Jimmy Carter photo

Interview With the President Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Editors and Broadcasters.

May 13, 1980


THE PRESIDENT. I would like to outline for you very briefly some of the issues that I am facing today.

I sent the new Secretary of State, Ed Muskie, off to Europe this morning. He'll be confirming our commitment to a strong NATO. He'll be discussing the issues that our nations face together with the European allies: how to deal with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, how to keep their support for us in obtaining the release and the protection of our hostages, how to deal with the very sensitive issue of bringing peace to the Mideast, and other similar matters concerning defense and diplomacy.

We have, domestically, a very important agenda now underway in the Congress, with the control of oil imports through the imposition of a conservation fee, which is now being tested both in the courts and in the Congress, which it is extremely important to our country to maintain; secondly, to deal with the economic problems of our Nation, going from a period of extremely high interest rates and inflation rates with interest dropping rapidly each week—and we hope and expect the inflation rate will be dropping early in the summer, at least down to a more moderate, but still too high a level-and the protection of the programs that are designed specifically for minimizing the adverse impact of a slower economy, including the holding on to jobs of as many Americans as possible. We've been extremely successful this first 3 years in providing additional jobs for Americans. We want to protect the gains that we have made against congressional encroachment.

We've got a crisis on our hands potentially in the food stamp legislation, both authorization and appropriations for food stamps. We need a clear signal from the Congress of success in financing the food stamp program by the 15th of May, which is very soon. Otherwise we'll have to start sending out notices very shortly thereafter to the State administrative offices that food stamps will be terminated. This could affect 21 million Americans who are dependent, at least partially, on food stamps, and it would be a bureaucratic nightmare and at the same time would very easily mean the dismantling or partial dismantling of the administrative structure for delivering this service to American people.

We have a commitment to deal with inflation on a continuing basis. It's absolutely imperative that we show courage and persistence and self-discipline here in Washington. This is an election year. A lot of these decisions—concerning inflation, food stamps, concerning the oil conservation fee, the possible increase in the gasoline tax—they are difficult to make, and they must be made if we are to deal successfully with the issues that confront our Nation.

We are now approaching a time of decisionmaking on the refugee question from Cuba and from Haiti. I'll be meeting with my key advisers tomorrow to put the final touches on our best approach to this difficult issue caused by the failure of the Castro political and economic effort in Cuba. This is a severe indictment of his regime to have this many people trying to escape from his country. He's apparently using strong-arm methods to dissuade many Cubans who want to escape from the effects of his administration.

We will continue to deal with the refugee question humanely. It must be in accordance with the law, and it must be in an orderly fashion. And of course, we are dealing tinder a law that requires a case-by-case assessment of each person who comes to our country, either for asylum or as a refugee, and the equitable administration of the law is very important to us as well.

It would be a pleasure for me to have your questions. I've tried to outline 8 or 10 issues very quickly, and we'll spend the rest of the time together letting you choose the subject.



Q. Mr. President, there is growing opposition in the State of Nevada to installing the MX missile system there. Will the Federal Government build it there, despite the fact that the citizens don't want it there?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, our intention is to build the MX system, part of which will be in Nevada. We are going ahead with our plans for this very vital strategic protection for our country. Historically in our Nation, States have been receptive to defense establishments which provide for the security of our Nation, and I believe that when the issue is clearly understood by the people of your State, and others involved, that they will be receptive to this commitment.

We are working as closely as possible, both with the congressional delegation, with your Governor, and others, to minimize any adverse effects that it might have on the quality of life in Nevada. And we continue to modify the design to accommodate that goal. But the paramount responsibility that I have as President, and which is shared by the people of this whole country, is for our Nation's security. We cannot let our strategic weapons systems become vulnerable, and without the MX I believe that we will be vulnerable.

So, this is of paramount importance, and I do intend to go forward with it.


Q. Mr. President, on the subject of steel—I'm from Pittsburgh, and there is concern there. Granted, we are in a recessionary period now; steelworkers more and more are being laid off. Now there is a bit of a conflict. The administration says that much of the problem facing steel was steel-induced, from their own lack of initiative and modernizing. Steel says not enough support from government. But beyond that, looking down the road, as we try to grapple with steel imports—and we're now around, say, about 18 percent as far as steel imports are concerned-looking down the road 10 years from now, we're in an age of interdependency.

Are we going to see the day when we're going to be forced to import large amounts of steel, maybe half of our needs? And if we are, what is the impact going to be on American society?

THE PRESIDENT. The answer is no. I don't see any prospect of that at all. I think with the trigger-price mechanism, combined with the other legislation that we've passed—the multilateral trade negotiation bill, to expedite the resolution of antidumping claims—we have made considerable progress in our country in the last 2 years.

The first year that the trigger-price mechanism was in effect, steel company profits, for instance, were magnified 60-fold. And we still have a substantially lower level of imports from Europe and Japan than we did when this common effort was hammered out between the Government, under me, and also the labor and business representatives of the steel industry.

In my opinion, we have also worked out a much better relationship between Environmental Protection Agency and the steel industry. The so-called bubble concept is a much more efficient and less expensive way to deal with the requirements under laws passed by the Congress dealing with air pollution and water pollution, particularly air pollution in this instance.

And we've got an increase, as you know, in prospect ahead with the recovery of our economic system after we go through this transition phase. The smaller automobiles will minimize the amount of steel in each car. The average weight, I think, has gone down about 700 pounds per automobile. But I noticed that Tom Murphy, with General Motors, predicted this week that we'll be back up to about 10 1/2 million cars being sold this year, which is almost up to the level of the preceding years.

But I don't see any prospect for a longrange trend downward in the percentage of steel in this country being produced by American steelplants. The very difficult transition phase to a more modern plant and one that can comply with environmental standards is substantially over, and the quality of American steelworkers and the close relationship that we have between government and the steel industry, I think, bodes well for the future.

The last thing is that we were disappointed when U.S. Steel filed their antidumping suits, but we accommodated this suit. And as you know, the Commerce Department and my administration has been confirmed in its belief that there was a basis for the antidumping suits. We believe that there will be an expeditious resolution of these suits, much quicker than would have beer, the case before the MTN legislation was passed.

Q. That's from the Government side, sir. From the industry side, have they given you assurances?

THE PRESIDENT. No special assurances. But I don't have any doubt that the steel industry is committed to making progress in the future.


Q. Mr. President, could you give us an early assessment of the meaning of President Sadat's consolidation actions in terms of the Palestinian talks and in terms of your administration's efforts to encourage stability in that region?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I talked to President Sadat early this morning, just after he made his speech to the parliament outlining the new program that he has put forward for the Government of Egypt. His commitment is to democratize the Government of Egypt. One of the things that he'll have is a much broader based cabinet, with 20 members, I understand, and then I think about 30 provincial governors. General All, who has been a very forceful and a very effective representative of Egypt in dealing with security matters, will be the chief negotiator in the future.

And I asked President Sadat on the phone this morning to make a quick decision to recommence the peace negotiations with Israel. He assured me that he would do so, and my belief is that he will make an announcement tomorrow when he addresses his own parliament about his desire to start the peace talks without further delay.


Q. Mr. President, farmers in my area are concerned that the price that they're getting for their products at the market is not keeping up with their production costs. They say they're losing ground. Despite the agriculture movement's protest here last spring, there doesn't seem to be very much going on helping the farmer. Do you think they're going to continue losing ground? Do you think that the Government will assist them in some way?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course, we have a very strong target price system and support price system for most elementary crops, basic crops. There's no doubt in my mind that almost every farm organization or farmer leader would agree that the 1977 agricultural act that went into effect the 1st of October of that year has been a major step in the right direction. It has minimized government intrusion into the life of farmers; it increased substantially the ability of farmers to store their own crops on their farm, with government loans to let them do so; and it's let the farmers benefit from increased prices later, after the harvest season, where the prices are always depressed.

In addition to that, we've now built up a substantial reservoir of farm-stored grains, primarily, that can help us accommodate rapidly changing domestic and foreign demands for grain.

We will see in the future, I think, much more efficient agricultural production. We've got a long way to go in reducing the amount of energy expended per acre and per unit of crop produced, with more dependence on minimum tillage and more dependence on solar heat to dry crops, for instance.

In addition, we have passed basic legislation, seminal legislation to permit the expansion of American exports. And even this year, with the restraint on sales of grain to the Soviet Union, we will again set world records for total amounts of American agricultural products exported.

I don't think there's any doubt that year by year, with the increasing world population and the decreasing amount of land available for production, particularly in other countries, that the strategic advantage of American agricultural production will become more and more apparent. I see a bright prospect for farmers in the future, both in continued efficiency of American production and also in better export possibilities for our products.

Q. But can you say under the present system that the American farmer is getting his equal share of the profit? Food prices increase, yet the market price—[inaudible]—isn't.

THE PRESIDENT. I think, compared to 2 or 3 years ago, the farmer gets a lot greater share of increased profits as farm products go up and down on a seasonal basis. In the past, the farmers—particularly the grain farmers—have had to sell their crops because of a lack of farm storage just at harvest time, and any increase in the price later on was channeled into profits for the so-called middleman. Now the farmers get a much better benefit therefrom, and I think the consumers benefit also, because, as you know, when prices go up there's always an exaggerated increase in consumer prices. When farm prices go down, there's been a very slow decrease in prices.

So, I would say yes, that the farmers are getting a better portion of farm profits than they did 3 years ago. As a farmer, I wouldn't think they get enough yet.


Q. Mr. President, the FBI has had undercover agents operating in the Bahamas for several months attempting to bring Robert L. Vesco back into U.S. jurisdiction. I'd like to know if you are aware of this and if they were operating with your authorization.

THE PRESIDENT. Ever since I've been in office, we've had a concerted effort made to bring Vesco back to this country for trial. This was particularly focused in Costa Rica when he was there. When the new President came into Costa Rica, Garazo, as you know, Vesco, in effect, had to leave Costa Rica and went to the Bahamas.

We still are attempting, through every legal means, to bring Vesco back here for the administration of justice.


Q. Mr. President, being from Florida, many people, especially in the black community, are still very upset as far as the discrepancy that was shown towards the Haitian refugees as compared to treatment of the Cuban refugees. How do we stand on this now?

THE PRESIDENT. There's no doubt there was a problem. The distinction, you know, that's been drawn in the Federal courts and under the U.S. law is that now, beginning several weeks ago, each case has to be resolved on an individual basis: whether or not the person is seeking asylum or is a political refugee, whether or not the person has a family to whom he or she comes, whether or not they would suffer from political persecution if they were returned to their original homeland. Now we are resolving those issues on a case-by-case basis, strictly in accordance with the law and strictly on a balanced and equitable basis. I don't think that this has always been the case.

As you know, the new law only went into effect this year. And the flood of Cuban refugees or asylees being brought here by their family members and by boats that are profiting from the refugees brought in here has exacerbated an already very difficult situation.

None of the Cubans being brought in, I don't believe any—very few, if any—are being given refugee status. They are treated as people seeking asylum here. They will be processed on a person-by-person basis and then their final determination of status will be resolved.

But I believe I can assure you without any doubt that at this time, the Haitians and Cubans are both being handled by the American authorities on an equitable and fair and equal basis, on a case-by-case basis as far as their ultimate determination is concerned, and strictly in accordance with the American law.


Q. I want to follow up on your talk with Sadat. This country, in the past, has run into problems when we've sort of put all our eggs in one basket with a single ruler, as with the Shah of Iran or someone else. Is what Sadat is doing now a move towards spreading the power so that after he's gone, or if something should happen to him, that there won't be some sort of immediate reversal in Egypt? Is that the sense of what that is?

THE PRESIDENT. Sadat has moved, as you know, since he's been in office, particularly since I've known him, to give the people of Egypt more and more voice in their own affairs—in the election of members of parliament, in the establishment of political parties, the open elections referenda on key issues, a new constitution. And now this latest move is designed to set up, in effect, a republican form of government, like the Republic of the United States, with provincial governors who will meet periodically to deal with national affairs, representing their own provinces. And I understand—I'm not sure about this—but I understand that the members of the cabinet will meet jointly with the governors periodically. This will be under the chairmanship of the Vice President of Egypt. His name is Mubarak.

So, the trend in Egypt has been toward more democracy and more decentralization of the government responsibilities. Sadat is intending, I think, to play a greater role in the administration of domestic programs in Egypt in the months immediately ahead—more than he has in the past. And I think this will make him personally more responsible, more accountable for the successes or failure in economics, for instance, and it'll make him personally accountable, which he desires to be, for the degree of democratization carried out in Egypt.

Ultimately, Sadat will be the prime negotiator, as I am in the United States, but he has anointed General Ali—who's a very good negotiator—to represent him. So, I think it's a move in the right direction. I don't know the details of it, but Sadat sent me a preview of what he was going to propose by Ambassador Sol Linowitz and then I had the conversation this morning with Sadat after he made his speech to the parliament.


Q. Mr. President, what are two or three of the most serious errors you've made since you've been in the White House?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it's hard to—

Q. I realize that's on the negative side.

THE PRESIDENT. It is, but I—it's hard for me to say what the most serious ones would have been. I think the lack of close coordination with the Congress at the beginning to lay down a clear agenda and my overoptimism about the speed with which Congress could act on controversial matters was the biggest misjudgment I made. I never dreamed in April of 1977 that when I put forward to the country a comprehensive energy policy and described it, I think accurately, as a moral equivalent of war, that 3 years later we would still be waiting for the final congressional action on that crucial element of American societal structure.

We've made good progress, I believe, in international affairs. In retrospect, our overestimation of the Soviets' willingness to accept a drastic cut in nuclear weapons; probably misjudged their inclinations-and it delayed to some degree the SALT II negotiations. Opening up China to friendship, I think, was a very notable achievement, and we've kept our friendship, as you know, at the same time with Taiwan. In dealing with the Iranian hostage question, I don't know how we could've done much differently from what we have done. We were on the verge of success several times.

It's just hard for me to go back and say what was a mistake. I think if anybody could redo history, you would know what other people might have as a reaction better than if you were having to make judgments on a daily basis, looking to the future without knowing what was going to happen.

Ms. BARIO. 1 Thank you, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. I'll take one more.

1 Patricia Y. Bario, Deputy Press Secretary.


Q. Mr. President, Senator Byrd—I'm from Martinsburg, West Virginia, where we've had the pleasure of your company.


Q, Trailing you down one morning at-[inaudible].

Senator Byrd had called for your changing your Rose Garden strategy before you announced it, I believe, in one of his weekend press conferences, and I think he skipped a breakfast here at the White House and—

THE PRESIDENT. What was the last thing you said?

Q. I had heard that he had skipped a breakfast that he might have attended and made a comment about he'd rather eat with his wife. [Laughter] Is there a problem with Senator Byrd? Is he mad because you didn't tell him about what was going on in Iran? Do you have a breakdown with the Senate Majority Leader?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I had breakfast with him this morning. [Laughter]

Q. I saw it was on your agenda.

Q. Was his wife there? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. It was a very pleasant meeting.

Senator Byrd has an open news conference, I think, almost every Saturday morning, and he can't control the questions that are asked him by the press. He has a perfect right to comment on the way I conduct my own campaign. His most recent advocation was that I conduct debates with Senator Kennedy during these last few weeks of the primary season. I don't comment on how other people conduct their own campaigns, and I don't know whether Senator Byrd has made a practice of having debates with any challengers that he might have or not.

But the relationship between me and Senator Byrd is very good. He's been either the most or among the most effective allies that I have had in the Congress in either House. I told Senator Byrd the last time I met with him privately that there was a general consensus in the White House and in my Cabinet that the strength of his commitment to issues where we shared a common goal had been a very inspirational thing to us and been one of the most significant factors in the success with which we have dealt on a common basis with controversial and difficult matters before the Senate.

I think he's shown extremely effective leadership. He's been a Majority Leader admired by both Democrats and Republicans, and he has my admiration and my appreciation. But there are times when he makes a comment concerning how I conduct my own campaign or whether I take a particular action on legislation with which I don't always agree. And I'm sure that I make statements at press conferences when it's unrehearsed, exchange with reporters, that he might not always find to his satisfaction. That's normal in an open democratic process. But he's one of the people in the Congress for whom I have the most admiration and the most appreciation, and he knows that I feel that way.

Let me say in closing that I appreciate your questions. They've been good and stimulating, and I hope you've had a good day with some of my staff members and those who work with and advise me.

One of the things that Senator Byrd and I both have in common is a great commitment to the rapid expansion of the coal-producing capability of our Nation with a heavy emphasis on exports. Every time I meet with a foreign leader from France or Germany or Denmark or from Japan or otherwise, I emphasize the almost unlimited potential in the future for coal to become a major export item. And we not only help ourselves in some of the areas of our Nation that have been depressed because of bad public policy in the past, but we also help to alleviate the excessive dependence of our country and other countries on the oil from the OPEC nations.

So, I think on almost every issue Senator Byrd and I have found ourselves to be in agreement. That's one of the items on which we consult and work with exceptional closeness.

Thank you again.

Note: The interview began at 2:34 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House.

The transcript of the interview was released on May 14.

Jimmy Carter, Interview With the President Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Editors and Broadcasters. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/250279

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives