tomorrow if they want to, if they work on Monday. But I think tomorrow is a holiday. Make that Tuesday. And they could get it down there in 24 hours, because I'm not going to sign a bad one, and I will sign a good one. And we've got a good one on the Hill, and it's within the budget. And it won't result inevitably in higher taxes on the American people.

Q. Why can't you use the money that's in the budget for this particular reason?

The President. No, you can't do it because you have to declare an emergency, and I'm not going to do that because I want to have it within the budget agreement. And that's why, and we can do that.

Q. Mr. President, a poll last week said that a lot of people do not like the way you're handling the economy.

The President. I noticed that, and I've got to do something about it.

Q. -- -- trouble you at all?

The President. Yes, it did.

Q. What are you going to do about it?

The President. Get a good bill I can sign, by beating back bad bills. So, if the Democrats now want to not play politics, they'll send me a good unemployment compensation bill, one that shows concern for people out of work; one also that is paid for under the budget agreement, like the one we've got on the Hill.

But I think I've got to do more. And of course, this is a political season. They're pounding me on that now, and sometimes that gets through to the American people. I happen to think that we've got a good domestic program, but the point is we've got to keep reiterating it over and over again.

Q. Well, you've got to admit that the economy is really bad.

The President. Fortunately, it's less bad than it was. And yes, as long as one American is out of work and hurting, everybody has got to be concerned about that, including me, and I am.

Confirmation Hearings of Clarence Thomas

Q. Were you surprised at that two-to-one margin in the Post poll that people believe Thomas over Hill?

The President. No, I wasn't surprised. I wasn't surprised. I was pleased.

Q. What do you think Thomas's chances are now?

The President. I don't know. I don't know. I don't think they're -- I haven't seen any vote count. I'm not sure there are because this thing is kind of in a state of being decided here. So, I don't know. I'd like to think that they are good. But in terms of what's good or not, in terms of the chances, I don't know. But I have no regrets about putting this good man forward. I have lots of regrets about what happened to him. And I really feel hurt about it, mainly in identifying, trying to empathize with his family, and also, to some degree, with the process. I think a lot of Americans felt kind of unclean watching this and kind of hurt and troubled by it. I know I did. I know my family did.

Not to say, Helen, that somebody doesn't have a right to come out and all that. But there's something ugly about it.

Q. Well, what about her and her family?

The President. Yes, she didn't have to come forward at the last minute. She didn't want to be made public like this. Do you remember? She asked that it not be done. So therefore -- --

Q. And she would have taken a lie-detector test -- --

The President. Yes.

Q. Would you like to see them both take lie-detector tests?

The President. No, because I've passed the point where I think -- I don't want to be in a position of advocating that every nominee takes a lie-detector test. And I don't think any responsible elements are suggesting that. And I think it's a stupid idea.

But when you question -- if the idea is challenging the word of one over another, to use the lie-detector test in that way, I reject it.

The World Series

Q. Are you going to the World Series?

The President. Stay tuned. I don't know. We don't know yet. I'd love to, though.

Q. Do you like Atlanta because -- --

The President. What?

Q. Atlanta.

The President. Hey, listen. I've got to go to work now.

Q. Are you going to play 9 holes or 18?

The President. Eighteen, maybe 27.

Q. Oh, my!

Q. You're joking, you're not going to play 27. [Laughter]

The President. -- -- Kennebunkport -- come on, guys, I've got to go.

Q. That's the great American people.

The President. That's why I'm standing here. [Laughter]

Q. They vote.

The President. Okay, we'll see you all. So long.

Note: The exchange began at 12 noon on the golf course. During the exchange the following persons were referred to: Clarence Thomas, nominee for Supreme Court Associate Justice; Anita Hill, University of Oklahoma law professor who testified against Clarence Thomas before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing on October 11; Senator John C. Danforth; Robert H. Bork, nominee for Supreme Court Associate Justice in 1987; Robert M. Gates, nominee for Central Intelligence Agency Director and former Deputy Director of the CIA; Secretary of State James A. Baker III; President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union; Vice President Dan Quayle; Willie Horton, a convicted criminal whose furlough became a campaign issue in the 1988 Presidential election; and Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

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