Public Papers - 1991
Interview With Sylvan Rodriguez of KHOU - TV in Houston, Texas
Q. Mr. President, congratulations on the progress being made in Madrid and the peace talks over there. But as you talk about a kinder, gentler Nation, it's difficult for Houstonians who are being robbed at Randall's to relate to that. What can you do as President to make the streets safer right here in Houston, your hometown?
The President. Sylvan, there's not too much a President can do, but there are some big things a President can do if he can get cooperation.
You see, there's two schools of thought: One, we need to worry a little more about the criminals and their rights and soften the criminal anti-crime legislation, hoping that you can rehabilitate; and there's another school of thought, which is mine, and that is that we need to be tougher on crime.
We have a crime bill before the Congress that does exactly that: reviews the exclusionary rule, protects the police more, reviews the habeas corpus rule, cracks the death penalty on those who create the most heinous of crimes. And we've got a philosophical difference, particularly in the House.
The Senate Democrats and Republicans have come together for a good bill. So, my answer: ``Help us pass our anti-crime legislation.'' And then, of course, a lot of it has to be done through the police at the local level. And I think our police chief here is trying very hard. She's good, and she's working on it. But these policemen that are out on the beat need help, and that's what we're trying to give them through our anti-crime legislation.
But we're caught in a philosophical debate. The most liberal Members of Congress simply think I'm on the wrong track, and I think they've been proved wrong. We may get one this year, incidentally. I hope so.
Q. Let me ask you a little bit about the economy here.
The President. Fire away.
Q. Here in Houston we've been rocked by layoffs: Compaq let go some 1,400 folks; Transco yesterday announced 500 folks being laid off; Halliburton; Tenneco. The evidence here in Houston is pointing to a recession. What can you tell those folks who are out of work?
The President. I'd tell them that, ``Look over your shoulder and recognize that in spite of the hurt today we've come a long way in Houston.'' I think about a few years ago when we were going through the same credit and financial institution problems that some of the rest of the country is now.
I'd also tell them that what we need to do in Washington to assist is to have a growing economy with less regulation, with a new banking reform bill, with a transportation bill that creates instant jobs. I happen to believe a capital gains cut would stimulate more Compaqs -- companies being started. It would stimulate jobs in small business that present 80 percent or 85 percent of the jobs in this country. So, we've got good programs, but again, I'm in a fight with the Congress.
I also think there is this one of unemployment benefits. And where unemployment benefits have given out, I want to see that the checks start coming again. But I don't want to do it in a way that burdens everybody that is working or people that are out of work and are paying taxes.
So they ought to lay politics aside. And the Democratic leader in the Senate was reported in the paper today to be holding out against the other Democrats who want to do what I want done. He wants to, as I said last night, ``Stick it up my ear.'' I was trying to think exactly how to phrase that, but -- [laughter] -- this isn't any time for politics. People are hurting, and I want to send them the checks. But I also want to protect the rest of this country by not busting the budget agreement and adding to the deficit.
Q. A lot of folks are hurting here in Houston because of these layoffs. Can you give them an idea as to how long that's going to last, how long the recession -- --
The President. No, but I -- well, let me try to put -- I don't want to be kind of a cheerleader. I don't want to be a rosy-scenario man. In the first place -- and this is no help to somebody that's hurting -- the recession that we have been in, had been in, is not near as deep as the one that I lived through as Vice President in '81 and '82. So I think we have less far to come to get out of it, in other words.
I think when you see growth in the third quarter, that was a good sign. When you see unemployment -- don't tell this to an unemployed guy -- but when you see unemployment substantially lower than it was in the heights of the last recession, that's a good sign.
But yes, I'd say to them, ``I do believe things are improving.'' I don't think everything is right. I do think we ought to help those who are out of work. But I don't want to be a part of trying to talk this country into a recession, a deepened recession. And I don't want to win by just talking negatively about everything.
I know that very candidly, politically, some of the liberal Democrats that control this Congress think the only chance they have to defeat me is to talk this country into hard times. And I don't want to be a part of that. So my message to the person that's hurting is: One, we want to help you. Two, I believe we're going to be out of this thing and may be out of it right now. And three, work with the Congress to get the kind of incentives in the economy that I've been talking about for a long, long time.
Q. Mr. President, I hope to be with you on the campaign trail during this next year.
The President. Get ready. You're not a stranger to it, nor am I. I meant that, what I said last night. I've been trying to be kind and gentle and absorb these political shots from not all the Democrats -- you don't hear some of our Texas Democrats be this personal. But I'm a little tired of having the liberal Democrats up there in the House and the Senate, these entrenched leaders and chairmen of these little subcommittees, dictate to the American people.
I know what the American people elected me to do, and I'd like to be able to do it. So, I'm going to shoot back a little more now. I felt good after that last night. I came home, and I said to Barbara, ``You know, one, it's great to be back in Houston, and I feel good.'' I thought I'd be dead tired, having come in from Madrid. And I felt good because I slugged back at these guys that have been sniping at me for 6 months.
Q. Are you ready for the fight?
The President. Yes, I am. And we're going to be in a real fight. I'm not going to roll over and let them misrepresent my record. And I had fun pointing out that they say to me, ``What's the difference between foreign and domestic policy?'' Foreign policy, you don't have to go to the lowest common denominator on some subcommittee and ask permission to have a Middle East peace conference: you do it. And the people support you. Domestic policy, you've got to come up against this old thinking. So, there is a difference in that.
Q. Well, tell me what the focus of the campaign, then, will be. What's the most pressing issue that you feel -- --
The President. Economy. Jobs. Getting America back to work, helping those who are out of work. But then, of course, you mentioned crime. It's right up on the forefront. And I'm going to take the crime message to the American people and say: ``Get me some Members of Congress that will support my crime bill. Republicans are supporting it. Get me some on the other side so we can move it forward.''
Education. We've got a fantastic Education 2000. It's not Republican or Democrat. Democratic Governors are supporting it overwhelmingly. But some of the old thinkers in Congress want to have Congress tell these schools how to do it. They're subject to the power of the labor union in education. But I'm not worried about that labor union, the NEA. They never voted for me in their life. The members do. The union fights me. So, I'm going to fight them.
Q. Let me ask you a little about the middle class. That recent Washington Post-ABC poll indicated that 47 percent are inclined to reelect you, and the others say it's because of the economy and especially the middle class are hurting so much right now.
The President. Any time you've got a bad economy, people are going to look at anybody that's in office. One of the reasons you see term limits so popular, and I support them, is people are saying, ``Hey, they're not helping us.''
I can't ask a guy that's thrown out of work at Compaq to think everything I'm doing is perfect. But what I will do in the campaign is draw the lines and say, ``Here's what I've tried to do. Do you know this? And if you believe in it, send me some help up there.'' But yes, I think the economy is going to be the driving factor in these elections.
The lack of consumer confidence worries me because if they hear all this bad news all the time, people are going to get gloomy about it. It's a good time to buy a house. It's a good time to buy a car. Interest rates are substantially lower. But as long as people are worrying about their jobs, they hold back. So, I've got to border between cheerleading and saying, ``Hey, good banks make good loans; let's move things forward,'' and not seem uncaring. There's a balance there. I'm walking a tightrope.
Redskins vs. Oilers
Q. I have time to ask you one more question.
The President. Shoot.
Q. I'm sorry to be filibustering here. Save the best for last. Houston Oilers, Washington Redskins, big game. You're from Houston -- --
The President. You want to put me on the spot, don't you? Look, this one isn't that tough for me. And I've said this before, and I'll say it again. I know Joe Gibbs, and I respect him. And yes, I take pride in the Skins' record. But there's no problem for me. I talked to Jack Pardee just before I came down here, told him how great I think he's doing. Got a little secondhand message from Warren Moon, sending his best, and I scribbled out a note back to him. And so, I'm for the Oilers, and I hope they win. And I hope they go on to the Super Bowl, and I hope I get the honor to have them back in the White House.
Q. Great. Thank you very much, Mr. President. It's good to see you.
The President. All right. Good to see you.
Note: The interview began at 9:47 a.m. in the Houstonian Hotel. During the interview, the President referred to Joe Gibbs, coach of the Washington Redskins; Jack Pardee, coach of the Houston Oilers; and Warren Moon, quarterback for the Houston Oilers. Randall's Food Market is a Houston food store chain. This interview was not received in time for publication in the appropriate issue.