THE PRESIDENT. Please sit down.
Good morning. Ready for the questions.
Q. Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: In Warsaw yesterday Premier Khrushchev professed to be puzzled about why Vice President Nixon is going to Russia and he apparently linked this puzzlement with criticism of your proclamation on the captive nations. Do you see this attitude as a sort of strike against the Nixon visit even before it starts?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, no. I wouldn't think of it in that way. The Nixon visit was of course proposed quite awhile back, and it's really an exchange of visits between Mr. Kozlov and Mr. Nixon. It's a good will gesture and we wanted to have a prominent American to officiate at the opening of our exhibit.
Now, as far as the resolution about the captive nations, this was a resolution by the Congress, asked me to issue a proclamation, which I did; and asked the United States to conduct ceremonies in memory of the plight of such peoples. 1
1 The Joint Resolution (S.J. Res. 111), designating the third week of July as "Captive Nations Week," is Public Law 86-90 (73 Stat. 212). On July 17 the President issued Proclamation 3303 "Captive Nations Week, 1959" (24 F.R. 5773), urging the people of the United States "to study the plight of the Soviet-dominated nations and to recommit themselves to the support of the just aspirations of the peoples of those captive nations."
But I don't think there is any specific relationship between the two things.
Q. Merriman Smith, United Press International: In the same connection, sir, what do you think, quite aside from the Nixon visit, of the proposition of the Russians through Pravda, in a three-column article this morning, and through statements by Khrushchev, literally criticizing the proclamation by you of a week of prayer for the captive people?
What do you think of their basic criticism of you for proclaiming a week of prayer?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course they don't admit there are any captive nations. They have their own propaganda. They present a picture to their own peoples, including the world, so far as they can, that we know is distorted and is untrue.
This, to our way of thinking, is quite important not only because it is a matter of simple justice and human concern for all these people, but when you come down to it this country is made up of a great many of those people. We have relatives and people of the ethnic derivation of all those captive nations, and it becomes sort of a personal thing with us and would be almost unusual for us to be silent all the time and just acquiesce, presumably in their right to express themselves in the form of their government.
Q. Ray L. Scherer, NBC News: Do you see any danger that continued stalemate at Geneva might bring about an erosion in the Western position, in the effort to get something settled?
THE PRESIDENT. Once in a while you see such hints, because there is implied that there is a weakening of the strength of will of our delegation.
Well, knowing Mr. Herter and some of the others, I'm quite certain, on his part, at least, that this is not taking place, and I'm confident with respect to the others and the allies. So that while these things are very wearing, and sometimes physically wearing as well as mentally, intellectually, I think there need be no fear that they are standing firmly on principle.
But I do insist always, we are ready, they are ready, to undertake any negotiation on any suggestion or any offer that, recognizing our basic rights as the starting point, still offers some promise to easing what we call world tensions.
Q. William McGaffin, Chicago Daily News: Mr. President, is it correct that you, yourself, are the source of some stories which have appeared the last couple of days expressing your views on domestic and foreign affairs--
THE PRESIDENT. You mean did I have some people at my house for dinner from the newspaper world, and I say yes.
Q. Mr. McGaffin: Mr. President, in view of some of the restrictive practices which have been followed by your administration, I think it's a very good sign that you, yourself, have decided to increase the flow of information--
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you for the comment. [Laughter]
Q. Mr. McGaffin: Mr. President, there is considerable curiosity about this new departure as, for instance, why you decided to restrict your audience to a chosen few, and why you did not let the correspondents refer to you directly as the source of the stories.
THE PRESIDENT. That I didn't what?
Q. Mr. McGaffin: That you did not let the correspondents refer to you, yourself, as the source of the stories.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, this was an experiment, for one thing. Secondly, I wanted to show a courtesy to a number of people that have been with me very closely, and I'm referring now to the men who have covered the White House, covered me wherever I've gone, day in, day out, when they go on good trips, bad trips, or anything else. And I have felt toward those particular people a peculiar feeling of closeness, and I wanted to show them a courtesy.
Naturally, I knew if I did they were going to talk about matters of current interest, and I said merely that there would be no quotes.
Now, so far as I'm concerned, that was an experiment, and I'm looking at it now. The stories, I will say, are more detailed than I ever anticipated they would be. [Laughter] And I am not so certain that it possibly is good practice, but I'll probably try it again.
Q. Kenneth M. Scheibel, Gannett Newspapers: About those reports, you were quoted as saying you could support either Vice President Nixon or Governor Rockefeller for the presidential nomination in 1960. Now, you have--
THE PRESIDENT. I don't think anyone stated it in that way, that they were quoting me. I have stated that, and I've stated it here.
Q. Mr. Scheibel: Well, now, you have spoken to us many times about the experience and abilities of Mr. Nixon. I wonder if you would give us your assessment of Governor Rockefeller's qualifications for the Presidency?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't think that we are in the same relationship. One man has been working with me for 8 years, definitely as my close associate in Government, and I can speak, I think, authoritatively. There are a number of others, and if I should try to assess all others, I could probably be verbose, but wouldn't offer much to the clarity of the picture. As a matter of fact, these things are still far off in the future, and they are not too interesting at the moment.
Q. Robert J. Donovan, New York Herald Tribune: Roy Wilkins, if I am quoting him right, said in a speech before the NAACP the other day that the Negro voters may have to go to the Republican Party next year because of what he calls the big fat zero, I think, of the Democratic record on civil rights. Do you have any comment on that?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I didn't read that comment. I have often reviewed with you people what, as a practical matter, this administration has tried to do in recognition of its responsibility to see that all individuals in our country had equal opportunity, in both the economic and the political fields.
There is no need to go into that record. You people know it from the services, and here, and one .bill that had to do with voting which, to my mind, was the most important of all of the legislation proposed. There has been progress and it's slow and I never can fail to say this progress is not going to be made entirely by law, it's going to have to be by our own education and understanding and our own regard for moral standards in this world.
Q. Mrs. May Craig, Portland (Maine) Press Herald: Mr. President, in the stories written after the Monday dinner you were represented as feeling that because of the overwhelming nonnuclear power of the Soviet Union in Europe, if war came there we might be forced to resort to nuclear warfare.
My question is: would you use nuclear weapons over the territories of our friends and allies in the captive countries, or would you return to your original policy of massive retaliation directly on the Soviet Union?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't recall, myself, of that question having been asked, and I don't recall it having been answered.
Now, I think that there has been no change in my convictions and policies for 4 or 5 years and you are implying something about our friends; I don't have any intention of going out and destroying friends anywhere and under any provocations.
Q. Michael J. O'Neill, New York Daily News: Mr. President, do you feel that the time has come when the West should break off the negotiations at Geneva?
THE PRESIDENT. That's something that has to be determined, of course, mostly by people on the spot. In spite of the dally telegrams and conversations with State, there are all sorts of things come up, and you never know when another proposal, with a slightly different cast or character, is proposed.
What I say again is, I don't think that that is so terribly important, the exact time of when these things have to cease because of finally patently failure to progress.
But I do say we do not want to weaken the very basic purpose of our stand.
Q. John L. Steele, Time Magazine: Sir, a bipartisan group in Congress this week introduced a resolution to provide out of the Navy's mothball surplus ships a mercy fleet which would have the function of going around the world and meeting disasters such as flood, famine, and disease.
I wonder ff you could comment generally on this person-to-person approach and if it will receive serious study by the administration.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think, of course, that it will--I know that it will receive earnest study.
There is one ship you may know about, the Hope, that the Navy already had agreed to recommission so long as private money found the way to stock it, staff it, and make it possible to go around on this kind of an experimental and helpful mission.
Everybody, of course, is concerned about the health and well-being of peoples, and this might be, of course, a very good idea.
I would say this: I'm always suspicious of helpful plans that are just originated in the country that thinks its--I say "suspicious"; I shall go back and say I like to look very closely at plans that originate solely within the helping country. I like to think of everything from the Marshall plan, and since then, it's been a scheme or an arrangement whereby the underdeveloped country or the country needing help presents its own plan, its own idea of what should be done and where can we be helpful.
Now, this doesn't mean that we are not consultants in developing these plans.
I think the whole matter should be studied very closely to. see its usefulness and exactly how it would be received. In the meantime, as I repeat, there is one; the ship, I think, is about ready to sail next January or something like that.
Q. Edward T. Folliard, Washington Post: Mr. President, Secretary of Labor Mitchell announced yesterday that he was going to make an investigation or a study of the steel strike, said he would report to you from time to time on his findings.
What would you expect to result from Mr. Mitchell's inquiry or study, Mr. President? What would you hope to--
THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Folliard, the law says that Mr. Mitchell must do this.
Now, as I told someone here--I believe it was Mr. Brandt asked the question--there are a number of places where the actual facts of profits and labor costs and the number of people employed and number of tonnage and all the rest of it are all available. But the law says that in a specific instance, something that breaks out, as I believe it calls it, a labor dispute--although I don't want to be quoted exactly, I think that's what it says--now he has a little different function. Now he has to look at all of the facts that are pertinent to that dispute, even though they go beyond the facts of profit, of labor costs, investment and all the rest.
Here are facts that he must try to find out, and I think indeed has been trying for a long time, because the law has still been there a long time. But he did say that he wanted to be sure that he was getting the cooperation and the assistance of the Chairman of the Economic Advisers and the Commerce Department and one or two others to make certain that he was doing this in accordance with what I should like.
Q. David P. Senther, Hearst Newspapers: Mr. President, would you tell us at least one question you would like Vice President Nixon to seek an answer to from Premier Khrushchev?
THE PRESIDENT. We should be careful to understand one thing about the Vice Presidential position in this Government of ours.
He has a position of his own. He is not a subordinate of the President, and he is not a part of the diplomatic processes and machinery of this country. He cannot be sent out on a special mission except as he agrees to go as a special agent of the President.
Now, he is going here this time on a good will gesture. He is seeking, and I have forgotten but I think he has been already accepted as a caller on Mr. Khrushchev and there will be a chat with him.
Now, that chat will be determined I should say in its character by Mr. Khrushchev. He is the head of their government, he is the man who is being called on, and Mr. Nixon will be able, I hope, to show the temper and feelings of the American people more accurately probably than a casual visitor here could do it. He knows all about government, he knows about the attitudes, he can impart information, but he is not negotiating anything.
Q. Lloyd M. Schwartz, Fairchild Publications: Mr. President, in the stories in the morning's papers you were represented as believing that a tax cut is impossible during the rest of your term of office. Could you expand on the basis for such a decision?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think there is only this one statement to be made. I believe that we should start paying off something on this big debt of ours. Already the estimates are that the interest alone on our debt for 1961, and we are already working on that budget, will be 8,700,000,000. Now when you are getting to this kind of cost just for interest, it would look to be the part of wisdom to start getting the debt down a little bit, thereby creating the kind of confidence that will make a tax cut more justifiable.
Now, because of the short time remaining, as you get these things happening and to pay something on the debt has not yet been done, I would hope it would be.
Q. Harold R. Levy, Newsday: Sir, your thinking on a summit conference appears to have hardened since last week's news conference. On the basis of what has been said since then, are we to conclude that you have now virtually written off the possibility of such a meeting?
THE PRESIDENT. I think that I have said this: as the Geneva Conference has gone on, I have lost some of my earlier hopes for really productive progress on this side. I have not hardened in the slightest degree in my opinion and my conviction that if we see anything, any kind of a suggestion or arrangement that looks like progress, as long as our own basic rights are respected, then I say the road is open to a summit meeting. But it's merely on what comes out of this conference; that's the real measure of the probability.
Q. Sarah McClendon, El Paso Times: Sir, this book written by Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson, "U.S., Second-Class Power," has inspired the munitions investigation on Capitol Hill, sparked by Mr. Santangelo and now being conducted by Mr. Hebert.
In this book there are some allegations that way back yonder when you were Chief of Staff that you turned down the intercontinental ballistic missile and that this put us back, in a defensewise manner, some 10 years.
I wonder if this is true and if you had it to do over again, would you do differently?
THE PRESIDENT. Do you know anything truthful in any such allegations? I don't.
Q. Raymond P. Brandt, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: This time of the year the President usually announces the bills that he thinks are most desirable or essential.
Have you made up such a list that you think this Congress, this session of Congress, should pass?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, as a matter of fact, this time I haven't gone to the trouble of making my list. But I do remember this: one of the very first things, and one I made one of the first orders of business, was to try to get a bill with the necessary machinery set up by us that would curb all of the abuses that were brought out by the McClellan committee. That's one that I'm quite sure of.
There are others, of course, along the line of getting the necessary revenue for road construction, and a decent farm bill, which I think is terribly important to the United States, even at this late date.
There are a number and I could make up a little list and be prepared. But I just for the moment--I talk legislation so often I forget the ones that are passed and about to be passed.
Q. Richard L. Wilson, Cowles Publications: Mr. President, in the event of any interference with access to Berlin, are we in a position to supply Berlin with enough to keep the city alive and keep industry going?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, if you're talking about an actual blockade of Berlin, you must remember this: West Berlin has become a very prosperous industrial city, and much of the raw materials they draw upon come from East Germany. They are a very fine customer of raw materials in that region and they deal very greatly also with West Germany in commerce made out of these raw materials. So you now have a very complicated and very large industrial activity going on that could not possibly be supplied, I should think, by air. If that's what you're thinking of--in the terms of ground blockade--I would think there would have to be some other arrangement.
Of course, there might be no blockade of the economic production in the city. I don't know.
Q. Mr. Wilson: May I ask one other question on that, sir?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes.
Q. Mr. Wilson: Would this mean that we would only try to supply Berlin by air, or would we try to supply it by land?
THE PRESIDENT. Oh, no, I don't see how you could draw that inference at all. I was taking the premise that you postulated, that was that we were blockaded, now, what were we going to do about it.
Q. Mary Abbot, Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette: Sir, increasingly there are men being replaced by machines, particularly in the coal mines; and small communities that have a large percentage of these displaced workers are becoming areas of economic blight.
I wonder if you have discussed with your economic advisers the possibility of a program to do something about these technologically unemployed?
THE PRESIDENT. As a matter of fact, we call it the depressed area bills. I think that they have been up every year for oh, 3 or 4 years.
Yes; as a matter of fact, one of the men that is very expert in this field is the man I just nominated as Secretary of Commerce, Mr. Mueller. He has made long studies of what can be done between the Federal Government in cooperation with the States, and I think his studies are very valuable.
Q. Lillian Levy, National Jewish Post and Opinion: What assurances do we have that a rearmed and restored Germany soon to be given the added power of American nuclear know-how and weapons will not turn against the West as it has done twice in a generation? In any event, sir, with the background of history is such a calculated risk justified?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, you are asking for quite a study and analysis rather than just a simple question that can be easily answered.
I would say this: if you have a struggle with any two people or any group of people, it behooves you, I think, to decide where your greatest danger is, and there is where you should give your attention at that moment.
Now this doesn't mean you shouldn't have your eye on future potentialities, but particularly when those potentialities look as low as I think they are along the lines that you were suggesting about a hostile Germany, and rearmed, I would say I would rather have Germany strong and my friend today.
Q. John Herling, Editors Syndicate: As you know, sir, there are more than 15½ million Americans over the age of 65, the vast majority of whom can't afford to get any medical care, governmental or nongovernmental.
Could you tell us what you would think of a Government-financed program under the Social Security System, to take care of the medical needs of such people without disturbing the normal private relationship between doctor and patient?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think you ought to take the question, in the first instance, to the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. He has talked to me about this problem, but just exactly what I would think now about undertaking a new program, I would wait until I talked to him. So I would take the question to him.
Q. Spencer Davis, Associated Press: You were reported last week, sir, to have felt that the press misinterpreted your feelings and your consideration of Mr. Bohlen for a position as a consultant on Soviet policy. Would you care to clarify that?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I didn't say they had misinterpreted. I said it turned out we were talking about two different things.
The question was, had I been considering approving a movement of Mr. Bohlen to Washington, and I said no. And having asked that question twice of Mr. Herter, he had said no; but it turned out that he, in a press conference, had talked about this matter. But he talked about it, of conversations of some time back, had come to the conclusion that Mr. Bohlen was so preoccupied with important negotiations now, he should not be disturbed and therefore had dropped it as of now. Now, I don't know whether Mr. Herter will ever bring this up again. Then I took the occasion, I believe I saw a headline saying that I was cool toward Mr. Bohlen, I wanted to make clear that here's a man I've known since 1942 and I consider him one of the intelligent, fine, dedicated men in the State Department. And I still think so.
Q. Thomas N. Schroth, Congressional Quarterly: Could you give us some of your thinking on the use of the veto as an administrative device?
Do you agree with Woodrow Wilson that it is perhaps the strongest weapon in the hands of a President, to use it reluctantly, and how bad does a bill have to be before you'll resort to a veto?
THE PRESIDENT. You're asking a question in a generality that can't be answered accurately except in specifics.
The bill has to be in front of you. What does it do to the United States? What does it purport to do for a particular group, or what else does it do?
I have said time and again that it is clear that I am, or the Presidency is, a part of the legislative process, so stated by the Constitution; it states just exactly how he may act and then what Congress can do.
And if he didn't exercise his own judgment as to what is best for this country in this case, I think he'd be derelict of his duty; that's what I think he is.
Q. William M. Blair, New York Times: Tomorrow, wheat growers vote in a national referendum on their control and price-support program for the next crop year. Do you have any advice, sir, for them on the eve of their voting, or for Congress?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think they have a hard choice, because there was not any satisfactory legislation passed. So they have now the choice between taking the program as it is now, which last year piled up again these tremendous surpluses and which is, to my mind, detrimental to the country as a whole; or, the other alternative they have is no program at all.
So I think, because of the failure to have something that they could vote on that was a little bit more meaningful, it's a sorry choice they have to make.
Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Thank you, Mr. President.