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Public Papers - 1992 - January

Exchange With Reporters Prior to a Meeting With Earvin (Magic) Johnson


Johnson's Role on AIDS Commission

Q. Mr. President, what kind of contribution do you think Magic Johnson can make in the AIDS battle?

The President. Well, it is my view that he can make an enormous contribution. He already has when you read the interviews and the reaction that he's having on the young people of this country for this very honest, compassionate, and sensitive view he's taken. It makes an impression on you. And he'll make a contribution on the Commission.

I wrote him a letter, a personal letter, some time ago and said that I recognize there are all kinds of opportunities now to serve mankind and that I'd love to have him on this Commission but he should feel free to say no if there were other priorities. And if he accepted that there would be no pressure, not that you could pressure a guy this size anyway -- [laughter] -- but no pressure to do anything other than do what the umpire does: Call them as they see them. And he's doing that. And he's out on his own around this country.

I think it's a wonderful thing, and I think he's already having an effect on lifestyle, for one hand, and, on the other hand, this whole question of compassion and understanding for people that are afflicted by this. So, it's a two-way street as I see it. One is the education process, and the other is just because of who he is, his character. The way people look up to him in this country, he can probably make a better appeal for compassion and understanding for victims of this than any American. It's that simple.

AIDS Funding

Q. Mr. President, have you committed in your new budget to spend more on AIDS treatment and research?

The President. In anticipation of getting that question, I will point out the fact that we are spending .25 billion total now. We are spending on research .8 billion, which is more than we do on cancer, more than we do on heart disease. And we will do the utmost possible.

I have been in close touch with the people at NIH, and I expect, Magic, you'll be if you haven't: Dr. Fauci and Dr. Broder and some out there. And we will try to get the maximum research funding level possible. They are not in the mode to tell me that the Federal Government has not come forward with a good level of funding. I mean, they've been quite positive about that. But if there's some place where you can put a little more money to get this problem solved, of course, we want to be sensitive to that.

Johnson's Role on AIDS Commission

Q. Mr. President, what sort of impression did Earvin's announcement have on you personally?

The President. Emotional. And of course, the Bush family are sports fans, and we've followed Magic. We've done it with great respect and admiration. But it's been not just that, not just a great athlete hit, but it's been the way he's handled it. It's been that that's had the real emotional effect. And people see this around the country. They really do. I'm not just saying it because I'm sitting next to this big guy; I'm just telling you that's the way they see it. They see it as here's a man that's got hit, and he's standing up and doing something about it and helping others. That's what this country's about.

Q. Did you have any hesitation yourself in joining this Commission?

Mr. Johnson. No. After I received President Bush's letter, I mean, first of all I felt honored, and I just wanted to learn a little bit about the Commission, what were my duties, what my responsibilities were before I accepted. Once I found out what the Commission was all about, I was ready to jump in right away. You always want to help in any way you can, and this can only help the battle that I had already taken before that, my stand to try to help people.

Q. Do you have any suggestions for what the President might do to further help to fight AIDS?

Mr. Johnson. Well, the President and I are going to sit and talk.

The President. Talk about that.

Mr. Johnson. Maybe we'll let you know later. [Laughter]

Presidential Campaign

Q. Mr. President, what about the New Hampshire poll that showed a closer contest than before?

The President. I'm not going to talk about polls here today. I'll take care of that when the election rolls around. This is a nonpolitical event with a nonpolitical guy who's out there doing the Lord's work. So, I'd rather defer that until some more appropriate time. But thank you for inquiring.

Note: The exchange began at 1:50 p.m. prior to a meeting in the Oval Office. In his remarks, the President referred to Anthony S. Fauci, Associate Director for AIDS Research, and Samuel Broder, Director of the National Cancer Institute, at the National Institutes of Health. Professional basketball player Earvin (Magic) Johnson was a member of the National Commission on AIDS.

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