Jimmy Carter photo

Interview With the President Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Editors and Broadcasters of Harte-Hanks Communications.

April 23, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. I think for the first couple of minutes the national press will come in, and then we'll have a chance for questions. What I habitually do in these sessions is to outline in just a few words some of the key issues that are important to me as President at this time, and then spend the rest of the period answering questions from you.


I think today I'd like to emphasize the concern that we have about the economy, which is a burning issue for me and for the Congress and for the entire Nation.

We have put forward, a number of weeks ago now, a very strong and, I believe, ultimately successful anti-inflation program, with five major components, one of which puts the responsibility on the Congress to cut down Federal spending by roughly $15 billion, leading toward a balanced budget for 1981. And of course, credit restraints and other actions have also given the Nation a message that we are indeed able and willing and determined to impose self-discipline, not only on the Federal Government but also the ancillary parts of our economic society that can shape the tone of transactions in the future.

We've recently seen results of this effort and other trends. I think you noticed that the prime rate was dropped this morning a full half percentage point by some of the leading banks. Ordinarily this action is decided on Fridays, and in general, since April 4, we've seen a reduction in interest rates; everything except the prime has been quite rapidly coming down. We don't know what the ultimate trends will be, but we are having some beneficial signals.

The other part of it, however, is that we are faced with increasing constraints on the economy and its growth and also with serious problems in the housing and automobile industry and, perhaps, a few others. Farmers are heavily impacted by high interest rates. We've taken actions in all three of these areas and others to try to minimize the damage to American homes, American families, as we go through a transition period from extremely high inflation and interest [rates] to a tighter and slower growing American economy.

This is a worldwide problem, with high inflation, high interest rates. And the crux of the matter, as some of you know who are from Texas, is how we handle the energy question. I hope in a few weeks the Congress will have completed all of its major legislative tasks concerning developing for our country a national energy policy with phased deregulation, a decontrol of both oil and natural gas, and some commitment to conservation and to the development of alternative forms of energy.

I'd be glad to answer any questions that you might have on these or other matters, and then I would like to save about 5 minutes toward the end so that I can greet every one of you individually and maybe get a photograph.



Q. Mr. President, I'm Dick Gorrell from Anderson, South Carolina. Could the close race in Pennsylvania and the results of the Vermont caucus be a sign that voters are rejecting your Rose Garden campaign, and will you now face the voters in person in Texas and in other States?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't intend to campaign during the primary season until we've resolved the hostage question.

I'm not trying to project a tie vote in Pennsylvania as a victory; I understand that with about 30 or 40 thousand votes still to be counted, there's only a 3,000 vote difference. But I think that because of the very adverse economic news and the problems with the Iranian Government holding our hostages, terrorists holding our hostages, that that strong a show of support for me is actually encouraging.

We, last night, won 60 delegates in Missouri. I think Senator Kennedy got 10, and 7 are undecided or uncommitted, and we are likely to get some of those in the future. And it was almost exactly a tie in Pennsylvania. We lost by, I think, two delegates in New Hampshire [Vermont]. 1 So last night we had .another strong show of support, and looking at the mathematics of it, Senator Kennedy would have to get a little over 70 percent of all the remaining delegates, including those in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas, in order to get a majority of the delegates.

1 White House correction.

So, I was not discouraged last night. I think it was a very strong show of support under the circumstances. And I think in order to take care of a very complex international and national series of crises that, coincidentally, are on us at the same time, and to maintain the commitment in our Nation to dealing with the Iranian situation as a crisis equal to what it was when the hostages were first taken, that it's better for me to stay here and not campaign during the primary season.


Q. Mr. President, Bob Rhodes, Corpus Christi. With Senator Kennedy's intention to stay in the race all the way through the convention, can the candidate who finally emerges survive that deep division in the Democratic Party, or are you on some kind of a death wish?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I think the answer is yes, I can survive. The Democratic Party has a history of sharp divisions or divisiveness taking place during the primary contests, and most of the time, even throughout our Nation, Democratic candidates have done well. I have no fear of that. I think it is important to point out that we are committed to abiding by the rules of the Democratic Party and, also, I will honor the judgment of the American people and support the nominee if it should not be myself. And I hope that eventually Senator Kennedy will make the same decision, that is, to abide by the Democratic Party rules and to support me and Fritz Mondale if we are the nominees of the party.

I think that we'll prevail in November, the Democratic nominees. We don't yet know who will be the Republican candidate. Governor Reagan is ahead, but this is a volatile year, and rapidly changing attitude among voters has been evident from one week to another. So, I look forward to the rest of the primary season and to the general election season with a great deal of anticipation and confidence.

Q. Does it bother you that as an incumbent President you are being challenged by someone from your own party?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I would prefer to have it otherwise. [Laughter] This is the first time in more than 30 years, I might point out, that a Democratic incumbent President has had to take care of the duties of the office, which are formidable, and also at the same time run a primary campaign. It obviously complicates my life; it's difficult. But I think the issues are being debated, and although we are in a period of adverse economic news every week, we've still done very well under the circumstances. If you think back 8 months ago or 9 months ago, there was a general belief that I would be defeated handily if Senator Kennedy decided to be a candidate. I think the results since then have proven otherwise, so I have a feeling of gratitude to the American people and confidence that I can win this year.


Q. Jennifer Allen, Corsicana, Texas. Mr. President, is the kind of support we're beginning to receive from our allies, such as Japan and Great Britain, sufficient to effect the eventual release of the hostages in Iran, and, if not, how long and how far are we willing to go it alone?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we've not really gone it alone up until this point. We've had two unanimous votes in the U.N. Security Council to condemn the Iranian action and to encourage them to release the hostages. We had a vote in the Security Council to impose very rigid sanctions against Iran, and the vote was unanimous except that the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia cast negative votes, which has the effect of a veto.

But during that period of time, we had the support of our allies and their willingness to impose the sanctions if we chose. We've gone through phases of trying to negotiate the release of our hostages peacefully and without any confrontation with the Iranian officials. Even as short as a few weeks ago, the. Revolutionary Council, the President of Iran, the Foreign Minister of Iran, even the terrorists who are holding our hostages, announced that they would be transferred from the control of the hostages [terrorists] 2 to the Government. And we made this announcement to the American people following a public address by the President of Iran, Bani-Sadr, to that effect.

2 White House correction.

Subsequently, two members of the Revolutionary Council reversed their positions, and unanimity no longer prevailed, and the Ayatollah Khomeini made a decision that they would not be released. But we've gone through these phases, and I think that our allies have been patient along with us.

Recently, I have specifically asked the allies to go ahead and take action of a diplomatic and an economic nature, to be defined by them, to encourage the Iranian Government officials to work toward the release of the hostages and their return to freedom, so that we could end this crisis and protect the hostages as well.

I think the action taken by the European Community yesterday—although I would prefer that they had taken stronger action and more immediate action—is compatible with their systems of government, and although some of the nations were willing to go further and quicker, there is an advantage in their maintaining unanimity among them. I think their action, whatever it is, is more effective with the whole community being in favor of it. I think that best summarizes my response. They are independent and autonomous and very proud nations, and we have not made any ultimatums to them and not tried to embarrass them. I think they are giving us support, as has been made public, that's best under the circumstances.


Q. You said that the process with Iran has gone in phases.


Q. What phase would you foresee coming next?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the last economic actions that we took—to stop all transactions with Iran and the visiting back and forth from Iran, and the preceding actions that we took shortly before that—to break diplomatic relations with Iran, and to impose restraints on visas, and also to impose economic sanctions officially and to, in effect, set aside $8 billion or more of their money for future claims by private citizens, the Government, or corporations in our Nation-all were very serious matters and actions. And that's one thing that we'd like to see impress itself upon the Iranian Government officials. The other, of course, is our being joined by our allies. And the realization in Iran that they are becoming increasingly isolated, at least from the Western World, I hope will have a sobering effect on them.

We have to reserve the option to take other action if we deem necessary. And I don't think it would be appropriate for me to go any further than to refer back to the November 20 statement that described the options that we have, including—I think the phrase was "interruption of commerce."

But we are an aggrieved party, and it's important that the American people not forget that militant terrorists, with the permission and encouragement of the official Government of Iran, are holding captive innocent American citizens in violation of every international law, diplomatic processes, and human decency. It's a crime, and to me it's just as much a crisis now as it was the first week the hostages were captured.


Q. Mr. President, I'm Paul McGonigle from KOY-AM, Phoenix. At what point may we have to make a decision—the lives of the hostages may have to be jeopardized to take action to bring this to an end?

THE PRESIDENT. That's a judgment the President will have to make. And I've been faced with that question every day, and I've tried to make the best judgment I could under the changing circumstances about how to protect the integrity and the honor and the interest of our Nation and, combined with that, the lives and safety of the hostages and work toward the hostages' release.

I don't think that we've violated the honor of our Nation; I don't think we've violated our commitment to protect the lives and safety of the hostages. We have not been successful, obviously, in securing their release, but I can't give you a time schedule. I think that would be inappropriate. If I had a time schedule worked out in my mind, I don't think it would be good to reveal it.

Q. Is there an action that might precipitate something like that?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, obviously a change in the status of our hostages, either a partial release to control of the Government itself or any sort of punitive action against our hostages, have been two factors that I've had to consider from the beginning. I think the second of those was described in the November 20 statement, which we drafted very carefully. Every now and then I have to go back and remind myself of the original threats: that the hostages would be tried as spies and would be executed, and later, that our Nation would be tried as a criminal nation. And we've issued very stern warnings about that.

Lately there have been some stirrings of political fragmentation in Iran, with the riots on the campuses and so forth. And there have also been some disturbing statements made by the terrorists; for instance, if Iraq invades Iran this would be a puppet of the United States, and the hostages would be executed. They've made those statements just within the last few days, and there was not any immediate counterstatement made by either Khomeini or the Government officials.

Earlier in the captivity, whenever the terrorists said anything about physical abuse or threats of death against the hostages, either Khomeini himself or some other person would almost automatically say, "We do not intend to have any physical harm to the hostages."

So, it's a very complicated and very sensitive subject and one that we've tried to keep before the consciousness of the American people in an accurate and not misleading way. But I cannot foreclose any options available to our country, and I think that I've described it as best I can to you.


Q. Mr. President, we have a lot of questions that we could ask you on policy, but I think one of our major—I'm Jim Blount from Hamilton, Ohio, by the way—one of our major concerns is how you, as a person, are facing this job at this time—the frustrations and pressures. What do you do to relax? How do you keep your composure and live with the frustrations? What are some of the things that don't come across in a press conference like this normally?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I guess God gave me a character and a temperament that doesn't cause me to lose control of myself. I'm easygoing, and I've never stayed awake at night because of worry. I have good people with whom I can consult. And I think any President is reassured, under crises that may be much more severe than the one we face now, by the inherent strength of our Nation and, in a democratic process, the closeness with which I can deal with the American people and the understanding that I have of their desires. I think the Congress has been extremely supportive of me.

Personally, I get up at 5 o'clock most mornings, get over here at 5:30, work a couple of hours or read, before my day starts officially. I had a breakfast this morning at 7:30. And then I meet during the day with visiting delegations, you and others. I had representatives from the Methodist general conference that came in this morning. I meet with Members of Congress, and I try to get through with my workday around 4:30 or 5 o'clock and spend the rest of the day with my family. And then at night, quite often, I have to read or study. I have an average of 350 pages of official documents each day that come to my desk for study and for action. I'm a very fast reader and take care of that without any problem. And then for recreation, I run every day. My wife runs a couple of miles with me, and then I run longer after she drops out. We play tennis, sometimes; in the winter, I do cross-country skiing. I take a lot of exercise. I have a good, solid life. On occasion we go to Camp David. I haven't been there lately, but that's always a time to get away from this place.

Q. What would be on your agenda of reading, for personal reading, or do you have such a

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I read two or three books a week. I'm kind of a fast reader. Sometimes biographies, sometimes—I ordinarily read most of the books on the best seller list, plus some of the-I read a lot of biography about my predecessors at the White House. [Laughter] It makes me feel a little better to know that Roosevelt and Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson and others had some tougher times than we did, and also it gives me a feeling of reassurance to see that our Nation has gone through much more severe crises than we face right now, successfully, and the innate strength of this Nation is a very reassuring factor.

So, I get along well and don't get excited or disturbed about things, except when I'm thinking deeply about what to do concerning Iran, or what action to take to control inflation, or how to deal with the combination of inflation and high interest rates, and Iran and Afghanistan and energy and running an election campaign, and I get quiet or walk off by myself-my wife knows that I'm kind of studying about—I didn't mean to belabor the answer. But we have a good, solid family life, which really helps me a lot, and adequate time for recreation and exercise and to be with my family.


Q. Bob Moore, Middlesex News, Framingham, Massachusetts. I'd be dying to ask you on politics, but I'll ask you something that's connected with it, anyway.

THE PRESIDENT. Whatever you want to ask.

Q. With the present transition period where we're trying to get—save on the budget and so forth—there are still the high interest rates and the inflation—

THE PRESIDENT. That's true.

Q.—which makes it particularly difficult for the very old. And people think in terms of day-to-day, and I'm just wondering, is there anything, any hope you can hold out that sometime in this immediate future that you have some plans to take care of that sort of a situation?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I think it's good for us to remember that 25 percent of our Federal budget is for the elderly. Secondly, in the budget reduction proposals, there has been not a penny reduced in social security, SSI, and so forth. We also have an indexing system built into many of the programs for the elderly and for the afflicted and for the very poor, so that as the inflation rate goes up, the Government payments to them increase at least as much as the inflation rate. It's a very costly thing to the Federal Government, but I think it's a very important thing for those who are particularly vulnerable to inflation.

And the last point I'd like to make is that the people who suffer most from inflation are not wealthy people, like a President with a $200,000-a-year salary, or newspaper editors who are also in a very high income— [laughter] —but they're the people who have a low income and who have a fixed income derived from savings of their own.

Quite often these are the most vulnerable people, and if a family is, say, Spanish-speaking or black and very poor, living in a dilapidated area of a major city and they want to buy a refrigerator or a stove or a television set, they probably pay top price. I can probably find a way to buy it wholesale and so forth, but they can't. And when they buy groceries, they really don't have a very highly competitive supermarket from which to buy groceries. They quite often go to a corner grocery store where the prices are very high and where, if their social security check or something comes in late, they can get 2 or 3 days of credit. So, they pay extremely high prices, even above what a competitive type family can pay.

So, I don't have any apology to make for the reductions in the Federal budget designed to bring down the inflation rate, because I think the people who think they will suffer most from budget reductions are the very ones who will benefit greatly when we are successful in bringing down the inflation rate. I believe that we will see, during this summer, substantial reductions in the inflation rate, and we are already seeing fairly good trends downward in the interest rates. I can't predict success, but I do the best I can with it.

MS. BARIO. Thank you, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you all. I really have enjoyed it, and I'm sure you'll have a chance to ask the questions you didn't get to me to other people during the day. It's been a pleasure talking to you.

Note: The interview began at 1:35 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. Patricia Y. Bario is a Deputy Press Secretary.

The transcript of the interview was released on April 24.

Jimmy Carter, Interview With the President Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Editors and Broadcasters of Harte-Hanks Communications. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249706

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives