THE PRESIDENT. Good afternoon, everybody. I feel a little emotional. I just had a visit from a couple whose son had been in a Mexican prison for 2 1/2 years. He was arrested just as a child. They were supposed to be here this morning for the signing ceremony for the legislation for prisoner exchange. They had to circle over Washington 2 hours before they could land, and then, when they got on the ground, they were in a taxicab and they got caught in a traffic jam. They had to change clothes in the taxi, and they got here too late. So, I just welcomed them. They hope their son will be home before Christmas.
I'm glad to welcome you here. I know that you represent a very special group of people in our country, columnists and editorial writers, who help to shape opinion and help to provide people with a deeper analysis of the significance of what we do than, perhaps, sometimes a spot news might do.
I know some of you--Hank Drane [Florida Times Union] over here is a friend of mine--and I'm glad to have you come to the White House.
I'd just like to make a brief comment and then answer your questions. We have undertaken, I think, a very full agenda for this administration, and I think we're making very good progress.
The keystone to our first year's work is obviously the energy legislation which the Senate is now considering and which will then go to conference in its entirety. We've already passed four bills through the House and Senate out of five, and the other one, of course, is the tax measure which is now being debated and voted on by the Senate itself.
But we've had other matters that the Congress has already addressed. Many of them are quite controversial and, I think, long overdue in being considered by me and by the people of our Nation and, also, by the Congress. Some of them, like the foreign matters--we hope to have an agreement with the Soviets on the SALT measures. We're working hard on a comprehensive test ban to eliminate the testing of all nuclear weapons. We have, I think, drawn the line on the proliferation issue, whereas a year ago there was kind of a hopeless feeling that it was too late to do so. We're making good progress on that.
We will make proposals to the Soviets before long on the constraint of conventional arms sales around the world. We're the worst violator at this time; the Soviets, perhaps, next; and the French, British, Belgians, Germans to some degree participate in this excessive arms sale. We all feel that it should be cut back. How to do it is another matter, of course, that's very difficult to address.
We have gotten deeply involved in African affairs, an area of the world that we had neglected for too long, in my opinion. And we there face the question of Zimbabwe, Namibia, and we are debating, as you know, in the United Nations this week, how to handle the recent retrogression of South Africa in its dealing with freedom of the press and with freedom of expression of opinion. I think we'll have almost unanimity when we finally vote on the resolution to declare a mandatory arms embargo.
In addition, we've tried to strengthen NATO, our commitment there, which had been in doubt among many of our European allies. We're working harmoniously with the OPEC nations, trying to restrain any increase in the price of oil in 1978. It's going to be a difficult achievement if it is accomplished.
We are putting a lot of time on the Mideast settlement, and I won't go into any further details, but I think you recognize them.
In addition, we've addressed some of the more controversial issues that I understand concern some of you--how to handle our nationwide water policy to make sure that the funds that we do have to expand are .spent in the most efficacious way for our people. I think we have an adequate supply of water, a greater commitment to conservation.
We've got authority now for 3 years to reorganize the executive branch of Government; we're making good progress on that.
The Congress has begun hearings on a welfare reform bill that I think will put the emphasis on work, which I believe is a good step in the right direction. It's highly likely that the Congress will get the social security funds restored to a position of integrity, whereas one of them was going into bankruptcy within the next 2 years, another one would follow shortly behind that.
After the Congress adjourns and we see what they do on energy taxation, social security, and after we assess the quality of our Nation's economy, we'll make the final judgments on the tax reform package that will be presented to the Congress before they come back into session in 1978.
We've had an opportunity to address other items that, in my opinion, were long overdue. And I would guess that this first year's work has been one that's perhaps overly full, judged by some standards, but I don't think so. There are none of the matters that I've described to you, or perhaps a dozen more that I could list, that could stand to be delayed any further. And the fact that the Congress is now debating these issues, the public is becoming aware of them, I think, is a very good step in the right direction.
I'd be glad to answer any questions that you might have. I'll try to be brief with my answers.
INDIAN LAND CLAIMS AND LORING AIR FORGE BASE IN MAINE
Q. Mr. President, John Day of the Bangor News, Bangor, Maine. I'd like to ask you a two-part question on a couple of issues which are of vital concern to Maine people. First of all, what are your current thoughts on an equitable resolution of the Maine Indian land suit case, and when will you present your recommendations to Congress?
The second part is, will you play any personal role in the Air Force's proposed decision to close down Loring Air Force Base, and will you meet with Members of the Maine congressional delegation prior to any final determination on the Loring case?
THE PRESIDENT. I appointed, as you know, Judge William Gunter to act as a judge and, to some degree, a mediator in the Indian land claims suit. I believe that Judge Gunter's recommendations were fair and equitable. Now, of course, the problem arises on the acceptance of them by the State, by the Indians, and private landowners, and the Congress. I don't intend to play any additional role in that.
As you know, if his own recommendations are rejected, then the matter would fall either into the courts or into the Congress. We are in a unique position here with Maine Indian claims because it's possibly a precursor to later and even greater legal controversies.
Under the Constitution of our country, under the laws that have existed for many years, the executive branch of Government represents the Indians. Both the Department of Interior and the Attorney General have a legal charge to represent the Indians' case, and so we are not at liberty to do anything that would contravene the rights of Indians. But I think that Judge Gunter's recommendations were fair, and I hope that everybody will move to resolve those differences soon. We have a similar case of a more minor nature, perhaps, in Massachusetts, that we're now working with, and potential Indian claims in the West of much more far reaching significance, including old treaty terms that .say the Indians have a right to all the water that flows through a State, and so forth.
Another question that you asked was about the Loring Air Force Base. Your Senators have been on me--[laughter]-almost daily ever since I've been in the White House about that matter. And I have discussed it thoroughly with the Department of Defense, including the Secretary of Defense, himself.
My position on that particular matter, as it has been with other military base closures around the country, is to let them make a judgment on the basis of what's best for our country, and if there is any doubt about the economic or military advantages to be derived from a closure or transfer, to leave the status quo prevailing.
I don't intend to change my position specifically for political purposes, and it would be nice if I could accommodate the desires that are so strongly expressed by your Senators. But I think that if the Defense Department continues to feel that the closing or transfer of all or part of Loring's functions are in the best interests of our country, that I would support that position.
U.S.-SOVIET JOINT STATEMENT ON THE MIDDLE EAST
Q. Mr. President, my name is William Frank, and I'm from Wilmington, Delaware.
There's a movement being started in the city where I live to send you a lot of letters. The text seems to be that the joint Soviet-United States statement on the Mideast 1 represented a severe erosion of the United States posture, and they also will tell you that the abandonment by the United States of solemn promises to Israel raises the question of the reliability of the American commitments. Do you have any comment on that?
1 The text of the October 1 statement is printed in the Department of State Bulletin of November 7, 1977, page 639.
THE PRESIDENT. On the fact that the letters will be sent or the accuracy of the letter itself?
Q. This is a ---
THE PRESIDENT. I welcome the letters. That description of the position is completely erroneous in two respects; I think you only raised two respects. One is that the joint U.S.-Soviet statement, I think, is a major move in the right direction to bringing about an ultimate, peaceful resolution of the longstanding Middle Eastern dispute. The Soviets and we, after long weeks of negotiation, agreed on a common approach which did not contravene any public or private commitments that I've ever made to Israel or to the American public and which represented a substantial change in the previous Soviet commitment, almost uniquely, to the PLO and the Syrian positions.
The Soviets, for instance, for the first time spelled out the need for a peace treaty, for full definitions of peace, which we had espoused. We incorporated the basic language of U.N. Resolution 242 on territories. The PLO was not mentioned. There was an abandonment of the previous Soviet position calling for the recognition of Palestinian national rights and an adoption of our own position that we described earlier.
So, I think it was a major step forward. As you know, ever since 1973 we and the Soviets have been cochairmen of the Geneva conference. This was something established, as I said, 4 years ago. And to have a cochairman who might be publicly and privately opposing any peaceful resolution or openly espousing the unilateral positions of the Arab countries would have been a very serious problem for us to overcome.
I think this is a public commitment of the Soviets to take a much more objective and fair and well-balanced position. So, I think it's a major step in the right direction.
And the other part of your question is that I have never violated any commitments made to the Israelis, either by my administration or by the previous administrations. Both I and Foreign Minister Dayan, within the last month or two, reviewed in a confidential way all of the publicly disclosed and private agreements that had been reached between Mr. Kissinger and the Israeli Government, and between the Presidents who preceded me here and between myself and the Israeli Government. There has not been and will not be any violation of those commitments.
NEW JERSEY GUBERNATORIAL ELECTION
Q. Mr. President, we have an election of a Governor coming up in New Jersey in 2 weeks.
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I know.
Q. Ex-President Ford was in a week ago and saw the possibility of this being an expression of your popularity or lack of it. Do you see it that way at all?
THE PRESIDENT. No, except to the extent that I have an utmost confidence in Brendan Byrne, in his ability and in his integrity. I think he's done a good job as Governor under very difficult circumstances, and I've let this be known to the New Jersey people without any equivocation.
I've been up there for a half day to work with him on his Campaign. My wife has been up there also. And I think on the same day my wife was there, former President Ford was in Newark with Byrne's opponent.
Back in the first part of this year, I think Brendan only had about a 23-percent support, according to some polls I've seen. And I've seen a recent New York Times poll, that I presume is objective and fair, that shows that he and his opponent are almost equal in popularity.
So, I think the growth in his popularity from a hopeless position, politically, up to one of at least equal potential for victory is already an indication of confidence in him. And I think that in the private polls I've seen, my popularity in New Jersey is fairly high. But I think it's primarily a judgment on the two candidates, and I would guess that the impact of a voter's approval or disapproval of me or President Ford would be a very minor, inconsequential factor.
GOVERNOR REUBIN ASKEW OF FLORIDA
Q. Mr. President--
THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Drane.
Q. I'm flattered you remember me, by the way.
THE PRESIDENT. I think I met you when I was in my lonely days and you were one of the few people that paid any attention to me down there[laughter] so, I thank you for it.
Q. This is sort of a regional question. I hope my colleagues will forgive me for it, but I think it is important. Governor Askew has strongly indicated he wants to join your administration, perhaps in some foreign post. And I wonder if you have talked with him about this, and if not, if he does talk with you about it later, what are his chances of joining your administration if there is a suitable opening?
THE PRESIDENT. I've not heard about that before. When I was putting my Cabinet together, I called Reubin Askew and asked him if he would accept a Cabinet position, because I think he's one of the superb political leaders in our Nation and because I've known him well and respect him so much.
He told me that he wanted to be Governor of Florida and that he would not accept any position other than the one that he held. I've never discussed with him, nor he with me, any appointment after he leaves the office of Governor. But there is no position that I could think of in Government, including the Presidency itself, for which he would not be qualified.
ADMINISTRATION'S RELATIONS WITH THE BLACK COMMUNITY
Q. Mr. President, I am D'Army Bailey. I'm from Memphis, Tennessee, with the Commercial Appeal.
You have come under increasing criticism from blacks as to what many of us view as a lack of leadership at the executive level with regard to some of the most pressing problems that the black community faces, particularly with regard to employment and housing. I know that Benjamin Hooks, who is from my own hometown, and my good friend Vernon Jordan have criticized the lack of effective leadership from the national level.
And we've got increasing unemployment among youth, black youth in particular, and we've got what appears to be a hiatus in national concern and movement toward resolving the problems of race that are generations old.
We, as blacks who voted for your Presidency and black people giving you everything that a black could give you, a substantial percentage of the black vote-and yet we don't see coming out of the White House the effective leadership.
Some of the Congressmen I know, the black Congressmen, are criticizing the White House for its failure to move effectively. There's been a suggestion that the White House has not followed through on a commitment to meet regularly with the Black Caucus.
THE PRESIDENT. Do you have a question? [Laughter]
Q. At what point, Mr. President, can we expect to see some movement from the White House with regard to resolving the problems that the black people face in this country and getting down to problems of unemployment, getting down to the problems of poor housing?
THE PRESIDENT. Apparently you haven't observed what has gone on in the country for the last 10 months. We've passed, with the help of the Black Caucus and other Congress Members who are up here working hard for their constituents, a broad range of job opportunity bills, with a stimulus package that's now providing about 30,000 jobs per week. We've passed a local public works program--4, 4 billion dollars--with, for the first time in the history of our country, a guarantee that 10 percent of those projects would be carried out by minority-owned contractors. This has never been done before.
The housing program is under the control of Patricia Harris. I think anyone who has observed the Washington scene would say that the Housing and Urban Department had been a dormant department for many years, even an embarrassing department. And I think anyone, including the leaders that you've named, would agree that it has come to life, that programs that build homes have been successful.
We've got the highest homebuilding rate now in years, over 2 million homes being built per year. The programs for low-income families, guaranteed loans for those who already own their homes and want to renovate them, downtown, urban reconstitution and development programs, have been pursued by Patricia Harris, who happens to be a black woman, in case you didn't know. And the Congress has responded to her request. I signed a housing and urban development bill a couple of weeks ago that provides $12 billion for this purpose.
I work very closely with the Black Caucus. As a matter of fact, yesterday I was talking to Parren Mitchell, who happens to be the chairman of the Black Caucus, to Charles Diggs, about the South African question in the United Nations. Earlier this week, Andy Young conversed, consulted with them on our United Nations posture concerning South Africa. I have a good relationship--and I wish you'd call them to doublecheck what I say--with Vernon Jordan and with Benjamin Hooks. I think that what we've done so far on these items that I've described, and many others, have been the limit of what either I or the Congress could do with the budget constraints and also with the time constraints.
As far as top officials are concerned who happen to be black, we've had an unprecedented success in getting them appointed and confirmed by the Senate. As you know, in the Justice Department, the Secretary of the Army and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and other places, this has been done.
So, I think that the picture that you present in the preliminary to your question is one of substantial distortion and inaccuracy. And I would ask you, while you're in Washington, to call Parren Mitchell, for instance, and find out if my description is accurate on what I and the Congress have been able to do. And I would like for you to call Benjamin Hooks and Vernon Jordan and see if they have as critical an assessment of our administration's accomplishments as you do.
TAX CREDITS FOR COLLEGE TUITION
Q. Sir, a majority of the Senate has sponsored a bill with Senators Moynihan and Packwood that would allow tax credits for tuition. There is some talk, apparently in the Senate, of adding that to a tax reform bill. Would you support such a concept of tax credits for tuition if it were added in the tax reform bill that you send up, or would you entertain any thought of putting it in the bill yourself?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. We have a limit to how many additional tax credits and tax benefits can be put in the legislation and still have equity and fairness and a progressive tax structure. It's obvious that each individual item proposed for tax reform is attractive. You know, when the parents who have children in college don't pay those taxes, somebody's got to pay it for them. And the ones that pay it for them are the parents who don't have children in college.
Quite often, the parents who don't have children in college are older people whose children have passed that college age or the very poor families in our Nation or the working families in our Nation who just can't afford to put a child in college. So, I have doubts about it, although I wouldn't say that I'll veto a bill or work against that particular proposal.
We are trying to have three things come out of the tax reform measure: One is greater equity or fairness, with an end to or a reduction, at least, in the loopholes and tax credits and privileges that have been there for a long time. Another one is a more progressive, overall income tax rate. And, of course, the third one, and perhaps the most important for the taxpayers, is simplicity, so that everybody feels when they fill out the tax form that they are being treated fairly. So, I can't answer your specific question any better than I have now.
Q. Mr. President, may I ask you, in the area of terrorism--incidentally, I'm Claude Lewis from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In dealing with terrorists, is the posture of the U.S. Government going to be one of complete noncooperation with the terrorists, such as has been developed in Japan and West Germany and other nations? And, also, I understand you disagree with the U.N. resolution insofar as how far it goes; you feel it should be much stronger. Can you tell us a little bit about that--your position on that?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. We have taken a position--I would say, among the strongest of any nation--against terrorism, seeking to get the United Nations to agree with us on all nations refusing to accept aircraft that have been hijacked, for instance, and also agreeing to return the hijackers or terrorists to the country from which they committed a terrorist act.
I believe that we'll have some success, particularly because of the high publicity that accrued to the recent Lufthansa hijacking that terminated, as you know, in Somalia. We encouraged the Somalian Government to cooperate with the West Germans. We worked closely with the West Germans in providing information that we had about the terrorist organizations. And we learned from them and from the Israelis, for instance, after they had an actual experience in rescuing kidnaped passengers from planes.
It's a matter that concerns all countries. And recently, we've had some indications, through United Nations statements and otherwise, that the Soviets were moving toward a more responsible position in deploring and working against terrorism.
There are still some countries, like Libya and Algeria, for instance, who feel that they ought to open their borders to terrorists and to let them land there. And their position that they take publicly is that they save lives by doing so, that there has to be some place for the airplane to land once it is hijacked.
We are also cooperating and trying to ensure that the very strict security measures that we take in our own country of examining people as they go into the airport loading facility is mirrored around the world.
So, we are doing everything we can on a unilateral basis, also on a multilateral basis through the United Nations and through the airline arrangements that we have with cooperative countries, to hold down this particular form of terrorism.
We recognize that there are other forms of terrorism, but I was responding just to that particular part because that was part of your question.
GOVERNOR GEORGE WALLACE OF ALABAMA
Q. Mr. President, I'm Bob Ingram from Montgomery, Alabama, Magazine. In all likelihood, barring a political miracle, Governor Wallace will be joining you in Washington in 1979 as a Member of the United States Senate. My question is, do you look forward to his Senate .service, if it develops, with anticipation or trepidation? [Laughter]
THE PRESIDENT, Well, let me say that I don't want to get caught in an expression of preference between him and any of his potential Democratic opponents-certainly not including Senator Sparkman, who has worked very closely with us as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
But if it should happen that the Alabama people choose Governor Wallace, he would come to Washington as a friend of mine. I worked with him very well when he was Governor. After the Ohio/ New Jersey primary date, he was the first one who called to congratulate me and also to offer his support, which I'll always remember. And he and I have communicated frequently since I've been in the White House about matters of interest to the Alabama people.
So, if that should be the choice of the Alabama voters, then I would certainly welcome Governor Wallace to the Senate. But I don't want that to be interpreted as a preference that he be chosen over Senator Sparkman, for instance. I don't want to get involved in that particular question.
ELIGIBILITY FOR SOCIAL SECURITY PAYMENTS
Q. Mr. President, I'm Doug Parker with the Salt Lake Tribune. I was wondering how you felt about the inclusion in this social security bill of the allowance to let people earn all they want after they retire and still be eligible for social security.
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. During the campaign, I deplored the $3,000 limit and said that it should be raised. And I still feel that way.
The position that I took--I've forgotten the exact figure, but I think we arbitrarily chose a $5,000 earnings limit. I don't object to a higher limit. Whether the House and Senate will go along with a complete elimination of a limit, I don't know. I don't think the cost in the social security system is likely to be very high, and I would certainly sign a bill that had that provision in it.
DEREGULATION OF NATURAL GAS
Q. Mr. President, as you are probably aware, some officials in Texas feel very strongly that you committed yourself to work for a natural gas price deregulation, and they think that you now reversed that position. Governor Briscoe displays a letter in which you seem to indicate that you would work with the Congress for deregulation. How do you explain your change in position?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't believe that I've changed my position. I don't interpret it that way. My position was that I would work with Congress, as had President Ford, for deregulation of natural gas.
And when I made my energy speech to the Congress--it's the only one I've made--last April, I repeated this commitment. The difference is in the rapidity with which natural gas is deregulated.
We have proposed a substantial step toward ultimate deregulation of natural gas by moving from $1.47 to $1.75 in price. We, I think, proposed a reasonable definition of what new gas is and pledged ourselves to increase the price of natural gas step by step, until it reached a price equivalent to the international oil price.
I think that this is a move toward deregulation. But I think it would be quite disruptive and very costly to the American people, and I don't believe it would result in a substantial increase in the quantity of natural gas produced, to completely deregulate it right now. So, it's a matter of time scale and not a matter of commitment that causes a difference between me and Governor Briscoe.
I know that he and Governor Bored and others--Governor Edwards from Louisiana, Bored from Oklahoma--prefer immediate and complete deregulation. But I just think that would be too rapid and too high a price change at this time. And I think it would be too heavy a burden on consumers and it would be highly inflationary.
CHAIRMANSHIP OF SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE
Q. Mr. President, Bill Minor from Jackson, Mississippi.
It's been said in some quarters in Mississippi that you have persuaded Senator Jim Eastland to abandon his plans to retire and run for reelection, as if he needed to be persuaded. But it was rumored very strongly that he was planning? step out, but that you may have entered into some of the persuasion in order for him to remain as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee because it would have meant the elevation of Senator Kennedy to the chairmanship. Did you have any role in that at all?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, that's a long question that has several facets.
Let me say that when I went down to Mississippi recently to visit Yazoo City, Senator Eastland was with me, as you know, on part of the trip. And after we came back, I had breakfast with Senator Eastland and eight or nine other Democratic Senators as part of a series.
And after the breakfast one morning, I told him that one of the most frequent comments that I received from Mississippians along the side of the road and in the public meetings with whom I spoke was that they hoped that Senator Eastland would run for reelection.
And I relayed the opinion of those Mississippians to him. He didn't tell me what his plan was, and I have had no indication that he might want to step down or might stay on. I doubt that my own relaying of that often expressed opinion to him would affect his ultimate decision. And I have no preference about who should be the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. I think in some of the more controversial issues that Senators Eastland and Kennedy act in concert. As you know, they've jointly worked on a complete revision of the criminal code---one of the most important measures, I think, that will come out of the Congress--and on some highly controversial issues like, for instance--let me think of an example--well, the matter of illegal aliens. Both Senator Eastland and Senator Kennedy have agreed to be joint sponsors of the legislation, so I don't think the incompatibility between the two men is nearly so great as might be thought. But I think Senator Eastland is a good man and a good Senator. He's been very supportive of my own positions, and so has Senator Kennedy.
But I think that describes my complete involvement in the process. It's up to Mississippi people to decide who they want as their U.S. Senator. It's certainly up to Senator Eastland to decide whether he wants to come back or not.
Q. David Mannwiler with the Indianapolis News. Please forgive a facetious question. It was brought up at lunch.
THE PRESIDENT. It's all right.
Q. We were talking about the fact that your brother, Billy, who has been in and out of our State and region quite often, is very able to comment on your performance. We didn't think we'd ever seen your comments on his performance. And why on Earth aren't you considering running this man for treasurer of the Democratic national party? [Laughter]
THE PRESIDENT. Well, Billy has been, as you know, making his own decisions. I could probably have more influence on Senator Eastland or Governor Wallace or Sparkman than I do on Billy. [Laughter]
He has been concerned about the economic problems of the country. He's pretty well put the beer industry back on its feet, for instance. [Laughter] I think he's shown his ability as a bellybust diver in Canada. He's promoted a lot of good projects like automobile racing and so forth.
Billy is a very intelligent, very competent, very likable person, and he's my only brother, as you know. And I admire the way he lives his own life. I've never had any occasion to be embarrassed by Billy, nor have I ever tried to interfere in Billy's lifestyle. I think he's probably at least as well known as I am, and probably his popularity rating would exceed mine right at this time.
I don't get to see him very often, because he does stay busy, but Billy is a good man, and I'm proud that he is my brother.
Maybe one more question. I promised the gentleman on the end.
SENATOR RUSSELL B. LONG OF LOUISIANA
Q. Sam Hanna from Louisiana. We keep hearing in Louisiana how powerful Senator Long is here now, and he keeps saying that he does not want that reputation. How closely will the White House have to work with him and his committee to pass an energy bill?
THE PRESIDENT. Very closely. Senator Long is a powerful man in the Congress, and I don't deplore it. There is no more brilliant person in Washington than he is, and he works hard. He does his homework. He studies legislation. And I think the members of his committee respect him, and so do I. I enjoy being with him when we have a few minutes alone on occasion.
The Finance Committee in the Senate has such a broad range of responsibilities. Many of the things we've talked about today come under his purview--the controversial energy legislation, social security, welfare reform, and so forth. I do work very closely with Senator Long, and I think he goes out of his way to help me on controversial issues.
For instance, on the energy tax measures, with the exception of the user tax that would impact on Louisiana very heavily, which he opposed, he gave his support to the other tax matters even though a majority of his committee did not. And he and I and Senator Byrd and others consult quite closely as the Senate evolves its own will on the energy matters. He and Senator Jackson will be the two lead Senators in the conference on this energy program.
So, I think, in closing, I should say that he is a relatively modest man. It embarrasses him when the authority and influence that he has is publicly described. But I think it is great, and it's because of his own leadership qualities that he has this influence.
I don't think he's ever abused it. I think he's been a very good man. He has a strong interest in Louisiana. And whenever there's a conflict between the national interest and Louisiana, more parochial interest--as I would be in the Senate--he's inclined to go with Louisiana. But that doesn't always happen.
Although I was not here, I think when the question of the oil depletion allowance faced the Senate for the major oil companies, he voted to do away with the oil depletion allowance, which was a very courageous thing to do.
He and his wife were over at the White House not too long ago for supper with just me and Rosalynn. And we reaffirmed our friendship.
But I think if the truth were known, not only with Senator Long but with Senator Sparkman and with Senator Eastland and others, we have a very good relationship. And the controversies and the hot debates and the differences of opinion are the things that attract the news media, which is understandable and predictable, and I don't particularly deplore it. But the good working relationship that I have developed with people like Senator Long--and with whom we disagree on occasion--is one that provides a basis for continuity and a sense of partnership. And I believe that when this Congress goes home, there will be a general inventory of accomplishments that will be a credit to our country.
So, he represents, in my opinion, one of the fine qualities of leadership that the Congress has provided. When I've been asked in the past what's been the biggest surprise that I've found, I have often said it's the quality of the individual Members of Congress and the depth with which they understand complicated issues, because after they've been here a few years, they start concentrating or specializing in a certain aspect of America's life, either domestic or foreign.
And I've found that a quiet conversation with a chairman of a committee or subcommittee about a specific, highly technical issue is one of the best sources of information and advice that I can get.
Let me say in closing that I'm very grateful to have a chance to talk to you. I wish I could have answered more questions, but the breadth of your own questions indicates the breadth of my responsibilities. I've enjoyed being President very much, and I was well prepared for the controversy, having served as Governor for 4 years and having campaigned for 2 years. And I think that many of the controversial issues that have to be faced are a credit to our Government and not a cause for apology.
When I do have a difficult decision to make on the Mideast or on energy or on tax reform, on illegal aliens, I feel much surer that I'll make the right decision, ultimately, if the American public had been involved in the discussion. I think in the past, there's been too much done secretly and privately and at the last minute revealed to the American people. And although it does create confusion and a sense of lack of discipline and control when these matters are opened up for free and open debate and controversy, I think it's healthy because ultimately the American people have sound judgment, and the more they have a role to play with their government decisions, the less chance we have of making a serious error.
As you know, we've made some serious errors in the last few years. And I don't want to see us come up with another Vietnam or another Watergate or another CIA episode that brings embarrassment on our country. And I don't think those things would have materialized had there been an absolute truth and a complete revelation of those questions when they were in the initial stages of decision.
I want to thank you for the constructive role you play in the very process that I've described. I've enjoyed being with you.