[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1995, Book II)]
[August 7, 1995]
[Pages 1208-1215]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Interview with Bob Edwards and Mara Liasson of National Public Radio
August 7, 1995

Bosnia and Croatia

    Mr. Edwards. Well, Croatia is back into it, and we wonder how the 
Croat offensive affects the prospects of a U.N. withdrawal and the 
accompanying commitment of U.S. ground troops.
    The President. Well, my guess is that if the Croat offensive 
concludes successfully in the Krajina area, as it appears to be doing, 
and that is the extent of it, that it will not increase the chances of 
the U.N. withdrawing. But it does change the kind of balance of play in 
the area. And when you put that with the new resolve of NATO and the 
willingness of the U.N. to let NATO use air power and the establishment 
of the Rapid Reaction Force, two things we worked very hard for in the 
last few weeks, it may create some new opportunities to work toward a 
resolution of this.
    Now, we're concerned, and we've told the Croatians we're concerned 
about anything that would spread the war, that would widen the war. But 
if the offensive concludes with the reestablishment of the dominance, 
the Croatia in the Krajina area, then I think it will not increase the 
chances of U.N. withdrawal.
    Mr. Edwards. In the absence of direct U.S. involvement, why should 
the American people care about this conflict?
    The President. The American people should care, first of all, 
because if the war spreads in the Balkans to other areas it could 
destabilize many, many countries in which we have a vital interest and 
bring America into the fray. Secondly, we should care because an awful 
lot of human damage has been done there, and a lot of people's human 
rights have been violated, and we should try to minimize the loss of 
life and human suffering. Thirdly, we should care because it's the first 
real security crisis in Europe after the end of the cold war, and it is 
important that we, working with our European allies through the United 
Nations and through NATO, do as much as humanly possible to do, given 
the fact that when you have these kind of intra-ethnic conflicts within 
countries, to some extent, any outside power is going to be limited in 
stopping the killing until there is a

[[Page 1209]]

greater willingness to make peace. But we have to do our best to try to 
minimize the carnage, to try to keep it from spreading, and to try to 
demonstrate a consistent and determined and long-lasting commitment by 
our allies through the United Nations and through NATO to resolve this.
    Ms. Liasson. Mr. President, there are tens of thousands of Krajina 
Serbs now who are being ethnically cleaned, and they're fleeing over the 
border into Bosnia. Can you tell us how that influx of Serbs into Bosnia 
will affect the conflict there? And also, what can you tell us about 
Croatian President Franjo Tudjman's intentions? Does he want to maintain 
the Bosnia Croat Federation, or do you think he wants an ethnically pure 
state of his own?
    The President. Well, first, let's remember what gave rise to this 
offensive. There was a Bosnian Serb attack supported by the Krajina 
Serbs on the Bihac area of Bosnia, which is a Muslim area or at least a 
government area now. And President Tudjman ordered a counterattack to 
try to relieve Bihac and, in the process, to try to secure the areas 
within Croatia under control of his government.
    I believe that he wants to see the Croats and the Muslims stay in 
their confederation within Bosnia. And you know, the United States took 
the lead in brokering that confederation. I think that it's very 
important because it ended, in effect, one-half of the civil war within 
Bosnia. So I felt good about that. And I think it will endure. I believe 
that confederation will endure.
    What impact the Krajina Serbs going over into Bosnian territory will 
have is, frankly, impossible to determine at this time. If they become 
members of the Bosnian Serb army, then it could have a destabilizing 
impact. But no one knows for sure. That's why I say that circumstances 
have changed there in a way that might give us the opportunity to make 
some new efforts at a diplomatic settlement, and I'm going to be talking 
with our allies over the next few days to discuss that.
    Ms. Liasson. But before the Croat offensive started, you warned the 
Croatians not to target civilians and not to target U.N. peacekeepers. 
They seem to have ignored both of those warnings. Do you have any 
control over the Croats?
    The President. No, but I think we have--I think we and the Germans 
have some influence with the Croats. And I think what appears to have 
happened is they had more success than they had, I think, perhaps even 
imagined they might in the battle. And so they kept going until they had 
recovered that portion of their territory which had been previously 
under the dominance of the Krajina Serbs.
    I do believe that President Tudjman will be reluctant to do anything 
that will knowingly spread the war and totally destabilize the situation 
in ways that undermine his interest and the interest of the Bosnian 
Croat Confederation within Bosnia. So, as I said, I'm hopeful that this 
will turn out to be something that will give us an avenue to a quicker 
diplomatic resolution, not a road to a longer war.
    Mr. Edwards. This is the most important foreign policy problem of 
your Presidency, and you are seen as indecisive. Senator Dole has tried 
to take advantage of that. Is this frustrating to you in a situation 
such as Bosnia, where no action might actually be the best action?
    The President. Well, first of all, I disagree that it's the most 
important foreign policy problem. It's the foreign policy problem that's 
the longest lasting and therefore the most publicized. But the most 
important things we have done, I think, you'd have to start out with our 
continued efforts with Russia and the other republics of the former 
Soviet Union to denuclearize; our efforts to stem the proliferation of 
weapons of mass destruction, which have been very successful and which 
the United States has led; our efforts at peace in the Middle East. All 
those things, it seems to me, over the long run, in terms of America's 
vital interest, are more important.
    The Bosnian situation is heartbreaking. And it is potentially very 
important to our security interests should it spread, which is why I 
have sent troops to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to try to 
make sure that it doesn't spread. But is it frustrating? Sure it is, 
because most of the people who criticize don't have a better 
alternative. And many of them who criticize don't have any alternative.
    The United States, before I became President, made a decision not to 
send troops in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. Frankly, at the 
time, it's my understanding that our European allies agreed with that. 
They wanted to take the lead in dealing with this big security problem, 
the first one of the post-cold-war era. The U.N., in any case, was not 
supposed to be trying to determine the outcome

[[Page 1210]]

of the war but simply trying to minimize the violence and get the 
humanitarian aid through.
    Now we have spent as much or more money as any country in supporting 
the peace process in Bosnia, in supporting the humanitarian aid and the 
airlift, and trying to keep the war out of the air, and doing all the 
things that we have done from our ships and from our bases, to fly 
literally tens of thousands of flights. We have also been responsible 
for taking the lead in establishing the alliance between the Bosnian 
Government and the Croatians. We took the lead in asserting the need for 
NATO to use its air power. In 1994, we had a pretty good year there 
because of this aggressive action on our part. And it fell apart when 
the United Nations decided not to let NATO use its power whenever a U.N. 
soldier had been taken hostage.
    Now we have changed the ground rules on the ground with the Rapid 
Reaction Force, and we've got a new set of command and control rules for 
NATO. So we seem to be making some progress. There have been several 
convoys go in and out of Gorazde, for example, without being attacked.
    I believe we have done all we could to work with our allies, and I 
think we have exercised all the influence we could, considering the fact 
that they have soldiers on the ground and we don't. And I do not believe 
that under these circumstances we should have put ground troops on the 
ground in the U.N. mission. So I think history will reflect that, given 
the options, none of which were very pleasant in a very difficult 
situation, that we have done the right things and that they were better 
than the alternatives available to us.
    Ms. Liasson. Mr. President, recently you said the reason why the 
United States and NATO and the U.N. have all lost prestige in Bosnia is 
because they went around saying they were going to do something and then 
they didn't do it. In retrospect, would it have been better not to have 
said that you were going to lift the arms embargo and then help the 
Muslims with air strikes? Do you think you raised expectations there 
that couldn't be met?
    The President. No because when I ran for President I made it clear 
that I would support a lifting of the arms embargo multilaterally. I 
never said I would lift it unilaterally. I was, frankly, surprised, 
given the record we had of Serbian aggression when I became President, 
that our allies would not agree to lift the arms embargo multilaterally. 
But they felt it would put their own troops too much at risk, and they 
believed that it would not do what I thought, which was to induce the 
Bosnian Serbs to make a quick peace.
    Let me say that air strikes cannot win a war, but they can raise the 
price of aggression. And if you believe as I do, that territorial 
disputes between the sides now could be resolved without the legitimate 
interests of any ethnic group being eroded, I think that's a very 
important reason for using air strikes to increase the price of 
    But it didn't happen in `93, so in `94, we got a different kind of 
agreement to use air power, our own air power, in return for not lifting 
the arms embargo on the Bosnian Government. And it worked. The Serbs and 
the Bosnian Government brought their heavy weapons into collection 
points. The cafe areas were largely free from shelling and military 
activity. And the whole thing only came apart when, number one, no peace 
was reached in 1994 and, number two, when military activity started in 
the central part of the country spread to these safe areas and the U.N. 
would not permit NATO to strike back.
    So that's what I would say. If you say for sure you're going to do 
something, you simply have to do it. And if you don't do it, you suffer. 
And that's what happened to the U.N. and the NATO. And because the 
United States is a part of those organizations and has a leading role in 
NATO, it hurt us as well. And that's why I told our allies I would try 
one more time to have NATO play a role in this, one more time to try to 
support them with their Rapid Reaction Force. But the United States 
could not be part of any endeavor that made commitments which were not 
kept. We have to keep commitments once we make them.
    Ms. Liasson. You've talked, though, about the limits of the U.S. 
being able to dictate the outcome of something when we don't have troops 
on the ground. Does that mean that the U.S. can only lead if it's 
willing to commit troops in situations like this?
    The President. As I said, we have exercised a leadership role in 
pushing the air power and leading the humanitarian air lift and putting 
our troops on the border and in getting the Croatians and the Bosnian 
Muslims to agree to a confederation. So in that sense, we have. But

[[Page 1211]]

our ability to exercise a leadership role when the British, the French, 
the Dutch, and the others who have troops on the ground believe that 
what we want to do will endanger their troops but not ours, since we're 
not there, is necessarily limited. But that is, after all, part of what 
we, I think, should be working toward in the post-cold-war world.
    The United States, obviously, will have to make a decision whether 
we think we should run every show and totally dominate every crisis. But 
if we want to do that, we do have to be willing to have troops on the 
ground where others have troops on the ground. I believe that we have 
exercised a great deal of leadership, and I think it's been consistent 
with our interest in not having troops there in this U.N. mission. I 
could not have countenanced putting American troops in the position 
where they could be fired upon and taken as hostages without firing 
back. I don't believe in that. I don't think that's what the United 
States is all about. And I do not believe the United States should be 
there trying to win this war on the ground, as a combatant. I don't 
believe in that. So I have said that I would not send troops there 
unless it's necessary to take our allies out.

Teenage Smoking

    Mr. Edwards. You're wrestling with a difficult decision on tobacco. 
Why not let the FDA regulate tobacco? Polls show a lot of support for 
regulating smoking among teenagers.
    The President. Well, I don't know that it's such a difficult 
decision. We're working through what our options are, and I've talked 
with Dr. Kessler at the FDA. He has asked me to do that, and we've been 
involved with him and discussed that.
    But this country has to do something about the problem of teenage 
smoking. It's going back up. We know that a significant percentage of 
young people who start to smoke will smoke consistently throughout their 
lives, and that if they do, a significant percentage of them will die 
from diseases directly related to their smoking. We know that if we 
wanted to lower the cost of health care and increase the life expectancy 
of our people and improve the health of the American people, there's 
almost nothing you could do that would have a bigger impact than 
dramatically reducing the number of young people who stop smoking or who 
never start smoking. So we have to have a vigorous response to that, and 
I expect to have an announcement on that in the next several days--not 
too far away.
    Ms. Liasson. Is it possible to regulate tobacco as a drug and not 
spark years of litigation?
    The President. Well, that's one of the things that bothers me. You 
know, I think we need a tough and mandatory type program, but I don't 
want to see us in a position where we act like we're going to do 
something but we wind up in years and years and years of costly 
litigation while kids continue to be bombarded with advertisements 
plainly designed to get them to smoke, with all kinds of promotional 
activities while they can still buy cigarettes in vending machines, 
while there's no real comprehensive national law against their buying 
cigarettes. And meanwhile, these lawsuits drag on.
    So I'm concerned about that. And that's one of the reasons I think 
that Dr. Kessler and the FDA have wanted to have a series of 
conversations with the White House because everybody involved in this, 
at least from our point of view, wants to focus on the whole problem of 
children smoking and how to stop it and to stop it from starting.
    Mr. Edwards. You say mandatory, you're not going to have any kind of 
voluntary program for the industry?
    The President. Well, I believe we have to have some means of knowing 
that whatever we all agree to, whatever people say they're going to do 
is done. And I think we need some strength there. So we'll just--I'm 
looking at what my options are, and I expect to have an announcement in 
the near future. You won't be waiting long to know how we're going to 
resolve this. But there will be a strong commitment here to doing 
something about children smoking.
    Ms. Liasson. Are you saying the tobacco industry can't be trusted to 
comply with some kind of a voluntary deal?
    The President. I've already talked a lot about this. I'll have more 
to say in the next few days.

Relief for Middle Class

    Mr. Edwards. You've spoken a lot about the squeeze on the American 
middle class, although the economy is good, incomes are not keeping up, 
people are working harder for less, and they've been anxious about their 
futures. Without control of Congress, what can you do to relieve some of 
that anxiety?

[[Page 1212]]

    The President. Well, one thing that I can do is to keep trying to 
grow the economy and to keep following policies that will lead to 
balanced and fair growth. That's what we were trying to do with the 
Japanese trade action, for example. I have been responsible for a 
greater expansion of trade than any other administration, I think, than 
any other President, with NAFTA and GATT and 80 separate trade 
agreements. But I also want fair trade. I want trade that will 
strengthen the jobs and the incomes of America's workers, which is why I 
took the action I did with Japan with regard to auto parts and autos.
    We also can make sure that the laws we have on the books are 
enforced in a way that tend to support good jobs and good wages. That's 
why I don't favor, for example, a repeal of the Davis-Bacon law or some 
other laws that are on the Government's books which at least say when 
we're doing business we want to try to support a high-wage, high-
opportunity society.
    But there are things that I think this Congress can do and some 
other things I think they shouldn't do. And I'll just--let me just give 
you three examples very quickly. Two things I think they should do. I 
think they ought to raise the minimum wage. The minimum wage has had 
bipartisan support in the past, and I think has broad bipartisan support 
among the American people. If this Congress does not raise the minimum 
wage, as I have asked it to do, we'll have the lowest minimum wage we've 
had in 40 years in terms of real purchasing power next year. That's not 
my idea of the kind of country I'm trying to create for the 21st 
century. I don't want a hard-work, low-wage America. I want a high-
opportunity, high-growth America.
    The second thing they could do is to pass the bill I have proposed 
which has bipartisan support to create a ``GI bill'' for America's 
workers. And our proposal is to take the 70 or so separate training 
programs the Government has now, collapse them, put them in a big pot of 
cash, and give workers who are unemployed or who are underemployed a 
voucher which they can take to their local community college worth 
$2,500 or so a year for up to 2 years to get the training and education 
they need. This would go around the Federal Government, the State 
government, and the local government. This is just something we could 
give to unemployed Americans, people that lose their jobs and need to 
acquire new skills. Almost every American now is within driving distance 
of a community college or other fine training institute. They'd make the 
decisions, and all they'd have to do is prove they spent the money at 
the appropriate place. They could pass that.
    The third thing that Congress should do is to do no harm--do no 
harm. They are on a path now which will dramatically increase the middle 
class squeeze. By cutting all this education money, they are cutting off 
the future for millions of Americans. By cutting all the Medicare and 
Medicaid money, what they are doing is to make sure that more and more 
middle class people who are middle-aged will have to spend much higher 
percentages of their incomes supporting their elderly parents and 
therefore will have less to spend on themselves and in educating their 
own children. And none of that is necessary to balance the budget. I 
have given them an alternative.
    So they should raise the minimum wage, pass the ``GI bill'' for 
America's workers, and do no harm on education and health care. Those 
things will help us.
    But you know, we've never had a period like this before, really, 
where we've got 7 million new jobs; 2\1/2\ million new homeowners; 1\1/
2\ million new businesses, the largest number in American history in 
this period of time; very high stock market--about 4,700--rapid growth 
of corporate profits; and stagnant wages for half the American workers. 
We've got to turn that around. And these things will help.

1996 Election

    Ms. Liasson. Mr. President, you did a pretty good job in 1992 
figuring out what the election was going to be about, what was on 
people's minds. What do you think the election of 1996 is going to be 
about? What are the three or four top issues that you think Americans 
care most about right now?
    The President. Well, in 1996, I think the election will be--there 
will be economic issues still at the forefront, more in terms of family 
security. That is, I think that people will see the economy as a two-
step process, not a one-step process. And I hope maybe I can communicate 
that more clearly. That is, what we started doing--reducing the deficit, 
expanding trade, increasing investment in technology, promoting defense 
conversion, all those things--they produce a lot of jobs, but now we 
have to raise incomes and a sense of family security. So I

[[Page 1213]]

think there will be a whole cluster of family security issues that are 
economic and that deal with the whole issue of opportunity.
    Then I believe there will be some significant debates about social 
issues and what kind of responsibilities we have individually and to 
each other in this society. If we don't get welfare reform legislation 
through, that will be an issue. If there's a continuing effort to 
undermine law enforcement as there has been now in the Congress--the 
leaders of Congress told me, for example, after Oklahoma City they would 
have the antiterrorism bill on my desk by Memorial Day; that's late May. 
Here we are almost to mid-August and no sign of the bill. I think that 
will be an issue because Americans are still concerned about their 
    And then the third set of issues will be about--so the opportunity 
issues, responsibility issues, and then I think there will be a set of 
issues that have to do with how we're going to move together into the 
21st century. How are we going to handle our diversity? What's the 
responsible way to handle our immigration problems, which are 
    So those are the kinds of things that I think will dominate this 
election. It's basically, this is one more jumping off stage, the last 
one we'll have before the next century. And I hope that it will be 
dominated by two competing visions of what America will look like in the 
next century and how we will live and how we will work together.
    Mr. Edwards. But the strongest sentiment we're hearing from voters 
seem to reject both visions. They seem to be looking for a third party, 
a third force to put their faith in. What is that----
    The President. I don't know that they reject both visions. I think 
they consistently accept my vision when they hear it. It's almost 
impossible for people to know what's going on out there given the nature 
of communications today. There's a lot of information, but it's always 
on something new day-in and day-out. And it tends to emphasize conflict 
over achievement. And so I think what we need is an election to see 
    And also, a lot of people are kind of frustrated with their own 
lives and don't see the connection between governmental action on the 
one hand and improvements in their circumstances on the other. All of 
this is to be expected in a time of transition and difficulty. But I 
basically think the prognosis for America's future is quite bright. And 
if somebody wants to run as a third party candidate they ought to, but 
that's like--that's ``the buyer's remorse'' and ``the grass is always 
greener on the other side,'' and all of that. You know, you hear all of 
    But I believe that the '96 election will really give me an 
opportunity I have not had since I've been here to get out and talk 
about what we've done that we promised to do, what difference it's made 
for America, and what still needs to be done. I think the third category 
should be the most important thing, what are we going to do tomorrow? 
But I'm not at all pessimistic about where America is or where this 
administration is. We've done a lot of things that were very important. 
We've kept up very high percentages of our commitments. We've had a 
great deal of success with the efforts that we've made, and I look 
forward to having a chance to discuss that. But meanwhile, I'm going to 
try to delay the onset of the political season as long as possible and 
just keep doing my job.
    Mr. Edwards. But how can you say that the American people share your 
vision? A majority did not elect you and then came the '94 election 
    The President. Yes, but that doesn't mean--the American people 
didn't ratify the contract on America. What they ratified--there were 
two things. A lot of the people who voted in '92 were disillusioned and 
didn't vote because they'd been fed a steady diet of bad news and 
because their own circumstances hadn't improved. And we said this many 
new jobs came into the economy and the deficit was reduced by 50 percent 
for 3 years in a row for the first time since Harry Truman was 
President. Huge numbers of voters said, ``I just don't believe it; I 
just don't believe it,'' because their lives weren't better, and they 
didn't hear about it in their regular communications. They were anxiety 
ridden; they were frustrated; they were angry. The Republicans said, 
``Vote for us, we've got a plan, and the first item is balancing the 
budget.'' All the research after the election showed that that's what 
people knew.
    Now, there are two plans to balance the budget. I believe two-thirds 
of the American people agree with my way. I think they'd rather take a 
little longer, have a smaller tax cut and protect the incomes of elderly 
Americans on Medicare, protect our investments in education

[[Page 1214]]

from Head Start to affordable college loans and not gut the environment. 
That's what I believe. I believe the American people want a high-wage, 
high-growth, high-opportunity future, with safe streets and a clean 
environment, where people have a chance to make the most of their own 
lives. I believe that's what they really want. And I think they believe 
we ought to work together toward that.
    And my referendum will come in '96, and we'll just see. But there's 
a lot--if you look at the research, I think there is a lot of common 
ground in America. I believe the American people, left to their own 
devices, would come to commonsense, progressive conclusions on a lot of 
these issues. And I think the political system basically seeks to divide 
them in little slices and wedges to advance the causes of whoever's 
doing the dividing. But that's not really what the American people want, 
which is why they often say, ``I'd like a third way,'' because they're 
sick of partisan bickering in Washington and people who are trying to 
advance their short-term interest at the expense of the long-term public 
interest in this country.

Federal Budget

    Ms. Liasson. I wanted to ask you about some partisan bickering 
that's coming up pretty soon, which is the big battle over the budget in 
the fall. Now, you've said you didn't want to pile up a stack of vetoes, 
you've threatened quite a few of them. But Republicans say they don't 
believe that you're going to make good on all these threats, especially 
if it means that agencies will close or if the Government can't borrow 
the money to send out benefit checks. Are you willing to see the 
Government shut down if that's what it takes to protect your priorities?
    The President. Well, first of all, let's look at what they're 
threatening to do. And the American people need to know it as 
unprecedented. They are responsible. If the Government gets shut down, 
it will be their responsibility. They will have to vote or not vote to 
lift the debt ceiling. They will have to vote or not vote for continuing 
resolutions to let this Government go on. I will have no role in that; 
that is their responsibility.
    My responsibility was fulfilled when I offered them an alternative 
balanced budget and a willingness to discuss it. So far, none of them 
have been willing to discuss anything. They have not been willing to 
discuss this. They seem determined--for example, they seemed absolutely 
determined to raise the cost of Medicare in copayments, in premiums and 
deductibles to seniors with incomes of $25,000 a year or less. They seem 
determined to raise the cost of going to college. They seem determined 
to cut kids off Head Start. They seem determined to gut the 
environmental laws of this country when none of that is necessary to 
balance the budget, and they haven't even discussed it with me.
    So what I'm going to do is--and these veto threats that I've been 
issuing, they're really sort of veto notices. I'm just trying to be as 
forthright and honest and forthcoming as I can with people who so far 
have not expressed any interest in having any dialog with me. It's a 
funny way to do business. But if you ask me am I going to blink at the 
end and basically, to avoid shutting down the Government, risk shutting 
down America 10 or 15 years from now because of the costs we're taking, 
the answer to that is, no, I am not going to blink at the end. As awful 
as it is, it would be better to shut the Government down for a few days 
than to shut the country down a few years from now because we took a 
radical and unwarranted road here that the American people never voted 
for, don't believe in.
    So I think it's easy to over-read the results of the '94 election. I 
think you could convincingly argue that the NRA put the House of 
Representatives in Republican hands if you look at the number of short 
races, close races that were turned there. But the other voters that 
were voting for the Republicans and the other voters that were staying 
home weren't ratifying a repeal on the assault weapons ban or a repeal 
of the Brady bill.
    So I don't think you can make these kind of connections. I'm just 
going to stand up and fight for what I believe in but be willing to work 
with them. But if they don't ever want to work with me and they keep 
trying to push this country off the brink, I cannot in good conscience 
let America gut its commitment to education from Head Start for poor 
children to affordable college loans for college students, when I know 
that that is the key to our economic future. And I know it's the only 
way to expand middle class incomes over the long run. I cannot in good 
conscience let a budget go through which essentially undermines our 
ability to provide for clean air, clean water, and

[[Page 1215]]

pure food when I know good and well the American people never voted for 
that in 1994.
    And I certainly have no intention of destroying Medicare under the 
guise of saving it when I know we can fix the Medicare Trust Fund, which 
does not have anything to do--the Medicare Trust Fund that the 
Republicans are always talking about is in some trouble, less trouble 
than when I took office. I pushed the insolvency date out 2 or 3 years 
already, and I know we can fix that and never touch the premiums, the 
copays, and the deductibles. And they know it, too. They know this has 
nothing to do with fixing the Medicare Trust Fund.
    So we ought to get together like civilized human beings and good 
Americans and do what's best for the American people. The one time I 
thought we were going to do it was when I had the meeting with the 
Speaker up in New Hampshire and that fellow asked us a nice question, 
and we shook hands on it. We said, yes, we'd appoint a commission like a 
base closing commission to look into political reform. And 5 days after 
I got back I sent a letter to the Speaker suggesting that we ought to 
appoint this commission in the same way the base closing commission was 
appointed. Five weeks later I still hadn't gotten an answer to my 
letter. I still haven't gotten an answer to my letter. It's been 7 or 8 
weeks now. So I appointed two distinguished Americans, John Gardner and 
Doris Kearns Goodwin, to go try to work this out. They haven't seen the 
Speaker either.
    So this is a different world up here. The American people don't 
understand this. I think most Americans are still conservative and old-
fashioned in the best sense. They think when you shake hands, especially 
when you do it in broad daylight in front of the whole country, you 
ought to do what you say you're going to do. And I intend to do it. 
That's just the way I am. It's the way I was brought up. I don't 
understand this. I don't understand people that don't talk to one 
another and don't try to see one another's point of view and that don't 
try to reach common accord. So that door over there is going to stay 
open all the way, but I will not be--I will not be blackmailed into 
selling the American people's future down the drain to avoid a train 
wreck. Better a train wreck for a day or 3 or 4, better political damage 
to Bill Clinton than damaging the future of millions and millions and 
millions of Americans. I'm just not going to do it.
    Mr. Edwards. Thank you, Mr. President.
    The President. Thank you.


    Ms. Liasson. Mr. President, just one quick yes or no question. 
Should Mrs. Clinton go to China if Harry Wu is still held?
    The President. Well, no decision has yet been made on that, and 
we're just going to follow events as they develop and try to make a good 
decision. It's an important conference. The United States will be 
represented, but no decision has been made yet about whether she will 

Note: The interview began at 1:48 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White 
House, and it was recorded for broadcast on August 9. The final question 
referred to Harry Wu, human rights activist imprisoned in China.