Informal Exchange With Reporters on Foreign and Domestic Issues

March 9, 1984

Q. Mr. President, you've been wanting to talk to us for a long time. Come on over.

Q. What a surprise!

The President. Yes, I've restrained myself, though, haven't I?

Q. Mr. President, what do you think about the Meese hearings?

The President. Wait a minute. Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International], what -- --

Q. What about the Meese situation?

The President. Same thing -- the Meese situation. Well, I don't know of a nominee that is any more qualified than he is, and I am quite sure that the Senate is going to ratify him, as they should.

Q. Are you concerned at all about these loans? -- and then the people who gave him the loans getting government appointments?

The President. No, I am not. I have complete confidence in his standards, and I don't think there was anything more than what he has answered fully on all of those questions -- anything more to say about it.

Q. Did you appoint any of those people because they had helped Meese out?

The President. No. As matter of fact, I didn't even know about such things. I don't inquire into the private affairs of the people around me.

Q. Are you going to church this Sunday, sir? The Democrats say you talk about religion, but you don't go to church.

The President. Yes, I've noticed that, that they've been talking about that. I haven't bothered to check on their attendance, but I think they must be well aware of why I have not been attending. And frankly, I miss it very much. But I represent too much of a threat to too many other people for me to be able to go to church.

Q. Aren't you amazed at how Gary Hart has just come up and blasted Mondale out of it?

The President. No. No, I just -- --

Q. Why aren't you?

The President. Well, I don't pay too much attention to that. That's the Democrats' problem.

Q. But you must have thought about what the race in November could be like if it's you against Hart. Tell us what you think about it.

The President. No, I just -- what does it matter who's running on the other side? I'm going to campaign on what I believe and on what I think we should still be doing and what we have been doing.

Q. He says that you're the old ideas and he's the new ideas.

The President. I haven't heard anything yet that you could say was a specific idea that he's had to say. But then, I haven't followed him that closely.

Q. Well, what do you think of what he's saying?

The President. Well, can anyone here tell me specifically what he's going to do?

Listen, all of these questions, and not one of -- --

Q. Yes -- --

The President. -- -- not one of you have asked me one question about what I think is the biggest news of the day for the whole United States, and that is 400,000 more people went to work in February. The unemployment rate is down to 7.7. That's only three-tenths of a percentage point above where it was when I took office. 4,900,000 people have gone to work in the last 14 months in this country, and there were 700,000 actually more on the payroll in February than there were the month before.

Q. How much are you going to cut your defense budget?

The President. See, you change the subject, and I'm right in the midst of the biggest news of the day. [Laughter] We're having some productive meetings with the Senate, and we will come forth with a program with regard to the deficits.

Q. Are you willing to cut defense, though?

Q. You will have to cut defense -- [inaudible].

The President. We had already cut it $16 billion before we presented the first figures.

Q. Well, how about some more?

The President. We're looking at everything.

Q. Why did you try to make an end run on the Senate for that $21 million for Nicaragua?

The President. We weren't trying to make an end run. When we realized that we could not bridge the gap until they're going to take action -- which we hope they will take -- on the Kissinger commission's report, that there was going to be a financial gap in there for both of those funds, we then thought in terms of going directly there with the proposal of a separate bill and were advised that this, too, would take too long. So, we thought we would do what so many of them do: ask them to put it onto a program that was already going through the legislature.

Q. How do you feel about the Republicans turning that down, sir?

The President. What?

Q. How do you feel about the Republicans on that committee? They voted it down.

The President. Well, there were three, three votes against it. But I think some of that had to do with the particular bill we wanted to amend.

Q. What are you going to do now?

Q. Do you think you're going to end up having to use your emergency authority -- [inaudible] -- aid to El Salvador at this point?

The President. Well, I certainly hope not. They're going to take it up next week, and I think that reason will prevail. I don't see how anyone could think it was responsible after all this time to actually envision the armed forces of Salvador running out of ammunition and materiel that is needed to defend the country against the guerrillas. And that's the situation as it will stand.

Q. [Inaudible] -- Meese has got many memos that come across his desk -- [inaudible]?

The President. Knowing how many come across my desk and I figure should go someplace else -- yes. Anyone that's been involved in a career there --

But let me point out, again, those memos were dredged up from the Albosta committee record after they had been completely investigated by the FBI, and the FBI had said there was no evidence of wrong-doing at all. Now, this is all rehashed, old material. There's nothing new in this at all.

Q. [Inaudible] -- at the moment says the Justice Department clouded the ethics -- [inaudible] -- and could move toward a special prosecutor. Are you going to appeal that ruling?

The President. I think that the FBI did a very thorough examination; including, I made myself available to them.

Q. There's a rumor that Charles Wick is going to leave the Government soon.

The President. What?

Q. There's a rumor that Charles Wick is going to leave the Government soon. Is that true?

The President. You classified it exactly, it's a rumor. No, it's not true.

Q. It is going to be Hart, or is it going be Mondale?

The President. That's up to those other people to decide.

Q. Which would be easier in a television debate?

The President. Let them decide. I'm not going to help them make their decision.

Q. Are you willing to debate, though, either one?

The President. What?

Mr. Speakes. That's enough.

Q. Will you debate either one?

The President. In principle, I've always supported the idea of debating, yes.

Mr. Speakes. Thank you. That'll do.

Q. But Hart comes across like Jack Kennedy!

Mrs. Reagan. He'd come across like Ronald Reagan. [Laughter]

The President. There!

Q. Saved by your wife!

Note: The exchange began at 2:52 p.m. at the South Portico of the White House as the President and Mrs. Reagan were leaving for a weekend stay at Camp David, MD.

Larry M. Speakes is Principal Deputy Press Secretary to the President.