269. Memorandum From the White House Chief of Staff (Regan) to President Reagan 1

SUBJECT

  • Senior Staff Planning Meeting

The White House Senior Staff met for an hour and a half yesterday in the latest of a series of planning sessions designed to prepare for the issues that will be facing us over the next few months, through Labor Day.

In the first of these planning sessions, held last August, several critical objectives were established.2 Foremost among them was maintenance of the economic recovery. We reasoned that continued economic growth would put you in the strongest possible position to achieve your domestic and foreign policy objectives. We also reasoned, with persuasive support from Dick Wirthlin, that maintenance of the [Page 1175] economic recovery was the single most important factor in assuring continued control of the United States Senate. This strategy, which you endorsed, has paid off well. The economic recovery appears well established and prospects for beyond 1986 are looking up as well. This is reflected not only in the surging stock and bond markets but also in our own polling which shows that your approval rating remains high and that the “pocketbook” issues which so often have turned elections in the past are very much on our side.

While we should all be pleased that our position is strong (and I would note that this perception is beginning to attract public notice—see Monday’s Wall Street Journal editorial which is attached),3 we should not underestimate the challenges that lie ahead. Our discussion identified literally dozens of issues that could merit your attention in the next few months. Some are issues with long-term “pay offs” while others are more short-term in nature, requiring decisions and action in the near future. For ease of discussion we have divided the issues across international/domestic lines. In each area we have separately identified those which are “action-forcing” and those which we may wish to take the initiative.

[Omitted here is discussion of domestic issues.]

INTERNATIONAL ISSUES

The agenda in the international arena is similarly full. The first, and highest, priority is passage of the aid package for the Freedom Fighters in Nicaragua.4 Like other action-forcing events, the timing is tight but we are committed and will be going all out for positive House action after your return from the Ranch.5 We will also need to ensure that the legislation reaches your desk as soon as possible although we face some parliamentary obstacles in reconciling the Senate passed measure with whatever comes out of the House.

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Over the next few months we will need to spend considerable time on the defense budget. In some sense this is both a domestic as well as an international issue. It is also both an action-forcing event (because of the budget) and an initiative (taking advantage of the Packard Commission report to re-build the defense constituency that has eroded lately).6 Jim Miller and John Poindexter have begun discussion on this and we will be developing an action plan to deal both with the short and longer range aspects. As noted above, this may be an issue where holding firm on our budget at this point may be the best strategy even though compromise will be necessary later in the year. Longer run, however, we should be under no illusion; achieving anything close to your defense budget is perhaps the hardest task that confronts us.

In a chronological sense the next international issue will be formal submission of the Saudi Arms sale package.7 Here we are essentially following a “veto” strategy in trying to avoid a Congressional blockage of the sale by sustaining a veto in the Senate. We are cautiously optimistic but will delay formal submission of the sales package so that the veto test will come shortly after your return from Tokyo.8

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The Tokyo Summit is an event of major international and domestic significance. A demonstrated willingness by our Summit partners to continue growth oriented policies is important for sustained world economic recovery. Similarly, eyes in Washington will be on you to see whether contentious trade issues can be solved. As noted above, the House will be acting in mid-May on what appears to be a terrible trade bill.9 Any sign of progress on trade issues in Tokyo can only help. Finally, we can expect continued study of possible monetary reform although this is an idea whose time may not come this year.

A final “action-forcing” event is, of course, the second meeting with Gorbachev (or as the staff calls, it Gorbachev II). As you have made clear, the ball is in their court. We should not appear anxious to have the Summit by any particular date. Such a sign could well be misconstrued as being over-eager or even weak. You have played this on a very high level and should continue to do so. On the other hand, because the timing is in the Soviet’s control we need to be prepared to act quickly when we hear from them. NSC, as you are aware, and our advance people, are quitely preparing so that we can hit the ground running when the word comes.

A truly action-forcing event is the possibility, perhaps likelihood, of a terrorist act on the part of, or sponsored by, Libya. Again, we must be prepared for the unexpected and John Poindexter is taking the lead.

You will be also facing a decision soon on a highly contentious arms control issue which will get considerable public scrutiny: interim restraints under SALT in the context of Soviet violations of arms agreements. There will be another NSPG on this later in the month, but we need to be prepared to handle this both domestically and on a public diplomacy basis once a decision is made.10 The issue is particularly sensitive since the Soviets in Geneva are still not seriously negotiating with [Page 1178] us and we must continue to make clear that the ball here too is in their court.

The Rogers Commission and our own internal review of the future of the Space program will soon be completed.11 We will have to face decisions with significant budgetary impact over the next several months (i.e., a replacement shuttle and expendable launch vehicle).

Finally, while much in the international arena seems to be action-forcing at best (and out of our control at worst) we do have initiatives to pursue. Two that come to mind that will get renewed emphasis in the months ahead are encouraging freedom fighters throughout the world and promoting your Strategic Defense Initiative. In both areas we are on the moral and political “high ground” and can generate considerable support at home and abroad. We have the Soviets literally on the defensive in both areas and should continue to press our advantage.

THE POLITICS OF IT ALL

Except in setting the scene at the beginning, this memorandum has not focussed on the “politics.” This is as it should be. While we should never forget the politics, often in setting policy the best politics is no politics. Nonetheless, some explicit consideration on the subject is appropriate. Our first priority is clearly retaining control of the Senate. We have followed a policy of regular appearances in support of our candidates and this will continue. While your level of activity will clearly increase in the fall, much of the work at present involves staff, departments and agencies working with candidates to be as helpful as possible, including avoiding public fights with our own Senators (although this, of course, is not entirely under our control). The “macro” elements are in place: a popular President and a growing economy. For the time being, the best payoff is at the micro level with your involvement largely limited to fundraisers, and occasional special events (such as your meeting with Henson Moore on off shore leases).

Staff will also be working at helping House members to the extent possible and on selected gubernatorial races where a “reapportionment” bonus may be possible.

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CONCLUSION

I felt the planning session was extremely useful, and a number of working groups are being established to follow through on all the items mentioned above (as well as some not mentioned). It will be important for you, and your staff, to focus on those issues where Presidential involvement can make a difference. Detailed communications plans will be developed for the major issues identified above. I plan to reconvene our group next week in order to review follow-up plans and assign priorities. Any reaction you have, of course would be most appreciated.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Collection, Donald T. Regan Papers, Box 213, White House, Subject File, Planning, 1985–87. No classification marking. Printed from an uninitialed copy.
  2. No record of this planning session has been found.
  3. Attached but not printed is an editorial entitled “Second-Term Agenda,” Wall Street Journal, March 31, 1986, p. 18.
  4. The administration submitted its aid package to Congress on February 25, with Reagan appealing for bipartisan support of the request in his March 16 address on the situation in Nicaragua (see Document 262). Congress took up the administration’s request in two resolutions: H.J. Res. 540 and S.J. Res. 283. On March 20, the House rejected the $100 million White House request by a 210–222 vote. The Senate approved the $100 million request on March 27 by a 53–47 vote. Following the Senate vote, the request was attached to a bill (H.R. 4515) to make supplemental appropriations for FY 1986. On April 16, Republicans voted for a Democratic-sponsored amendment to the supplemental, which withheld Nicaraguan aid, allowing the amendment to pass 361–66. House Democrats subsequently halted action on the bill. Eventually, the House agreed to allow a vote on Nicaraguan aid in a new bill appropriating funds for military construction in FY 1987 (H.R. 5052). (Congress and the Nation, vol. VII, 1985–1988, pp. 178–179) For the outcome of the vote on H.R. 5052, see footnote 4, Document 274.
  5. On March 27, the President arrived in Santa Barbara. He was scheduled to return to Washington on April 6. (Reagan Library, President’s Daily Diary)
  6. On June 17, 1985, the President indicated that he had, upon the recommendation of Weinberger and in consultations with members of Congress, established the Blue Ribbon Commission on Defense Management and appointed Packard as chair. The President explained that the Commission “will review the progress already made in improving management and procurement. And we’ve also asked them to look at the organization and decisionmaking procedures at Defense and give us their recommendations.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1985, Book II, p. 775) On February 28, 1986, the President received the Packard Commission’s interim report. For the text of the President’s and Packard’s remarks, made in the Cabinet Room, see Public Papers: Reagan, 1986, Book I, p. 279. For the text of the interim report, see An Interim Report to the President by the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Defense Management, February 28, 1986 (Washington: President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Defense Management, 1986). For the text of the final report, submitted to the President on June 30, see A Quest for Excellence: Final Report to the President by the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Defense Management, June 1986 (Washington: President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Defense Management, 1986). Additional documentation on the Packard Commission is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. XLIV, Part 1, National Security Policy, 1985–1988.
  7. Reference is to the administration’s proposal to sell $354 million worth of advanced arms to Saudi Arabia. The Senate voted 73–22 on May 6 to reject the sale. (Steven V. Roberts, “Senate Rejects Saudi Arms Sale, 73–22,” New York Times, May 7, 1986, p. A3) The next day, the House also voted to block the sale. (Edward Walsh, “House Bars Arms Sale To Saudis: 356-to-62 Decision Called ‘Veto Proof’ By Deal’s Opponents,” Washington Post, May 8, 1986, pp. A1, A13) Following Congressional action, Reagan removed from the package 800 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and launchers. On May 21, the President vetoed S.J. Res. 316, a resolution that would have blocked the remainder of the sale. On June 5, the Senate sustained the President’s veto. (Steven V. Roberts, “President Vetoes Effort to Block Arms for Saudis: Forces Delay by Senate: Vote to Override Put Off After Foes of Deal Detect Shift to Reagan’s Position,” New York Times, May 22, 1986, pp. A1, A19, and David Shribman, “Senate Vote Clears Arms Sale To Saudi Arabia: Chamber Narrowly Sustains Reagan Veto of Effort Against Missile Delivery,” Wall Street Journal, June 6, 1986, p. 29) See also Congress and the Nation, vol. VII, 1985–1988, p. 198.
  8. The President was scheduled to visit Tokyo, May 2–7, to attend the G–7 Economic Summit meeting, May 4–6.
  9. On May 1, the House Ways and Means Committee approved an omnibus trade bill (H.R. 4750), which was ultimately combined with bills generated by six different committees and reintroduced as H.R. 4800. (Congress and the Nation, vol. VII, 1985–1988, pp. 142–143) On May 22, the House voted 295–115 to approve the bill, which “would require the President to take more vigorous action against trading partners that subsidize exports to this country while they hinder American goods from entering their markets.” (Steven V. Roberts, “House, 295 to 115, Votes to Tighten Trade Regulation: President Assails Move: Democratic Measure Requires Retaliation if Partners Are Deemed to Be Unfair,” New York Times, May 23, 1986, pp. A1, D4)
  10. The NSPG meeting took place on April 16 in the Situation Room from 10:22 until 11:24 a.m. (Reagan Library, President’s Daily Diary) The minutes are scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. XLIV, Part 1, National Security Policy, 1985–1988. In his personal diary entry for April 16, the President wrote: “An N.S.C. meeting—this time subject was SALT II & what to do about Soviet violations. The Soviets have called off the May 15 meeting with Shevardnadze. But that was after a meeting with W. German Foreign Minister Genscher.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, vol. II, November 1985–January 1989, p. 590)
  11. Following the January 28 Challenger disaster, in which seven astronauts were killed, the President announced on February 3 the establishment of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident. The President indicated that former Secretary of State Rogers would serve as Chairman and former astronaut Neil Armstrong would serve as Vice Chairman. For the text of the President’s remarks, see Public Papers: Reagan, 1986, Book I, p. 118. For the text of the final report, submitted on June 6, see Report to the President By the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident (Washington: Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident, 1986).