Remarks at a Fundraising Reception for Senator Chic Hecht of Nevada

 

March 22, 1988

 

It's good to be here and to see one of my oldest and truest friends, a former Senator and a former Governor, but always a current statesman, Paul Laxalt. For both Paul and me, one of the highest priorities of this election year is to make sure that another old and true friend stays where he belongs: in the United States Senate. And, of course, I'm talking about Senator Chic Hecht.

 

Now, we're all together on that. That's why we're here. And don't think I'm not aware of and don't appreciate what each of you is doing to help Chic. And I just heard, as evidence, of what you've done. Well, I am, and I do. Chic is going to have a tough race. We all know that. But he's a scrapper. Time and again his opponents, as well as the press, have underestimated him, given him up for goners, only to see him out ahead of the pack on election day. This year they've been writing him off again, as you were told. You didn't know you were using a couple of my lines. [Laughter] He was 31 points down in the polls just a while back, and that didn't phase Chic. He got to work, and now it's the opposition that's sweating. And he's narrowed that gap, as you've been told, to just 7 points, and he's closing fast.

 

That's the kind of spirit I like. It reminds me of reading a poll about another candidate in January 1980. [Laughter] It was taken at a National Press Club luncheon here in Washington on the eve of the primary season. Those in attendance were asked who would be the next President of the United States. Jimmy Carter got a large number of votes and so did Teddy Kennedy. But there was one candidate on the Republican side who got so few votes from the wise men of Washington that it wasn't even reported in the lineup.

 

Like Chic, I've had a career of being underestimated. [Laughter] It started a number of years back. I was under contract to Warner Brothers Studio, and when I announced that I was running for Governor and somebody told Jack Warner that, Jack thought a moment, and he said, ``No, uh, uh. Jimmy Stewart for Governor -- Reagan for best friend.'' [Laughter] So, I have a hunch that being underestimated will turn out to be Chic's secret weapon. Chic's going to be reelected because he stands for the kind of principles Nevada wants and America needs represented, the principles that brought so many of us here to Washington 7 years ago and brought Chic to join us 2 years later.

 

Through 3 Congresses, Chic and I've worked together for lower tax rates and tax reform, for strong measures like a Gramm-Rudman to put a collar on congressional spending, for a strategic defense against ballistic missiles, for judges and justices who would return the tradition of judicial restraint to the American judiciary, for a strong defense, and to support those brave souls fighting for freedom in our hemisphere and around the world. But we began working side by side long before Chic came here to Washington. Chic joined with me in 3 Presidential campaigns spanning two decades to bring our principles here to Washington. And once he made it here himself, he's stood with me more often than all but a handful of Senators, as Paul has told you.

 

Yes, we believe in the same things, for which I'm grateful. I sure wouldn't want to fight against Chic Hecht too often. He's got a stubborn, independent streak. He's the kind of Senator who doesn't make a lot of noise; he just gets things done for Nevada and the Nation, and more often than not he comes out on top. Nevada may be the Silver State, but Chic Hecht has gone for the gold medal among Senators, and so far as I'm concerned, he's won it.

 

Now I'd like to turn to a matter that shows just how critical it is to put Chic and men and women like him in the next Congress. I'm talking about Central America and the situation in Nicaragua. Last week's Sandinista attack on Honduras was greeted by too many in Congress not as the proof that funding the freedom fighters is the one way -- the only way -- to get the Sandinistas to the peace table and keep them there. No, one Senator spoke for too many when he shook his head about the political mistake of those in Managua -- as if they'd stumbled in some primary or caucus.

 

Well, maybe if these critics thought for a moment, they'd just see what the nature of this so-called mistake really was. Troop movements, small-team reconnaissance missions, the positioning of fuel and supplies -- in short, the logistical preparations for the incursion -- began just after Congress voted to reject our package of aid to the democratic resistance. We saw it happening. This was a precise and carefully prepared operation that showed the influence of outside advisers and must have required several weeks to plan. It was not some spontaneous Sunday afternoon outing.

 

In other words, counting back to when we first saw logistical preparations commence and before that to when planning would have had to start, this invasion was beginning or underway even as, in late February, a group of liberal House Democrats sent a letter to anti-aid lobbyists saying that, in their words: ``Nothing will bring peace faster than destroying contra hopes for more military aid.'' This was the same period in which we were warning that an end to congressional aid would set back, not advance, the cause of peace and democracy in Nicaragua.

 

Preparations for the incursion were continuing when Sandinista mobs were breaking up peaceful demonstrations in Managua -- something they'd eased off on as the congressional vote on aid to the freedom fighters approached -- but this time their attacks showed a savagery that had rarely been displayed before, as thugs pounded demonstrators with clubs and metal bars. And believe me, they did not just do this to their fellow men. They did it to groups of women and ladies who were simply walking in the streets and protesting various things the Sandinistas were doing. The stage for the attack was set even before Daniel Ortega fired the peace mediator, Cardinal Obando y Bravo, and boasted he was going to crush the contras.

 

Well, now we know he had reason to believe he could. The attack he knew was approaching involved multiple combat battalions, thousands of troops, and the close support of MI - 17 and MI - 25 attack helicopters -- Soviet craft. Were the signs of danger ever clearer? Yet throughout this time our critics were saying over and over that only by stopping aid would we give the peace process a chance. I'm not questioning the sincerity of our critics, only their judgment.

 

And I'm saying that we need -- America needs -- more men and women on both sides of Capitol Hill with the good judgment of Chic Hecht. He's understood what's been going on in Central America from the first, and as on so many matters, I've always found him to have a cool, clear head. And I know that others have recognized these qualities in Chic as well. He's been endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce, and I understand that he just received the coveted Watch Dog of the Treasury Award. You know, he told you he was a businessman, and he is. And you know, principles of the kind that are just commonplace out in the private sector and in the business world are still in great need in our Nation's Capital.

 

I like to tell a little story about a community that decided they were going to raise their signal sign -- or traffic signs and street signs and so forth from only being 5 feet high to 7 feet high so they would be more visible to drivers in automobiles. And the Federal Government came in and said, oh, we have a plan. We'll do that for you. We'll lower the streets 2 feet. [Laughter]

 

America needs Chic Hecht. And sincerely, I hope the next President will be a Republican and that he'll need him, too. So, I know what you're going to do, and thank you, and God bless you. A young man from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, just before we came in, presented me with this. My name on it. And it's for those Runnin' Rebels. And I'm going to take it home with me. All right. Thank you all very much.

 

Note: The President spoke at 6:04 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the Sheraton Grand Hotel. In his closing remarks, he referred to a red windbreaker that was given to him by a University of Nevada student.