Meese: Reagan sets new tone for governing country
Washington — What are the main problems encountered by this president during his first 100 days? Well, the main problem, of course, has been the challenge of putting across the economic recovery program. And the President has done this by making clear his priority: the fact that restoring the vitality of the economy was the No. 1 priority. And he has been able to focus the attention of the Congress, the executive branch, the news media, and the public on this particular priority. I think this has been a tremendous accomplishment.
Second, I think he has moved to establish good relationships with the Congress, which is always a problem with any president. He is working well with them and they with him.
Third, you always have the problem of foreign policy and of making clear our intentions to other nations. I think he has done that. He has had a very carefully worked-out approach to the Soviet Union. He has had a very clear-cut policy in the Caribbean and in Central America. He has developed a new policy for the handling of southern Africa. I think the clear-cut articulation of foreign policy has been an accomplishment and an answer to a problem.
The fourth area, [relations] with our allies . . . has been a problem for some presidents.I think he has improved communications with every other country with whom we have dealt.
What has been the impact of the assassination attempt and a wounded president? Any slowdown of the presidential momentum?
I don't think it has at all. Obviously, we would rather that it never happened. And obviously it has curtailed his personal participation in certain things he would ordinarily be doing. The important thing is that the rest of the government has gone on.
He's been able to make the key policy decisions. He's even been able, increasingly, to make the phone calls and the personal contacts. So I think what you might say that although it was a terrible thing to have happen, it has had a relatively minor impact on the continuing momentum of accomplishment of this administration.
But, at the same time, I will say we're very glad to have him back where he can do a lot of the personal contact himself.
This is a hard question to ask about such a terrible thing, but is it possible that this assassination attempt incident could end up as a political plus for this administration?
I think the legislation is going to be passed on its merits. I don't think Congress is going to do anything that it wouldn't have done anyway, regardless of this incident.
But what this incident did do was this: It confirmed in many persons' minds their confidence in the President as a man who would react well to any situation , any crisis. And I think it convinced a lot of people who may not have been too supportive of him before this -- this is a man who reacts well under pressure and he has the qualities of leadership and the personal qualities that could cope with any kind of a crisis.
Has the administration -- the President, the White House, others -- made some mistakes during this period?
I guess it is just a habit for me as a lawyer not to well on the mistakes of your client. . . . But there is no doubt that we've learned some things. We've learned, for example, that the personnel process has taken longer than we would have wanted.
And the reason?
Part of the reasons were things we had anticipated and planned for. And that was, we thought it was better to clean out all the offices and put our own people in and leave offices open temporarily rather than holdovers who might be resistant to the policies of a president who wanted to changed things. We knew that would be true.
But actually we have nominated more people than any other president at this point in time for positions that have to be confirmed by the Senate.
But the other thing we learned was that the process itself takes a long time -- much longer than we expected. By the time you comply with the ethics in government act; by the time you persuade people to come into government because of the compensation problem; by the time you go through the FBI clearances and all the other that it takes, and then go through the process of committees in the Senate, it is a lengthy process and it does take a while to get all of your people in place.
I think that while we were learning that, at the same time it is amazing how much has been accomplished by these departments.
Why has there been a slowness by the Senate to confirm the President's top-level appointments? I'm thinking now of Senator Helms and his role. Can you explain this?
I think you have very genuine concerns on the part of some senators that the people being confirmed are people who are going to carry out the policies of the President and make the changes in government that he wants.
And I think it may take a little time to answer some of the questions that are raised in good faith -- but I think that in the long run you will find that all of our people will be supported.
What about Secretary of State Alexander Haig's deportment during this time? Hasn't he displayed a little more muscle at times than was thought best by the President? Hasn't Haig been contained?
I think that really Al Haig has done exactly what the PResident has wanted him to do: strong spokesman for the foreign policy of this country, primary developer of the foreign-policy options that have to be decided by the President. And then to implement that policy through the State Department. And I think he has done that very well -- and I think the President feels the same way.
But wasn't there some kind of a containment that took place after some of Haig's public utterances on filling the crisis-management chairman's job?
No. I think that on some occasions the President made decisions that were different than what Secretary Haig wished, just as that would be true with virtually every Cabinet member -- because nobody is going to agree 100 percent of the time with everybody else.
You see the speculation that Haig has hurt himself so much during this period that he is close to losing his job. Any substance in that?
Absolutely none. At no time was Al Haig in danger of losing his job . . . Al has been, and remains, a very loyal, trusted, effective supporter of the President and a very important part of this administration.