Q. Mr. President, it's been two months since you've taken office, and I wondered if you'd like to give us a score card on your own administration as you see it at this point, on your gains and losses.
A. Well, I'm very pleased with the progress that we've made so far, and I do think that we've been pretty active for, well, if you go by a five-day week, only 48 working days out of that time.
I have met personally with more than 400 of the members of Congress and some of them more than once. I have established a pattern that I understand hasn't been done for several presidents back, of going to the Hill and meeting with groups there, leadership there, [to] save them from the trip down Pennsylvania Avenue.
I've had, we've had 14 Cabinet meetings in these 48 days and the Cabinet process is working. I've had 10 meetings with governors, mayors, legislators. pNext Wednesday, I'm speaking to a joint session of the Illinois legislature and intend to follow that with, in other states, doing the same thing, and we've had severn National Security Council meetings.
But the main accomplishment has been that our economic program, which calls for the greatest attempt of savings in the history of the nation plus a complete tax program, is before the Congress, and moving before the Congress right now.
I think all of this is indicative that we've been pretty busy, and I did not, I did not believe that things could move that fast, based on eight previous years experience with the legislature, so . . .
Q. Is there anything you're not pleased with?
A. Well, if I had to say anything, it would be slowness in filling appointments, and yet even here we're ahead at this stage of any administration, except Nixon's, all the way to President Eisenhower. And I think part of our delay has been the new rules and regulations that have been passed and imposed that make clearance of appointees take longer than it formerly did.
Q. How does it, how is it different being president? Is Washington kind of a big Sacramento, in a phrase that has been used, or in what ways is it different?
A. Well, there are certain similarities, I mean things that you are accustomed to doing, I mean, the necessity of working with the legislature and all. I don't try to compare it to the state capital.
I can't say that there are too many surprises. I think I was very much prepared for the confining nature of the, of the job and how all-absorbing it is, you know, that I wouldn't be able to go home and pick up a novel and read for pleasure, I'd go home and read more of what I'd been reading here at my desk in the evening.
No, there haven't been too many surprises, but I've, frankly, I've enjoyed grappling with the problems that heretofore I've just talked about. The Crisis in Poland
Q. Mr. President, can I ask you about Poland? You have made very clear that a Soviet invasion would be taken extremely seriously by you and the administration. If the workers in Poland are suppressed by internal Polish authorities, is there anything the United States could or should do?
A. Well, I think that's going to have an effect on our relationship with Poland, that and our allies. We have all, and we've worked in a concerted way on this, made it plain that any imposition on the freedom of the people of Poland, whether internally or, and certainly if it's from outside by the Soviet Union, is going to definitely have an impact on our relationship. So we're watching this very carefully.
Incidentally, in my previous question I forgot to add in there that during also these days, a total of 66 days, I have met with, I think, it's about seven heads of state and six foreign ministers since we've been here also, and I say this because just having mentioned our alliance with the allies, we are proceeding with the things that I said before the election that I would want to improve our relationship, all our allies, not have them to be surprised by reading things in the press before they were even approached about it, that we would have consultation with them on these matters.
Q. On Poland, sir, the Polish government, I understand, has asked for emergency food aid from the United States. How are you going to respond to that?
A. Well, again, this I think is going to be contingent upon what takes place there. I certainly, I think our relationship with the Polish people we've made plain, and we would like to be of help to them, and this has been an attitude that this country's had throughout these last few months of Solidarity and its attempt to get better working conditions and so forth.
But answering that appeal would be a lot easier for us if the Soviet government does not take some drastic militant steps against their own people.
Q. The Polish government?
A. That's what I mean.
Q. Have you found the grain embargo useful as an instrument of foreign policy in dealing with the Russians, either in respect to Poland or any other way?
A. Well, Lou, it's something I didn't agree with when it was instituted to begin with, something that I would dearly love to be able to lift, but the very situation we've been talking about, Poland, the entire international situation is such that I at this moment do not see where we could lift it without sending a wrong signal.
I want to do it; we're watching very closely, and we've been consulting on this. A decision is yet to be made, and it will be made, and it will be, that decision will be determined by the international situation. Japanese Auto Imports
Q. Let me ask you about the automobile problem, the Japanese imports. Are you going to try to protect, are you going to take steps to protect the domestic automobile industry, and what level do you think the 1.9 million Japanese cars should be cut back to?
A. Now, first of all, let me say I believe in free trade, and I think that protectionism is a two-way street and it usually winds up in not being of benefit to either side. One action leads to a reprisal by the other side.
We've had a task force. It's met with management and labor in the automobile industry, and come back with many recommendations. I think the Japanese export of automobiles to America is only one of the factors.
We believe that the greatest help for the automobile industry will be our economic package. We recognize also that's a longer range program, and there will be a period which is a crisis right now for the automobile industry, before the effects of that will be felt.
On the other hand, our task force on regulations, under the vice president, is coming up with a package of regulations to be eliminated that will actually result in billions of dollars of savings to the automobile industry in their production.
Now, I don't want to ask for a quota or impose anything of that kind. The Japanese have themselves spoken of probably voluntary restraint on their part.
They have also invited us to send a team over there to bring them up to date on all that is going on and all that we're doing here in an effort to help the automobile industry. We haven't made a decision on that team yet. We probably will send some people over there to show them and tell them what we're doing.
Q. Do you have a number in your head as to what the level of imports -- we've been told that they're actually exporting at a higher level now into this country than they were last year and in the early months this year -- do you have any kind of goal as to what it should be cut back to voluntarily by the Japanese?
A. If they did it voluntarily? No, I don't.
Q. Yesterday in the Senate, Sen. Baker said it might be necessary or desirable even to postpone action on controversial social issues until the next session in order to get, concentrate on getting your economic recovery through. Do you side with him on that?
A. I can't quarrel with that. Right now, we're concentrating on this package, and I don't think Congress in my memory has ever been faced with anything quite of the dimensions of this.
This doesn't mean that we've drawn back from our position on many of these social goals. It just means that these are things that we think must wait while we dispose of this problem and, once we get that out of the way and get economic recovery under way, then we can discuss priorities with these other measures. The Haig Controversy
Q. Mr. President, this week there was controversy, in the press anyway, about Secretary of State Haig and he said [in] testimony yesterday that there was confusion, he thinks, between what he knew and what you thought he knew. Could you explain what the difficulty was?
A. Well, there probably was. I have to say that the whole thing -- there's certainly never been any policy disagreement between us and, as far as I'm concerned there, everything's been resolved peacefully, and we're all very happy.
Q. You would think then Mr. President, that he's on board to stay in the administration?
A. Certainly as far as I'm concerned, and I think as far as he's concerned, yes.
Q. And you'd like, I mean, you consider this episode is closed?
Q. Vice President Bush often has said that you and he had no agreement prior to the election on the role that he would play in your administration, but he appears to be playing an increasing role. If this impression is accurate, why have you chosen to give him these broader responsibilities?
A. Well, it's always been a belief of mine, and it's something I did as a governor with lieutenant governor, I know that there's always this talk of what is the role going to be of the vice president.
Now he has one constitutional role which is his position as president of the Senate. I have always felt, and while we didn't have an opportunity to really get down into details, I did say to him once that I wanted him as closely involved in the administration as was possible, and that's why he has an office here in the White House.
And it's working very well. I can't see that there's any better thing that you could have than a vice president so closely involved -- he participates in the Cabinet meetings and the National Security Council meetings and the decisions that have to be made.
In other words, he should and does have all the same information that I have and . . . and actively participates in this Cabinet process that is working. That, too, is something I know that's different than previous Cabinets.
It has been likened to a board of directors or whatever, but policy goes out on the table for discussion, round-tabling by the whole Cabinet. The only difference between that and a board of directors is no one takes a vote. When I've heard enough discussion to be able to feel I can make a decision, I make the decision, but everybody participates.
Q. Mr. President, do you anticipate having a summit with the Russians?
A. Oh, I'm quite sure there will be such a thing. I think it's far too early for that, and I haven't said no. I've just said that's down the road a bit.
Q. What would be your idea on time? What would be the best time?
A. I don't think I can say. I think first of all that, before any such meeting could be held, that we could call first for complete consultation with our allies. And all of that would have to take place. And there's a lot to it. You don't just decide to have a meeting and sit down and say what do we talk about.
Q. Do you even have a time frame in your mind on that issue?
A. Actually, I haven't. Everything that I'm doing right now is governed by when we're going to get this economic package.
Let me add in talking about things that we've done in these opening days, I did leave out something very important. This brings it to mind here, and what we're doing with all our absorption in that we, I think, have made great progress in turning around our defensive posture and going forward to restore our margin of security. Aid to El Salvador
Q. Let me ask you a question on that point. Several public opinion polls recently have shown an overwhelming support for your economic package, but they've also shown much less support for your El Salvador policy, or really for the notion of sending any aid at all to the Salvadoran government.
Is there any danger that opposition to the United States being involved in any kind of foreign entanglement is going to spill over and damage support for your economic program?
A. No, I don't think so. But I do think that we have to recognize that the campaign against what we're doing, the helping of El Salvador, is a pretty concerted and well-orchestrated thing, propaganda that I think has confused a great many people and many well-meaning people.
I think that we're making progress in people understanding that this is a case of, we've got men down there helping train their military. They're not going into combat with them, they're not military advisers -- everyone uses that term.
Military advisers are usually people who are involved in strategy and tactics and who go into combat with the people they're advising. Our men are in garrison, simply training recruits. [It's] a small number of men we have down there, and actually, we've got those kind of training teams in more than 30 countries.
So there's nothing unusual in this. But El Salvador was being helped by the previous administration. Here, after a form of overthrow or revolution, we have a moderate government that has started a land-reform program, that is looking forward to legitimate elections on the part of their people and is being assailed by, I call them terrorists. And I think they are.
In view of some of the things they've done, when you machine-gun a busload of smalltown people who are simply traveling from one town to the other and just machine-gun them because they're on the road, that's terrorism.
But it was the fact that we've learned that this terrorism is not domestic; this is revolution being exported to the Americas, to Central America and further south, and we're going to be of help to this government.
Q. I don't quite understand, sir. You speak of the campaign against your Salvadoran policy being a concerted campaign that's confused people. Who's organizing that? Is that a campaign here in the United States?
A. Well, it's even been worldwide. And you find the same slogans being used in demonstrations in European countries about the United States in El Salvador. You find it here. There were some of those demonstrators in Canada on our recent trip. Incidentally, that's another thing we've done in these first 48 days. The placards were the same. The slogans were the same there.
And you can't, when we have been able to establish with our white paper that this is Soviet-backed, that it is Cuban-backed, the surrogates of Cuba are in the front line in providing the material, training of the guerrilla fighters, all of these things, you have to assume that they must also have a hand then in the propaganda.
Q. But you don't think that that's in any way getting in the way of what you're, of the message you're trying . . .
A. No, no, I don't.
Q. . . . to make on the economic program?
A. No, as a matter of fact, the Los Angeles Times just ran a poll that is quite different than the Gallup Poll. It has 72 percent of the people approving of what we're doing generally . . . and only 18 percent disapproving.
Q. A number of leaders from western states, including some of your strong supporters, oppose the MX fixed-rail siting because it's going to use up so much range land. How do you feel about that?
A. I have to tell you that, while I can't claim that I've had enough input to make a final decision on anything, I'm not enamored of that fixed-rail system. I believe the missile is necessary. I don't believe in the basing method that has been suggested so far.
Q. Because of the land use?
A. It's not only that. It's so elaborate, so costly, and I'm not sure that it is necessary or would be effective. It's again an indication of this whole effort, such as in the SALT talks, to have verifiability so you create a great, elaborate costly system in which you can hide the missile except that the enemy has to know that the missile is there. And it doesn't make much sense to me.
Q. Does that mean that the sea-based option is under active consideration?
A. Oh, I think there are any number of them, ranging all the way from silos such as we presently have. Silo, sea-based, they're all being looked at.
Q. So the siting question. You've been committed to the missile, but the siting of it is still a wide-open question as far as you're concerned?
A. Yes. Bringing Inflation Down
Q. Some of your own people have said that it's going to be necessary to restrain the automatic cost-of-living increases that have been accrued in the past, and Social Security benefits, if you want to get inflation under control. Do you agree with that, that ultimately you're going to have to do something to restrain those cost-of-living increases?
A. We think that our program is going to bring inflation down and, if we bring inflation down, you've removed a large part of the necessity for indexing -- what you're talking about -- indexing the cost-of-living pay raises, or raises in grants for people.
So, we want to go forward with that and maybe when you get that back down a ways, maybe you could then impose in the event of any future inflation indexing, but we don't think that's the important thing. We're indexing right now. I think it's a subject for study as to whether we're using the proper index.
Can you take a total cost-of-living figure and apply it to everybody? Or aren't there people, aren't there factors in that that are used incomputing it that don't apply to certain groups of people, so maybe if you're going to index, maybe we should be more selective in doing one that actually fits the needs of the people?
But we right now are much more concerned -- that's something to be dealth with in studies as we go along. But we're much more concerned with actually going to work to answer the problem by eliminating inflation.
Q. Are you saying if inflation is controled by your economic package then, when it's not at such a painful rate, you think that would be the time (to index), if the index needs to be adjusted?
A. It's something to look toward for the future so that we could never fall into a place, a thing like this. I'm thinking now not so much of the cost-of-living grants as I'm thinking of the tax situation where people have been undergoing tax increases not because of tax policy or because they've suddenly become more prosperous but simply in trying to keep even with a government-caused inflation.
And then that same government says, well now, you're earning more dollars than you were. They won't buy any more, but you're now moved up into a higher tax bracket which means you're getting worse off on your income.
The whole subject is one for study, and I still go back to the proper thing for us to do is to get rid of inflation. I don't think that inflation is something that has come upon us like a change in climate an that there isn't anything we can do about it.
Mankind created it. Mankind can eliminate it. We had about 130 years with no inflation in this country to speak of.
A. Mr. President, your own polls and those of some others show that while you do have strong approval from most groups in this country, there is one exception, and that's blacks. Most blacks do not approve of the course of your administration.
How do you feel about this, and is there anything you feel you can do to change that?
A. I'm hoping we can, because I think there have been certain areas in which they have jumped to false conclusions and thought that they are going to be in some way more victimized by the budget cuts than others. And that's not true.
They actually, because they do have a higher rate of unemployment than the majority, have a higher proportion of the people in the lower-income groups. They're going to be the first to benefit with the elimination of inflation, with the creation of jobs and productivity, reducing of unemployment. And I just think that they have been misinformed, and in some instances by their own leaders. Relations With South Africa
Q. let me ask you another foreign policy question. Is it in the United States' interest to have better relations with South Africa than we've had in the last few years?
A. The whole subject of Africa is one that's of great concern to us and that we have under study right now. We want to continue our friendship with the emerging African states, the black African states.
I say continue. I realize there are also some that have a chip on their shoulder toward us. We'd like a better understanding with them, and we're going to take stpes to bring that about.
This does not in any way mean that we don't look forward to a continued friendship with South Africa and, I think, to be helpful to them in their problems wiht apartheid.
There are many people there, it's a repugnant thing to us but, on the other hand, we had our own experience in this country with an apartheid that was just as ugly.
I think that rather than just holding ourselves completely aloof and distant, we can, because of our own experience here, be of help to them in resolving their problem. And it's been made very plain that there are many, many people in that country that sincerely and honestly want to find a solution to that.
But right now, we want to see a peaceful solution to the Namibian situation. We think it begins with an election but I think an election, just as we did in Zimbabwe, should follow the adoption of a constitution that guarantees equal rights to all people in that country -- property rights, minority rights.
Q. Mr. President, you've given a number of signals . . . the one you just talked about, South Africa, El Salvador and the one you gave on Jan. 21 toward the Soviet Union.
Other than this present situation in Poland that you've talked about, has there been any sign of response from the Soviet Union that it would be less intransigent in any area of this country's dealings with them?How do you feel about that?
A. Well, I received about a nine-page letter from Mr. Brezzhnev. The want to talk about all these things. I have made it plain that I believe that such talks, when they do take place, should involve not just limiting ourselves to arms reductions or theater forces and so forth.
I think the whole matter of the imperialism of the Soviet Union, their expansionism, must be a subject for this, for discussion. Are they going to continue -- if not starting, at least exploiting, where there are differences and where there is trouble?
Or are they going to continue this massive buildup of weaponry that is the greatest that any nation has ever made in all the world? Or are they willing to sit down and talk about how we can eliminate the differences, reduce the threshold of danger from strategic weapons, respect the right of other people to self-determination in their countries and so forth.
And we're willing to talk to them. The secretary of state has met with their ambassador here, and we're not slamming a door on them; we're just going to be realistic about them.
Q. Beyond the letter, Mr. President, is there any kind of signal or feeling that (you or Secretary Haig) got that they're willing to do any of these things that you'd like them to do?
A. Nothing other than that their obvious desire is to get back into discussions and meetings with us.
Q. Mr. President, do you think the United States should aid the anti-Marxist forces in Angola, the forces of Mr. (Jonas) Savimbi?
A. Of course, our hands are a little bit tied right now. A president of the United States is restricted by the so-called Clark Act that does not give us freedom to deal.
But Angola -- here's a situation of a black country and yet its government is dominated by the presence of Cubans, surrogates for the Soviet Union. It would seem to me that, if they really want to be a nation in the community of African nations, they ought to get rid of the outside forces.
What's the difference between the colonialism that they knew before and being militarily dominated by thousands of forces from outside Africa?
Q. If your hands weren't tied, would your answer be yes to the question of aiding (Angola)?
A. Well, isn't the first step there for Angola itself to become independent of those outside forces? Then, just as in Zimbabwe, isn't there really a possibility that the two native Angolan forces that are opposed to each other -- the one that is a government and Savimbi who controls about half the country -- then is there a possibility of a peaceful amalgam where they get together and work out their difficulties as they did in Zimbabwe?
Q. Do you think there is?
A. Well, there's certainly more hope for that than there is while you've got a Cuban force that is in the field and dominating the government.I don't think the government of Angola is free to act on its own. Draft Registration
Q. Mr. President, have you decided to do away with draft registration? You spoke out against it pretty hard during the campaign. How do you feel about it now?
A. I haven't made any statement on it. I haven't had an opportunity or made an opportunity, with all the other things going on, to talk to the secretary of defense to find out how helpful it is.
I think the most important thing we've been concerned with right now is making the volunteer military more effective and meeting some of the real problems that they have. In other words, on a priority basis, I'm still not in favor of peacetime draft.
On a priority basis as to whether to look at and do anything about the registration, I think it's far more important the steps that we're taking to put the volunteer forces on a living pay scale that will keep them, induce them to stay in the forces, do the things to upgrade that military. And that's what we're trying to do.
Q. Recent figures suggest that the rate of inflation might even be coming down if not for the rise in gasoline prices. Do you have any second thoughts about your acceleration in decontrol of oil prices?
A. No, because it was going to happen in October anyway. I've always believed part of that price increase, only part of it, could be attributed to the decontrol. The rest of it was that the latest OPEC increase in oil had not been passed on into the pricing system.
Maybe if we waited awhile, and we'd done that. If we'd done the other, then we wouldn't be getting the blame for the whole thing.
But I've always believed that our answer to OPEC is more production here of energy, and I think that the decontrol is a very major step toward increasing exploration here and offshore for mroe oil at home. And it actually has reacted that way.
Now prices, if they're to come down, are going to come down not through a regulation. They're going to come down if increased production restores more competition to the market.
Q. You said the press had exaggerated the Haig story. I wondered what other criticisms or judgments you might have on the press coverage of you?
A. I shouldn't have said that. I thought I was throwing off a funny the way the question was asked, and it didn't turn out that way and I probably shouldn't have said it. The answer is no. Fighting Drug Addiction
Q.As a last question, sir, . . . about drug abuse. You've often spoken about caring a good deal about trying to control the problems of addictive drugs, and yet some of the drug control programs are among those being cut back in your reduction of federal spending. How do you reconcile that?
A. Where we're cutting back are things that we don't think have proven effective. But I am determined on this and, as a matter of fact, Nancy's extremely interested in this, as she was in California.
I happen to believe that while you do your utmost to intercept and prevent the importing of drugs into this country, that cannot be the only answer. Because with the borders we've got, with the coastlines we've got, that's carrying water in a sieve.
If we're going to get a handle on this problem, it's got to come from converting the users. We have to take away from the drug trade their customers with a program that educates particularly our young people, not to follow that path, and I believe that's possible. And do-able.
In California, we had some reasonable success. Granted, it started in my second term, so we weren't there too long with it. It was a program based on the education of young people, on using former drug users to come in and talk to young people.
You can go in and lecture them all you want but, when someone stands in front of them and says I was there -- I know, I've done it -- you'd be surprised at the effect.
And I think we have to have at every level a domestic program to turn off those who've been led to believe that it isn't so harmful. And, in my view, the worst drug from that standpoint -- from inducing people or introducing people into the drug culture -- is marijuana.
And increasingly, the scientific evidence we're getting is proving that it is far more dangerous than young people particularly have been led to believe. So I think that here again some of the things we've done are because the money was being spent, and we weren't getting the proper return for it. We'd like to have a program that we think has got a better chance for success.
Q. Thank you, Mr. President.