In His First Days, Bush Plans Review of Clinton's Acts
Monday, 15-Jan-01 00:51:43
January 14, 2001
In His First Days, Bush Plans Review of Clinton's Acts
By DAVID E. SANGER and FRANK BRUNI
CRAWFORD, Tex., Jan. 12
President-elect George W. Bush
said today that he planned to review and
possibly roll back some of the most
ambitious initiatives that President Clinton
has taken in recent days, including
regulations that put nearly 60 million
acres of the nation's forests off limits to
"I understand the Western mentality, and
I want the Western mentality represented
in this administration," Mr. Bush said of
his own land use policies. In an interview,
he emphasized that "we've got lawyers
looking at every single issue, every single
opportunity" to reverse actions Mr.
Clinton has taken in the waning weeks of
He also described what could well
become a new, tougher approach
toward Russia, limiting aid for its
conversion to a market economy, and he
elaborated on several other foreign
policy issues. Previewing one of the most
closely watched decisions he will face in
his first month in office, he signaled that
he was inclined to use an executive order
to stop the flow of American money to
any international organizations that provide abortions in foreign countries.
"Organizations that promote abortions are organizations I don't want to
support" with American taxpayer dollars, Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush's remarks came in a 75-minute interview in his renovated
farmhouse here, followed by less formal conversation during a 90-minute
tour of his ranch and a hike up a limestone canyon to his favorite
Along the way stopping at moments to admire the middle fork of the
Bosque River rushing through his land or to point out a buzzard the
man who will become the 43rd president of the United States on
Saturday also talked about his legislative priorities, his Inaugural Address
and the diplomatic troubles he anticipates with Moscow and Beijing over
his plans to deploy a national missile defense system.
Mr. Bush was dismissive of the Clinton administration's eight-year-long
use of direct financial aid to Russia, part of a broad Western effort to
coax the country toward a market economy. He suggested he would try
to stop the money except for that used to dismantle nuclear weapons
until Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, cleaned up corruption
and enacted far-reaching economic and legal reforms.
"It's hard for America to fashion Russia," Mr. Bush said. "It just seems
like to me that we don't want to be lending money and/or encourage the
lending of money into a system in which the intention of the capital is
never fulfilled," he said. "The intent of the capital was to encourage
entrepreneurship and growth and markets."
According to the General Accounting Office, the United States has spent
roughly $2.3 billion since 1992 promoting democracy, the rule of law and
market reforms in Russia, but the annual disbursements have tailed off
steeply since the Russian financial crisis of 1998. The International
Monetary Fund and the World Bank, institutions in which the United
States is the largest single shareholder, have issued loans to Russia over
the same period worth approximately $30 billion.
Taken together, Mr. Bush's comments amounted to a sketchy road map
for his first 100 days in office. By making it clear that he would rigorously
review Mr. Clinton's environmental orders and suggesting he might
reverse the Clinton administration's position on aid to family planning
groups working overseas, he was embracing some favorite causes of his
conservative base, especially the Western states he called "that big swath
of red on the map" a region of contiguous states he swept as he took
the presidency in the narrowest of victories.
In the case of reversing President Clinton's forest policy, which was
made final this month, after years of painstaking review and public
comment, Mr. Bush would face many legal restraints. He acknowledged
that his lawyers would have to look carefully at what options were open.
His comments on Russia, if converted into policy, could lead to a
fundamental change in the way the United States seeks to influence the
behavior of a nation that was once its chief superpower rival and it
risks heightening suspicions in Russia of how America is leveraging its
economic and military power.
In the interview, Mr. Bush also made the following points:
ΆHe said his Inaugural Address, which he hopes to keep to a short 12
minutes, would carry the message that "we can be a unified America."
But he insisted that this theme was not the product of his slim victory in
the Electoral College and loss in the popular vote.
ΆMr. Bush said he planned to quickly introduce his plan to cut taxes by
an amount now estimated at $1.6 trillion over the next 10 years as a
single bill, perhaps modifying it to deepen the tax cuts in the next few
years so that it could spur a slowing economy. Asked if he was willing to
negotiate the size of his proposed tax cut with a sharply divided
Congress, he shot back: "The answer is no. I think it's the right number."
ΆHe suggested he might be willing to pick up on Mr. Clinton's framework
for a deal with North Korea to control its production and export of
missiles but said it must include provisions to "verify that they are
upholding their end of the agreement." If North Korea no longer
threatens its neighbors, he said, he would "take a look" at reducing
American troops on the Korean Peninsula, but only in consultation with
South Korea and other Asian allies.
ΆMr. Bush acknowledged that the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq
since the Persian Gulf war have so collapsed that "they resemble Swiss
cheese." But while he was critical of Mr. Clinton's handling of Iraq, he
declined to say what tools he might use to pressure Saddam Hussein.
ΆMr. Bush said he may have erred in commenting on the Federal
Reserve's action early this month to cut interest rates, and suggested that
to preserve the Fed's independence he would not publicly evaluate its
actions as president. "I kind of read the feedback and tended to agree
with it, frankly," he said of the criticism he received for enthusiastically
backing the half-point cut in short-term rates.
From Ranch to Frying Pan
Throughout the conversation Mr. Bush looked relaxed. He was clearly
enjoying a day off puttering around his ranch, brewing coffee for visitors
and interrupting the conversation repeatedly to admonish his two friendly
but occasionally disobedient dogs, Spot and Barney. But he leaned
forward and turned intent when the subject turned to his choice for
attorney general, former Senator John Ashcroft, a religious conservative
who he said he knew "could end up being a lightning rod" for criticism.
He said he expected that Mr. Ashcroft's confirmation hearings, which
begin on Tuesday, would be focused on the designee's comments on civil
rights, his fierce opposition to abortion and comments he made
supporting leaders of the Southern side of the Civil War. "They are going
to dig up every word the guy uttered," Mr. Bush said. "He's going to get
to explain them. He explained many of the words he uttered to me."
The president-elect professed to be unfazed by the withdrawal this week
of his choice for labor secretary, Linda Chavez, who had failed to tell the
Bush transition team that she had once had an illegal immigrant live in her
home and perform occasional house chores. Mr. Bush would not say that
he had been misled by Ms. Chavez, but noted, "She said she made
mistakes," and he seemed to agree with that assessment.
Mr. Bush described his cabinet as "a very strong group of folks," made
stronger by their extensive experience in government.
"I'm always mindful of what Sam Rayburn told Lyndon Johnson when he
first saw the Kennedy administration," he said, referring to the famously
gruff former speaker of the House. "He said, `Gosh, I just wish one of
them had run for sheriff.' " And that's why I'm very comfortable with an
Ashcroft or a Norton. They not only ran for sheriff, they ran for statewide
Talking like a professor of management at Harvard Business School
which he attended decades ago he said he was working hard to turn
his cabinet choices into a cohesive team that is accustomed to his own
style. In his two visits to Washington in recent weeks, he noted, he was
"spending time with the folks, just watching everybody interact and letting
them see how I respond and my style. I want them to see the
decision-making process and how it works." He wanted, he insisted, no
yes-men or yes-women.
"Here's loyalty," he said. "Loyalty is somebody who walked into my
office and says, `Here is my opinion,' or `I hear you are thinking this way.
I don't agree with you.' " He made it clear, however, that once he had
chosen his path, he expected his cabinet members to voice unanimous
support for his decisions in public.
At one point Mr. Bush said that he had cautioned his press secretary, Ari
Fleischer, that at times he would withhold information so that Mr.
Fleischer could truthfully profess ignorance to reporters hardly a new
strategy for occupants of the White House. Mr. Bush recalled telling Mr.
Fleischer recently, "When I tell you you are not going to know something,
you say, `Yes, sir.' "
`I Love Land'
Mr. Bush made little effort to hide his interest in reversing some of Mr.
Clinton's recent executive orders and rules. But he cautioned that his
aides were still researching whether reversals would be legally or
politically possible, noting at one point that some of his actions would
require legislation and "it doesn't take much to block action in the United
States Senate," where there are now 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats.
Mr. Bush's views on the administration's recently completed effort to
block the development of roadless areas of federal lands, essentially
putting those areas off limits to loggers and oil drillers, was complex. Mr.
Bush himself clearly treasures his natural surroundings "I love land," he
said while driving around the 1,600 acres he acquired in 1999 but he
instinctively bridles at the thought that the federal government would
trump local officials or private landholders in deciding how that land
should be used.
"What I would seek to do is to make sure that our bureaucracies were
not trampling the interest of the people and the president himself
would work with local stakeholders before takings such as what the
president has done with the roadless areas, for example." The word
"takings" is used to describe government action to limit the use of land,
with minimal or no compensation.
"The concept of the federal government taking people's property without
compensation is something I agree with Gale Norton on," he said. "It
should not. There ought to be a balance between obviously the public
interest and private property. And a lot of people in my state and in the
Western states feel that balance is not there."
He reiterated his determination to drill for oil in the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge and said: "People shouldn't be shocked that I'm picking
somebody who agrees with me. That's what a president does."
But he stopped short of saying that he would reverse the forest policy
wholesale, suggesting he would consult with "governors and senators and
local folks" to determine which lands should remain off limits and which
should be developed. "There's going to be some property in these giant
chunks of land that we can use and not damage the environment," he
said. "There are some in this country that have wanted zero exploration
or zero activity. And I just don't think it's in our national interest to take
He was more definitive about his opposition to federal aid for family
planning groups that promote or perform abortions abroad. One of Mr.
Clinton's very first acts, two days into his presidency in 1993, was to sign
an executive order scuttling a Reagan-era policy that prohibited these
private organizations from receiving public funds.
Under a compromise reached in October to avoid a confrontation
between Congressional Republicans and Mr. Clinton, Congress allocated
$425 million for such family planning activities but said it could not be
spent until Feb. 15. That clears the way for Mr. Bush to return to the
Reagan policy, and while he said that he had not yet thoroughly reviewed
the matter, he suggested he was inclined to head in that direction.
He also gave a sense of his other priorities, suggesting that in addition to
education reform legislation and his tax bill, "we may be able to move a
little faster on Medicare" reforms, including prescription drug coverage
for elderly Americans. But he tacitly conceded that an overhaul of Social
Security, a major subject of debate in the campaign, would take time.
In discussing foreign policy, Mr. Bush again said he would not allow
American military forces to engage in what he called "nation-building"
converting countries to stable democracies because it was a
distraction from their main mission. That was a critical difference with
Vice President Al Gore, who repeatedly cited the experience of
American forces in helping remake Japan and Germany after World War
He said allies in Europe were "very aware" of his desire to gradually
reduce America's presence in Kosovo and Bosnia, and said Secretary of
State-designate Colin L. Powell would make it clear that Washington
wanted Europe "to be the peacekeepers." (In fact, the United States
provides less than 20 percent of the peacekeeping forces in the Balkans.)
But, Mr. Bush said, "I don't have deadlines in mind" and "I honor the
agreements that the president has that our country has made."
"It's going to take a while" to pull back, he said.
He endorsed much of Mr. Clinton's core strategy toward China, using
economic engagement to promote more freedom, but he seemed unable
to decide whether China posed more of a threat to the United States
because of its growing military strength or its internal weaknesses.
"I'm trying to figure out if your question is a trick question," he said with a
smile. After a digression on the chaos brought about by the Cultural
Revolution, he concluded, "To me, particularly as China develops as the
military power, a chaotic China would be something that should cause
great concern to people in the region and to us."
He said he was prepared for objections from Moscow and Beijing to his
plan to build a national missile defense, but he insisted it should not be
seen by either capital as a threat.
"We've just got to explain why we are doing what we are doing," he said.
"The Chinese know and the Russians know that there will be no system
developed in the immediate future or the foreseeable future, is a better
word, that can conceivably intercept a multiple launch" of missiles at the
"You know that. They know that," he said. His real intent, he said, was to
intercept an accidental launching of one or two nuclear weapons, or to
deprive "some nation like Iran to eventually say to us, `And we've got
one aimed at Israel.' " He would not discuss what kind of incentive he
might offer China or Russia to accept the system, other than decreasing
the size of America's own nuclear missile fleet. And how many warheads
could he eliminate from America's arsenal?
"That's what we are going to find out," he said.
Global warming claims 'based on false data'
By Robert Matthews