Jimmy Carter photo

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

July 27, 1979


THE PRESIDENT. Ordinarily we don't have this large a group. In general, when we invite editors from around the country, about half of them prefer to come at a later time. But this time almost everyone decided to come. And I can understand why, because there's such a tremendous interest focused now on what is going on here in the Nation's Capital because of the rapidly changing series of events concerning me, personally, and the Presidency and the Cabinet, and also because of the crucial importance of decisions that will be made in the next few weeks: a series of legislative proposals—concerning energy, standby rationing, production board to expedite decisions on refineries and pipelines, power company installations, a production corporation that will meet our goal of cutting down energy imports, and, as you know, windfall profits tax to finance over the next 10 years-I think what will be a successful effort to restore our Nation's energy security. In addition, the Congress is considering many other items, the most important of which, in foreign affairs, is obviously the SALT treaty.

I think this is a time, too, when Americans are particularly and deeply involved in a reassessment of themselves, perhaps, or of our country—who we are, what our Nation is, what we can be, how we can work more closely with one another, how natural divisiveness can be assuaged, how we can set clear goals for ourselves and achieve those goals with both competence and confidence.

I think every now and then, in every person's life there comes a time of reassessment. I think we are going through a time of national reassessment, not initiated by me; it's a self-examination process that was initiated long ago. I think we more narrowly focus now our interest on this question, but it's something that has been of concern for a long time to me as President.

There is really only one person in this country that has a constant and sustained voice in politics, and that is the President. Others, on a transient basis, because of a focus of an event, have a loud and clear voice, and during the campaigns for office, these voices are dispersed. But ordinarily, the President must be the one to speak for our country and indeed to our country. I think there's been a much more sharpened interest lately in what I had to say, which is gratifying to some degree. It puts a responsibility on me to soberly consider what I impart to the American people and how I perform my own duties here in the White House.

I think the changes that have been made in the Cabinet recently have been all for the good. Some of them were overdue. I had a judgment to make about whether to have this done rapidly and get it concluded, recognizing that there would be some sharp shock waves going through Washington and perhaps the rest of the country, or to let it drag out, with columns and editorials and public speculation about who would go next or who would stay, and so forth. My judgment was to go ahead and do it and get it over with. And all of the departures have been harmonious as far as my relationship with the former Cabinet members is concerned. I think the appointments that I have made and will very quickly make to conclude the filling of the vacancies demonstrate that these are very fine and competent people who will be taking office. And I have no doubt there will be a more adequate teamwork in the future than there has been in the past.

I think it's best for me to answer your questions.



Q. Mr. President, Father Shmaruk from Boston, from the Planet. It's been reported that Pope John Paul II will meet with you at the White House in the fall. This has to do with world politics. What subjects generally do you hope to discuss with him, and how do you evaluate his unique position in terms of world politics, human rights, and peace?

THE PRESIDENT. I think the visit of the Pope to our country is one that will be welcomed by American people of all religious faiths. There's no doubt in my mind that he will get an overwhelmingly friendly welcome and an enthusiastic welcome. I expect to meet with him in the White House in a private fashion. My belief is that his desires to come to our country, not on a political mission, but on one involving religion, morals, and ethics. I look forward to meeting with him.

I don't have any way yet to know what subjects we will discuss. I have exchanged several letters with him since he's been in his present office, and he and I have had a good and friendly relationship. Several members of my family have been there, both political family and immediate family. We do share a common desire for peace, for the broadening of the beneficial effects of religion throughout the world, and also on such major matters as human rights. But I don't know now this early how to describe the agenda any more definitely than that.

I wrote him a letter this morning, by the way, and sent it to him.


Q. Mr. President, I've been here for 24 hours, talking with Democrats, both in the Senate and also in the Congress itself. And the Democrats there from west Texas, where I'm from, and Oklahoma and New Mexico right now want to be disassociated with you because of the windfall profits situation, also the fact that we've had a 65-percent cutback in energy, in diesel fuel in our area.

What about these good representatives the people have confidence in, saying right now that they don't back your policies and you need the confidence of the American people?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't agree with your premise. I think your information is incorrect. Recently, as you know, there were two polls conducted among the Members of the House, one by the Washington Post; one by the New York Times. I didn't participate in them, but I saw the results. I think in the South, which did include Texas, 88 percent of the Democrats said they prefer to have me on the ballot with them next year. I think 3 percent said Kennedy, and the rest were divided among a numerous number of people.

I have already seen the effectiveness with which the House has dealt with the windfall profits tax. I think they did a good job. Their bill is roughly equivalent to my own. The only problem with it is it only lasts until 1990. I prefer a permanent windfall profits tax.

This is a very difficult political season, and for someone from Texas and from the other oil-producing States, I realize that there is a duality of responsibility to the consumers, on the one hand—and there are many consumers in Texas—and to all those who depend upon the oil industry and the natural gas industry for their livelihood or who have a natural affinity for it because Texas is an oil-producing State.

My belief is that the Congress will act courageously and will implement the windfall profits tax, the security fund derived from it, the proper expenditure of those funds through the corporation to produce new kinds of energy, and the production board to expedite those decisions. My guess is that the House will, next Tuesday, vote for the standby rationing authority in an acceptable fashion. So, I don't really recruit people now to say, "I want to run with or without President Carter, if the 1980 election should throw us together."

But I think the polls that were conducted by those two news media, respectable news media, are a better indication than the results that you apparently got from your interviews.


Q. Mr. Carter, I'm from Portland, Oregon, and I understand the mayor's in town. I'd like to know, sir, if you intend to appoint him—or have you—as head of the Department of Transportation or some other Federal job?

THE PRESIDENT. I haven't met with him and don't know what I will do yet. I will discuss this matter with him and some others as well. I have a great respect for Neil Goldschmidt and so do all the members of my staff. I will make a decision on this matter soon. He's not the only one being considered, and I don't want to predict what the outcome might be.

Q. Will it be today, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. I can't say. Do you-does anyone know when Neil's coming?

We'll find out. I don't know when he's going to see me.


Q. Mr. President, I'm from Hillsboro, New Hampshire. As I'm sure you're aware, we have a primary election there in February. February's a cold month up there; between now and then there's a lot of cold nights. According to Senator John Durkin we are 20 million barrels behind last year in stockpiling oil. What I would like to know is, do you, as a candidate, seriously believe that you'll have a chance without taking further direct action to ensure a more adequate supply of heating oil? And if you do intend to take that sort of action, what effect might that have on the price of the oil?

THE PRESIDENT. Let me answer your question as President instead of as a candidate, okay?

Q. I was hoping you would answer as both. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. [Re[erring to Mayor Goldschmidt] He'll be here this afternoon.

I have promised the people of New England that they will have adequate home heating oil this fall and have set as a target goal 240 million barrels of oil to be in storage and ready in October. This can be compared with last year's inventory at that time, I think, of 133 [233] 1 million barrels.

1 Printed in the transcript.

We have had a depletion of our oil stocks, not only crude oil stocks but also the number two, number six distillates, as well as gasoline. None of those stocks have yet come up to their normal range, because we lost 100 million barrels of crude oil, ordinarily which would have been bought from Iran early this year. We're rebuilding those stocks, and this is the top priority for me now among the variables that I have to deal with.

The refineries are now operating above 90 percent capacity, which is almost 100 percent for them as far as their capability is concerned. At the beginning of last month, they were only operating at like 82 percent capacity. Part of this is because of our urging to them to produce more home heating oil. Part of it is because we've had increased supplies of crude oil coming into our country.

So, I think that I would be perfectly willing to be judged in February on the performance of my administration. Jack Watson, who works with local officials and with my agencies and also with Governors, is monitoring this on a daily basis, and he feels quite sure that we are on schedule.


Q. Mr. President, John Still, WWEE Radio, Memphis. With the push towards renewable energy supplies, how will future energy projects be protected against some small technicality that could stop it in its tracks, such as the $100 million Tellico Dam project that was stopped by a 3-inch fish.

And the second part of my question, with additional appropriations from Congress to the Clinch breeder reactor project last week, will you continue your opposition to it?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, my opposition to the Clinch River breeder reactor is unshakable. And I think it's a waste of money, and I intend to continue to oppose it, I believe successfully.

We have about a half billion dollars, which I have proposed on an annual basis, to proceed with research and development in breeder reactor technology. At the time we need a breeder reactor, at that moment, we will freeze the design and build an advanced design breeder reactor. I don't think this will come during my own administration. It'll come later than that. But I see no reason to waste hundreds of millions .of dollars in building a breeder reactor plant which we do not need, which is already obsolete before it's completed.

That answers the second part of your question.

The first part is: The energy production board [Energy Mobilization Board], 2 when passed by the Congress—and it's making good progress—will be responsible for the expeditious decision of whether a project should be built or not built. I mentioned earlier power production plants of all kinds, pipelines, refineries, and so forth. I don't believe there is any need for us to reduce the standards that we presently have of protecting endangered species or of protecting the quality of air or water in our Nation.

2 Printed in the transcript.

This week I received a report from the President's commission on coal use. We anticipate a doubling in the use of coal by 1985 if all the recommendations are carried out. The basic premise for this recommendation was that we would not lower air quality standards.

So, I can't see us changing the basic laws that protect the quality of life of American people. Our technological cap, ability is good enough already to make these changes to more plentiful supplies of energy without basic changes in the laws that I've described.



Q. Mr. President, my name is Sam Oates with KRIG Radio in Odessa, Texas. And I think without a doubt the people of west Texas thought that your recent speech was probably the best of your administration. However, they seem to be—the feedback that I've gotten-they seem to be somewhat unsure of your recent earnestness with your speeches and what not. Also, they're not quite sure about your ideas of establishing another agency to help the oil situation.

Are you being helped along with Mr. Rafshoon or anyone else in your administration as far as communication over the television or in any other media at this point?

And secondly, how's your mother?

THE PRESIDENT. Mother's fine. I talked to Billy and Sybil just a few minutes ago, who were right outside Mother's room. I think the diagnosis is that she has either arthritis or bursitis in her left shoulder and arm, and there's no problem with a cardiac problem or vascular problem, and I'm very pleased with that.

You know, I get help from every place I can. The Sunday evening speech was made literally from the bottom of my heart. I think a contrivance or posturing or an artificial attitude toward the American people on television would instantly be revealed, and I don't think the speech would have had as good a response as it has received if I had been trying to do something false or had been trying to mislead the American people.

As a matter of fact, I only practiced that speech twice, because I wrote it-my wife and several other people helped me with the basic structure of the speech—but I did it myself. I think Saturday afternoon at Camp David, I came in, gave the speech once, all the ones in the room said, "You don't need to practice it any more." Sunday afternoon I came to the Oval Office to get into the exact place, and I gave the speech once more before the cameras just to make sure that the timing was proper, and so forth. And again I didn't have to practice it any more. I didn't have any voice teaching; I didn't have any speech coaches and things of that kind.

It's a serious mistake for anyone in public office to try to mislead the American people about basic issues concerning the future of our Nation or concerning the psychological attitude of American people or concerning confidence or unity or trust or truth. Certainly it's a mistake to mislead the American people about their own security, either energy, on domestic economic security, or things like SALT. That would be a travesty. I would not be capable of it, and if I should ever try it, I hope that I would be caught and that the American people would demonstrate their lack of confidence by their actions on election day.


Q. Mr. President, Saul Kohler, Harrisburg Patriot News. With your admonition to the American people to conserve every drop of oil and with your request that we do without unnecessary automobile trips, why does the White House persist in cutting Amtrak service, both on the commuter and on the long lines basis? By commuter basis, I mean by cutting out tickets at commuter rates.

THE PRESIDENT. What we proposed on Amtrak several months ago was to eliminate those Amtrak services where the cost per passenger mile exceeded those by automobile or other means. These were routes and scheduled trips where people had almost abandoned them. It doesn't help to run a full-sized train at 10 percent capacity day after day and maintain a schedule whether you have the passengers or not.

With the advent of the gasoline lines, first in California and then later on the east coast, there's been a substantial increase in the use of Amtrak services, both commuter and longer distance travel. Now the Congress has passed—not exactly what I proposed, but a modification of that. Our proposal was that there be $65 million set up in extra funds, and that those funds would be oriented to support additional Amtrak services above what we originally proposed if the passenger use level warranted continuation of that service.

So, I think the additional use of Amtrak brought about by an awareness of gasoline shortages has been accommodated with a change in administration position. But it doesn't save fuel to have an empty train running, if a full train is more economical.

Q. Should the need arise, will you loosen the Amtrak schedules further!'

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we already have. Yes, if the need arises, we will, but it's got to be measured on an individual route basis. There's no reason to run an empty train just because it's a train.


Q. Mr. President, in north Missouri, we're somewhat isolated from the direct impact of inflation because of good crops this year. However, the people there want some good news, if they can get it, from Washington as far as short-term solutions to the energy problem.

Do they have to wait to 1984 or to 1990 to see the solutions of the impact?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think so at all. I met with some distinguished oil executives, for instance, at Camp David during the 10 days I was there, with consultation and with other people like the head of the Audubon Society, representing environmentalists and consumers, the president of MIT, who's done most of the work, more work than any other institution, I believe, on alternate sources of energy—I had a broad range of people,

One major oil executive said that just the decision that I made to decontrol the price of oil over a phased period from now until the end of September 1981 had been enough of an incentive in his own company to make this change. They had never before expended more than a billion dollars a year on exploration for new oil and gas. As soon as I decided to decontrol, on a phased basis, oil prices, they had a board of directors meeting and decided to spend $2 billion a year for 5 years, more than they would ever have done otherwise. So, just the certainty of the future prices of oil and natural gas, that in itself is a major incentive for increased domestic production.

As I just outlined, the coal commission has now advocated that the shifting of presently oil-burning power company installations, electric power company installations, to coal will save a tremendous amount of oil and make this oil available for other uses.

We anticipate that over a period of time that many of the New England homes that are presently almost exclusively dependent on coal [oil] 3 will be shifting toward natural gas as a heat source, and we hope to get some hydropower and other sources of energy from Canada across the border. We're pursuing that as well.

3 Printed in the transcript.

I am going to expedite the completion now of the gas pipeline coming down from Alaska to our country. We are already buying about 80 or 90 percent of all the oil that Mexico exports. We'll continue to do that, and we're trying to trade now on the basis of buying a limited amount of natural gas which Mexico will have available to sell to us in the future.

So, the shift toward coal; the enhancement of solar power; the development over a longer period of time of alternative sources of energy, like oil from shale; the bringing in of our own natural gas from Alaska—all these things put together will have immediate impact.

Overriding all this, though, is the benefits to be derived from conservation. We're now getting along fairly well in our Nation with 80 to 85 percent of the gasoline being delivered to motorists as before. In the Los Angeles area, there's been an enormous increase in the use of public transportation facilities. The number of cars on the highway has dropped. The number of passengers per car has increased. The American people are much more careful in not wasting fuel than they have been in the past.

We expect substantial benefits to be derived from the mandatory setting of thermostats in buildings like this one, and we have little recording monitors set around at appropriate places throughout the Government buildings to make sure that we do stay at 78 degrees, and this will result in a large savings in fuel.

So, all these things put together, I believe, will have an immediate impact. The long-range impact will be quite expensive, but it's something that we need to accomplish.


Q. Mr. President, why should minorities, specifically black and Spanish-speaking people on the south and northwest side of Chicago, where I'm from—my name is Steen King—why should they be concerned about SALT II or the fact that General Alexander Haig wants the measure held for ransom until there's more money for defense spending?

THE PRESIDENT. I would guess minorities would be concerned about life or death or war or peace; increased trade with other countries, instead of a separation of one people from another. These kinds of factors are involved, either directly or indirectly, in the SALT II decision.

There is also a competition for limited Federal funds. Without a SALT agreement to limit immediately the level of strategic nuclear weapons, we would have to have a very large increase in expenditures for military defense, above and beyond what we would have to have with SALT II. And if we have to spend—I think Les Aspin, one of the Members of the Congress, estimated that $21 billion would be required extra if we don't pass SALT. That $21 billion in a given level of budget would have to be taken from, maybe some of the social programs—housing and so forth—in which you are deeply interested.

So, I'd say an increase above what we need in defense expenditures and a general preservation of peace, increased trade that provides jobs, would be an additional tangible benefit.

We've got superb black leaders who have been briefed thoroughly on SALT and who are now speaking around the country on behalf of SALT just because a SALT treaty would help the people who look to them for leadership. One from your own region has been especially helpful, Jesse Jackson. Jesse's making speeches now to colleges and high schools and other fora around the Nation, telling them why as a black leader he knows that SALT is best for minority groups.

So, I think if you would be interested, when Jesse gets back from South Africa, he would be prepared, after thorough briefings here in the White House from me and others, to explain this even more thoroughly than I can at this moment.

Q. Mr. President, to follow up your answer to that question, you said, for example, that without the treaty, Les Aspin estimates that we have to spend another $21 billion on arms. And yet, what seems to be building up, movement that seems to be building up among the critics of SALT, is that as a condition of agreeing to SALT that there has to be a very substantial increase in weapons involving particularly the strategic side, and apparently a good deal more than you committed yourself to in your original presentation of the SALT II arguments.

Do you feel now that in the light of this kind of building argument that you're going to have to make a very hard commitment to a substantially larger increase in defense spending and particularly on the strategic weapons involvement in order to meet that kind of criticism and get this thing sold?

THE PRESIDENT. Let me respond by giving you three points.

First of all, my ultimate responsibility as President, above everything else, is to guarantee the security of my Nation, and the defense budgets that I have proposed and will propose will be adequate for that purpose.

Second, no matter what level of defense expenditure we might have—$140 billion, $160 billion, $180 billion, it doesn't matter—under any level of expenditure for defense purposes within reason, we are better off with the SALT treaty than without it. I could give you the reasons, but I won't go into that, because it'll take too much time.

And the third thing is that, habitually, Presidents have—including myself—have been more inclined toward a strong defense budget than has the Congress in the ultimate analysis. The Congress is the one that makes the final judgment about budget levels.

I've had two budgets that have been made effective since I've been President-one, fiscal year 1978 and then this fiscal year 1979. The Congress has reduced the defense expenditures or authorizations that I have requested, I think roughly $5 billion during just those 2 years alone.

So, because of those three factors, I think that the answer is that SALT is needed regardless of defense expenditures. I will provide adequate defense recommendations to the Congress. The likelihood is that if I tried to escalate defense requests substantially above what they are needed just to get Senate votes, which I would not do, the Congress would not approve them.

MS. BARIO. Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you all very much.

We've got a larger crowd than we ordinarily have. If you don't have any objection, I'd like to get an individual photograph with you before I leave. I'll stay a few extra minutes, if you can. It is a little warm.

I thank you very much for being here.

Note: The interview began at 1:18 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. Patricia Y. Bario is a Deputy Press Secretary.

The transcript of the interview was released on July 28.

Jimmy Carter, Interview With the President Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Editors and News Directors. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249886

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