tv The Presidency President Reagans First Press Conference CSPAN July 26, 2020 9:15am-9:46am EDT
>> you are watching american history tv, 48 hours of programming on american history every weekend on c-span3. follow us on twitter @ c-spanhistory. up next, on the presidency, ronald reagan gives his first press conference nine days after taking the oath of office on january 20, 1981. questions about the recently resolved iranian hostage crisis and its aftermath dominated the discussion that ranged from domestic affairs, to the new administration's foreign policy priorities. president reagan met with the press in the old executive office building next door to the white house. this video is courtesy of the ronald reagan presidential library in simi valley, california. pres. reagan: how do you do?
i have a brief opening statement here before i take your questions. yesterday, secretary of the treasury, donald regan, sent to the congress a request to raise the debt ceiling to $985 billion. this represents a dramatic jump of $50 billion over the previous debt ceiling. the administration took this action with great regret because it is clear that the massive deficits our government runs is one of the root causes of our profound economic problems. and it, for too many years, this process has come too easily for us. we have lived beyond our means and then financed our extravagance on the backs of the american people. the clear message i received in the election campaign is that we must gain control of this inflationary monster. let me briefly review for the american people what we have already done. within moments of taking the oath of office, i placed a freeze on the hiring of civilian employees in the federal
government. two days later, i issued an order to cut down on government travel, reduce the number of consultants to the government, stop the procurement of certain items, and called on my appointees to exercise restraint in their own offices. yesterday, i announced the elimination of remaining federal controls on u.s. oil production and marketing. today i am announcing two more actions to reduce the size of the federal government. first, i am taking major steps toward the elimination of the council on wage and price stability. this council has been a failure. it has been totally ineffective in controlling inflation and it has imposed unnecessary burdens on labor and business. therefore, i am now ending the wage and price program of the council. i am eliminating a staff that carries out its wage pricing activities, and i'm asking congress to rescind its budget, saving taxpayers some at $1.5 million a year. my second decision is a directive ordering key federal agencies to freeze pending regulations for 60 days. this action gives my
administration time to start a new regulatory oversight process and also prevent certain last-minute regulatory decisions of the previous administration, the so-called "midnight regulations," from taking effect without proper review and approval. all of us should remember that the federal government is not some mysterious institution comprised of buildings, files and paper. the people are the government. what we create, we ought to be able to control. i do not intend to make wildly sky ready -- widely skyrocketing deficits and runaway government simple facts of life in this administration. as i said, our ills have come up on us over several decades, and they will not go away in days or weeks or months, but i want the american people to know that we have begun. now, i will be happy to take your questions. >> will your posture towards iran be one of revenge or reconciliation?
and will the u.s. honor the recent commitments to iran, especially since you approved of most of them during the campaign? pres. reagan: i am certainly not thinking of revenge. and i don't know whether reconciliation would be possible with the present government or absence of a government in iran. i think that the united states will honor the obligations. as a matter of fact, the most important of those were already put into effect by the preceding administration and the negotiating of the release. we are however studying. because there were four major agreements and nine executive orders. we are studying thoroughly what is a pretty complex matter, we have discovered, with regard to whether they are in keeping with international and our own national laws. so i will not be able to really answer your questions on specifics until we have completed that study.
>> the treasury secretary said monday that your budget cuts will be of a much higher magnitude than most people thought they would be. you said they would be across the board. now that you have had some time to study the budget, can you say where these cuts will be made, what program will feel the cuts the most? pres. reagan: they will be made every place. what we meant by across-the-board is that no one is exempt from being looked at for areas in which we can make cuts in spending. and, yes, they probably will be bigger than anybody has ever attempted, because this administration did not come here to be a caretaker government and just hope we can go along the same way and maybe do it a little better. we think the time has come where there has to be a change of direction of this country and it is going to begin with reducing government spending. >> mr. president, in your welcoming address to the freed americans, you sounded a warning
of swift and effective review shim -- retribution in future terrorist situations. what kind of action are you prepared to take to back up this hard rhetoric? pres. reagan: well, that is a question that i don't think you can or should answer as to specifics. this is a big and it is a powerful nation. it has a lot of options open to it. to try and specify now particularly what you should do i think is one of the things that's been wrong. people have gone to bed in some of these countries that have done these things to us in the past confident that they can go to sleep, wake up in the morning, and the united states wouldn't have taken any action. what i meant by that phrase was that anyone who does these things, violates our rights in the future, is not going to be able to go to bed with that confidence. walt? >> mr. president, you campaigned rather vociferously
against the salt ii treaty, saying it was slanted toward the soviet union. i noticed your secretary of state, mr. haig, seems to suggest that for the time being, the united states will abide by the limits of the treaty and he hopes the soviet union will, too. how long do you intend the united states should abide by the terms of the agreement, which you consider inequitable, and what do you consider it s greatest inequities to be? pres. reagan: well, the salt treaty, first of all, i think permits a continued buildup on both sides of strategic nuclear weapons. in the main thing, it authorizes an immediate increase, in large numbers, of soviet warheads. there is no verification as to the number of warheads on the missile. no method for us to do this. i don't think that a treaty -- s.a.l.t. means strategic arms limitation -- that actually a
permits a buildup on both sides of strategic nuclear weapons is - can properly be called that. i have said that when we can and i am willing for our people to go in to negotiate, or discussions leading to negotiations, that we should start negotiating on the basis of trying to affect an actual -- of trying to effect an actual reduction in the numbers of nuclear weapons. that would then be real strategic arms limitation. i happen to believe also that you cannot sit down on the table and just negotiate that unless you take into account the consideration at that table, all the other things going on. in other words, i believe in linkage. >> mr. president, what do you see as the long-range intentions of the soviet union? do you think, for instance, that the kremlin is bent on world domination that might lead to a continuation of the cold war or do you think that under other
circumstances detente is possible? pres. reagan: so far, da©tente -- detente has been a one-way street. that the soviet union has used to pursue its own names. -- its own names. -- its own aims. i do not have to think of an answer as to what i think their intentions are. they have repeated it. i know of the leader of the soviet union since the revolution, including the present leadership, that has not more than once repeated in the various communist congresses they hold, their determination that their goal must be the promotion of world revolution, and the one-world socialist or communist state, whichever words you want to use. now, as long as they do that and as long as they, at the same time, have openly and publicly declared that the only morality they recognize is what will further their cause, meaning they reserve to themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat in order to attain
that, and that is immoral, not amoral. and we operate under a different standards. i think when you do business with them, even in a detente, you keep that in mind. >> mr. president, what is your opinion of american companies that now want to resume business with iran? pres. reagan: my opinion of american companies that want to resume business with iran? i hope they are going to do it long distance. [laughter] we would not want to go back to having just a different cast of characters but the same show going on. i can understand that, particularly in the field of energy, they are wanting to do that. but we are urging the people think long and hard before they travel to iran, because we do not think their safety can be guaranteed there. >> mr. president, three
americans are still incarcerated in vietnam. can you tell us the status of their cases and whether the administration is doing anything to get them back? pres. reagan: i have told our people about those three. they knew about them of course. but i have told them that, yes, we continue. we want to get them back also. i know i have been saying down front here too much. i have to prove i can look at the back rows there, too. >> mr. president, some administrative officials have promised adherence to the civil rights laws which are on the books. but there has been considerable discussion about dismantling the affirmative action aspect that gives those laws and some people greater meaning. i am wondering, mr. president, if there will be a retreat in the federal government on the
government's advocacy for affirmative action programs generally and in federal hiring of blacks and hispanics specifically. pres. reagan: no. there will be no retreat. this administration is going to be dedicated to equality. i think we have made great progress in the civil rights field. i think there are some things, however, that may not be as useful as they once were, or that may even be distorted in the practice, such as some affirmative action programs becoming quota systems. and i am old enough to remember when quotas existed in the united states for the purpose of discrimination. i don't want to see that happen again. >> mr. president, when and how will you seek to take control of natural gas prices? pres. reagan: we have not dealt with that problem yet. we thought oil would do for a starter.
but i cannot really answer your question. that will be a matter for discussion in future cabinet meetings. lou? >> mr. president, during the campaign, you repeatedly talked about the unfairness of the grain embargo as you saw it. do you have second thoughts now or will you lift the grain embargo? pres. reagan: with the grain embargo, my quarrel was that i thought it was asking only one group of americans to participate, the farmers. it was not -- you only have two choices with an embargo, you either lift it, or you broaden it. we have not made a decision, except that at the request of secretary of agriculture, john bloch, i have taken the matter of the embargo out of the discussions of the national security council, and next week it is on the agenda for a full cabinet meeting as to what our course will be. so i can't answer what we do
about it until next week. as i say, it was asking one group of americans to bear the burden, and i have always thought that was more of a kind of gesture than it was something real. yes, ma'am. >> mr. president, what will you do to honor the request by federal officials, atlanta officials for you and the federal government to intervene in the atlanta case of 17 missing black children? pres. reagan: just a few minutes before i came in here, that message was handed to me, that the atlanta mayor wanted to talk. and we are going to get someone in touch with him immediately. now, you recognize, of course, that possibly, civil rights would be the only basis upon which we could have any jurisdiction down there. for fbi, for example. on any other thing, there has been no evidence of crossing
state lines or anything. yet we want to be helpful, because that is a most tragic case. so we will be meeting on that very shortly. >> mr. president, when the jamaican prime minister was here yesterday, he suggested publicly that now might be a good time for you, as the new president, to have a foreign policy initiative for latin america and for the caribbean. do you intend to follow that suggestion? and if so, how would your policies differ from those of president carter? pres. reagan: i think we have seen a great reverse in the caribbean situation. and it came about through the prime minister's election. it was the turnover, turnaround, of a nation that had gone certainly in the direction of the communist movement. it was kind of a protege of
castro. and his election was greeted by me with great enthusiasm because it represented the people by their vote, having experienced that kind of government, turned another direction. and i think this opens the door for us to have a policy in the mediterranean of bringing them back in those countries that might have started in that direction or keeping them in the western world and the free world. and so, we are looking forward to cooperation with prime minister ciaga. >> i think you meant caribbean in that last answer, not the mediterranean? pres. reagan: what did i say? i meant caribbean. i'm sorry. >> what do you intend to do about the draft registration law that was passed during president carter's
administration and in view of your opposition to it in the campaign, how is that consistent with your avowed intention to strengthen our national defenses? pres. reagan: to answer the last part first, i just did not feel that the advanced registration on all the evidence we could get would materially speed up the process if i was required -- process if an emergency required the draft. it did create a bureaucracy. it caused certainly some unrest and dissatisfaction. and we were told that it would only be a matter of several days if we had to call up in the draft that we could do that several days earlier with the registration than we would be able to if there was no registration at all. we -- this is one that is something to be looked at further down. i have only been here nine days, and most of these nine days have been spent in cabinet meetings on the economy, getting ready to send our package up to the hill,
and so, i just have to tell you that we will be dealing with that and make a decision on what to do with it down the road someplace. gary. >> speaking of your economic package, can you give us your thoughts on effective dates for the tax cuts that you plan to recommend in your economic recovery plan? and specify whether you prefer one effective date for business and another for personal cuts or whether you would like to combine them. pres. reagan: i would like to see them go forward all at once. as to the date, i know there has been talk about whether it should be retroactive or whether it should be as of that minute. that to me is not as important as getting, for individuals, the -- principle of a 10% cut for each of three years in place and the business taxes also, so that we can all look forward
with some confidence of stability in the program. and we are going to strive for that and i cannot really answer you about what the date will be until we submit the package. young lady? >> mr. president. i know you said earlier that you are not thinking of revenge towards iran, but does that preclude any punishment whatsoever for what they have done? pres. reagan: again, i have to ask your forbearance and wait until we have finished our study of this whole situation as to what we are going to do. i don't think any of us have a friendly feeling towards the people who have done what they have done. but i think it is too complex for me to answer until we have had time to really study this. >> just one follow-up. would you go so far as to encourage american businesses to resume commercial trade in iran? pres. reagan: at this point, no. >> mr. president, do you intend
to follow through with your campaign pledges to abolish the departments of energy and education? pres. reagan: i have not retreated from that at all. yes. the process, however, that i have asked for, is for both the secretary of education and the secretary of energy to reorganize, to produce the most effective streamlining of the department -- of their departments that they can. in education, to look at the appropriate role of the federal government in education, if there is one. and to report back, and then, we will decide on making our recommendations. much the same thing holds true with the department of energy. the reason for this being, that while they were new cabinet level agencies, they incorporated government functions and programs that had
been going on in them when they came under that umbrella. and we have to find out which of those functions that have been a federal government function continue, and where they would best fit. but, yes, i am determined and i believe that it was wrong to have created the two agencies to begin with. now, there. >> mr. president, during the campaign, your chief crime spokesman put you on record as favoring for the time being the dairy price support level where it had been. within the last couple of days, your budget director and your secretary of agriculture indicated the dairy program is too expensive and should be cut back. could you reconcile those differences of approach for us? pres. reagan: i can only tell you that this again is something to wait for the next cabinet meeting. all of these things are worked out between the appropriate cabinet members and our director of omb.
then they come to the cabinet for full discussion, so that others who have an interest in this can have their input. so i cannot answer you. because that has not yet come to the cabinet. young lady? >> iran and the soviet union share along border in a region vital to the security of the world. given the anti-u.s. sentiment, how do you think the united states can ensure the stability of the region? pres. reagan: you said the border between iran and the soviet union? well, i think one of the first things that has to happen is for stability isfor for iran itself to establish a
government that can speak as a government for iran. and part of our problem in all of these long 444 days, has been the inability of anyone , seemingly, to speak for that nation. to have a government. now, i think that any country would want to help another if they really showed an intent to have a government that would abide by international law, and do what they could to help in that regard. but until such a thing appears apparent there, i don't think -- i do not know that there is anything we can do. go ahead, young lady. >> mr. president, if it is your intention to signal the world that this country will risk on -- will respond with swift retribution in cases of international terrorism in the future, why is it your policy not to retaliate against iran? pres. reagan: what good would just revenge do? what form would that take?
i do not think revenge is worthy of us. on the other hand, i do not think we act as if this never happened. i would rather wait until, as i say, we complete this -- i know i have been on this side for too long, but someone said por favor. [laughter] >> mr. president, i am impressed when i listen the other day, "viva la roja, la blanca, y la azul." mr. president, is it true that when hispanics are given the opportunity to serve this country, they serve this country. in view of this undisputed fact, when are you going to appoint a hispanic american to serve in your administration in policymaking positions? pres. reagan: we are definitely recruiting and definitely trying
to do that. i want an administration that will be representative of the country as a whole. and please don't judge us on the fact that we are only picked -- we have only picked 100. there will be 1700 positions to fill in the executive branch, in the white house senior staff and staff. and the personnel committee in our administration that is talent-hunting and looking for these people contains members of the minorities, hispanics, and even a majority of women, and we want that very much. so don't judge us now by the tip of the iceberg. wait until it is all in. >> mr. president, paul volcker, the chairman of the federal reserve board, has been implementing policies that are exactly opposite in basic thrust from what you recommend. he has been squeezing the productive sector of the economy in favor of the speculative sector.
frankly, mr. president, there are important sections of the american economy are about to go under and will not even have the opportunity to benefit from the programs you are putting forward because of the federal reserve policy. i have a two-part question. first of all, do you think that objective economic conditions justify the interest rate levels we now have? i don't mean for your answer to imply a criticism of the fed. it is just an objective question. the second question is, are you concerned that there may be a , bytage, so to speak programs the federal reserve might be putting forward? pres. reagan: i am not concerned there would be sabotage. i have met with mr. volcker, not with the intention to dictate, because it is an independent agency and i respect that. but i think that we have to face the fact that interest rates are not come in themselves, because of inflation -- are not in themselves a cause of inflation. they are a consequence. when you have, as we have had, double-digit inflation back-to-back for two solid years
now, the last time that happened was in world war i. and when you have double-digit inflation there, that way, there is no question that interest rates are going to have to go up and follow that inflation rate. in so -- and so the answer to the interest rates is going to be our program of reducing government spending, tied to the reduction of the tax rates that we have spoken of to bring down inflation. you will find that interest rates come down. we do want from the fed and would ask for a moderate policy of money supply increasing relative to legitimate growth. all of these things have to work together. but i don't think that the fed just deliberately raises interest rates. the reason that we have got to tie taxes and tie spending together is, for all of these decades, we have talked and talked about solving these problems, and we act as if the two were separate. so, one year we fight inflation
and then unemployment goes up. next year we fight unemployment and then inflation goes up. it's time to keep the two together where they belong and that is what we are going to do. yes, sir? >> mr. president, a number of conservative leaders, among them some of your staunchest and most durable supporters, are very concerned about some of your appointments. the basis of their concern is that many people that have been long time reaganites and supporters of yours do not seem to be able to get jobs, like one of them who played a key role in your transition team, where as -- whereas other individuals who have not supported you throughout the years or your philosophy, like the secretary of education, and who was for the establishment of the department you said you're going to abolish, or mr. frank carlucci, the deputy secretary of defense, who was not a supporter of yours, they have gotten jobs. my question is, why are these individuals in your administration. why is it mr. van cleave? how much of a problem do you think this conservative
dissatisfaction with your appointments is? pres. reagan: the only problem i have had that is more difficult than knowing which hand to point to here, and believe me, it bothers me. i go home feeling guilty, all the hands i could not point to. [laughter] the only problem greater i have had is in the selection of personnel. in many instances, some of the people that have been mentioned, whose names have been mentioned by others, did not want a position in the administration. helped, worked very hard and wanted nothing for it. but you also have to recognize there are not that many positions. after all, look how many votes i had. [laughter] you can't reward them all. but thank you. all right. thank you. >> don't feel guilty. [indiscernible] [laughter] [indiscernible]