Bush talks about crisis management, Reagan gains
As chairman of the presidential crisis management team, Vice-President George Bush is evasive about what goes on in meetings of that ''special situation group.'' But the behind-the-scenes work of the team since the proclamation of martial law in Poland indicates the group plays a key role in briefing the President on major world developments.
In an interview en route here, the vice-president would not discuss the agenda of the recent meetings, although he admitted the Polish situation has the ''overtone'' of crisis.
''The group doesn't make decisions,'' said Mr. Bush. ''The President makes the decisions. But you bring him the information and recommendations.''
His comments were timely, since the administration said, after meetings of the special situation group, that it will suggest a number of specific coordinated steps that the US and its NATO allies should take to deal with developments in Poland.
The vice-president also disclosed that the special situation group has had ''at least two other meetings . . . over the course of the last six months.''
''I don't discuss what subjects'' were discussed, Bush said. But his comment revealed that this administration has viewed earlier global developments as being of crisis proportions.
Members of the crisis management group include Bush, Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, top White House advisers Edwin Meese III, James Baker III, and Michael Deaver, acting national security adviser James Nance, CIA Director William J. Casey, and Gen. David C. Jones, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
A Bush aide explained that the special situation group was empowered to seek to avert crises as well as to cope with emergencies that were already of a crisis nature.
Bush added: ''It's a group that would get together to follow special situations and keep the President advised. If at any time there was a meeting and the President decided to come, it would either be a meeting of the SSG (special stiuation group) over which he presided or it would shift automatically to a meeting of the National Security Council.''
Bush answered several other questions about Poland:
Why is it that the President talked rather softly about Poland up until his press conference - and now he is taking a harder line?
I don't know that I noticed a difference in tone. The President, in his statement, laid out the concerns that we feel. And we do feel a deep concern. We feel a total sense of concern over the attempt to crush Solidarity. We identify with the people. We identify with the people who have stuck their necks out for joining unions. It was an eloquent statement of concern over what has been happening over there the last two days.
You are cutting off economic aid?
I am not going to discuss what we are going to do. There has been a temporary suspension of agricultural products to Poland. Food is being distributed now in Poland. We are following it very carefully to see what action to take.''
The vice-president spoke on other subjects. Asked if he thought there would be a shake-up in the administration following Reagan's first year in office, Mr. Bush at first said:
I don't want to speculate. (Then he added:) There are obviously some problems churning around, but I just don't know what is going to happen. I don't think you will see a Camp David type of operation, anything like that (referring to the changes made at midterm by President Carter.)
(Then as an afterthought, Bush said:) You know, it is interesting . . . Penn James (White House personnel director) was in my office today (Dec. 17) and he said that people just don't realize how big a turnover there is going to be in the administration. . . .
So he told me today there will be a turnover. So there may be.
Asked to assess the administration at year's end, Mr. Bush said:
Our party, controlling one body, the Senate, (and) not controlling the other, racked up enormous legislative accomplishments, in terms of budget, in terms of taxes, in terms of military, and in getting through a very tough-to-get-through farm bill.
I think it is fair to say that the President has a record of doing things. He has brought about a renewal of a certain sense of purpose on the part of the country. He has established a foreign policy that includes a strengthening of defense that people understand clearly. The elevation of the presidency once again would be his major accomplishment. Some of it is his spirit, the way he approaches political friend and political foe.
Have there been any disappointments?
On the problem-side - there are enormous problems out there. And we have a lot to do in terms of special groups, for example. I think there are some perceptions that we care less than we do, in some of the minority communities.
I think there are perceptions that we are cross-threaded with labor. And we are working to improve that. So there is plenty of work to do to improve things.
There is a legislative agenda that is unfulfilled. And take regulation. We have made some enormous strides but I get the feeling that it is just the tip of the iceberg that we've touched.
Beyond problems, have there been any big disappointments?
Well, I would have liked to see more progress made in the specific area of the amendment to the Clean Air Act: The jobs amendment, creation of more jobs, still protecting the environment, still protecting the cleanness of the air, still protecting safety of the working place, etc., but making more rapid headway with the legislation that is required on the Clean Air Act.
Has the recession been a disappointment?
Of course, there has been enormous progress on the decline of interest rates, enormous progress on the rollback of inflation - but there is an enormous problem out there in terms of employment, people who want to work and can't get jobs.
Since he once questioned Reagan's economics, is the vice-president now satisfied that it works?
I have not seen any economists - Keynesian, supply-side, anyone - who don't predict an economic recovery in the second quarter and a strong upturn after that. That, again, doesn't mean we are home free. Because we do worry about deficits. They are bad. They can be rationalized. But as long as they are large, this President and this administration will be concerned about them.