Jimmy Carter photo

Interview With the President Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters From the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company, Inc.

April 18, 1980


MR. UDWIN. Mr. President, as the recession worsens and as the situation in Iran perhaps also becomes more dangerous, when does the point arrive when it's more important to the American people in the primary States, including Pennsylvania, for you to be out there speaking to them directly than to follow your policy of staying in the White House and not campaigning until the hostages are released?

THE PRESIDENT. We've got an extraordinary collection now, unfortunately, of both domestic and foreign policy matters that are extremely important to our country. In many ways they are interrelated. The Iranian hostages crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan threatens the Mideast and the Persian Gulf region, from which comes a lot of our energy, our oil, and the oil prices, that more than doubled last year, have a direct impact on the inflation rate here and, therefore, interests rates.

So, I think that it's good for the American people to remember two things. One is that during a time of crisis there is only one spokesman for our Nation. To me, this day the holding of 53 Americans as hostages by terrorist kidnapers is just as much a crisis as it was the first of November, when they were captured, and it's important for the American people and the rest of the world to know that we are not going back to business as usual and that this Nation is in a state of crisis, determined to get those hostages home.

Secondly, it's important for the American people to realize that almost all of the problems and complications that address our society today eventually wind up on my desk in the Oval Office. And I think it's important for the American people to realize that I'm there on the job, working with not only foreign allies on international affairs but also with the Congress, with the steel industry, with the coal industry, with the housing industry, with the automobile industry and others who come into the White House, in a concentrated fashion, to help me work out solutions to these problems. So, as long as these crises do exist, I think it's better for me to stay here and not revert back to business as usual.

The last point I'd like to make in answer to that question is it hurts me politically not to be out there, where I would love to be, campaigning among the communities and among the people who are going to be voting and are already voting in the primary elections. It's obviously preferable for a candidate to be there. I don't know how much this cost me in votes and delegates, but I think at this time it's better for me to take that political sacrifice, accept fewer votes and fewer delegates, in order to carry out my duties as President.


MR. UDWIN. Mr. President, is there no acceptable way for the United States perhaps to sacrifice some pride and to say something or do something regarding the situation in Iran to acknowledge misbehavior, or whatever it would be, by the United States in the past, that even though it might hurt our national pride temporarily, it might achieve the release of the hostages and perhaps do the greater good of keeping us out of, potentially, even a war?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think anybody could have been more patient or more understanding or more determined to explore every possibility of getting our hostages released than I have. If I've been criticized most for any one aspect of the Iranian crisis, it's being too patient and too understanding, not only of terrorists who are now holding kidnaped victims who are innocent but also, recently, of a government of a nation, unprecedented in human history, who actually condone and support this act of international terrorism.

There have obviously been mistakes made in the past in dealing with Iran. We've made mistakes in dealing with all nations on Earth, and they've made mistakes in dealing with us. It's inevitable in complicated international affairs. But I am not going to apologize to a group of terrorists who have besmirched our own Nation and violated every standard of international decency and international law. To bring our Nation to its knees for a 'false apology is something that I will never do.


MR. BURNS. Mr. President, I'd like to take you back onto the political trail. Many of the voters in Pittsburgh are asking-and primary day is on Tuesday-they're asking that with the inflation going sky high, the economy in a tailspin, thousands out of work, and us looking less than lustrous overseas, why should you be reelected as the President.

THE PRESIDENT. I think we've made outstanding progress in the last 3 years in our international affairs and also domestically.

I'd like to remind you of the circumstances that existed in Pittsburgh area 3 years ago, when I first came into office. The U.S. steel industry was in a debilitated condition. The utilization of steel plants in this country then was much less than 80 percent, about 78 percent; today the steel industry is utilizing 88 or 89 percent of its capacity. In 1977, the first year I was in office, the total profit of the entire steel industry was just a few tens of millions of dollars, less than $30 million; this past year the profits of the steel industry-$1.3 billion, a tremendous increase. In 1977 steel imports were 2 million tons more than they were last year. We do have problems with the steel industry, but we've made tremendous progress.

Another point: on employment, we have added 9 million net new jobs in this country since I've been in office, 430,000 of those in Pennsylvania alone, almost a 10-percent increase in employment in Pennsylvania. The agricultural industry has been improved. We have averaged so far, in this first 3 years, almost 2 million homes constructed per year, an unprecedented achievement for 3 years running.

We do have very serious problems—I don't want to mislead anyone—with high inflation and, therefore, high interest rates. We have now put forward an anti-inflation program, very carefully designed, not to mislead the American people and to protect those that are most dependent on government. This is a worldwide problem, high inflation. It's brought about by the fact that in 1979 energy prices,. primarily OPEC oil prices, increased 120 percent, more in 1 year's time than had been the case in all the time since oil was first discovered in Pennsylvania at the very initiation of the oil age.

So, we are trying to accommodate these shocks to our economy as best we can. It's necessary for us to act together. We have recently seen the beginning of a downturn in interest rates. And if OPEC price increases will just be moderately high this year, like 20 percent, and if we can bring home mortgage rates down just 2 percent, which is a very reasonable expectation, then in the next 2 or 3 months we'll see a substantial reduction in the inflation rate, maybe 8 or 10 percent, with interest rates coming down behind them. But we've got to go through a period of transition here from extraordinary, high inflation and interest rates, brought about by OPEC oil prices, down to a stable rate where we can rejuvenate our economy, which is already hurt, but still surprisingly strong in spite of these problems.


MR. BURNS. Do you feel we are actually in the recession now, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT. I think the first stages of it. A technical definition of a recession is when you have two succeeding quarters with a negative growth. We've not had two succeeding quarters with a negative growth. In fact, we had a small positive growth even last quarter. But all of my economists think that we're in the initial stages of a slight recessionary period. This is unfortunate, and my heart goes out to people who are in certain industries that are being severely hurt. But I think it's a transition period, that we hope will be brief and will let us get inflation under control and keep our economy strong.


MR. BURNS. Mr. President, I'd like to take you back for a moment to the steel business.


MR. BURNS. You were speaking of what your administration has done for the steel business. Well, steel industry leaders seem to disagree with you and appear at some times to even be angry, now with the trigger price system being abolished by your administration. And back in a Pittsburgh suburb, Aliquippa, in 1978 you said, "We have put the trigger price system into effect, and we're not going to have to worry about that anymore."


MR. BURNS. Now, many of the leaders of the steel industry feel that you abolished the trigger price system out of disliking U.S. Steel's filing suit on the dumping charges.

THE PRESIDENT. No, that's not true at all. In 1977 we were faced with a rash of antidumping suits. My administration was absolutely determined to reduce the amount of steel dumped in the American markets by European manufacturers. We met with the steel industry, both the manufacturers and the steel workers, and very carefully worked out the trigger price mechanism as a substitute for the antidumping suits.

In the last few months U.S. Steel, the only company in the country, decided to reinstitute those same antidumping suits. That's their right under the law. We informed them ahead of time, many weeks ahead of time, that we would rather work out this dumping problem with the trigger price mechanism instead of the antidumping suits. They decided to go ahead. It's inconceivable, impractical to have both the antidumping suit with my administration giving full support to it, and also have the trigger price mechanism at the same time.

We have encouraged the Commerce Department to help with the antidumping effort, and the Secretary of Commerce has confirmed the fact that there is justification for the antidumping suits. We are now working very closely with U.S. Steel, as a matter of fact, in Pittsburgh last week, in the presence of Bob Strauss and others. The president of U.S. Steel confirmed the fact that the Carter administration was working very closely with the steel industry in the antidumping suits now to try to hold down dumping.

MR. BURNS. That was Mr. Roderick.

THE PRESIDENT. That's right. He said this himself.

If something should happen in the next few weeks or months, if U.S. Steel should withdraw its suits or if the courts should find that the suits are not well founded, we would immediately go back to the trigger price mechanism to protect this country against dumping. I might add one other thing. If the antidumping suits go ahead, then it's proceeding under an expedited procedure, put into effect by Bob Strauss when he was our special trade negotiator, to let this dumping be stopped as quickly as possible in the Federal courts.

So, we are cooperating completely with the steel industry to hold down foreign imports into this country and particularly to prevent dumping of steel in this Nation below its cost of production in Europe.


MR. SHEERAN. Mr. President, I'd like to take you across the State, to Philadelphia. Does Bill Green's endorsement of Senator Kennedy annoy you or bother you or upset you?


MR. SHEERAN. Does it mean anything?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, obviously when a very popular man like Bill Green endorses an opponent, it causes me concern. I would prefer that he endorse me. There have been two major city mayors that have endorsed my opponent; one was Mayor Byrne in Chicago, and the other is Bill Green in Philadelphia. The people of Philadelphia and Chicago are my constituents just as much as they are Bill Green's or your Governor's. I'm concerned about them.

In this last 3 years, since I've been in office, we've not had the strong support even of Bill Green's predecessor, as you know. But we've had an extraordinary increase in economic development funds for Philadelphia, mass transit funds for Philadelphia, small business loans for Philadelphia, transportation funds for Philadelphia. We've not let Philadelphia suffer, and we will not.

MR. SHEERAN. Will they stop because of Bill Green's endorsement of Senator Kennedy?

THE PRESIDENT. Absolutely not.

MR. SHEERAN. You're not going to take any umbrage?



MR. SHEERAN. Your commercials in the campaign, they seem to be focusing on Senator Kennedy's character and not the accomplishments of your administration. Why is that?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't believe that's the case. Now, there is a necessity in a political campaign to point out the differences between two candidates. I don't believe that we have referred to Senator Kennedy's character at all.

MR. SHEERAN. I mean indirectly.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, there is a legitimate duty that I have, as an incumbent and also as a candidate, to point out the differences between us. I'll take a quick example on the inflation rate. Senator Kennedy advocates a procedure of wage and price controls that will not work. It will never get through the Congress. There is no responsible group of Members of the House or Senate that think that wage and price control authority can get through the Congress. It's a ridiculous proposal.

Senator Kennedy himself would tell you, you cannot control the price of imported oil or energy, you cannot control the price of food, you cannot control the interest rate charges and other basic necessities of life. One thing that you can control is wages, under a law, a wage and price mandatory law; you can control wages. And if the average working family in Philadelphia or throughout this country has their wages frozen and do not have all the necessities of life, prices frozen, that's the very family that will suffer, and for us to point that out is legitimate.

There's one more point I'd like to make on this inflation issue. We have advocated a balanced budget. Senator Kennedy is well known as the largest spender perhaps in the history of the United States Senate, and the only reductions in expenditure that I know he has advocated is cuts in the defense budget. This is exactly the wrong time to cut our Nation's ability to defend itself, with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and with the Iranian question as well. We need to strengthen our Nation's defense within the bounds of a balanced budget and giving very careful attention to those who need it.

So, it's a legitimate political duty that I have to point out those kinds of differences between me and my major opponent.


MR. UDWIN. Mr. President, Senator Kennedy's advisers sound as though they've pretty much made up their mind that they'll go to the floor of the convention this summer even without nearly having a majority of the delegates—in other words, that you would have them-but that they would be prepared to wage a divisive floor fight, to split the loyalties, first, of individual delegates to where a delegate might have a natural inclination to be quite liberal, as we perceive Senator Kennedy to be, but would be pledged to and planning to support you, and that this might be an avenue, through credentials fights or other ways, to keep alive a contest against you.

Do you think that that is a likelihood? Are you preparing for it? And do you even see a more sinister possible purpose to where he would be willing to wage that kind of a fight, which could cost you, the nominee, eventually the Presidency, but leave him perhaps ready to inherit the party for 1984?

THE PRESIDENT. I've seen these reports that Senator Kennedy would not abide by the decisions made in the primaries, like in Pennsylvania or the caucus States, but would try to subvert the present rules and overthrow the procedures when the convention meets in New York.

These Democratic Party rules are the result of about 10 years, at least, of reform to make sure that the convention members, the delegates, actually and accurately represent the desires of the people back home who elected them. Most of these reforms were instituted long before I became President, long before I even got involved in national politics. And for any candidate to say ahead of time, which apparently Senator Kennedy and his advisers have, that he'll try to overthrow this entire procedure just because he did not get a majority of the delegate votes, I think it's contrary to the best interests of the party.

I saw this happen in 1968, when Hubert Humphrey had a majority of the delegates going in and coming out of the convention in Chicago. Gene McCarthy and others tried to disrupt the convention and to take away the nomination from Senator Humphrey. They did not succeed. But when Senator Humphrey came out of that divided convention with the nomination, he was so wounded by a divided party that he was not able to win the election, and Richard Nixon became President. This could happen coming out of the convention, in New York, if there is a deliberate disruption of the procedures.

Another thing that concerns me very much about the existing situation is that Senator Kennedy has refused to say that he would support me and Fritz Mondale in the November election even if we get the nomination. This doesn't help the Democratic Party; it obviously helps the Republican prospects for victory in November.

I am willing, eager to support the Democratic nominee in November, no matter who it is. I have never in my life voted for a Republican, and I don't intend to. And I know that what the Democratic Party stands for, regardless of the identity of the nominee if he's chosen at the convention, represents more accurately what I want than a Republican Party that might be headed by Ronald Reagan.

So, Senator Kennedy's refusal to abide by the present rules of the Democratic nominating process and his refusal to say that he will support me and Fritz Mondale if we get the nomination—those two facts do concern me very much.


MR. UDWIN. Speaking, Mr. President, of candidates who may not be willing to support the choice of their party, apparently Congressman John Anderson, a Republican, is about to become an independent candidate for the Presidency, presumably not winning the nomination from Ronald Reagan. The conventional wisdom in this town—and it has been wrong before—is that it would take more votes away from the Democratic candidate for such a candidacy than from the Republican. How do you feel about it, and what can you do about it?

THE PRESIDENT. I think anybody in this election year who tries to predict a week ahead of time what's going to happen is really kind of foolhardy. I don't think the electorate has ever been more volatile and quick to change their opinion than has been evidenced this year.

I don't know what Congressman Anderson will do. The history of our Nation, certainly in my memory, has been that those third-party type candidacies, after somebody has been unsuccessful in the two major parties, have not been successful at the beginning and, secondly, have not changed the outcome of the general election. I don't know what will happen this year, but I don't want to worry about that.

MR. UDWIN. You don't accept the idea it would hurt you more than Ronald Reagan, let's say?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I was watching, I think, one of the news broadcasts the other night, I think a New York Times/ CBS poll. And of course polls change every week. But it did show that with Anderson in the race and with Anderson out of the race, there was no change at all between the outcome between myself and Governor Reagan if we should be the candidates.


MR. SHEEPAN. You said earlier that by staying in the White House, it hurts you. Does it hurt you enough to lose Pennsylvania?

THE PRESIDENT. That may be the case. But even if I lose an important and major State like Pennsylvania by not abandoning my duties here in the White House and going out to campaign, as I would love to do, I will just have to take that.

MR. SHEERAN. I get the feeling that you may have resigned yourself to losing Pennsylvania.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I hope I don't lose, and we're doing the best we can to win.

MR. SHEERAN. Am I getting the wrong feeling, or do you think you're going to lose?

THE PRESIDENT. It looks very close, and I can't predict the outcome.


MR. BURNS. Mr. President, in your statement were you inferring that Senator Kennedy in his primary campaign is playing dirty pool or even dirty tricks, so to speak?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think so.

MR. BURNS. Then you were referring to what he might attempt to do at the convention, I suppose.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, those are reports that have been widely disseminated by his own people, and I was responding to a question asked. I hope that he won't go through with that kind of plan. Nothing would please me better than to have the Senator state today, "I will abide by the rules of the Democratic Party, and I will support the nominee chosen by the convention." I think that would put all these kind of rumors and uncertainties and problems aside. That would be my preference.


MR. BURNS. How much importance do you put in the Pennsylvania primary, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT. I know how important it was to me in 1976. In fact, I lived in Pennsylvania for a long time, and all of my supporters and relatives, even large numbers of people from Georgia, came up to help me there. And I would say that it was one of the turning points of the 1976 campaign.

It's important this time. Pennsylvania is a large bellwether State, and the people are intensely interested in issues. It's fairly representative of the rest of the Nation, and what happens there will be very significant, even beyond the difference in the delegates.

So, I would love to win, but I cannot predict that I will win. I might say that I have had to make some very difficult and controversial and even unpopular decisions in recent weeks, and that will have an effect, too.

MR. SHEERAN. Do you think if Senator Kennedy wins in Pennsylvania, that will change his whole campaign around and give him the so-called momentum?

THE PRESIDENT. It's hard to say. I won overwhelmingly in Chicago; it didn't help me much in New York the next week. [Laughter] And as you know, Senator Kennedy won overwhelmingly in New York; it didn't help him much in Wisconsin and Kansas the following week. So, I think it's too rapidly changeable a year to predict that.

MR. SHEERAN. What about Philadelphia itself? Does Bill Green's endorsement mean any votes, or is it just a headline?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I would guess it would mean votes.

MR. SHEERAN. Do you think it will mean the difference in Philadelphia between you and the Senator?

THE PRESIDENT. We're not giving up there. We're doing the best we can there. But I don't have any polling data or specific information about what might be the trend in Philadelphia. I would hope that people would listen to this broadcast and make a decision to vote for me. [Laughter]

MR. SHEERAN. The early polls seemed to have you ahead, and then things have turned around. Do you think it's people reacting to what you're doing here or reacting to the Senator's campaigning there, or why has he pulled up, in other words? He seems to be doing a lot better in Pennsylvania.

THE PRESIDENT. There are things that are happening that affect people's lives that are not pleasant: our hostages are being held, the Soviets in Afghanistan, the inflation rate is high, the interest rates are high. Those things obviously do not help an incumbent, no matter how hard he might try to solve these problems. They are difficult problems. There are not easy, cheap, quick answers, and it's misleading to insinuate that there are.

And also, it obviously helps for a candidate as attractive as Senator Kennedy to be spending 10 or 12 days in the Philadelphia area expressing his views and having contact with people personally.

MR. SHEERAN. Don't you feel helpless, though? He's out there, and—

THE PRESIDENT. I would rather be out there.


MR. BURNS. Mr. President, just how much do the polls affect you personally, particularly if they're unfavorable? Do you allow that to bug you?



THE PRESIDENT. No. I never have lost any sleep at all, even over matters much more important than public opinion polls. I've just done the best I could, made decisions whether they were popular or not, and so far, have done well in politics. Nobody predicted that my declaring a grain embargo against the Soviet Union and reducing American exports 17 million tons just a few days before the Iowa caucuses would help me in the farming areas. It was not an easy thing for me to do.

But in general, I believe the American people, so far this year, have understood my problems and that they are their problems, have understood the difficulty of these times, which we all share, have confidence in the strength of our Nation, in the long run, and believe that I'm doing the best I can and the Congress is doing the best it can to resolve these questions with a minimum adverse effect on the American people. That's all I can hope for, and so far, I've not been disappointed.


MR. BURNS. Mr. President, getting back to Iran then for just a moment, at the time that the decision was being made to allow the Shah to come to the United States for medical treatment, were any steps taken to perhaps evacuate or beef up the guard at the United States Embassy in Tehran? Was anything done about the Embassy at that time, when you were thinking of allowing the Shah back in this country?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. A year before the Shah came to this country, we had over a thousand people assigned to the Embassy in Tehran; it was one of the largest embassies in the world. After the Shah was overthrown by the revolution, we reduced that number down, as you know, to 53 when the hostages were captured. And we also went in and completely renovated the Embassy and strengthened it considerably.

There is no embassy in the world built like a fortress enough to withstand an armed attack unless you have the protection of the foreign country where the Embassy is located. We had direct commitments, even after the Shah came to this country for medical treatment, from the Prime Minister of Iran and from the Foreign Minister of Iran that our Embassy would be defended. And on that basis, we were surprised, but we were not able to defend the Embassy when the attackers took it and the Government, in effect, looked the other way.

Recently there's been a different circumstance, where these terrorists have offered to let the hostages be released to the Government, and the Government, in effect, has refused to accept them because they could not get a unanimous vote. So, in effect, now you have the legitimate constitutional Government of Iran officially condoning and even supporting this international act of terrorism. This is what concerns us so deeply.

But we did the best we could, with a careful and reasonable approach, to minimize the prospect of the hostages being taken and the Embassy taken over, but we could not defend it with the support of the Government going to the terrorists instead of protecting us as they should have.


MR. BURNS. You mentioned 53, Mr. President. There are only 50 in the Embassy itself, are there not?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. There are 50 in the Embassy, and 3 others are in their state department, their Foreign Ministry.


MR. UDWIN. Mr. President, are there times when you try to read the minds of those who are holding our hostages and figure what is it they really hope and actually believe that they could achieve at this stage? What do you come up with when you try to do that? And do you believe that these hostages will come out of there alive?

THE PRESIDENT. I pray several times a day that the hostages will survive and be returned to freedom.

Iran is a fractured country. The President of Iran, the Foreign Minister of Iran want the hostages released, because they want to repair what's happening in Iran to their own country. The Ayatollah Khomeini does not want the hostages released. I've had several reports lately that he says that the hostages would not be released until after this election year is over in the United States. Other officials in the Revolutionary Council have said that the hostages would not be considered for release until July or August. As you know, they are delaying even the election of their parliament, which will ultimately make the decision.

So, you have a range of people who want to get the hostages out now and who did not think they should ever be released, including their own President, and you have other people who do not want the hostages to be released within the next 5 or 6 months.

MR. UDWIN. What do you think they could have in mind at this stage?

THE PRESIDENT. There's an intense hatred of the United States of America itself, brought about by the last 30 years of administration by the Shah, who was a friend of our country during all those years, beginning even when President Eisenhower was in office. And I think that burning hatred of the United States and of the Shah is combined in the minds of some, like the Ayatollah Khomeini. These terrorists inside our Embassy compound are followers of his, and I would guess that among the couple of hundred who are involved now in the holding of our hostages, there would be differences of opinion among them.

We derive every possible degree of information and advice and counsel among professors and former residents of Iran who specialize in Islamic thinking and in the Iranian attitudes, to try to pattern my own actions. And I have spent hundreds of hours, literally, studying Iran and the composition of its people and the religious and political attitudes, the character of specific people who are involved, so that I could make the proper judgments accordingly.

MR. SHEERAN. Are you sorry you didn't go in militarily right away?


MR. SHEERAN. Right after—

THE PRESIDENT. No. We've gone through a period of giving Iran every possible opportunity to resolve this crisis without bloodshed and without military action. We've been patient, exceptionally patient. On occasion we have had direct, unequivocal promises that the hostages would be turned over to the Government and later released, even from the Revolutionary Council and the terrorists and the President, all at the same time. But then the Ayatollah Khomeini reversed all of them and refused to release the hostages.


MR. SHEERAN. One light question—a lot of us have seen Bo Derek's movie, "10." Have you?


MR. SHEERAN. Okay, how do you give yourself a rating, I to 10— [laughter] —in leadership? What number are you?

THE PRESIDENT. I would rather not answer that question that way.

MR. SHEERAN. You'd rather not?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I'm not a completely unbiased analyst— [laughter] —and I think my assessment of what we have done under difficult circumstances would probably be higher than the average, and it would probably not be completely accurate. But I think we've done a good job.

MR. SHEERAN. You're not going to claim a 10, though?

THE PRESIDENT. No, but I would claim that we've done the best we could.

MR. UDWIN. Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: The interview began at 2:40 p.m. in the Map Room at the White House. Participants were Gerald E. Udwin, bureau chief of the Washington, D.C., news bureau, Bill Burns of KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Dick Sheeran of KYW-TV in Philadelphia, Pa., all from the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company, Inc.

The transcript of the interview was released on April 21.

Jimmy Carter, Interview With the President Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters From the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company, Inc. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249614

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives