April 16, 1964: Press Conference at the State Department
THE PRESIDENT. Ladies and gentlemen, I have come before you today for a regular, scheduled, televised, notified well in advance press conference. I did not drive myself over here. But I did have to cancel an informal meeting with some tourists at the gate.
I am happy to see here today so many visiting members of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, so many of my old friends. You are welcome to your city.
I have some information on the state of our national economy. In the first quarter of 1964 our gross national product rose to a rate of $608 ? billion. This is up $8? billion from the fourth quarter of 1963. The first quarter gross national product is nearly $37 billion above the year earlier figure. It is the largest year-to-year gain, I am told by the Chairman of the Economic Council this afternoon, in more than 2 years.
Personal income in March ran at a rate of $480? billion, an increase of $1? billion over February and $25.7 billion over the rate of March 1963. for the first time in 2 years we are making real progress in cutting down unemployment. We had a net gain of 1 1/2 million jobs from a year ago. The jobless rate dropped from 5.8 percent to 5.4 percent, and some other facts I think are worthy of note.
Labor has gained over 4 million jobs, nonfarm jobs, in a 3-year period, and over $56 billion of added annual income. Business has gained a 50 percent advance in profits after taxes. Moreover, these wage and profit gains have not been eaten away by inflation. Prices in the United States have been more stable than in any other industrial country in the world.
With strong markets, with steady costs, with lower taxes, American business does not need higher price levels to assure continued growth and profits. I look, therefore, to responsible business and to responsible labor to help us maintain our very fine record of cost and price stability, and help us go all the way to full employment and a balanced budget, and a strong enough competitive position to wipe out the balance of payments deficits.
I believe the accurate picture of what is happening in the railroad strike negotiations has been presented fully and completely, but this may interest you. I do want to stress my deep and earnest hope that these negotiations will strengthen the collective bargaining processes in our country. To me it is vitally important that we preserve our free enterprise system. free enterprise assumes a capacity of both labor and management to handle their own affairs and to settle differences by negotiations.
I do not think that we serve the cause of free enterprise by precipitating situations which could lead to a breakdown of this process. The public interest must and will be served. I think it is in the public interest to proceed by negotiation wherever possible. Intensive negotiation--day and night negotiation--is now going on, assisted by the mediators who are experienced men that I have appointed and who have come here at great sacrifice. It is a genuine collective bargaining in the true sense of the word, and I have great faith in the capacity of true collective bargaining.
There have been fewer strikes since January 1961 than in any other 3-year period since the early thirties. There have been fewer workers involved in strikes in the period since January 1961 than during any comparable 3-year period since the early thirties. There have been fewer man-days lost because of strikes since 1961 than in any comparable 3-year period since World War II. There were more strikes and more people involved in them during the World War II period, but they were settled, as you know, much more quickly, which meant fewer man-days were lost.
I am today establishing a program of Presidential Scholars. The title will be given to outstanding scholars graduating from our secondary schools, public and private, throughout the Nation. These awards are to recognize the most precious resource of the United States--the brain power of its young people--to encourage the pursuit of intellectual attainments among all our youth.
It is my hope that in the future a similar system can be worked out to honor our most gifted young people in the creative arts.
Two Presidential Scholars, a boy and a girl, will be named from each State. Two will be named from Puerto Rico, two from the District of Columbia, two from the American Territories, and up to 15 at large.
The Presidential Scholars will be chosen by a Commission on Presidential Scholars, which consists of Dr. Milton Eisenhower, president of Johns Hopkins University, the chairman of the Commission; Leonard Bernstein; Katherine Anne Porter; Dr. Albert W. Dent, president of Dillard University of New Orleans; the Reverend Michael P. Walsh, president of Boston College; Dr. William Hagerty, president of Drexel Institute of Technology, Philadelphia; and Mr. Melvin W. Barnes, the superintendent of schools of Portland, Oreg.
The Commission will operate with complete independence. The Presidential Scholars will be named in May of this year. The President will invite them to the White House as guests of this Nation, and present each with a medallion symbolizing the honor.
On March 30th, the Senate passed a bill which would authorize and investigate and study the possible construction of a sea level canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This bill has been referred to the House Committee on Merchant Marine and fisheries. This administration supports this bill and hopes that the House committee will give early and favorable consideration to it.
There are several alternative routes for such a canal, which will have to be studied carefully before a decision can be made. As part of the necessary studies, the United States and the Government of Colombia have already reached an agreement to conduct studies relative to a survey for a sea level canal. We are just able to announce this agreement today. We hope to make similar arrangements with other countries later.
I have instructed the Secretary of Defense to immediately dispatch a survey team to Colombia to explore the possibility of constructing a sea-level canal in that country. The Secretary of Defense has informed me that a 10-man team will leave for Colombia tomorrow morning to begin work immediately. The United States team will work in close collaboration with the team of the Colombian Government.
I am very pleased to announce the appointment of Mr. Roger Stevens of New York as my assistant to advise me on the arts. To assist Mr. Stevens and to provide a forum for the representation of all the arts of the United States, I shall shortly issue an Executive order establishing a Presidential Board on the Arts.
I have invited Prime Minister Krag of Denmark, and Mrs. Krag, to visit Washington on June 9th. Mrs. Johnson and I visited them last year. The Prime Minister has accepted the invitation, and he and Mrs. Krag will be coming to Washington following their participation in Denmark Day at the New York World's fair.
I am looking forward to seeing two of my old friends from Germany this summer. The Governing Mayor of Berlin, Willy Brandt, will be here on May 18th. The federal Chancellor, Ludwig Erhard, who was here earlier in the year, will come back on June 12th.
I will be glad to have any questions.
Q. Mr. President, how do you feel about civil disobedience as a tactic in the civil rights struggle?
THE PRESIDENT. I think that we have a civil rights bill pending in the Senate that has passed the House. It is very important that bill be passed at the earliest possible date. I think passage of that bill will be helpful in this general situation.
We do not, of course, condone violence or taking the law into your own hands, or threatening the health or safety of our people. You really do the civil rights cause no good when you go to this extent, but we are hopeful that all Americans understand that we are going to pass the civil rights bill because it is morally right, and because we feel that these people have too long been denied their rights.
On the other hand, we do not think the violation of one right or the denial of one right should permit the violation of another right.
Q. Mr. President, there have been some conflicting high-level statements over the last week about our strength, militarily, as compared with Russia's, particularly in the fields of missiles and air power. Would you give your own appraisal of that?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I am pleased with our strength. I think we have made great gains during the last 3 years. When you realize that each year during the last 3 years we have spent approximately $6 billion more on our military budget than was spent the last year of the Eisenhower administration, when you realize that we are spending $8 billion more this year than was spent the last year of the Eisenhower administration on our military budget, you realize that approximately $25 billion more has been spent than would have been spent if we had gone on at the rate of the last year of the Republican administration.
For that expenditure of $25 billion we have achieved extra combat divisions, extra nuclear warheads, extra missile strength. I am pleased with those accomplishments.
Under the law the Secretary of Defense, Mr. McNamara, is charged with the leadership and the direction of the Defense Department. While he operates a tight budget, I think he operates an adequate one. I think his work has been constructive. I have confidence in him. The Congress has confidence in him. I believe the American people have confidence in him. You can depend on what he tells you.
Q. Mr. President, what do you see in the future, and particularly in the near future, in the field of Soviet-American trade, and in particular, do you see another major development in the wake of the wheat sale?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I do not anticipate another major development at this time. I am encouraged by the fact that there are approaches being made to purchase some things from our country, and the foreign Relations Committee of the Senate is now having hearings and giving study to the possibilities of increasing East-West trade. But so far as anticipating just the extent of that trade and in what lines it will be, I am not able to say.
Q. Mr. President, in connection with the railroad situation, you have emphasized the value of free collective bargaining, and at the same time you have in this case brought the very considerable weight of the Presidency to bear in influencing the action by postponing a strike. Do you have some general guideline as to where the public interest in preventing strikes comes up against the public interest in the freedom to bargain?
THE PRESIDENT. I think that this is a matter that the mediators and the negotiators representing each side will attempt to evolve and find an agreeable ground and a common solution. I am not an overly optimistic man, but I do believe that under our collective bargaining system, a result can be reached. I hope and pray that it will be by the end of the week.
Q. Mr. President, a group of newspaper editors, many of whom are in this room now, were polled as to your chances for winning in 1964. They all agreed that you would win. It was a matter of how much you would win by. Would you care to comment on that, sir?
THE PRESIDENT. No. I hope that they feel in November as they do in April.
Q. Mr. President, seven of the eight members of the SEATO military organization have taken a strong stand on support for South Viet-Nam. The eighth member, France, had reservations on this. Do you believe that this impairs the effectiveness of that organization or our policy in South Viet-Nam?
THE PRESIDENT. Of course, we would have preferred the decision to be unanimous and we would have liked for our friend and ally, France, to have seen the situation as did the other seven members of SEATO. We are very pleased, however, that seven of us saw things alike. We have a definite policy in Viet-Nam. You know what that policy is. We think it is the best policy that could be derived from the alternatives open to us and we are very pleased and happy that Secretary Rusk found that at least seven signatories of SEATO were willing to go along with us.
Q. Mr. President, after nearly 5 months in office, I wonder if you could assess for us whether you find the task more or less difficult than you had anticipated?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I didn't do a great deal of anticipating prior to November on just how difficult the task would be, but I enjoy it. There is a lot of work connected with it. Nearly everyone is anxious to help you do that job. Most people are hoping and praying that you do a good job. And a very few people I have called on that have not been willing to put their shoulder to the wheel and help me. It is probably more difficult than I expected it would be, but I am enjoying it and I am prepared to continue.
Q. Mr. President, there has been considerable talk in the press and in Congress relative to the LBJ Company, KTBC, owned by Mrs. Johnson, and relative to a secret option agreement. The FCC has asked that that option agreement be made available. I wonder what your view is on that, if you feel it is proper that it not be disclosed.
I also would like to know how you feel about the general ethical question that has been raised relative to high governmental officials, whether in the executive branch or the legislative, who have interests in Government-regulated industries, such as television.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, first, I don't have any interest in Government-regulated industries of any kind, and never have had. I own no stocks. I own a little ranch land, something in excess of 2,000 acres. The Commission has made no request of me or of my family for anything. We are perfectly willing to comply, I am sure the trustees would be, with any request that they did make. There is not anything that we have to secrete in any manner, shape, or form.
Mrs. Johnson inherited some property, invested that property in the profession of her choice, and worked at it with pleasure and satisfaction until I forced her to leave it when I assumed the Presidency. As you know, and I want all to know, all of that stock has been placed in trust, as has been the practice with other Presidents, and although I own none of it, Mrs. Johnson has placed it in trust, an irrevocable trust that can--the property can be disposed of, it can be leased, it can be sold, at any time.
Any of those decisions would still require the action of the Commission. Even if you tried to sell it, you would have to have their approval. But I see no conflict in any way. She participates in no decisions the company makes. It is entirely with the trustees. In any event, if she did participate, the President wouldn't have anything to do with it.
Q. As you know, we now have a record number of military and diplomatic dependents abroad, well over seven hundred thousand. In your concern for the American image and your admirable desire to improve the status of women, don't you think it would be worth the expense to provide language courses for these wives before they go overseas?
THE PRESIDENT. I think it is always desirable for anyone to acquire as much knowledge of languages as possible. I haven't given any study to the particular suggestion you make. It seems to be a good one, and I will have it explored.
Q. Mr. President, in recent months the Air force and certain Members of Congress have said that it is desirable for the United States to develop a new, manned, strategic bomber. Secretary of Defense McNamara maintains that it is not. I wonder if you could give us your opinion, sir?
THE PRESIDENT. At the moment, I would not make a judgment because that decision will likely come to me in the near future. When the Joint Chiefs of Staff presented their military recommendations to me at the early part of the year, they were together on all of the recommendations with the exception that General LeMay asked for the privilege of taking funds already calculated in his budget and using them to study plans for a new bomber.
I told him I would give consideration to his proposal. I understand that proposal has been formulated and is now going through channels, and will shortly come to the President. When it gets to me, I will study it as best I can and make the decision that I think is in the national interest.
Q. Mr. President, to go back to politics, the late President Kennedy, in looking ahead to the '64 election, used to say that he expected a hard, close fight. Would you say, sir, how it looks to you this far ahead of the event?
THE PRESIDENT. I would think that is a very accurate appraisal of it, and I would think it will be a hard fight, a difficult one. I would hope that it wouldn't be too close, but it may be. I don't think that you can ever tell this far in advance how people are going to decide the choice, but I have no doubt but what it will be a hard and long fight.
Q. Mr. President, there has been a new factor injected into the civil rights situation. Mr. President, there has been allusion here today to difficulty of extremist action on the part of civil rights leaders. But there seems also to be a possibility of extreme action on the part of some white people who are mightily opposed both North and South, not only to the bill, but to further progress for Negroes.
Would you assess this new factor and do you have any counsel to the people on that end of the battle?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I would counsel moderation to all groups, and understanding of their fellowman and trying to appreciate his position. I think if people would put themselves in the other fellow's position, they will all be a little more tolerant of the other man's viewpoint. There are people who feel very strongly on both sides of this issue. I found that in the 1957 bill. I found it in the bill in 1960. It took us many days and nights to try to find an area of agreement that the Members of Congress and the President would accept.
I expect that there will be many days ahead when strong forces on both sides will be appealing to people to side with them. I only hope that we recognize that it has been a hundred years since Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves of their chains, but he has not freed all of the people of the bigotry that exists. It has been a hundred years since President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but a great many people do not have equal rights as of now.
While emancipation may be a proclamation, it is not a fact until education is blind to color, until employment is unaware of race. As long as those conditions exist in the country, we are going to have protests and we are entitled to protest and petition under our constitutional rights. I hope, though, that the Congress will act promptly with reasonable dispatch to bring those protests and bring those petitions and bring these disturbances from the streets and the alleys into the courts where they belong. In order to do that, we need a good civil rights bill, and the bill now pending in the Senate is a good bill. I hope it can be passed in a reasonable time.
Q. Mr. President, could you list for us the pending legislative measures which you consider it essential that the Congress enact before it adjourns finally this summer?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, that would take more time than I have, but there are some that we are vitally interested in. I have just named one, the civil rights bill, that is pending in the Senate. We had difficulty in the House Judiciary Committee. It spent a long time there. Then the House Rules Committee. We filed a petition, and a good many Members signed that, to discharge the bill and finally the Rules Committee passed it.
It is now in the Senate, and it has been debated a good while there. So that is a very important piece of legislation for the national welfare, because we are going to have many problems, even after it is passed, adjusting to it. We ought to get it passed as early as we can so that before school begins next year we will have this law on the books and we can move ahead.
I think it is as important that we pass the food stamp plan in the Senate as the civil rights bill. We passed it in the House by a good vote the other day. It is very important, not only to the consumers of this country, but to the producers of this country and to the business people of this country. It is a good piece of legislation. It is soundly conceived. I hope that we can get action in the Agriculture Committee of the Senate in a short time. Perhaps as soon as the civil rights bill is out of the way we can pass the food stamp bill.
The pay bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation to continued good Government in this country. I have on my desk today a number of resignations from some of the very best men in Government who tell me that they just cannot stay any longer. They have been here 3 years, and they cannot stay any longer at their present salaries. One man said he had had to borrow $16,000, another one said he had had to borrow 19,000, another one $6,000. And they just did not feel they could go on doing that if the pay bill was not going to be passed. I think that we are going to lose some of the best men in the Government.
Like sergeants that run the Army, some of the Under Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries and the men who do not get the notoriety but do the hard work from day to day--are entitled to a raise. I hope the Congress will consider the bill in both committees--although they have taken one vote on it in the House--that they can make some adjustments to meet the objections of the Members and pass the pay bill.
I think the Medicare bill is an extremely important bill that will provide medical care for our old people, aged people, under social security. I believe that we are close to having enough votes to report that bill from the committee. If we can make adjustments and modifications to get that bill reported and passed and have medicare under social security, it would be a great day for the people of our country.
Nearly every home has some father or mother, or uncle or aunt, or some member of their family that finds need for medical care insurance. Too many of them don't have it, and never will have it under the present system we have.
I think the poverty bill is very important. All the Cabinet Members have testified on it--Secretary McNamara, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, the Secretary of Agriculture. We are all united. We think that it is a comprehensive bill and has very sound principles. It will do a lot to help us with our juvenile delinquency problem. It will take our boys off the streets and out of the alleys and out of the pool rooms. It will make it possible for us to train and educate people for national service that are now being turned back by the draft.
We think that bill is soundly conceived and very important. So I would list just those four or five--the pay bill, the poverty bill, the Medicare bill, the civil rights bill, the food stamp bill--as five I should hope would be passed before the convention.
Q. Mr. President, sir, I wonder what you think about some of our columnists and fellow correspondents who have been writing declassified material given to them obviously by some officers in the National Security Council and in the Pentagon. I refer to the material about MacArthur and his command in Korea. I am sure that it was necessary to classify this material, but I wonder why it is declassified at this time for just certain ones.
THE PRESIDENT. I raised that question with the Pentagon today at lunch, and they tell me they are unaware of any of the material relating to General MacArthur that had not already been published in books prior to the recent revelation.
Q. Mr. President, sir, in the light of your unequivocal stand on civil rights, are you concerned about the election in November of independent electors in the Southern States that would be committed to vote neither for you nor for your Republican opponent?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I would always be concerned about any elector that was not committed to vote for me, if I were a candidate. And I would do my best to convince him of the error of his ways. I don't anticipate, however, that there will be any substantial number that will feel that the future of this country should be placed in the hands of independent electors, but I think most of them will be associated with one of the two regular parties, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.
Q. Mr. President, since the Maryland Presidential primary is not exactly a contest between Maryland Democrats, don't you think you might say something or do something to try to affect that result?
THE PRESIDENT. I gave serious consideration to what my policies should be in connection with primaries many years ago. Generally speaking, there could be an exception, but generally speaking, I think it is unwise for me to interfere in primaries or attempt to influence people in primaries.
In connection with the presidential primaries this year, which is much more specific than my previous statement, which applies to all primaries, I gave thought to what my course of conduct should be, and concluded that I would not enter any primaries. I would do the very best job I could as President for all the people up until convention time, and then let the delegates at the convention make their choice freely. Then my conduct would be determined after they made their choice.
Thank you, Mr. President.