October 1, 1985

The President. I've come here to make an announcement and also to say a few words with regard to that announcement. I am delighted and happier than I've been in a long time that Margaret Heckler has agreed to my request that she become the Ambassador to Ireland.

And in saying this, I would like to say -- and I'm sorry that I didn't start saying it sooner -- that the malicious gossip, without any basis in fact, that had been going on for the last several days about this is without any basis in fact. She has done a fine job at HHS. As a matter of fact, if she hadn't done such a good job, I wouldn't have been so eager to seek her out to be the Ambassador to Ireland. And whoever finally replaces her there, as she goes on to her new duties, will find that that agency is in great shape as a result of her direction and her leadership.

And it has been absolutely unjustified -- whoever has been leaking these falsehoods and intimating -- well, for one thing, I certainly have never thought of the Embassies as dumping grounds. And, therefore, if she hadn't been doing as well as she has been doing, I certainly would not have picked Ireland, or any Embassy for that matter, but Ireland especially, for her to take that post. And, as I say, I'm delighted that -- she had to give it some thought, of course, leaving the country, and a whole new post -- but I had been putting on quite a sales pitch because this was my idea, and I wanted her very much to do that.

Q. What is the malicious gossip, sir, that you refer to? You mean the fact that leaks, coming mainly from your administration, said that she'd be appointed Ambassador to Ireland?

The President. No, the leaks that we were doing this in some way because we were unhappy with what she was doing where she was.

Q. You were not unhappy?

The President. No.

Q. Have you reprimanded any members of your staff or talked to them about any of these reports?

The President. This sort of thing has been going on -- and they tell me that it's kind of typical of the territory -- this has been going on for some time; Margaret isn't the first. This has been happening with others -- not only Cabinet members but the staff members and so forth. And to this day, I've never been able to find the individuals responsible for this. And -- --

Q. Sir, if you're not unhappy with the job that she's been doing, why doesn't Mrs. Heckler stay in that position?

The President. Well, because we have a need for an Ambassador, and Ireland is getting very impatient, and I thought that she might like a change of pace. It was my desire for her, and I think that she will be just great in that particular spot.

Q. How much of a selling tactic do you have to do, Mr. President? We understood that as of the other day Mrs. Heckler didn't want the job.

The President. I think Mrs. Heckler was justifiably upset by the kind of gossip that was going around, and -- --

Q. Are you appointing Jack Svahn as her replacement?

The President. No.

Q. Speak to some of that gossip, Mr. President. The word is that she wasn't conservative enough, that she wasn't true enough for the ``true believers'' in your administration, particularly Mr. Regan.

The President. No, Don was my messenger in carrying the word to her that I wanted her to be the Ambassador, and this was some time ago.

Q. Mr. President, since you're here, do you agree with -- --

Q. Could you let him finish, please, Andrea [Andrea Mitchell, NBC News]?

The President. No, I don't know, as I say, where this was coming from. But, as I say, it was malicious; it was false. No -- --

Q. Well, is she conservative enough? Just speak to that point, sir?

The President. Yes, you bet she is, and she's executed the policies that I have wanted for that particular agency, and, as I say, it is in great shape. She has done a fine job, and if she hadn't, well, then I don't think I would have asked her to be an Ambassador.

Q. Is this a promotion, Mr. President?

The President. What?

Q. Is this a promotion, sir?

The President. I don't know whether one job is better or greater than another, but I think that there is a distinction to an ambassadorship. The title is retained for life, and, after all, when you come down to the Embassies, the Ambassadors are the personal representatives of the President.

Q. Mr. President, since you're here, could you tell us, do you agree with the administration officials who've said that they feel the Soviet offer is unbalanced because it locks in their superiority, particularly in terms of strategic missiles and because it would prevent us from deploying the D - 5, the Midgetman, the MX, some of the things that are coming on line?

The President. Andrea, I am not going to comment on this, and I don't think anyone should. This is in the hands now of the negotiators, and I just don't think that you, from outside, get into public discussions about things of that kind. But I am not going to take any more questions on any other subject.

Q. Mr. President, do you condone the Israeli raid, sir, the Israeli raid into Tunis? Do you condone the Israeli raid into Tunisia?

The President. Sam [Sam Donaldson, ABC News], I will take other questions later on, but not today.

Q. Were U.S. planes involved?

The President. We're due at a Cabinet meeting. Would you like to say something?

Secretary Heckler. All right. Yes.

Q. Were U.S. planes involved, Mr. President? Could you clear up that one issue? Were U.S. planes involved in the Israeli raid?

The President. I'm not going to comment on that at all, Chris [Chris Wallace, NBC News], and I don't know. I don't know the facts.

Q. Because there has been a prohibition, as you know, in the past against using U.S. planes for offensive purposes.

Principal Deputy Press Secretary Speakes. He said he wasn't going to comment, Chris.

The President. Yes, I am not going to comment. No.

Secretary Heckler. May I just say, Mr. President -- --

Q. Do you have a successor for Mrs. Heckler?

The President. Madame Ambassador.

Secretary Heckler. Not quite. Mr. President, I'd like to say that I have had a really rewarding and challenging career in public service. In serving as a Member of Congress for 16 years and having the honor of being appointed by you, sir, to represent you, carry your portfolio of health and human services -- these have been very important opportunities for public service which has really been my life.

Now that you have offered me the post of Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, I see a new opportunity for public service. And I think every American of Irish ancestry can appreciate the special place that Ireland is to each of us. It is especially special at this time as we hoped there will be some movement toward the reconciliation of the most serious and difficult issue in that country. I look upon your trust in me as a new facet of a public service career. I thank you, Mr. President, for the faith that you have reposed in me. It has been an honor to represent you in the role that I have played. And as I look to the new day in the future, it will be as an honor and a very exciting challenge to represent you as Ambassador to Ireland. And I thank you for the opportunity.

Q. Mrs. Heckler, what changed your mind, because you said in August that this was a job that you didn't want? What changed your mind?

Secretary Heckler. When the Great Communicator -- [laughter] -- our leader, the President of the United States, asks one to take on an assignment that is significant and important -- not only in his eyes but, truly, in terms of its external impact as well as internal impact, important to many Americans of Irish background -- it is, in my view, irresponsible for one who has served in public office for all these years -- or public service -- to have said no to the President at his request.

Q. Did Don Regan kick you out, Mrs. Heckler? Did Don Regan force you out of the White House?

Secretary Heckler. The President and I are the only two who have discussed the issue of my service in both the Cabinet and my service as Ambassador to Ireland. I feel very strongly that the President, in offering me an opportunity for a new dimension in service, he reposed in me a special degree of trust. I looked upon this assignment with new eyes having heard the presentation that he made and having also his assurance that it was my choice to stay on as Secretary of HHS or to become Ambassador to Ireland.

Q. Mrs. Heckler, what do think of the political whispering against you?

Q. Mrs. Heckler, Mrs. Heckler, what do think of these reports that you were not up to the job?

Q. You've heard the whispering campaign -- excuse me, Chris -- you've heard the whispering campaign against you. What do you think of that whispering campaign which said either that you are not conservative enough or that you are not a good administrator? Speak to it.

Secretary Heckler. I'm very proud of my record as Secretary of Health and Human Services. I'm proud of the fact that we inaugurated the perspective payment plan; we've inaugurated a new direction in health policy; I have carried the President's portfolio and been faithful to his philosophy and to his directives. I'm very proud of what I leave behind and would expect that the new drug approval process at FDA and the other changes that I've inaugurated will actually be implemented by my successor. I would expect these things to happen. But I am also very proud of the fact that this President, whom I consider to be a great leader, has now asked me to take on a new challenge, a new direction in my life.

Q. Is this a promotion or a demotion, Mrs. Heckler?

Q. So, you don't consider yourself incompetent, as that whispering campaign would have it?

Secretary Heckler. I am proud of my service in all regards. And, frankly, I am proud of the team who has helped me and the individuals at HHS who have made my service, I believe, as distinguished as it is.

Q. Mr. President, any other changes -- --

Q. Was it your understanding that you could have stayed on as Secretary of HHS?

Secretary Heckler. That was clearly my understanding.

Q. Mr. President, have you spoken to Mr. Regan about the furor that this caused, and do you hold him, in any way, responsible?

The President. No. He and I have talked about this and how to resolve this and, no, he's -- --

Q. You don't think he had anything to do with stirring this up?

The President. No. He's on our side.

Q. Could she have stayed on, Mr. President, as she said?

The President. Yes.

Q. If she had turned this down, she could have stayed on at HHS?

The President. Yes.

Q. Who's the successor?

The President. We have not made a selection yet.

Q. When will you?

Q. Any other Cabinet changes, Mr. President?

Q. Housing?

Q. Any other Cabinet changes?

Q. Housing?

The President. No, I don't think of any right now. But I do -- --

Q. Mrs. Heckler, how do you figure that a $16,000 pay cut's a promotion?

Secretary Heckler. I've never chosen my occupation based on the compensation it afforded because, as you know, considering the hours one spends in Congress serving people, or in a Cabinet post, there is no correlation between the hours that you invest in your job and the salary that it actually accrues. In this case, however, there is, if one wants to be totally financial, the fact that the Ambassador's salary is not taxable. [Laughter]

Q. Mr. President, Soviet diplomats have been kidnaped in Lebanon, sir -- --

The President. We've got to go to the Cabinet Room -- --

Q. Is that a tax loophole? [Laughter]

Q. Soviet diplomats have been kidnaped in Lebanon, and two of them may have been murdered. Do you have a statement to make on that terrorism?

The President. Well, I will break my own self-imposed rule only to say this: That terrorism, that kind of violence, is, I think, the most cowardly, the most vicious thing the world is faced with today, regardless of who the victims are.

Q. Would the Soviets have a right to retaliate -- --

Q. Would we cooperate with the Soviets?

Q. -- -- clearly, just as much as the Israelis have a right to retaliate?

The President. Anyone has if they can pick out the people who are responsible.

Q. Do you think the Israelis did pick out the right people?

The President. Well, I've always had a great faith in their intelligence capabilities.

Note: The President spoke to reporters at 1:54 p.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House. John Svahn was Assistant to the President for Policy Development, and Donald T. Regan was Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff.