THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
Tuesday, December 19, 2000
INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT
BY DAN RATHER OF CBS NEWS
The Oval Office
December 18, 2000
4:28 P.M. EST
Q Mr. President, when I was walking over here I mentioned to one
member of your staff, well, it must be a bittersweet time. And he bristled
a little -- he was gentlemanly about it, but he bristled a little. Do you
see it as a bittersweet time?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, only a little bit, actually. I'm very happy and
very much at peace and very grateful for the chance to serve and grateful
especially that the country is in such good shape as I leave office. But I
think for all of us it may be bittersweet in the sense that people --
virtually everybody that works here likes the work, and we tried never to
forget that it was a job and that we were privileged to do it.
But everything comes to an end, you have to do something else. And I
think we've had our time here. I'm just focused on doing everything I can
in the days that remain, helping President-elect Bush have a successful
transition and kind of savoring and being grateful for the good things that
Q The country is still in the midst of an almost eight year boom,
the country is at peace. You've had, by many measurements -- if not most,
perhaps even all measurements -- at least a reasonably successful
presidency. Why are we having a Republican President come in behind you?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think partly because of the prosperity. I
think they both debated how to use the prosperity and the country was
evenly divided. One candidate won the popular vote and the Supreme Court
decided the electoral vote. People will be analyzing that for years to
come. Maybe I'll have a chance to analyze it, too, after some time. But I
don't know that I have anything to add to what's been said by others.
Q Maybe we ought to come back to that later. Through most of the
eight years of your presidency, you and your Vice President seemed to all
the world to be joined at the hip. There were historians who were writing
that Vice President Gore had been given as much, or more, responsibility
than any Vice President in the history of the country.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, more, there's no question about that.
Q And that he did a very good job as Vice President.
THE PRESIDENT: And he did. I think that when the period of this
history is written and people who care about American government look at
how we organized and ran the administration, they will say a number of
things, including the fact that we came here with a well thought out set of
ideas and policies, and we basically did what we said we'd do in '92, and
then again in '96. And that we had a real team operation in the White
House, and that the Vice President had more responsibility in more areas
than any Vice President in history, and carried them out very well.
I don't think there is any question that in the job of Vice President,
he's the most effective person that has held that job and had more
responsibility than anyone who ever had it.
Q That being the case, Mr. President, when he, in effect, ran away
from you during the campaign, you had to be disappointed at that.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think, first of all, everybody has got to run
their own race. And it's a difficult thing running as Vice President.
There is no accident that only two Vice Presidents in the history of the
country have ever been directly elected President.
If you get to be Vice President, you've got an excellent chance of
getting to be President, because something could happen to the President;
and you've got a terrific chance of being the nominee for President of your
party. But to be directly elected, it's only happened twice. And once,
when Martin Van Buren succeeded Andrew Jackson, we were still virtually a
one-party country. And the only other time it happened was in 1988, when
basically there was an enormously contentious and negative campaign which
succeeded in painting the Democratic nominee, Governor Dukakis, as
This was basically a pretty positive campaign. They had a debate
about what to do. They talked about the various issues. And the people
Q But back to the question -- had to feel disappointed?
THE PRESIDENT: I really believe every person has to decide what's
best for them. And I thought that it was -- let me just say, I thought
that it was the right thing for me not to be out there very much until the
end, the last week or 10 days. I did most of what I could do early, by
going to scores of events for our House and Senate candidates and for the
Democratic Party, which helped the Vice President, of course, directly, the
Democratic Party work did.
And when a Vice President becomes a President, he tries to figure out
some way to establish his own identity and to get the benefit of the good
things that have happened, but still to be an independent person. And I
don't think that anybody else should second-guess that. Once your party
has a nominee, then the rest of us should be on the team. I think politics
is a team sport; it's about addition, not subtraction; and I don't believe
the rest of us should second-guess the leader of the team, including me.
Q Do you agree or disagree that some of your failures -- policy as
well as personal failures in the White House -- had an impact on Al Gore's
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, to the first; no, to the second. To say that
people would hold him responsible for any personal mistake I made is an
insult to the American people. I mean, people just aren't that unfair.
The people of this country are basically good people. And, moreover, there
were a lot of surveys along toward the end of the campaign that showed that
if I could have run again I would have done fine. So I just don't think
there's any evidence of that.
On the policies, however, there were -- you know, I don't know if the
fact that we drew the short straw and had that terrible mess with the Elian
Gonzalez case cost him a lot of votes in Florida, but it could have. And
if it did, I feel very badly about it, because this wasn't anything anybody
I don't think there's any question that a number of -- in West
Virginia, some people voted against him in the northern part of the state
because they blamed us. I don't think they're right about it, but they did
blame us for the closing of a steel mill there, that occurred more or less
at the same time of the Asian financial crisis. They thought we should
have moved more quickly than we did to stop the inflow of cheap steel.
I don't think there is -- I don't know if you'd call this a policy
failure, but I don't think there's any doubt that, in at least five states
I can think of, the NRA had a decisive influence because they disagreed
with our attempts to close the gun show loophole and have child trigger
locks, safety locks and ban large scale ammunition clips.
You know, presumably, some people voted for him because we were for
those things. But one of the sad things about all gun safety legislation
is that people tend to vote for the issues, but when they're voting for
candidates the "antis" tend to be more intense than the "pros." I mean, if
you look at Colorado, which is basically a Republican state now, the Vice
President lost there, but closing the gun show loophole passed 70-30. In
Oregon, because of the Nader candidacy, he only won a narrow victory, but
the gun show loophole closing carried 2-1.
So I think you have to give the -- so the policy issues that we fought
out, I don't think there's any question they cost him some votes. I think
that, on balance, I believe he gained more because of the economic success
of the administration, because we have eight years in a row of declining
crime, because the welfare rolls were cut in half, because of the millions
of people that were benefitted by family leave, because of the things we
So I think, on balance, it was more of a plus than a minus by a good
long way -- two-thirds of the people thought the country was going in the
But in a race like this that's so close, you think about some of the
issues we had in West Virginia on that steel mill, or the Gonzalez case and
you wonder -- I mean, President Kennedy once said that, victory has a
thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan. In this case, where the Vice
President won the popular vote and, by decision of the Supreme Court, lost
the electoral college, defeat may have a thousand fathers, too. We'll all
be chewing over this for -- heck, people will be writing about this a
hundred years from now.
Q I have so much ground I want to cover with you, about your
legacy, about the future. And I don't intend to spend the rest of our time
talking about the election just finished. But anyone who's ever been
around a courthouse knows that judges, high and low, frequently engage in
raw politics -- all hope they'll deal with the law.
You mentioned earlier the Supreme Court. To those who are absolutely
convinced that the Supreme Court, they just had a Republican majority,
wanted a Republican as President and voted politics, not the law -- as an
attorney and as our President, you say what?
THE PRESIDENT: I say, when I get out and start teaching
constitutional law again, I'll tell you exactly what I think about it.
The important vote there, the 5-4 vote -- there were actually three
separate opinions, but the 5-4 vote was a vote to stop the vote count --
Q That was the clincher.
THE PRESIDENT: -- six days in advance of the electoral college
meeting. And the American people will just have to make their own
decisions about it. But I think that it will be viewed in history as a
momentous decision and I think that it will be debated a long time. But
it's very interesting -- you know, there's a lot of stuff already been
written about it. I noticed there were three articles in this week's
Economist about it, basically critical -- even though the Economist
endorsed President-elect Bush. There's going to be a lot of stuff written
But I think that, from my point of view, as long as I'm President,
what I should be focused on doing is telling the country that we should
accept it, because the principle of judicial review has served us well.
And all of us believe, looking back in history, that there were periods
when the Supreme Court made serious mistakes -- but when they did, they
normally were corrected over time.
So I think the Vice President spoke for all of us when he said he
strongly disagreed with the decision, but he accepted it. And right now we
need to focus on pulling the country together, giving President-elect Bush
a chance to get off to a good start, to hit the ground running, dealing
with all these issues that are out there. And there will be lots of time
for me and others to say exactly what the elements of the Supreme Court
But I just don't think I should say more than that now.
Q We're going to move on and talk about the economy. Before doing
so, as one who taught law, as an attorney, were you surprised that this
Supreme Court ever took the case? I ask this, again, for backdrop. Many
attorneys I've talked to, of all persuasion and all parties, said they were
surprised -- some say, stunned -- that this Court would have even taken the
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say, I think most lawyers -- or a lot of
them -- are surprised they took the case. Even those that were surprised
they took the case were shocked when the vote count was stopped on the
Q Were you?
THE PRESIDENT: No. No, not after eight years in Washington, I
wasn't. But I hadn't found a single lawyer who believes that there is
precedent any time in American history for it. I've asked probably 50, 60.
But I wasn't surprised, no.
They had the power to do it and they did it. And it's done and we
should accept it, because the country has to go on. We can't reverse the
principle of judicial review and we shouldn't. And we should try to help
the President-elect get off to a good start, give him a chance to govern
the country. I hope he'll be given a decent honeymoon. I know what it's
like not to have one, and I hope he will get one.
And I think we should -- we ought to just, right now, everybody can
think what they think about it, but for me I believe I owe my country, the
people of this country have been good to me and I've had a chance to serve
in this job. It's hard enough under the best circumstances. The
President-elect won the electoral college and he deserves a chance to have
a good start, and that's what I'm going to focus on and I'm going to try to
give it to him.
Q Let's talk about the economy. I think by any reasonable analysis
that the incoming Bush administration is trying to position the economic
picture in the following way: the economy is starting downward, maybe
headed toward a recession. And, therefore, they're positioning themselves
to be able to say, whatever happens on the downside, particularly if we
have a recession, don't forget, it's the Clinton-Gore administration, not
this new incoming administration.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, they do that. You know, you can't blame them
for trying to buy low and sell high, if they want to try to do that. But I
personally believe that no one knows how long we can keep this recovery
going. But the overwhelming majority of the experts believe that we're
going to have a pretty good year next year.
Now, it's already the longest economic expansion in history. We had
over 22 million new jobs. I don't think you can totally repeal the
business cycle, but it's certain that it's changed. And what has changed
First of all, you have to give the American people a lot of credit
here. You have this explosion of entrepreneurial energy, not only among
small businesses and .com companies, but people integrating technology and
productivity into big old traditional firms. There's no question that
technology has enabled productivity to grow much more rapidly than in the
past, and that keeps these recoveries going.
And we've kept interest rates down, and we continue to invest in the
education and training of the American people. And we continue to open new
markets around the world and at home. Those are the things that I think
are important for the government to do.
Now, for the last couple of years, we were growing at a blistering
pace. In other words, we've been growing ever since I got here, but we've
been growing at a blistering pace. No one believed we could continue to
grow at 5 percent a year. Most people believe next year growth will be
around 3 percent. And I believe that the important thing is to just keep
following a solid economic policy.
I think we can have a tax cut, I've always said that. But I think it
needs to be modest enough so that there's no question that we're going to
continue to pay down the debt and pay it off within a decade or so, at
least 12 years. I think that will keep interest rates down. That's a big
tax cut to ordinary people and to business people and to investors, because
it keeps the market up and it keeps inflation down.
Then I think it's important to save back enough money to invest what
we have to invest in education and our other responsibilities, including
national security. I think it is important to save back enough money to
deal with the long-term challenges to Medicare and Social Security. You've
got the baby boom generation about to retire. And depending on what you
decide to do with it, it costs more or less money to do it.
But I think that -- there's no question that we can. I believe we
should have a tax cut. The question is, how big should it be, and whether
you can meet your other obligations. But the most important thing people
want is to keep this economy going. And I think, you know, it's got quite
a little life left in it, I think.
Q Quite a bit of life left in it, you say. Mr. President, with
respect, you know, as I know, that in politics, a lot of it is trying to
pin a tail on somebody else. This economy goes down even a little, it's
fairly clear that the tail is going to be -- at least they'll try to pin
the tail on you.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, they'll have the microphone, of course. But I
think that what -- the American people hire us not so much to place blame
as to produce. And over the long run, that's how we're all judged, I
think. And I don't think any -- at least no economist thought we could
continue to grow at 5 percent a year indefinitely.
Q Are you in favor of interest rates staying low, or do you think
they need to be raised some or lowered some?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh no, I think -- well, no, no, no. I think -- I like
low interest rates, which is why we've been paying the debt down. Now, if
the Federal Reserve believes that the economy is slowing too much, they
might want to cut short-term rates again, and try to get a little more
investment going. And I think that that's something that they have under
I have found that, basically, Chairman Greenspan has had a pro-growth
policy. He's tried to see this economy grow as much as it could without
inflation. On a couple of occasions over the last eight years, he may have
made a call different than I would have made it, but on the whole, I think
he's managed this thing in a responsible way, and I've tried to manage my
part of it in a responsible way. And that's enabled us to have the longest
expansion in history with low inflation.
You know, I'd just like to -- when I took office, the deficit of this
country, the debt, had quadrupled, and the deficit was $295 billion. This
year, we're going to pay off -- we will have paid off, in the last three
years, $360 billion on the national debt. And I just learned, about 30
minutes before we started this interview, that with the budget we finished
last weekend, we're going to pay off another $200 billion on the national
debt. So we will have paid down $560 billion on the national debt over
four years. Now, that's a huge impact to keep interest rates low and
So I still think they can -- if this thing is managed properly, I
think they'll have some more growth here. Now, like I said, I don't know,
no one knows how much you can combine the entrepreneurial spirit of the
American people, the explosion of technology and productivity growth, and
proper government policies, and how long you can keep this going. No one
knows the answer to that, but I think they can -- I think we can keep it
going quite a while longer.
Q So to move on, are you in favor or not in favor of cutting
interest rates now?
THE PRESIDENT: For eight years, I have refused to second guess the
Fed publicly, and I don't think I should change as I'm going out the door.
The press indicates that they have that under advisement, that they're
thinking about it. And it's something I think they ought to think about.
It depends upon what the data shows about how much they think the economy
is slowing. Everyone -- they wanted -- the Feds raised interest rates, you
remember. They knew it had to slow some. If we kept growing at 5 percent
a year, there was too big a risk we'd have an explosion in inflation or an
explosion of interest rates or both.
But then we had the increased fuel prices, which slowed things down
some, and a few other developments, and some corrections in some of the
high tech stocks. So I think they've got it under consideration. I think
that if they do it, I think it will certainly be an understandable
But my point is, the thing that keeps interest rates really low is the
fact that we're paying the debt off. That will keep interest rates low,
inflation low, and if we keep investing in education, investing in
technology, investing in scientific research, staying on the cutting edge
of change and opening new markets around the world -- something I think
that this incoming administration and I agree on -- I think that we've got
quite a bit of life left in the economy. The American people are still
working hard, and they're very innovative. So I expect them to have a good
year next year.
Q Let's have some fun. If you could recommend one book that the
incoming President, George Bush, should read, what would it be?
THE PRESIDENT: That's hard. But if it were only one book, I'd
probably tell him to read David Herbert Donald's biography of Abraham
Q If you could recommend he see one movie that you think might help
him in his years here, however long they would be, what would that be?
THE PRESIDENT: High Noon, because Gary Cooper does the right thing --
even when people leave him, and even though he's scared, he doesn't pretend
to be macho. He's scared to death, and he does the right thing anyway.
Q You're not going to believe this, but when I went over with my
staff what your answer would be, I told them, High Noon. I want you to
check it later. (Laughter.)
Let's move along. When you look back over your eight years, what's
the one thing now that you wish you had known eight years ago?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, boy, that's hard to answer. There are so many
things I wish I had known eight years ago. But I wish I had understood
better, eight years ago, exactly how what I do here both is seen by and
reacted to by Congress and by the American people, better than I did then.
I could give you lots of examples, but I think if I had done that, I
think a lot of the -- some of the early conflicts that I had would have
been different. I also wish I had understood better than I did when I came
here the different views generally held by the two parties on the nature of
political power and its uses in Washington -- ways that I just didn't
Q Your finest hour as President?
THE PRESIDENT: That's very, very hard to say. I had a lot of great
times, for which I'm very grateful. But I think when we prevailed in both
Houses by one vote on the economic plan in '93, that's what really turned
the economy around and made possible so much else that happened. If we
hadn't had a functioning economy, I don't believe the welfare reform
efforts would have worked as well as they have. I don't think the Family
Leave law would have benefited 25 million people. I doubt if the crime
rate would have gone down for eight years in a row, even though we had a
good crime policy.
And I'm not sure I would have had the support from the American people
to end the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo, or be involved as I was
in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, a lot of other places. We might have
had too much trouble here at home for me to do that. It probably -- the
fact that we had that lonely battle that only succeeded by one vote
probably made so much else possible.
Q Your darkest hour?
THE PRESIDENT: I've had more than one of them, too. But certainly
one of them was when those 18 American soldiers were killed in Somalia. It
was awful. Because of the circumstances, which I hope to be able to talk
about in some detail some day. But to loose them all, in what was a
humanitarian mission, because they were asked to try to arrest a person who
had been responsible for killing our Pakistani comrades who were there also
on a humanitarian mission, and then to wind up with all those Somalis dead,
and losing 18 of our people. It was a dark day.
Q Impeachment had to be a dark day.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, by the time they got around to voting, I knew
what was going to happen. And I didn't -- no, my darkest day came long
before that, when I had to come to terms with the fact that I made a
terrible personal mistake, which I tried to correct in private, and which
then got dragged into public. That was dark for me. By the time they got
around to voting on impeachment, I knew what it was, and it didn't have any
-- I felt that to me, if we could defeat impeachment, it was like the
second big battle of the Gingrich revolution. The first was when they shut
the government down, and that was the second one.
That doesn't mean that I didn't make a terrible mistake, but there
were 800 people, including a lot of Republicans, who were legal and
Constitutional scholars, who wrote a letter saying this was not an
impeachable offense and shouldn't even be considered. And they all knew
that, too. That was a political battle we were involved in. I didn't seek
it, I didn't want to fight it, but I was only too happy to take it up,
because I believe the real purpose of it was to try to weaken me and our
side and what we believed in, and to strengthen their side and what they
Q In that, they succeeded.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm not sure they did. In 1998, we won seats in
the House of Representatives for the first time since 1822 in the sixth
year of a president's term. So I'm not sure they did. It may be that
after the fact that what they did will acquire some historical legitimacy.
But what I regret about that was what I did wrong, not the fact that they
impeached me, because that was wrong, too. I agreed with Joe Lieberman, as
I said at the time. I agreed with what he said, that what I did was wrong,
and what they did was wrong. And I think that's the way history will
Q Mr. President, the clock rolls. Allow me to pick up the pace a
little. I want to read you off a list and ask you to tell me the first
thing that comes into your mind.
George W. Bush.
THE PRESIDENT: President-elect.
Q Like him?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't know him very well. I like his father very
much. And I've actually had more contact with his brother, who is the
Governor of Florida, than I have with him. But I have a lot of friends in
Texas who like him, who say he's a good man; like his wife very much, like
his daughters. And I hope he'll succeed.
Q We'll go down the list and we'll stop on each one.
THE PRESIDENT: Best Vice President this country ever had. A partner
who without I could not have been successful as President.
Q Newt Gingrich.
THE PRESIDENT: A brilliant adversary, and a complicated man.
Q A bit of an adversary?
THE PRESIDENT: Brilliant. A brilliant adversary.
Q Brilliant adversary.
THE PRESIDENT: And a complicated man. He's a complicated man,
Q The National Rifle Association.
THE PRESIDENT: An effective adversary, but I think, on balance, a
negative force, because they're trying to convince their people that we're
trying to do something we're not trying to do.
Q Which is?
THE PRESIDENT: Take everybody's guns away. That's why I like giving
speeches in debate with them, because I always tell everybody I talk to, if
you missed a day in the deer woods or a single sports shooting contest, you
ought to vote against me and our whole crowd. But if you didn't, they must
be telling you something that's not true here. Let's look at what we're
So I think the NRA did a lot of good things in Arkansas when I was
there -- hunter education programs, they helped me resolve some property
disputes. They really did some good things. But now they're just into
terrifying people and building their membership and raising money, and it's
just not true we're trying to take their guns away. It's just not true
that we've interfered with legitimate hunters and sports people. And it's
just not true that we've done enough in America to protect people from the
dangers of criminals and kids having guns.
But you've got to give it to them, they've done a good job. They've
probably had more to do than anyone else in the fact we didn't win the
House this time. And they hurt Al Gore.
Q Going on down the list, Janet Reno.
THE PRESIDENT: Good woman, tried really hard to do a good job. She's
a good person.
Q Your mother.
THE PRESIDENT: First thing that comes to my mind? I still miss her
Q Hillary Rodham Clinton.
THE PRESIDENT: I love her and I'm really proud of her.
THE PRESIDENT: I love her and I'm really proud of her.
Q Do you expect her to run for something some day?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, lord, I kind of doubt it. Although, I'm proud of
her, she got into this deal helping her mom and she traveled with me some
when Hillary couldn't go the last year and three or four months. She cares
about public issues and public life, and she's got a big heart. And she's
really interested in all of it, but I don't know that she would ever run
for office. But if she did, if she wanted to do it, I'd sure support her
and do whatever I could to help her. But it's totally up to her.
Q The Lincoln Bedroom.
THE PRESIDENT: It's the place where Lincoln freed the slaves.
THE PRESIDENT: Biggest bogus issue in modern American politics.
Classic -- it was a fraud from the get-go and a lot of the people that were
propagating it knew it was a fraud. And in that sense, people will look at
this years from now and be amazed that anybody rode it as hard as they did
for as long as they did.
Q Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr. Independent Counsel.
THE PRESIDENT: First title is better than the second. But I don't
have any -- he just did what he was supposed to do. I don't have any
particular bad feelings about him.
Q He did what he was supposed to do?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q What was he supposed to do?
THE PRESIDENT: They put him in there because Fiske was a fair,
balanced man, and the whole thing was going to be over before the '96
election and they didn't want that, and so they put him in there; said drag
it out and get a bigger body count. And that's -- he just did what he was
supposed to do.
But I don't really have any -- that group, that faction of the
Republican Party controlled those independent counsels and that's what they
did. But I don't have any personal animosity toward him like that. I
mean, he really -- he's part of that crowd, and they really believe it.
They think that whatever they do to our side is okay. And that's what they
I didn't -- I underestimated that when I got here. I just didn't
really believe it. I always had good relationships with Republicans at
home, even very conservative ones, members of the so-called Christian right
-- we always dealt with issues head up. And I just didn't understand that
before I got here. But once I figured out what the deal was, I could sort
of let it go. I realized they just had a different world view than I did.
Q At the end of my list -- well, first, the Republican leadership
on Capitol Hill.
THE PRESIDENT: We got a lot done together, and could have gotten more
done if they hadn't given their right-wingers veto power from time to time.
For example, we had -- look what we got done this year. We just passed the
best education budget of my entire eight years as President; huge increases
for after-school programs, school modernization and repair, nearly doubled
the number of kids in the after-school programs, big increase in Head
Start. We've now done more to expand college access than anything since
the G.I. Bill. We passed the China trade bill, the Africa-Caribbean Basin
trade bill. And we took the earnings limit off of Social Security. We did
a bunch of stuff this year, and we did for the last six years.
But we have a majority in the Congress -- in this Congress, not the
new one coming in, in the one that went out -- we had a majority for
campaign finance reform; we had a majority for a patients' bill of rights;
we had a majority for an increase in the minimum wage. I believe we had a
majority for closing the gun show loophole.
Q But you couldn't get that through.
THE PRESIDENT: No, because the right wing blocked the leadership from
letting us have a full and fair vote on that. So that I regret. But I
worked with them and I have very -- personally, I like Senator Lott, I like
Speaker Hastert. I've even acquired --
Q Do you like Tom DeLay?
THE PRESIDENT: I've even acquired a rather jovial relationship with
Dick Armey. We've gotten to where we joke around with each other.
I think -- Tom DeLay I don't know as well. I told him, I said, the
only thing he ever said about me that really hurt my feelings was when he
said he didn't believe my golf handicap was as low as it was. And I sent
him -- I think I sent him a score that was in the Syracuse newspaper.
(Laughter.) But Tom DeLay worked with Hillary. They both got an award --
Tom DeLay and Hillary both got an award from an adoption group because
they'd done so much to try to facilitate adoptions. And that's the one
area that I found real common ground with him on that I think he's really
My problem with him is his whole view about how you should treat your
opponents is very different from mine. I just think he's got a total
scorch-and-burn policy -- take them out, whatever the cost, whatever you
have to do. And he's real nice about it. If you smile, you'd have a very
cordial conversation with him. I think he really believes that. I think
he thinks that's the way you're supposed to treat your political opponents.
And I just don't agree with that.
For example, I never would have sent -- I wouldn't let someone from
the White House go to a contested state and try to intimidate vote
counters. I wouldn't do that. I just don't believe that. That's not who
I am. I don't think -- I think that a great country has to have some
voluntary restraint on the exercise of authority. But he's a very able
guy, and if you don't stand up to him he'll run right over you. So he's a
Q At the end of my list, and you expect it -- Monica Lewinsky.
THE PRESIDENT: Sad chapter in my life that I wish were not public,
but it's in the past. And for her, I wish her well. I hope she has a good
Q Do you take the responsibility, the personal responsibility, full
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. I did, and I do.
Q There was a report today you're thinking about hosting a
television program. Anything to that?
THE PRESIDENT: (Laughter.) No. You guys make more money than I
have, though. Maybe it's not a bad idea. I hear it costs a lot of money
to support a senator. Maybe I ought to look into it. (Laughter.)
Q Don't believe everything you read, Mr. President. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: I don't have an offer on the table. Is CBS getting
into the bidding here? (Laughter.)
Q What about running for something? Are you going to run for mayor
of New York?
THE PRESIDENT: No.
Q Governor of Arkansas?
THE PRESIDENT: No.
Q Governor of --
THE PRESIDENT: I loved it -- no. Let me just say something about
running. I think it's very important that -- first of all, I need to take
a couple of months and just go down. I need some rest. I've been working
like crazy for 27 years. And I want to help Hillary, however I can, to
succeed, because I think she -- I'm so proud of her and I think she is
immensely talented, and I think she'll do very well. But I've got to
support my family. I want to try -- I've never had a chance to save any
money. I want to try to save some, so they will be all right if anything
happens to me. I've got to make sure we've paid all our bills. And I want
to have some time to rest and just be a private citizen again.
And then what I would like to do is to find a way to be a useful -- to
use all this incredible opportunity I've had as President to work on things
that I care most about, here in the United States and around the world, but
to do it in a way that does not in any inappropriate fashion get underfoot
of the next President. I don't want to do that. I just want to try to be
a good citizen.
And I think there have been two truly great former Presidents in terms
of their public service -- John Quincy Adams and Jimmy Carter.
Q John Quincy Adams because he went back and served in the House?
THE PRESIDENT: He went back and served in the House and he served 16
years -- or served 8 terms, anyway --
Q Any chance you would do something like that?
THE PRESIDENT: -- and he's great. Well, let me finish. Then William
Howard Taft went on the Supreme Court, served with some distinction. And
for some years, Teddy Roosevelt kind of organized another political
movement. Herbert Hoover did a lot of good -- he went out and headed the
commission for President Truman. So they also did well. Thomas Jefferson
did some productive things after he left the White House. So there's
evidence that if you don't just vegetate you can do some good. And I'm
going to try to use my center and foundation to do some really good things.
But I think that what I need to do is I just need a little time to
sort of decompress. And like I said, I want to try to take care of my
family, and just see what happens. But I care a lot -- I just gave a
speech in Coventry, at the University of Warwick for Tony Blair, talking
about sort of these big issues for the 21st century --
Q Your globalization speech.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes -- how do you put a human face on a global
economy; how do you empower poor people in America and around the world;
what are we going to really do about AIDS and the breakdown of public
health systems around the world; how are we going to figure out -- how do
you deal with global warming and still have economies growing.
Unless we can break the link between putting more stuff into the air,
greenhouse gases, and getting richer, we're going to have a disaster on our
hands, because people are not going to agree not to become wealthier -- and
they shouldn't. These big questions, these are things that I care about.
I ran for the White House -- sometimes I feel like a fish out of
water, especially like this interview. We spent more than half our time on
kind of like political questions. But the reason that I had some success
as President, I'm convinced more than anything else, is that I always
thought presidential elections and presidential administrations were about
ideas that resonated with the values of the American people, but we're
appropriate to the present and the future. And I still believe that.
If somebody asked me for advise, I'd say, figure out what you believe,
what's your vision of America, come up with a strategy to achieve it, then
make your specific tactical move here -- decide what ideas your going to
push. I think that's very important.
So when I'm not President, that's what I think I ought to be doing --
fighting for the things that I believe in; helping the people that I'd like
to help, people that would be -- people or problems that would be ignored
by a lot of other people. So I hope I can do that. That's what I care
And finally, of course, the great work of my life has been in racial
and religious and ethnic reconciliation. And I've tried to carry it
forward here as President. And I hope I'll be able to make a contribution
on that in the future.
Q Mr. President, the clock is running quickly here. First of all,
are you and the First Lady planning on selling the place in Chappaqua, New
THE PRESIDENT: Gosh, I hope not. I've gone to a lot of trouble to
fix that place up.
Q Are you buying a place here in Washington, in Georgetown?
THE PRESIDENT: (Laughter.) I don't know. But you've got to have a
place to live here. And I hope -- we'll either have to rent a place or buy
a place, and we'll figure out what to do about it. But --
Q Haven't bought one yet?
THE PRESIDENT: No, we haven't bought one yet, and we're definitely
not going to sell our place in Chappaqua if I've got anything to say about
it. We've just got it all fixed up. We've done lots of work on that
house. It's a delightful place. I'm going to have an office, presidential
office, in New York City. I'll have a -- I'll have my transition office
here for six months, but I'll have my permanent office up there. And I'll
have the home in Chappaqua, and I expect we'll spend virtually all of our
weekends there. But you've got to have a place to sleep down here.
Q Now, the First Lady is going to be paid now -- I'll go to my
notes here because this figure is a whopping figure -- $8 million for her
memoirs. What is she going to say about you in that book?
THE PRESIDENT: (Laughter.) I don't know. I don't know if there's $8
million worth to say. You all know it all already. But she's had two
best-sellers, and she gave all the money away from the first one. The
second is on the best-seller list, the book on the White House now. It's a
really good book, I think. And she's given all the money away to that. So
she just auctioned this one. I think she was probably as surprised as
anybody that the auction brought that price. But the publisher that won it
published her other best-sellers -- I guess they think she's got a third
one in her.
Q I want to say this respectfully, Mr. President -- surely you
don't want her writing about Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky and all those
things again. Is she likely to do that?
THE PRESIDENT: You ought to ask her. She can write about whatever
she wants. I tell you, I bet it will be a good book.
Q The First Lady's future. It's assumed among Democrats she's
going to run for President. I guess the question is does she do it in 2004
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'll tell you what I believe. I believe that
that's worse than idle speculation. I can tell you what I've urged her to
do. What I've urged her to do is, number one, solidify her roots and her
ties with the people of New York state; have an agenda for New York; have
an agenda for America, because every senator is a senator on American
issues, too; stay on the forefront of ideas, keep pushing and getting
things done. And the future will take care of itself. But I think -- she
said she intends to serve her term in the Senate and I believe that's what
she intends to do.
We already assume there are a lot of other people who will run for
President again four years from now, including the Vice President. And of
course, he would have a big leg up, because he won the popular vote this
Q Do you consider him head of the Democratic Party now?
THE PRESIDENT: I certainly think he is the leader of the party and he
won the election -- the popular vote, I mean. He won the popular vote.
And I think he will decide what he's going to do. Then other people will
decide what they're going to do.
But, look, the world will look entirely different -- could look
different six months from now, a year from now. No one has any idea what
it will be like four years from now. When I ran for President -- this is
why I said ideas are the most important -- when I started running for
President in late '91, my mother was about the only person who thought I
could win. That's not quite true -- Hillary did. But the incumbent
President, President Bush, had an approval rating of over 70 percent.
These things are not predictable. And I think people waste so much energy
thinking about them and maneuvering.
I want Hillary to enjoy being a senator and to be the best senator she
can be. This seat was held by Senator Moynihan and Robert Kennedy, and
they were great senators. And that's what I want for her.
Q You do, or do not, think it is a given that she'll one day run
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I don't think anything is a given like that. I
don't think it's a given that any -- if you could name me any person in
this country, Democrat or Republican, and say, do you think it's a given
that they'll run for President, I would say, no, because I don't.
Abraham Lincoln once said about this -- I think he'd always thought
he'd run for President. He's the only person, apparently, we forgive his
ambition. He once said, I will work and get ready, and perhaps my chance
will come. That's about all anybody can do. But, no, I don't know if any
of them are going to run.
Q Mr. President, I'm so sorry to step on your line. I'm so afraid
time will run out on us. And you've been very generous with your time. Do
you expect to be indicted after you leave the presidency, by a current
independent counsel, the successor to Kenneth Starr?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's up to them. We had a bipartisan panel of
prosecutors testified in the Congress that no ordinary prosecutor would do
such a thing, would even think of it. There were five of them that
testified to that. And the Republicans in the Congress argued that they
didn't have to have an indictable offense, you could impeach somebody for
something that you wouldn't indict them for.
So I don't know. I may have more to say about that later. Look, I
don't have any idea. I don't have any control over that and I don't spend
much time thinking about it. All I know is, Whitewater was a fraud; the
civil lawsuit was a fraud; they knew that for a long, long time. Everybody
did. And a lot of innocent people have already been hurt for purely
political reasons. And if I had to do it all over again I still would,
because the country is in better shape.
So all I can tell you is, nothing can take away my feeling of
gratitude for having had the chance to serve, and my feeling of gratitude
that it worked out so well for the American people.
Q Do you think President Bush will pardon you to keep -- possibly
prevent an indictment, or in case of indictment?
THE PRESIDENT: I haven't given any thought to that. But I doubt it.
I mean, no, I haven't thought about that.
Q There are those who say, look, it would be a great unifying thing
for the country -- quote, unquote -- for him to do that.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, since I don't believe I should be charged, I
don't want that. I'll be happy to stand -- I told you before, if that's
what they want, I'll be happy to stand and fight.
Q Speaking of pardons, you still have your power to pardon people.
True or untrue that you've considered pardons for the financier, Milken;
for Hubbell; for others involved in the Whitewater case; and for the killer
of two FBI agents, Mr. Peltier? Any truth to that?
THE PRESIDENT: I have been asked to consider pardons for hundreds and
hundreds of people, and we are reviewing them all. And I will make
decisions at an appropriate time. I don't want to discuss them until I
make the decision about them.
I'll just mention one. On the Milken thing, the main thing I've heard
from there is the people that are involved in prostate cancer because he's
been so active in that -- I've heard a lot from people who say he served
his time, he paid a big price, you ought to do this because of the
contribution he's made to the fight against prostate cancer.
Q It sounds like you might -- fair to say you might?
THE PRESIDENT: No, it's not fair to say I will or I won't. I haven't
made a decision about that.
Q Foreign policy -- I wanted to talk to you about your legacy on
foreign policy -- this time it didn't work out that way. Are you planning
a trip to North Korea?
THE PRESIDENT: I haven't decided yet. We worked hard with North
Korea. We made a big breakthrough there with the Secretary of State going.
I'd like to do what I can to make sure that -- we started this
administration with the North Korea problem being the number one national
security threat to the United States because of their nuclear program. We
terminated that and we're trying to figure out a way to terminate the
missile program. If there was some way to do that, I might consider doing
But I wanted to wait until we had a President-elect because they'll
have to have their own Korea policy; it may be something they prefer to do,
maybe something they disagree with doing. So I just thought, while I don't
think that the President-elect should have a veto -- like I didn't --
President Bush went did the Somalia thing after the election eight years
ago -- I think it should be something that we discuss and we just try to
work through what the best thing for America's interest is.
Q Do you agree or disagree that U.S. policy in Cuba is out of step
with your approach on other countries and has more to do with domestic
policies and domestic politics than it does actually foreign policy?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it had a great deal to do with domestic
policy and politics for a long time, in the sense that we have a lot of
people in America who were personally hurt by the Castro regime and whose
families were hurt and who lost their property, and they even lost their
lives, lost their loved ones. So it's, in that sense, more personal. But
I don't think there's any question that we would have made more progress
with Cuba than we have if they hadn't shot those planes down and murdered
those innocent people a few years ago.
Q The Castro regime, meaning Fidel, himself?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. They shot those Brothers To The Rescue planes
down, in blatant violation of international law. We don't believe they
were in Cuban territorial waters. But even if they were in Cuban
territorial waters, it was illegal. Cuba is a signatory to the Chicago
Convention which specifically says how you have to handle planes like that.
It governs what we do when we see planes take off from South America, small
planes that we know are unarmed that may have drugs on them. A lot of
times we have to follow them until they go down somewhere, or do that.
What they did, it was a deliberate illegal killing.
Q That's a matter of foreign policy.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. And when they did that, the Congress reacted
basically by passing the so-called Helms-Burton Act, which dramatically
restricted the ability of any President to relax relations with Cuba. And
it made me wonder if the person in the whole world that least wanted the
embargo lifted was Fidel Castro. I mean, I've often wondered whether he
and the people in America that don't want any change in relations are in
some sort of unconscious dance with each other, because as long as that
embargo is there he's got an excuse for the failures of his regime.
Q Mr. President, last question. China. There are reports out of
China that they're razing church buildings, blowing them up, burning them
down, on the eve of Christmas. And they've been doing this sort of thing
for a year and a half. Are you now ready to recommend that the United
States back this resolution at Geneva before the United Nations Human
Rights Commission to condemn this kind of thing?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say, I have been -- I have worked, I
believe, as hard as any President for religious liberty, at home and around
the world, even for people who disagree with me on a lot of things. And I
have had innumerable conversations with Jiang Zemin and with other Chinese
officials about this. I think that their view that people who have strong
religious convictions represent a political threat is just wrong. So I
will do what I think is appropriate at the time on this.
Q Does that include considering backing this resolution?
THE PRESIDENT: I gave an answer -- that's all the answer I want to
give right now.
Q Mr. President, you have been very generous with your time, and I
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Dan.
Q Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
END 5:26 P.M. EST