THE PRESIDENT. Good morning. One or two little items that may be of some interest:
First, I hope you will allow me to welcome here a group of press people, press representatives, from the NATO countries. I assume that among them are people I have met many times before during my travels about Europe; anyway, I am glad you are here.
I saw some rumors that the Government was intending to increase the interest rates on these Rural Electrification Administration loans. That is not true.
I told you last December that there would soon be two divisions returning from Korea, if there were no great change in the situation. We expect that very soon the 45th Division will start back, and a little later on the 40th; two National Guard Divisions--the 45th largely from the Oklahoma area, and some other units in it; and the 40th from California. I think the first one will be here in the middle of April, and the next one about the middle of June.
It gives me an opportunity again to pay tribute to these National Guard units who keep themselves organized, their staffs and commanders trained in time of peace, and ready to operate in an emergency. It is part of our reserve element and, of course, very necessary.
As you know, under the law there would normally come about soon a half-cent reduction in the Federal tax on gasoline. You also know in the statements already made that the administration hopes to keep that half-cent tax in order to push the good roads program throughout the United States. In the past, not all of this money has been put out on road construction in matching funds with the States. We hope to do it with all of it, and if we are successful, it will increase the Federal participation, I think, by some $225 million on a matching basis with the States.
There is a Cougar Dam on the McKenzie River. There is a little statement that has been written about it, a very short one, and you will find it outside when you go out. It was merely a statement because it more or less exemplifies the thing we have been talking about quite a while, participation by local communities, municipalities, States, and so on, with the Federal Government in these great developments when such participation is feasible and possible.
Now, that covers the few little statements I had, so we will start with questions.
Q. Merriman Smith, United Press: Mr. President, the Democrats on Capitol Hill say that bipartisan support of certain portions of your program have been endangered by certain statements which have been made by members of the administration, statements ranging from the fact that the Democrats were soft toward subversives in the Government, to labels of political sadism. The Democrats have asked or suggested that you stop the statements; and we wondered if you could discuss the situation in general terms for us.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think, first of all, it is quite apparent that I am not very much of a partisan. The times are too serious, I think, to indulge in partisanship to the extreme, and I quite cheerfully admit that there must be Democratic support for the enactment of certain parts of the program. I believe Senator Knowland has often described himself as a majority leader without a majority in the Senate, so it is obvious that if these things are to become law there will have to be some support from the Democratic side.
This one thing, I believe, I can say without appearing to be pontifical or particularly "stuffed shirt" about it: we have, and I have, tried to desperately draw up a program that seems to me to be good for all Americans, which includes Democrats. I don't expect any Democrat to support any program because he happens to be a friend of mine--and I have many friends among them, as some of you would know. I have tried to put out a program that is good for the United States, and it is on that basis that I appeal for help.
I know of no way in which the Chief Executive could stop this kind of thing except among the members of his own executive family, and I must say again that in this region, I have my own doubts that any great partisanship displayed by members of the executive department is really appropriate in this day and time.
Now, there have been from the beginning of parties intemperate statements. They have been hurled back and forth. We seem to survive them and they seem to roll off the backs of political people, after the first flurry is over. I am often amazed when I read some of the statements that were made about Washington even before there were political parties. If you will look up and read what was said of him in his second administration, where they called him a tyrant, a betrayer of the people, a seeker after a gilded throne on which he wanted to establish a royal dynasty, and so on, these things have been going on a long time.
I don't believe in bitter partisanship. I never believe that all wisdom is confined to one of the great parties; and I certainly have never, in general terms, criticized the other party, that is, to include its great membership.
I believe there are good Americans in both parties, and I believe that the great mass of both parties is fundamentally and naturally sound.
Q. Anthony Leviero, New York Times: Mr. President, isn't it preaching a kind of class warfare for Republican leaders to suggest that all Democrats, whether they are private citizens or officials, whether they are Senators or office holders, suggest that they are tinged with treason or that they are all security risks, without distinction? That is what has been going on.
THE PRESIDENT. You say that is what's been going on? I have seen no such statement; but if any such statement is made, I would consider it not only completely untrue, but very unwise--I mean even from a political partisan standpoint. Who would be so foolish as to call all of another great group treasonous to the United States of America? After all, they fought for America.
Q. William Flythe, Hearst Newspapers: Mr. President, may I ask you about Indochina, sir, if you would care to say anything?
THE PRESIDENT. As I told you last week--I believe I told you last week, didn't that subject come up? I said we had increased the technical side of the training units you send out there. I forget the technical name for them--the training and administrative units that turn over the equipment, and so on--MAAGs, we call them. We have increased that. Now, recently, some of our equipment shipped to Indochina has involved airplanes, and they just didn't have the people to take care of them. So we increased that particular body by some airplane mechanics, who are to be returned from there no later than June 15th.
Q. Mr. Flythe: Mr. President, I wanted to ask you, if I might, if these people could be considered in any way combatant troops?
THE PRESIDENT. No, they are not only maintenance troops, but I see no opportunity of them even getting touched by combat.
Q. Roscoe Drummond, New York Herald Tribune: Mr. President, would you say it would be accurate for us to construe your answer to Mr. Merriman Smith about partisanship as meaning that you would counsel officials of the executive branch of the Government not to engage in extreme partisanship?
THE PRESIDENT. That is correct.
Q. Alan Emory, Watertown Times: Sir, following up Mr. Leviero's question about specific comments from Republicans about the Democrats, I wondered if you would care to comment on these specific statements: one, by a Republican Senator, "that the label 'Democrat' was stitched with the idiocy of a Truman, rotted by the deceit of an Acheson, corrupted by the red slime of a White"; and second, by another Republican Senator, that "the Republicans, when they took over, had found heaps of evidence of treason in the previous administration, and that the Democrats had tampered with the security of the United States."
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I will not comment on anybody's statement as such. I will not engage in personalities, and I think I have stated my position quite clearly as to what I think. I believe this: I believe that the ordinary American is capable of deciding what is temperate and just in fact, and what is just indulging in language for no good purpose that I can see.
Q. Ethel Payne, Defender Publications: Mr. President, last Friday evening at the Lincoln Day box supper at the Arena, the Howard University choir, which was scheduled to sing, was barred from the hall by District police.
THE PRESIDENT. Who.?
Q. Miss Payne: The Howard University choir, even though they had their instructions, and had followed out those instructions. Consequently, they were forced to return to the campus without appearing on the program; but, in the meantime, two other singing groups, the Duke and Emory University Glee Clubs were admitted without incident. I wonder if you had been informed of that, and if you had looked into it.
THE PRESIDENT. I not only had not been informed of it--[confers with Mr. Hagerty]--I am just told, for the first time that I have heard about this, I am told by Mr. Hagerty that the bus driver was instructed to go around to the door by which I entered, and he refused to go around to that place. I hope there is no connection between those two facts. [Laughter] But anyway, that is just what I have been informed.
I would say this: if that choir was barred by the reason that you seem to fear, of anything about race or of color or anything of that kind, I will be the first to apologize to them. I just don't believe that could have happened.
Q. Pat Munroe, Albuquerque Journal: Mr. President, further on the question of bipartisanship, Senator Anderson, perhaps the best friend of your farm program in Congress, is up for reelection, and his probable opponent will be a rather conservative Republican, Governor Mechem. They are saying there that you will probably stay out of the State entirely in the course of the campaign. I think we need a refresher on your plans for helping individuals--helping the Republican ticket in general, this November.
THE PRESIDENT. I have nothing to say on it except to repeat what I said a long time ago. I believe it was before one of our conferences: I am not going into any State and I am not going to participate in local contests. I think that as President I have really no right to do so.
Q. Robert Richards, The Copley Press: Anent that partisan fight, would you say, one, that it is possible to frighten the country into a depression--
THE PRESIDENT. I don't think I heard you start the question.
Q. Mr. Richards: I say, would you say, one, it is possible to frighten the country into a depression; and, two, that efforts to frighten it were of political motivation?
THE PRESIDENT. I think it would be possible to mislead and, to a certain extent, frighten the country; not into a major depression, I doubt that. But I do believe you could have a recession brought about by such statements. On the other hand, I have in the past few months noticed statements that were attributed to at least people of more than one party in this respect, and I believe I will comment on that no more than I have. I don't want to violate my own ideas of fairness.
Q. William Dickinson, Philadelphia Bulletin: Sir, would you permit direct quotation of your answer to Mr. Smith's question, the first one of the conference?
THE PRESIDENT. I wouldn't without taking a look at it. I don't recall the question and I don't recall my answer. But I just believe that the procedures of these conferences have to be observed rather closely or they will become something other than what they are. I hope you don't want me to come in here and begin to think of my grammar and rhetoric and all the rest of it in answering your question, so I would want to take a look.
Q. Marvin Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, to go back for a moment to that question on Indochina, there seems to be some uneasiness in Congress, as voiced by Senator Stennis for one, that sending these technicians to Indochina will lead eventually to our involvement in a hot war there. Would you comment on that?
THE PRESIDENT. I would just say this: no one could be more bitterly opposed to ever getting the United States involved in a hot war in that region than I am; consequently, every move that I authorize is calculated, so far as humans can do it, to make certain that that does not happen.
Q. Hazel Markel, Mutual Broadcasting System: Mr. President, there is a report that there has been rather heavy mail at the White House concerning the appointment of a woman to the White House staff. I would like to ask if the mail has been heavy on that score, and if there is consideration being given to such an appointment.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, if there is, I haven't seen it. Now, I don't want to answer your question with just a fiat "no" for this reason: as you know, the mail all comes to a great place and it is sorted and segregated and I get my portion of it. I have seen none of it; but I would say and repeat again: I look for brains and ability where I can find it, and if I can find it among the women, I would certainly like to see one of them around here, in one of those important positions.
Q. Joseph Slevin, New York Journal of Commerce: Mr. President, I would like to get back to your highway program announcement at the beginning of the session. You said you hoped to increase, as I understood it, Federal participation by $225 million.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, only in this way: there had been certain of the funds withheld apparently, maybe because the States didn't match them. I am not quite sure of all the facts, but we do hope to step up this program from around $675 million to about $900 million.
[Addresses Mr. Hagerty] Isn't that correct?
Mr. Hagerty: That is correct.
THE PRESIDENT. That is correct, about $900 million.
Q. Mr. Slevin: Is that in addition to the amount programmed in your budget when it went to the Congress?
THE PRESIDENT. The amounts are not programmed, except as I spoke of the tax, the cent and a half excise tax, as opposed to two cents.
Q. Mr. Slevin: Is this $225 million in addition?
THE PRESIDENT. The $225 million would be in addition to the one and a half cent yield. You would get a 2 percent yield, which would altogether run about.--
Q. Mr. Slevin: I am afraid I didn't make myself quite clear. I meant would the $225 million of Federal expenditures be in addition to the amount the budget said the Federal Government would spend in the next fiscal year?
THE PRESIDENT. AS a matter of fact, I have forgotten the item that the Federal budget itself said. I don't believe we gave a specific figure, exact figure, on that, because I thought it was dependent on the amount collected by the tax. I will look up the point and tell you about that.
Q. Will Mullet, Detroit News: Mr. President, Detroit, the day before yesterday, was declared a surplus labor area. Do you plan that your order channeling set-asides into surplus labor areas will apply to Detroit, and there will be some relief there in the automotive industry?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, so far as this system gives any relief at all, it goes to every section of the country without exception, provided that the conditions are met. They are, in my mind, very strict conditions. If they are met, why, they would go to Detroit as well as any place else, I suppose.
Q. Edward Milne, Providence Journal-Bulletin: Mr. President, Chairman Wiley of the Foreign Relations Committee urged quite strongly in the Senate on Monday that the whole question of a treaty powers amendment be referred either to a congressional committee or to a Presidential commission for study. Senator Knowland, however, is trying to push ahead with an amendment to be written, as he said, on the floor at this session. Which course do you favor?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have had my say, in general, on this whole business of amending the Constitution. As you know, I have no official role in the amending of our Constitution. When an amendment is approved by two-thirds of each House, it goes to the States, and that is that.
Now, as to the procedures that they follow down there, I will leave it to them. I am not going to participate in that.
Q. Mr. Milne: Could I just pursue the question for a moment? Several weeks ago, when the Bricker amendment, as such, was the pending business before the Senate, you made it extremely plain that you were opposed to the Bricker amendment. The pending business, when the Senate returns to the amendment next week, will be the Knowland-Saltonstall-Millikin, and one other Senator's name was attached, Senator Ferguson. I wonder, sir, whether or not you approve that amendment which has been spoken of, at least informally, as an administration amendment?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, my position was always that there was a certain--normally kept in section I--that no agreement, no treaty, can be in opposition, or if it is in opposition to the Constitution, have any effect.
I have always thought that was the amendment that would reassure the American people, and nothing else was really necessary. I have examined many, many versions, and where they don't seem to transcend that purpose, in substance, I have not objected. That is all. I have just objected to those things that I believe would hamper the President and the State Department in carrying on the foreign relations of this country, or where there would be an upsetting of the balance of powers established by the Constitution.
Q. Glenn Thompson, Cincinnati Enquirer: Back to the road money--
THE PRESIDENT. To the what?
Q. Mr. Thompson: To the road money.
Q. Sarah McClendon, El Paso Times: Highway money.
Q. Merriman Smith, United Press: Highway money.
THE PRESIDENT. Oh, yes.
Q. Glenn Thompson, Cincinnati Enquirer: Yesterday Congressman McGregor introduced a bill in the House which would increase the Federal contribution to highway building not by $225 million but by $289 million. He described his bill as introduced for the administration. I wondered if your statement of $225 million is an intentional change from that bill?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, the figure that they gave me this morning was 250, and I was merely trying to be conservative. [Laughter] I don't know exactly what the amount is.
Q. Mr. Thompson: Mr. President, may I ask what the administration's position is--225,250, or 289?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, as a matter of fact, I came in here to talk to you about a principle based on a 1/2-cent tax; I don't know exactly what the figure is, and I can't be expected to know. Now, I am going to look it up.
Q. James B. Reston, New York Times: Sir, in one of these meetings I believe you referred to your responsibilities as head of the Republican Party. I wonder if you would discuss with us how far those responsibilities cover the activities of the Republican National Committee?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, by organization they don't control it at all. What the President's responsibility as head of the party requires is that he devise a program that is in general conformity with the platform of his party, and that he do his best to get it enacted into law. I think that would be the simplest way to state his major party responsibility.
Now, all parties are organized for business purposes, as you know, in a very detailed way. They head up into the Chairman of the National Committee, and the Chairman of the National Committee is never appointed, as again you well know, without consulting the President as to whether such and such a man is acceptable to him in that position.
But as far as actually directing the affairs of that body, he has no official position whatsoever.
Q. Mr. Reston: I was thinking, sir, of your statement, for example, this morning, suggesting or counseling tolerance upon members of your administration. Would you expect the Chairman of the Republican National Committee to follow such advice?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I would.
Q. Daniel Shorr, CBS Radio: Mr. President, should your remarks on Indochina be construed as meaning that you are determined not to become involved or, perhaps, more deeply involved in the war in Indochina, regardless of how that war may go?
THE PRESIDENT. Wall, I am not going to try to predict the drift of world events now and the course of world events over the next months. I say that I cannot conceive of a greater tragedy for America than to get heavily involved now in an all-out war in any of those regions, particularly with large units.
So what we are doing is supporting the Vietnamese and the French in their conduct of that war; because, as we see it, it is a case of independent and free nations operating against the encroachment of communism.
Q. Mrs. May Craig, New England Papers: Mr. President, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee says he fears we are inching our way into war in Indochina, and that the Senate Armed Services Committee was not informed of the sending of additional technicians. Could you tell me to what extent you feel that you are bound to inform the Senate Armed Services Committee of your movements?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have not heard of this statement you made, and I should like very much to see and talk to that individual before I speak further, because I make no charges.
I do know this: we try in every significant event that takes place in our international relationships to inform the proper people in the Senate and House--leadership, chairmen, and so on--before we do it, so that they know what's going on. There is no attempt here to carry on the affairs of America in a darkened room.
One thing we must never forget: in the touchiness of today, everything you do has certain risks. Even when we try to give some food to some starving people there was risk in it--we were warned that there would be the gravest consequences likely to follow from such a thing.
Everything you do has its certain risks. Knowing that, we try to keep people informed; and if someone told you that, well, it doesn't agree with my understanding and, therefore, I would want to talk to that person.
Q. Charles Bartlett, Chattanooga Times: Mr. President, leading Republicans down in Tennessee seem to have the idea that you have decided against reappointing Gordon Clapp as Chairman of TVA. I wonder if you could give us some direct insight into that?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, to star with, the answer to that is simple: with respect to the appointments of personnel, you never make a statement until the appointment is announced. You never make a statement about such things; so I am sorry, I can't comment on it.
Q. Sarah McClendon, El Paso Times: I believe, sir, that you had some conversations with the Mexican Ambassador last week. I wonder if you discussed the Mexican labor question? And did he say that a unilateral agreement whereby the United States brings in Mexico would endanger our good relations with that country?
THE PRESIDENT. He just came to ask that certain friendly talks that were going on between us be resumed, and I agreed instantly.
Q. Robert Spivack, New York Post: Mr. President, following up Mr. Reston's question, last Sunday night Leonard Hall said over a TV program that the Republican National Committee was underwriting Senator McCarthy's tour across the country, and that this constituted an endorsement, and that he considered the Senator an asset. This was after the Senator had described the two previous administrations as "twenty years of treason." Do you approve of underwriting the tour or agree with Mr. Hall?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't think my approval or disapproval here is needed, and I am not going to comment any further on that. Particularly, I have said many, many times that I am not going to talk about anything where personalities are involved; I will not do it.
Q. Clayton Knowles, New York Times: Mr. President, you asked for statehood for Hawaii, and it looks like you are going to get it. There is a bill out in the Senate; but there are also bills reported in both the Senate and House for statehood for Alaska. Do you think the time is ripe for Alaskan statehood, as well?
THE PRESIDENT. These things are now separated on the Hill where they are still under discussion. I think rather than star a debate in this body on the same questions, I will wait until they decide; then, if you want to ask me a question again, I will talk about it.
Q. Ray Scherer, National Broadcasting Company: Mr. President, would you give us any inkling of any travel plans you might have in the near future?
THE PRESIDENT. What?
Q. Mr. Scherer: Travel plans, plans to be out of the city.
THE PRESIDENT. I hope to spend next Saturday out of this town. [Laughter] I hope that I will get a chance to go shooting.
As you know I went to Europe; I haven't been shooting for 3 years, and I want to see whether I can hit a quail, if that is possible. If I go, I shall go to Secretary Humphrey's farm down in Georgia. That is still hopefully in my plans.
Q. Edward Milne, Providence Journal-Bulletin: Mr. President, I think there has been some oversight here, and nobody has raised the question about 2200 security risks. [Laughter]
THE PRESIDENT. You have raised it, and I will let you discuss it. [Laughter]
Merriman Smith, United Press: Thank you, Mr. President.