Remarks to Congressional Leaders on Defense Spending

May 12, 1987

The President. Well, thank you all for coming down this morning. And we have several items to discuss, so we might as well get started. This week Congress will take up necessary legislation to raise the public debt limit, and this is something that both Republicans and Democrats in Congress must address. We also need to discuss this morning the budget process and how that can be improved.

But first I want to speak again of my growing concern with the course of legislation in Congress that could have a direct bearing on the arms reduction talks. The House already has attached to the defense authorization bill several unacceptable provisions. The Senate bill is equally troublesome on the strategic defense issues. As I said on Saturday, some in Congress would pull the legs out from under our negotiators with amendments to this legislation, such as those dealing with our strategic defense program and nuclear testing.

I simply can't go along with those who would hand the Soviets, free of charge, what they can't win at the bargaining table. This is no way to run America's foreign policy, and I would be compelled to veto any legislation that endangers our arms reduction efforts or undermines our national defense. Many of you have been outspoken in your opposition to such proposals, and I want to thank you for your steadfast support in working to give me a free hand in the negotiations with the Soviet Union. And I also want to thank Bob Dole and John Warner for sending me a letter with 34 signatures in support of striking an amendment that unduly restricts our SDI program. That's the end of that, and now, shortly, we'll get underway with our discussion.

Reporter. Mr. President, did you personally ask third -- [inaudible] -- countries to contribute money to the contras?

The President. Sam [Sam Donaldson, ABC News], I made an opening statement, and I have said that I'm not going to answer any questions on those things until this is over. If I were going to answer any questions, I'd say no. [Laughter]

Q. Well, sir, since you didn't answer that question so brilliantly, what did you think when you were -- what did you think -- I'm sorry, don't laugh at the President. [Laughter] What did you think, sir, when you were told that a tour had been given in the White House for Iranian officials?

Senator Helms. Yes, well, I got a tour of the White House one time, Mr. President.

Q. Are you Rafsanjani?

Senator Helms. Yes, yes, didn't you know?

Senator Thurmond. Sam, he said he wasn't going to answer any questions. Can't you believe the President?

Q. Sir, I can certainly listen to the President.

Q. He did answer a question.

Q. Sir, what do you think about the tour of the White House?

Senator Helms. It was nice.

The President. I haven't known about it long enough to have any thoughts on it. I just heard it myself.

Q. You mean you didn't know about it at all?

The President. No. We were obviously out of the city. Now, come on, we've got business -- --

Q. Would you have let him do it if you'd been here?

Q. How did Khomeini like the tour?

Note: The President spoke at 9:36 a.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House, prior to a meeting with Republican congressional leaders. Hashemi-Rafsanjani was the Speaker of the Islamic Consultative Assembly of Iran. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.