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Interview With the President Question-and-Answer Session With a Group of Publishers, Editors, and Broadcasters.

April 15, 1977

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it's nice to be here with you. We had a CIA briefing just before lunch and ran a little bit late.

I think it might be good to conserve our time as much as possible and let me answer your questions, but I would like to take just 3 or 4 minutes to outline some of the things that we are doing in this 1-week period, which I hope is not typical.

We've had to deal with a rapidly changing economic prospect and have modified, as you know, our stimulus package by withdrawing the business tax credit proposal and the $50 rebate. I have been assessing 31 major water projects that had been previously approved by the Congress and my predecessors.

I am working on two major speeches to make on Monday and Wednesday concerning an energy policy, and I can now understand very clearly why no previous President has put forward one. [Laughter] It's been one of the most challenging and in some degrees unpleasant undertakings I've ever assumed.

We are assessing our Nation's position on the SALT negotiations, which will resume in Geneva early in this coming month. We are putting together 8 or 10 different committees to deal with things like the comprehensive test ban, the demilitarization of the Indian Ocean, and so forth.

I just issued today an anti-inflation speech. We have a comprehensive welfare proposal to put forward the first of May.

And all those things are going on simultaneously. I try to farm out as much of my own administrative responsibility as I can to my staff members, and I rely much more heavily on Cabinet officers than perhaps my immediate predecessors have done. But I think we have got a good, strong staff and a good, strong Cabinet.

We have done the best we could so far to have an open interrelationship with the public so that the controversial issues that I face every day--there are literally dozens of them each day, as you can imagine, including some major ones that I have described---can be freely debated in the American society.

It's very helpful to me to have an analysis of your own editorial comments. I get this daily. The last thing I read at night is an accumulation of editorials, the network commentators, columnists, so that I can see in that fashion what the American people think about the issues that I have to decide.

I think it might be good to answer your questions, and I will try to be as brief as I can.

Q. Mr. President, about a year and a half ago

THE PRESIDENT. You might tell me where you are from.


Q. I'm Tom Bonnar, from [WMURTV] Manchester, New Hampshire.

About a year and a half ago you spent a lot of time going through our mills and shaking hands with a lot of people when it was pretty cold. And our mills seem to be in trouble now because of imports, and there is a good chance that a lot of them will be closing and there will be thousands of people out of work. What can be done by you?

THE PRESIDENT. I didn't go into the details of what we are facing at this point, but one of the major issues that I have to resolve is the correlation of permitting international trade to continue without creating tariff warfare, which is very helpful to our own economy, our exports, and also the prices that consumers pay on the one hand, and restricting unwarranted imports from other countries.

I have already resolved as best I could the question of imported mushrooms, shoes--and I'll get back to that in a moment. We are now renegotiating the multifiber agreement, and I face the problem of television sets, color television in particular, and very shortly the question of sugar.

I believe that Bob Strauss, who is our Special Trade Representative and responsible for these negotiations, will do a good job. I would guess that I've been in at least 50 of the shoe-manufacturing companies in your area, and I've seen the tremendous dedication of those people, the hard work that they put forward, quite often in very old buildings that have been modified to accommodate the shoe-manufacturing process.

The two primary countries that I think have increased their imports to our Nation too much have been Korea and Taiwan. And the representatives of those governments are in Washington now working with Bob Strauss. I believe that when we come out with a mutually acceptable agreement, with as much of it being voluntary as possible, that it will be a reasonable approach.

And this will be mirrored very quickly by an approach to the color television question; specialty steels has already been decided. To the extent that we can follow my own campaign commitment in this respect, voluntary constraints, first of all with our country putting pressure on them. If you don't agree to cut back voluntarily on the number of shoes you export to our country, then we will put mandatory quotas on or high tariffs. I think that's the best approach.

I recognize the problem. And, of course, we are moving simultaneously in some of these industries, particularly shoes, to get the Departments of Labor, Commerce, Treasury, and others, to help revitalize the industry because in the long run you cannot benefit from having very old and outmoded manufacturing plants competing, with artificial protection, with the more modernized and more productive plants. Of course, the difference in labor costs--we try to accommodate for that.


Q. Mr. President, you touched briefly on the alien problem this morning. Are you still favoring amnesty for these illegal aliens that are already in the country, and do you favor the Rodino bill?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I can't say that I favor the Rodino bill because I am sure that we'll advocate some difference with that particular bill. It's in a state of flux. I don't know if you could say that a certain thing is the Rodino bill now because Congressman Rodino has not decided what he wants to be in his bill.

I think some element of amnesty will be mandatory. How far back to go, what particular kinds of citizens to grant amnesty to will be the difficult questions. But I don't think that we could have any sort of workable control on undocumented workers or illegal aliens if we just say that everyone who's here who's not a citizen has got to be arrested and forced to depart to Mexico.

Some of those illegal aliens have been here 15 or 20 years. They are fine American citizens in the practical sense of the word "citizen." They have good jobs, they are self-supporting, and we don't want to kick them out. But I think the definition of amnesty is the difficult part. But I do think amnesty is going to be a part of the program, yes.


Q. Mr. President, I am Bob Comstock [The Record, Hackensack, N.J.] I had the job your cousin Don once held in Hackensack, New Jersey.


Q. And a matter of great concern there is the Federal flood disaster control program, whereby a house which is designated in a flood plain and severely damaged by flood or by fire, or anything else, it's difficult, if not impossible, to rebuild.

The act in '73 authorized purchase-negotiation for purchase of houses partially damaged, but it has never been funded.

I wonder if you have a position on this program or have concerned yourself with it at all and feel that the Federal Government has an obligation to people they refused to allow to rebuild a house which is 60-percent damaged, for instance?

THE PRESIDENT. I am not familiar with that particular provision and don't have an opinion to express. We do have, this week, a legitimate need to designate several States as major disaster areas, at least certain counties in those States. I have done that already, in several instances.

But whether or not the Congress needs to appropriate money specifically to purchase homes in a flood plain area which is dangerous and can't be corrected, with upstream dams and so forth, I just don't know how to answer that question now. I haven't gone into it.


Q. Mr. President, I am Walter Cowan, from the States-Item of New Orleans.

I am very much interested in one of your proposals. You talk about recreating the old-type CCC. I think it was really a worthwhile organization. And you have mentioned revitalizing the neighborhoods in some of the rundown cities, of which New Orleans has its great share, along with New York and Detroit and places like that.

What about the prospect of tying the CCC-type operation into an urban neighborhood improvement program that really has meaning to it? I am thinking about a corps that would move from neighborhood to neighborhood, probably centered around the public schools, and really upgrade the inner cities.

We have a big movement now back to the cities and there's no reason why a lot of those rundown areas couldn't be revitalized. What would you think about that?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that is an excellent idea. We have left intact, after withdrawing the rebate and the business tax credit, about $20 billion to $23 billion in economic stimulus. All but about $4 billion of that is for job programs. And there is a major emphasis there on youth employment.

During the campaign, I put forward the idea that you have just discussed. And Ray Marshall, our Secretary of Labor, has now put this proposal before the Congress for, I hope, approval; that we would have a program similar to the CCC, but it would be oriented toward the urban areas, is the way I expressed it during the campaign.

It is an excellent idea. And I think that some of the programs in the past that have not been effective because the participants couldn't see what tangible things they were accomplishing, like the original Job Corps, will be strengthened.

Q. Naturally, you couldn't spend a lot of time with one group in one neighborhood.


Q. But these groups could be mobile, just like they are in the forests and public parks and that sort of thing.

THE PRESIDENT. One other point that we are pursuing is something they have done in Baltimore, which worked very well, and that is to let relatively poor families buy some of the dilapidated row houses, put a modest amount of Federal money in, and let the family who bought the house themselves do the manual labor, the sawing of boards, and so forth. I have been there and visited those places on two different occasions. And I think it works out very well.

But I think the more people can see that their own government-supported job is productive, whether it is a transient benefit or a permanent profession, to that extent we can make these programs more meaningful.


Q. Mr. President, I am Vince Sanders from the National Black Network, and I'd like to know if your administration has got to the point where it's developed a policy toward Africa, that gives you a course of action rather than reaction to trouble spots like Zaire and Rhodesia. Do you have a definitive policy toward Africa as of yet?

THE PRESIDENT. We are evolving one. I have spent an awful lot of time on the African question.

I don't think I have announced this previously is the reason I am hesitating, but I have asked the Vice President particularly to concentrate on the African question. And he's been doing a lot of detailed analysis of each country, its history, background, leadership, and how it relates to its neighbors, and so forth. And I meet with him frequently. We had a meeting, just before lunch, on Africa.

I think that we do have a good policy evolving. We have deliberately decided as part of that policy, though, to let the British Government retain the leadership role for the time being.

On David Owen's present trip, the Foreign Minister of Britain, we authorized him to say that we backed his proposal and that we were prepared to participate for the first time in a Geneva conference, if one could he called.

There are three interrelated items, as you know. One is what to do with Rhodesia. And we think that the Smith government should step down very shortly and permit majority rule in Rhodesia. My own preference is that the people of that country have a right to vote .on who their leader should be.

Obviously, the only country outside Rhodesia which has a major influence on the Smith government is South Africa. And we are maintaining communications with the South African leadership.

The second question, that's related, is what to do about Namibia or Southwest Africa. Here we again favor majority rule in Namibia. The United Nations has a major role to play here as do the British in Rhodesia. And we have encouraged the South African Government to move expeditiously in releasing that country to its own leadership.

Of course, in South Africa, which has a legally constituted government, what we need there of course is to pursue our own commitment of the ending of apartheid and move eventually toward majority rule.

The difficult question is, you know, how much to push the South African Government and to drive them into a corner and to alienate them from us, because to a major degree the South African Government is a stabilizing influence in the southern part of that continent and they have a major role to play in the peaceful resolution of Rhodesia and Namibia.

So, I think we do have an evolving policy toward South Africa. David Owen will be back from his tour having met with many of the African leaders, both black and white. On the 18th of this month, which I think is Monday, he'll make his report to the British Cabinet and then make his report to us as well. We get daily communiqués from Foreign Minister Owen on this trip.

Q. The Kissinger plan--it makes provisions for the whites who are there in Rhodesia. And my feeling is that Ian Smith, with the kind of control that he's retaining now--he could more or less implement a peaceful transition that will also provide some reparations for the blacks who are going to be displaced. I think my question is, will the Kissinger plan be figured in a new conference that the United States will sponsor?

THE PRESIDENT. Certain component parts of it. As you know, one of the major questions is who is going to control the army or the military force that exists in Rhodesia? I think that in the past when a so-called reserve fund was set up to compensate white families and others who decided to leave, the reserve funds have not been used. In Kenya and some other countries, these kinds of reserves have been voluntarily contributed by nations; they have never been used because in the history of those countries--and it may .be completely different in Rhodesia, of course--the land Was simply transferred through routine, Open market means.

So, the fact that Kissinger did agree, I think with substantial congressional approval, to contribute to a fund to compensate white landowners and others, doesn't mean that we are putting that much money out for good. It just means that we agreed back then to contribute our part to a fund that may or may not be used. It is Obviously extremely complicated and we could talk for hours about it.


Q. On the same subject of Africa, do You agree with Andy Young that the Cuban expeditionary force is a stabilizing influence?

THE PRESIDENT. I have called publicly for the Cuban expeditionary force to be withdrawn from Africa. I read the whole text, of course, of Andy's statement, and what he said, I do agree with it. It Obviously stabilized the situation. And I think that the present Angolan Government under Neto is likely to stay in power. The Cubans ought to withdraw their forces from Africa.

Q. Would this be a precondition in the present talks of normalizing relations with Cuba?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I wouldn't say that it would be a precondition to the talks. We are talking to Cuba now for the first time in a number of years.

Q. Precondition of normalizing relations?

THE PRESIDENT. I would rather not say that before we ever had normal relations with Cuba they would have to withdraw every Cuban from other nations on Earth. We don't do it. I think we have got probably 1,200 different places around the world where we have some American troops. But the withdrawal of Cuban troops is a dominant factor in Angola and other places around Africa. They have troops in a lot of other countries besides-people, rather, I don't know about troops--in a lot of other countries.

I just rather would not be pinned down so specifically on it. But the attitude of Cuba to withdraw its unwarranted intrusion into the affairs of Africa and other nations would be a prerequisite for normalization, yes.


Q. Do you maintain contact with the Chinese on SALT or the Korean withdrawal?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, we do. I have met with the Chinese Special Representative here, who, as you know, is an Ambassador, for an extended conversation once. Cy Vance talks to him on a routine basis, including one substantial conversation since Vance came back from Moscow. We try to keep the Chinese informed about our own attitudes, and, although we don't have diplomatic relations with them directly, with exchange of Ambassadors, we do have a friendly relationship with them.

There have been numerous congressional delegations going to China. There is one over there now. And I thought it would be good to let a member of my family go. So I asked my middle son, Chip, to accompany the congressional leaders when they went over.

We exchange ideas with the Chinese on SALT. We try not to violate confidences. If the Soviets tell us something in a negotiating session that we consider to be of a confidential nature, we certainly don't tell the Chinese about it. But we tell them our basic position. And I think we have as good a relationship as one could have with China short of full diplomatic relations.

Q. Mr. President, in your press conference this morning--on the campaign out in Iowa you said that in your farm bill you would try to keep support and target prices at levels to guarantee farmers would at least break even on their crops, and yet your bill that has gone to Congress--most analysts say that those levels are too low, including your own Secretary of Agriculture. How do you reconcile that?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, don't forget there are two different kinds of price levels. One is the support level, which is predicated not on how much it costs to produce a crop but on what the international market price is. I think in the case of wheat, for instance, that is $2.25. The other figure is one called income support maintenance level.

We analyzed as best we could the actual cost of production of wheat. The figures that Bob Bergland gave me were that on out-of-pocket expenses it was $2.20 a bushel. This is a nationwide average. We allotted 17 cents a bushel for a so-called management fee--that includes everything that the farmer has to do to manage a crop--and then we took the average cost of land throughout the Nation and figured that 1 1/2 percent per year of the value of land ought to be allotted as a cost of production. That's an arbitrary decision.

In my opinion, you could very well argue that when land increased in value that that, in effect, was an increase in income for the farmers. It has kept a lot of farmers financially alive to have their land values go up.

But we did say that the actual out-of-pocket costs, ,$2.20, management fee, 17 cents, and a 1 1/2 percent of actual land values which, I think, we assume was $400 an acre nationwide, was a figure that ought to be guaranteed to the farmers. That is $2.60.

Now, I know that in many areas where the land is very valuable, highly productive, fertilizing needs are low, topography is so you can use large equipment, that you can produce wheat less than $2.60. Other places you can't produce it for $2.60. But you have to go on a nationwide average basis. And I don't have any apology to make for the recommendations that we made.

I have said in front of literally dozens of farm groups that if I did become President, that I would never try to guarantee the farmers a profit; that I would do the best I could to make our own Government payments equivalent to actual production costs. I believe we have done that. But, of course, you can get economists to say that it costs more than $2.60 a bushel to produce wheat.

Q. For all crops?


THE PRESIDENT. Yes. We try to do that for every crop individually, the ones that have price support levels on them. Well, you know what they are--feed grains, soybeans, rice, cotton, and wheat, which we just discussed.

Q. Mr. President, Lou Lerner, Lerner Newspapers, Chicago. Let me ask you a question about energy, or lack of it.

In your proposals which we have read, part of it is a substantial increase in various energy costs. How does the administration hope to convince the American people that in fact these profits from the increased costs are not going into the pockets of the big oil companies to buy Montgomery Ward, or Container Corporation, or something else?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, nobody has read a report of my own position on the energy question because I haven't written anything and I haven't signed anything. I haven't made any final approval on it. Almost all of the stories that have been written so far have been conjectural in nature, or they have been designed around a proposal that was made to me from many different sources which I am now assessing.

I think that we can convince the American people that the oil companies will not derive a windfall profit from any increases in the cost of fuel to the consumer. One way to do it obviously is to have the increased costs above present levels be mirrored in taxes collected and then devise some way to return those taxes to consumers so that the net cost to the consumer over a period of a year doesn't change appreciably, but the inclination to restrict the use of scarce energy does become stronger. That's just one possibility.

Also, there's a matter of distinguishing between energy that's already being produced and an instigation to explore for new supplies of energy. That can be done by deregulating the price of newly discovered oil and natural gas. And there's another factor involved, and that is the convincing of the American people that we do face a crisis.

I have met with Stan Turner, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, just before lunch, as I said earlier, and I asked him quite early next week to make available the non-secret elements of the worldwide energy assessment that they have just completed.1 This was initiated a long time ago, long before I became President.

1 On April 18, the White House Press Office released copies of the Central Intelligence Agency's 18-page report entitled "The International Energy Situation: Outlook to 1985."

The fact is that the known world reserve supplies are much less than we had thought earlier.

So, I believe that these things can be done. And if it's an overall balanced package, then we have got a good chance to convince the American people that they are making some sacrifice, the oil companies are making some sacrifice, the automobile manufacturers are making some sacrifice, and that it is equitable. The oil companies have been primarily the ones so far, based on stories, some of which are true, who have taken out full-page ads and so forth, to criticize---

Q. Not in my paper.

THE PRESIDENT. I understand. Thank you, Lou. [Laughter]

--to criticize. I might say it's one of the most unpleasant and difficult subjects that I have ever had to address. And I know that when it comes out, anybody, a Governor, a mayor, an oil company, or a consumer can find something wrong with it they don't like. I hope in balance, though, that it will be assessed as fair and equitable and necessary.

Q. Thank you, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much. I appreciate a chance to meet with you and wish I could answer questions all afternoon.


Q. Did you sleep well last night, Mr. President, after having to make that decision on the tax rebate?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I have slept better than I have. I have been concerned about that for a number of weeks. This past weekend, in my own mind I decided that I would make a change. I didn't mention it to anyone until Monday at noon when I talked to the Vice President, and then, after talking it over with him, we let the economic advisers start bringing me information about trends in inflation and increased consumer confidence, retail sales, plans for business investment, and I became convinced that it just simply was not necessary.

When I called the Senate leaders, primarily, I found them to be almost unanimously in favor of the change. So far as I know, Senator Muskie was the only one that expressed to me any concern about the decision, and Senator Humphrey who, as you know, has a very liberal--deservedly liberal--reputation, said it was the best news that he had, that he had already decided and had discussed it with his wife, Muriel, the night before that he was going to come back to Washington early this weekend to get Senators Byrd and Long to join him in coming to the White House to ask me to withdraw the $50 rebate proposal, that he didn't think it was necessary. So, I feel good about it.

Q. Do you feel you have lost credibility? Does it bother you that you may have lost some credibility with the public?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course, I don't like to lose any credibility. I am sure when you change your mind about something that you do lose some degree .of credibility, but I think I would have lost just as much credibility to insist on an economic stimulus element which was not actually necessary. Circumstances now compared to what they were in December are completely different. And I think the remaining stimulus package, $20 billion to $23 billion, built primarily around job opportunities is the proper approach.

Q. Is there a chance that some of the waterway projects, a significant number, will be okayed?

THE PRESIDENT. A significant number will be okayed; a significant number won't be okayed. [Laughter]

Q. Thank you, Mr. President.


Note: The interview began at 1:25 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House.

The transcript of the interview was released on April 16.

Jimmy Carter, Interview With the President Question-and-Answer Session With a Group of Publishers, Editors, and Broadcasters. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/243375

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