Interview With Midwest Regional Reporters on Foreign and Domestic Issues

March 20, 1984

Presidential Campaign

Q. Mr. President, a recent poll showed you beating Mondale among independent voters, but losing to Hart. Given the fact the independents possibly can be expected to decide the next election, why do you think that Hart has this advantage among independents at this time? And how do you propose to counter it, assuming he's the nominee?

The President. Oh, I think that we're seeing a contest that is going on over there and that is very much in people's minds, in the press and in the media, so that, as I've always said, I think polls are pertinent to when they're taken. And there've also been several polls that have shown the reverse -- that I'm doing all right. So, I'm just going to wait for that poll that takes place next November.

Q. Do you care to tell us what the chief vulnerability seems to be for Hart and Mondale?

The President. No, I'd rather not comment on their problems. I enjoy watching it.

Q. Mr. President, next November you plan to win reelection, I know. I'm wondering whether you think the prize will be worth it. We're facing huge deficits, possibilities of tax increases. A second Reagan administration may not be able to come up with many new, exciting initiatives for the American people. Do you think it's going to be a terrible chore in the second term, or are you going to be able to excite the public somehow?

The President. Well, to a certain extent it's always quite a chore, but, no, one of the reasons why I would like to run is the job is unfinished. And I think we've made a tremendous start on getting things corrected that have needed correcting for decades. And it just isn't possible to get the job done in these few years.

Q. But will there be a possibility of any new initiatives when we're facing these kinds of problems -- the deficits and the possibility of tax increases and so forth?

The President. Well -- --

Q. I mean, how do you start new programs if you don't have money to pay for them?

The President. Well, maybe if we continue on the course we're on, I am convinced that we will reduce the cost of government, certainly the rate of increase in government spending. We have already -- we've about cut it in two, and we're doing the things that I think needed doing. We are bringing unemployment down at a faster rate than it's been brought down in more than 30 years. The growth in gross national product and productivity and retail sales -- all of those economic indicators are up.

And, yes, it is going to take some time, but I'd like to recall to you that I said a couple of years ago that this wouldn't be done in months, and it wouldn't even be done in just a few years, that it was -- it's been coming on for a half a century. And so, I foresee getting some of the things that we've been refused so far. We've only obtained about half of what we asked in changes in government spending. So, we'll keep on going for the other half.

Q. What are some of those things, Mr. President?

The President. Well, they're -- I'll tell you, a great many of them would be found, and will be found, in the recommendations of the Grace commission. Almost 2,000 top leaders in every facet of our economy volunteered their services to take a look at government and take a look from the standpoint of whether modern business practices could improve things, improve the way of doing things. And they now have given us almost 2,500 recommendations. And we have a task force of our own now that is working on those to see -- because many of them, the bulk of them, will take legislation.

Q. I meant in terms of new initiatives in a second Reagan administration, not the things that are needed to cut the deficit, but new programs, perhaps. Do you have anything like that in mind?

The President. Well, if there are new programs that'll be beneficial to the people and proper to employ, why yes, you'd go that way. But right now, I think a great deal of our problem is that government has attempted to do a great many things that aren't government's proper prerogative.

Q. Mr. President, are some of those things entitlement programs affecting the middle class? And will those be off limit in a second term -- --

The President. Now, I think that the entitlement programs have to be looked at structurally. And that's got to be a very careful study, because there is no way that I would ever support pulling the rug out from under people that are presently dependent on programs such as social security. And contrary to what some of our opponents have said of me, there has never been a time when I have advocated pulling that rug out. As a matter of fact, the average married couple on social security today is getting $180 a month more than they were getting when I took office.

But I think that looking at the demography, looking at the statistics with regard to workers, earners, retirement ages, and so forth, you have to look at programs of that kind as to whether they need restructuring for people just coming into the work force and who one day will be depending on those programs.

Federal Budget Deficits

Q. Mr. President, in that general context, the Democratic leaders in the House this afternoon reached tentative agreement on a plan for budget deficit reduction, and it's not too different from the one you supported ahead of them, except for $50 billion difference. And I wondered whether you could see any give between those two plans that might bring a mutual agreement between the Democrats on the House side -- --

The President. Well, this has always been my hope. We have to have, under the situation with a majority of one party in one House and the majority of the other in the second House -- we have to have bipartisan programs. But I haven't seen or heard what it is they've come out with today or what they've come together on, and I'd like to see it and study it with regard to ours.

Edwin Meese III

Q. Mr. President, Minority Leader Byrd said the other day that Ed Meese will always have a cloud over him because of the allegations and charges that have come to light over the last few weeks in his nomination hearing. Why do you continue to back Mr. Meese, and do you want to have an Attorney General, should he be approved or sanctioned by the Senate, who, when people see him, may bring forth those thoughts that here's a guy who trades jobs for loans?

The President. Well, Gary, that charge -- let me just remind you of something about our administration, and during the campaign, something that I said. This idea of jobhunters that could be purchased or something -- let me point out, I said that we were going to try to get people in our administration who didn't want or need a government job. And we've done pretty much that. And so, the situation is a little distorted with regard to that.

No, we have an investigation now that's going forward. Ed Meese has supported the idea. He wants it. And so, I can't comment on particulars now, because there is such an investigation, but I have complete confidence in him. I've known him for a great many years, and I think he'd make an excellent Attorney General.

Q. Well, you have confidence in him, Mr. President, but the perception, as Senator Mathias of Maryland said the other day, is one that could cause a problem, not only with the Senate but with the American people as well.

The President. Well, perception is something that's always present in government and in politics, and there are an awful lot of wrong perceptions about many things having to do with this administration. And I think when the truth is known and an investigation is completed, then I think the American people are very fair and they can make their judgment.

Q. Have you -- --

Q. So, you don't think -- let me just finish up, Jerry. So, you don't think, then, that he should step aside or withdraw, or you wouldn't ask him to do that?

The President. No, no, because then there would be a cloud over him because he would no longer have the means or there would no longer be investigations or anything by which he could be cleared.

Q. Sir, has he offered to step aside?

The President. No -- --

Q. Mr. President -- --

The President. -- -- and I wouldn't listen if he did.

Q. Were you aware of these loans and transactions at the time you nominated him?

The President. What's that?

Q. Were you aware of these loans and transactions at the time you nominated him?

The President. No, I hadn't delved into his personal life. I do know that, like so many others that came into these government jobs, I knew that he had to make some pretty great economic sacrifices to come here and work for the Government.

Q. In a general sense, Mr. President, does it concern you that there may be an appearance of possible impropriety in a situation where there are six instances where people -- whatever the reasons were -- where people who provided financial help to Meese did receive jobs in the administration? I'm not impugning any wrong motives to anybody, but there is that factual situation.

The President. I know, but as I answered a moment ago, I think someone should take a look and see what did they have to give up in order to take that government job. And most of the people in our administration had to give up a great deal.

Q. Well, Mr. President, it's more than just a paycheck with the government; it's a whole question of influence and being able to get on the inside, in government agencies and so forth. It's more than just giving up a high-paying job in private industry for another job in government. The perception -- again, without impugning any motives -- to some people is buying influence in the Government.

The President. I don't know. I just have to tell you that there are more people who actually are public spirited enough, believed enough in what we were trying to do that they wanted to be of help in that, than anyone is giving them credit for.

Q. You know, Mr. President, a related problem that occurs in situations like this is that the situation itself may, in the end, be damaging to the administration or the President, whoever he may be. A situation of that type occurred in President Carter's administration with his good friend, Bert Lance. And Lance eventually withdrew from his position as head of the budget bureau, but it had damaged the administration. Are you -- is there any concern on your part that there is that prospect of -- --

The President. No. If I thought that there was anyone who, in our administration, who was doing something that was contrary to the public interest and the interest of the people, I'd be the first one to take action to oust them. On the other hand, I've never been one that wanted to throw the baby out of the sleigh to the wolves in order to lighten the load.

El Salvador

Q. Mr. President, on another subject if I might -- Secretary Shultz said today that we must accept the results of the Salvadoran election, whatever those might be. But realistically, do you think that Congress would sanction continued aid to a regime headed by this fellow D'Aubuisson, who's suspected of involvement in murder? And, secondly, do you have any message for those Salvadoran military leaders who are rumored to be thinking about a coup?

The President. Well, certainly I would not support the idea of a coup. We have a democratic government there, probably for the first time in 400 years, that has been doing its best to institute democracy and democratic principles, practices. And I'm not going to say a word now about anyone who is a candidate there, because I think that the United States -- I want to be of help and I think we should be of help down there, but I don't think we should say anything that indicates that we are taking sides in this election. I don't think that's our place.

Farm Programs

Q. Mr. President, in much of rural America, farmers have been beset by large crop surpluses, depressed prices, increased competition from abroad; they've seen their neighbors facing bankruptcy; they've had trouble getting their own operating capital. I wonder, with that set of circumstances, why rural America should support you for another term.

The President. Now, I miss -- you know something, there's a terrible thing about this room here, and even in spite of my hearing problems -- with that dome. When you get out there toward the center -- at the beginning, you're -- --

Q. Much of rural America today is -- --

The President. Oh, farmers.

Q. Yes.

The President. Ah. Well, there's no question but that in the cost-price squeeze, the inflationary spiral, and the high interest rates that reached their peaks in 1980, the farmers were probably hurt worse than any other segment of our society. Their costs skyrocketed at the same time that, in all of the inflation, the prices they could obtain were going down. And then they had the embargo thrown at them, which was a serious blow to a large segment of our farm economy. On the other hand, the bankruptcies that some people are talking about today -- last year there were 270,000 loans out to farmers, and less than one-half of 1 percent resulted in bankruptcies. So, I don't think that that is a major problem there.

What we've been able to do is, by bringing down inflation, reduce the however increasing cost of operation for them. By our PIK program, we, by eliminating a great deal of the surplus, we have increased prices for their products. The other -- that surplus hung over them and was an artificial cap on them. We are going to be -- the Department of Agriculture is going to be lending some $4.6 billion this year in help to the farmers. We have now eliminated the embargo, opened up foreign trade for them. The new long-term agreement with the Soviets calls for 50 percent more than had been in the agreement.

So, the farmer will be the slowest in coming back -- but is coming back, and there is improvement out there in the agribusiness.

Q. You're asking them to stay the course with you?

The President. Yes.

Q. Things will get better?

The President. Yes, they are getting better, and they are better.

Arms Sales to Jordan

Q. Mr. President, why do you insist that the sale of the Stinger planes go through to Jordan in light of what King Hussein said this past weekend and in light of what Secretary of State Shultz has said in the last couple of days? Are you still hanging in there for that sale, or are you willing to pull it back?

The President. Well, let me just say, I'm not going to talk about details of it other than to say that the whole basis for peace in the Middle East, and the thing that we tried to help bring about and are going to continue to try and help bring about, is dependent on being fair and evenhanded in dealing with the moderate Arab States that I think also want peace -- Israel, and we know our relationship with Israel and what it has always been and will continue to be. And we can't appear to be one-sided. Jordan -- and King Hussein had the courage to participate and make himself available for the peace efforts, and he is in a position in which there was some risk entailed with the border that he has with Syria. And, therefore, I think that it is only fair. And if we don't make available the things that he needs for his own security, he's going to find them someplace else.

Q. Could I -- --

Q. Sir -- --

Q. Can I follow up on that, Mr. President?

The President. Yeah.

Q. One of the most damaging things -- charges, though, it seems to me, that King Hussein made was to, in effect, say that your administration and some previous ones as well have not been honest brokers in the Middle East. How do you respond to that?

The President. Well, I read what he said in the interview, but then I also saw him on television last Sunday. And I thought that there was a sort of withdrawal from some of what had been cited as more extreme statements. But I do know this: We've had a friendship, and I think he and his country are essential to peace in the Middle East. And we're not going to give up that goal very lightly.

Superfund Program

Q. Mr. President, last week EPA Administrator Ruckelshaus said that, while in principle the administration supports reauthorizing Superfund, nothing would be done until after the election. I'm wondering why the delay, and can people in towns that are contaminated with various chemicals like dioxin, such as Times Beach, be assured that there will be government help?

The President. Well, I don't know of anyone here that thinks that the Superfund is going to await the taking place of an election. Bill Ruckelshaus had made it plain to me that he's determined to carry on with that program.

Q. So, there will be -- is there a plan or a deadline when the administration plans to come out and say at what level you will reauthorize Superfund?

The President. Well, you caught me a little short on this one. Things have been going along over there -- and very well -- and I know that he's been establishing himself and getting these programs into operation. And so, I just don't know the basis for the question there, whether there's some -- --

Mr. Speakes. [Larry M. Speakes, Principal Deputy Press Secretary to the President] Mr. President, I'm not familiar with it either. I think we'll have to check into it -- --

The President. Yeah.

Mr. Speakes. -- -- and get back to you then, because I don't -- I'm not -- --

The President. Yeah.

Mr. Speakes. -- -- even familiar with Ruckelshaus' statement.

Q. Thank you.

Presidential Campaign

Q. Mr. President, have you given any thought to your campaign yet -- I mean, whether you'll campaign differently against Mr. Mondale and Mr. Hart, should one or the other be the nominee?

The President. No, I don't think it'll make much difference who the other fellow is. I've always preferred campaigning on the basis of what we've done and what we intend to do, looking to the future with positive, new ideas.

Q. Who would you sooner face?

The President. What?

Q. Who would you sooner face?

The President. I won't answer that. I'm not going to help them out. [Laughter] They're going to have to make that choice themselves.

Q. ``Looking to the future with positive, new ideas'' sounds like Gary Hart.

The President. What? It did?

Q. Do you -- [laughter] -- --

The President. I don't know.

Q. Do you envision a run against him more than Mondale at this point?

The President. No, I was just talking -- that my idea of a campaign is to give the balance sheet on what we've done, what we've accomplished, and what we intend to do if given the opportunity to go forward on this. And I think we've got a lot of things to be proud of, things that are drastically different. Very few of you have realized that for the last 3 years, unlike the last 50, there haven't been arguments going on in Washington about whether or not and what to spend additional money on. The arguments have been on where do we cut.

Q. Mr. President, you've called -- to follow up with another political question, if I may -- you've called Mondale, ``Vice President Malaise'' in the past, I believe. And if it's fair -- I wonder if it is fair to blame him for the mistakes of the Carter administration, and if so, are there any mistakes in your administration that you'd attribute to George Bush?

The President. [Laughing] No, and believe me, George has been a working partner in this administration. I think probably more so than most other Vice Presidents that I can recall.

I don't recall actually tying his name to that. I have talked about that -- all that talk of malaise back at a time when they were trying to explain our economic problems as being blamed on the people.

Q. He was the suspect target, I guess, of your -- --

The President. Oh, well, no, I haven't been targeting anyone. I've been talking about -- we came here with a whole policy of government that we inherited: that had been on one path of growth in government, constant increasing of the amount of earnings that we took away from the people for government, government doing more and more things -- and many of them that were not government's proper province. And we set out to streamline this somewhat. We set out to give the economy a chance and give the people a chance out there. And I think it's worked.

We have the greatest decline in unemployment in more than 30 years. I believe we have an economic improvement that is -- it's on a solid basis and not just a temporary quick fix, an artificial stimulant, which has been characteristic of seven previous recessions since World War II.

I'm proud of what we've done with regard to the military. We have the highest percentage of high school graduates in our military today than we have ever had in the history of this country, and that includes back when we had the draft, which was an all-encompassing sweep that took in everybody. We have 91 percent of our personnel out there -- are high school graduates. And there's a morale, there's a readiness that I think is something the people of this county have every reason and right to be proud of.

Domestic Programs

Q. Mr. President, I've often wondered, we see the charge made very often, and usually by opponents of yours, that your administration is the administration of the wealthy, that you don't have much sensitivity for poor folks, for minorities, and so forth. I'm sure you're familiar with all these charges; they've been made over and over again. I was just curious as to how does that make you feel? I mean, what do you feel about that? Does that disturb you, does that bother you, does that -- --

The President. It frustrates me, yes. And it is a part of what Gary was talking about a little while ago. It's a perception, and it's a perception that is based absolutely on falsehoods. We can turn to any area of the society we want to, and we will find out that none of those things are true.

Was reducing 12\1/2\-percent inflation and bringing it down to around 3 percent -- was that more beneficial to the rich than it was to the lower income person who had to spend the bulk of their income, didn't have any to put aside? A fellow in 1979 that was making $5,000 a year, which would leave him pretty poor, by the end of 1980 -- in just those 2 years, his $5,000 would only buy what $4,000 would have bought before simply because of inflation.

We tripled the taxes in the decade or so before we got here. The personal earnings -- well, let me give a figure, not just personal earnings. In the last several years before we got here, there were three increases in the grants to people on the program Aid for Dependent Children, and at the end of the three increases they were poorer and had less purchasing power than they had before the increases went into effect -- because of inflation. And, of course, the increase in taxes, as I say, well, they doubled in the last 4 or 5 years before we came here.

Q. But the priority was cutting government spending, was cutting programs. The administration wasn't saying, ``We want to go out and help all these people.'' I mean it was -- --

The President. No, but we did -- --

Q. The emphasis -- --

The President. All right.

Q. Maybe the perception is because of the emphasis.

The President. Well, wait a minute. Here's what we did. Many of those programs had become so encrusted, the administration so big, that the Federal Government was paying a tremendous fee for every dollar that it delivered to a needy person. The things we were trying to cut was not the dollar to the needy person; it was the sometimes $2 it took to deliver that to him.

On the other hand, we also found people in these programs that had no justification for being there. When people were earning above 150 percent of the poverty level, as much as up to 180 percent, and still being declared eligible for these programs, we felt something had to be done. And we redirected those programs toward those who were truly needy. And today, we are feeding more people; we are taking care of more people; we are funding more students going to college than ever before in our history.

We are giving more food stamps to more people than we were ever giving in our history. And yet we got 800-and-some thousand people off of food stamps. But we increased the number -- total number that were getting food stamps. But the 800,000 or more -- it was around 860,000 -- those people were of an income that was above a level in which their neighbors should have been contributing to their welfare.

Q. I don't want to -- but you say it frustrates you, and there has to be a way to counter this, to change it. How would you go about changing this perception?

The President. Well, I'm hopeful. As the campaign goes on, we'll tell the truth. And you see, so far, it's just been a constant drumbeat from the other side, the fairness issue, and that somehow our tax program benefited the rich, not those at the lower level of income. And yet the very people saying this have been fighting and fighting to get us to cancel indexing. Well, if you canceled indexing, the penalty for canceling it would run about 2-percent increase in taxes for the person at $100,000. It would be a 9-percent increase for the person at $10,000. Now, does that make us the administration of the wealthy or the rich?

The truth of the matter is in everything from college loans to grant programs to food stamps, we took programs that were benefiting people who really should not be dependent on government, and we redirected that money to the people of true need. And actually, with all of this supposed cuts in budgets, no, all we've done -- all we've been able to do is reduce the rate of increase in spending. We're spending more. We're just not spending as much more.

And if we had stuck to the budgets of our predecessor, his -- you know, how you have to project now under the law several years ahead -- if we had stuck to his projected budgets, today's deficit would be $191 billion more than it is.

Q. There are 3 or 4 million more people below the poverty level now according to the Census Bureau's figures than there were when you took office. How does that -- --

The President. Not than when we took office. The recent survey that was widely touted was from 1979 to 1982.

Q. '82, right.

The President. Well, 1982 we'd just started -- because when you take office in 1981, you take office inheriting the budget already in place and the programs already in place from your predecessor.

Now, our program for economic recovery had just begun in 1982 to be phased in, but we had that great further dip in the 1970 and '80 recession in July of 1981. Not one bit of our program was in place when that big fall into 10.8-percent unemployment and so forth, when that took place. So, of course, there are more people in poverty in that particular year. But the decline -- or the increase, I should say, in the number of people living in poverty that began back in '79 and '80 -- we weren't even here yet. And in '81 we were here, but as I say, the budget and the programs were already in place. So, it is frustrating to try and answer all these.

What I'm going to be interested in seeing is where is the -- what is the number of people living in poverty in 1983 once the recovery was underway. The truth is, if they wanted to even go back farther, back in the sixties, the early sixties, we had fewer people living below the poverty line than we had in the later sixties after the great war on poverty got underway. And there has been from that moment on a steady increase in the level of poverty right on up to the figures that were used -- the 1979, '82 figures.

Mr. Speakes. We've got time for one more. Take Jerry.

Federal Budget Deficit

Q. Thank you. Mr. President, could I ask a question on the deficit? You've proposed a downpayment on the deficit, but that still would leave you with pretty large budget deficits -- --

The President. Yeah.

Q. -- -- and I wonder if the choices on a second downpayment aren't going to become more difficult. Business Week magazine has proposed, and I wonder if you could react to their suggestions on how to reduce the deficit -- I found them interesting -- that some cuts in social security and medicare, which would be sensitive; slowing the defense buildup, which you'd rather not do; slashing farm supports, which could be politically dangerous; cutting State and city aid some more; cutting Federal pensions and raising taxes on the middle class. Do you reject all of those, or do you -- --

The President. [Laughing] Quite a few of them, yes, I do, quite a few. Now, we have, part of our own proposal is a freeze on farm payments, as you know. But that was because the 1981 farm bill, when it was passed, was based on what they had projected would be a much higher inflation rate. And so, we're spending in the farm program several times more than we should have been spending.

No, what I said, this is a downpayment, because the structural changes, the things such as the Grace commission, their recommendations, these are going to take really bipartisan approach and study, because these are -- your deficit was made up of half recession and half structural; that structural thing was built in. That was the automatic increases that just took place, as every year went by; and the Congress didn't have to increase them, they were there.

Now, we need structural reform. The recovery has already had some reductions of our own estimates of the deficit. As you know, last summer we were estimating above $200 billion, and suddenly it is down sizably more than that -- down around 180. That is the recovery that's doing that. Now, that will continue as the recovery continues -- I've got to stop saying recovery. Some of the leading economists in the country have contacted me and said I should no longer use that word, because we're beyond recovery; we are now into expansion. So, the expansion will continue.

But the structural part will remain a threat until we deal with it. And this is where, as I say, I think that we, not only in those commission reports but everything else -- we must look at structural reforms that can be made that will leave government doing what government is intended to do -- for example, some of the savings that we made, by way of things we call block grants.

As Governor I came here knowing that in California the categorical grants, where the Federal Government gave the State of California x amount of money for a certain program, and then told us right down to the smallest ``t'' how we could use that money and what must be done with it. Well, it didn't meet our priorities. Maybe it met the next State's priorities, but ours were different, and then someone else's were different. And so, I came here conceiving this idea of let's put the money for general purpose in block grants and turn them over to the States and localities, and give them the ability to administer these as they know they will be most efficient. And this allowed -- there again, the money that was being saved in reducing these amounts -- was the administrative overhead that was being eliminated. And we must do more of this.

Even when a mayor tells you that a program with regard to transportation for the handicapped, the way the government, the Federal Government, forced it on him -- so costly that he, he could have sent taxicabs for every handicapped person that needed transportation and been money ahead -- if he'd been allowed to do that. It wouldn't have cost as much as it did doing it the way the Federal Government said they had to do it.

So, these are the type of structural reforms that are just waiting to be implemented.

Q. In the second administration?

The President. What?

Q. In a second Reagan administration?

The President. Yes.

School Prayer Amendment

Q. Are you going to get a prayer amendment in the second administration?

The President. I'm going to try. And here again -- --

Q. We didn't ask you about that. Could you just tell us -- --

The President. What?

Q. The prayer amendment in the Senate -- the defeat in the Senate -- --

The President. Well, we got a majority. A majority were for it, but we didn't get the two-thirds. But here again, could I take advantage of you -- I know Larry says we're through -- let me take advantage of you, though, for one thing. And maybe the media in some ways has helped with this -- certainly in the editorial pages.

I've talked to Senators, and who voted against this -- and so caused its not getting the two-thirds -- and was amazed to find that their reason for voting against it was they felt that they were voting against where government was going to mandate school prayer on the schools. And there was nothing of the kind. That isn't what we had before the Supreme Court decision.

When I was going to six elementary -- different elementary schools in 8 years, because my father moved around so much -- and it was taken for granted that there was no ban on prayer in schools. But we didn't have concerted prayer. Oh, I can remember a few times when some classmate was ill or some student's mother was very ill, and the teacher might say, ``Let's all pray for the recovery,'' so-forth, things of that kind.

All the amendment we proposed would do would be to say, if the schools want to, that's up to them. It's permitted. The Constitution does not deny them the right. What we did specify was that, no, they couldn't write a prayer, and, no, they couldn't dictate a specific prayer or dictate a method of doing this. They didn't have to do it at all if they didn't want to -- and many of the schools, as I say, that I attended didn't, other than in occasions of this kind. And for Senators who are up there in the debate to be so convinced that what they were voting against was an order, a mandate on the schools -- we just wanted to give the authority back to the schools to do what they wanted to do.

Q. They missed the boat.

The President. So, we'll try to make it more --

Q. They missed the boat?

The President. What?

Q. They missed the boat?

The President. They just didn't understand it. And we got the majority vote this afternoon, but it wasn't a two-thirds, so -- a constitutional amendment requires the two-thirds.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President.

Q. Thank you.

The President. All right.

Q. We didn't have those problems in my school. We prayed all the time -- it was Catholic. [Laughter]

The President. Well, yes.

Note: The interview began at 4:45 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. Participating in the interview were Jerry Watson of the Chicago Sun-Times, Gary Schuster of the Detroit News, Andrew Miller of the Kansas City Star, Frank Aukofer of the Milwaukee Journal, David Phelps of the Minneapolis Tribune, Paul Bedar of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and Tom Ottenad of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The transcript of the interview was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on March 21.