Jimmy Carter photo

League of Women Voters Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at the League's Biennial National Convention.

May 05, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. President Ruth Hinerfeld and distinguished members of the League of Women Voters:

It's an honor for me to come back. The opportunity for a Governor to speak to a national convention of the League was indeed a pleasure and an inspiration to me. It gave me a broader vision of what I might do in the future on a national basis. [Laughter] And I have to say that when I was Governor, our State was going through a very difficult transition period with deep sociological changes and changes in the structure of our government. As was the case in January of 1977, I was a newcomer to Atlanta, as I was a newcomer to Washington later on, and the League had an insight and a degree of courage and commitment and attention to detail on the broadest possible range that was extremely valuable to me, as it is now.

This morning I'm going to speak very briefly and then spend what time we have available answering questions that you might ask.

When I was Governor, my predecessor had been asked about prison rehabilitation. The press said, "How can we have a better prison rehabilitation program?" Those of you who are from Georgia know what his answer was. He said, "What we need is a better class of prisoners." [Laughter] Well, when people ask me now, "How can we solve our problems on an international and national basis quicker and more incisive?", my answer is, "We need a better class of problems." [Laughter]


It's easy for us to forget in a country so great as ours the perspective that should be given to our Nation's strength, our Nation's accomplishments, and our Nation's challenges and problems. We deal on a daily basis with the controversies, the sharp debates, the temporary disappointment, the transient circumstances that cause us concern or inconvenience, and that becomes the all-pervasive realization of what our Nation is. But when we stop to think about what our Nation is, what our accomplishments are, what our blessings have been, what our opportunity for the future might be, it's indeed reassuring to a President and to a citizen of our great country.

Freedom, the attention given to an individual human being, a good education system, a benevolent attitude toward the world, a commitment to human rights, principles that don't change, a deep moral and ethical commitment, and the tapping of the resources of a free enterprise system, a democratic government, bountiful, natural blessings, with just a slight tinge now of restraint on energy—all these things bode well for our country in the future.

This is a time of challenge. Ruth, your president, will be working on an almost daily basis among a very small group of people who are developing for me an agenda, for the 1980's, trying to project, 10 years in the future, what we might be and how we might resolve the questions, the problems, the challenges, and the obstacles that are so obvious to us all.

We believe in social and economic justice, and we believe in peace—peace for our own country and, within the bounds of our influence, peace for others; a peace based not on weakness, but on strength—a strength that doesn't need to prove under actual test conditions that it's there, a strength recognized by other countries and other people, and a strength recognized by us.

America is going through a transition period. For the first time in our history, we now have to realize that there are indeed limits on what God has given us to use or to use up or to waste. There is a limit on energy reserves. We've never had to face that before. And we're going into a new period where there can be just as much excitement and innovation and achievement and gratification of human needs as ever before, but with a much more careful stewardship and a much more responsible approach to conservation and the elimination of waste than Americans have ever had to face in the past.

Three years ago, I spoke about the moral equivalent of war, and the next few weeks I was disconcerted to see op-ed editorials and the columnists write about the exaggeration that I put forward in a speech to the Nation and a speech to the Joint Session of the Congress. We anticipated then that the supply of energy would meet the demands for energy sometime in the mid-1980's. Those two lines intersected in 1979, and we now face a time when we must change.

This year we will buy from other countries $90 billion worth of oil. That's more than the net income last year of all the corporations listed in the Fortune 500. That amounts to $400 for every man, woman, and child in the United States. We import not only tremendous amounts of oil but also inflation and unemployment, and we eliminate the opportunity to take that money and invest it in our own country for a better life for us all.

We had been increasing rapidly the amount of oil we used. But in the last year or two, there has been a growing realization among Americans that we cannot waste energy in the future, and we've cut back now our imports and our consumption of oil by 5 percent in the last year. We'll have to do better in the future.

There are only two ways to cut back on imports, very simple rules: one is to conserve energy, and secondly, to produce more energy in the United States. That's all; simple— [laughter] —but complicated and difficult. And the Congress has now been wrestling with this challenging problem—successfully, I might say—for the last 3 years. And we do have the immediate prospect, in the next few weeks, of having a national energy policy for the first time.

Interest rates have begun to fall, the inflation rate will be down substantially during the summer, but at the same time in this transition phase, we face the prospect of a recession. We hope it will be mild. We have narrowly focused, very fine Federal programs that have been evolved to deal with increasing threats of unemployment. But as we go to the Congress this year for budget considerations, I need your partnership in protecting those programs designed compassionately to meet the needs of the most dependent persons in our country.

We'll have a competent government; it's got to be compassionate. And I think if you compare, as I'm sure you are, very thoroughly the proposals that I have made to the Congress compared to what the Senate and the House budget committees have done, you see that we've got a battle on our hands.

One of the immediate concerns, as a "for instance," is that we've got to get a third budget resolution, authorization legislation, and appropriations to continue food stamps after May 15. I need your active help. If the League could take that on as a project during the next 10 days- [laughter] —I know you're looking for projects— [laughter] —it will have a major impact.

The prospects now are not good, and we see a possibility, maybe even a probability, that in about 2 weeks, 21 million Americans will no longer receive food stamps. This will create a horrendous problem in our country, not only the disillusionment of those who might be hungry but enormous lines of people outside the welfare offices throughout the country searching for some alternative. And the bureaucratic structure will have to be terminated by law, and then it will take a while to get it back into motion when the Congress finally acts.

So, there are challenges; there are problems. But I have never known in the history of this country, when Americans could identify and unite, a question that was not answered, a problem that was not solved, or an obstacle that was not overcome. That's typical of Americans, and I see no prospect of failure now.

The last thing I'd like to say before I answer questions is this: We've made a lot of progress in this 200-year period in economic and social justice, and I guess you would have to add political justice. We've still got one major unmet need, and that is to have the equal rights amendment ratified. And again, I would like to have the help of the League of Women Voters— [laughter] —in this project.

Again, we've made some progress. We've had, I think, 6 women Cabinet officers in 200 years; I've appointed 3 of them— [laughter] —not enough, not enough. [Laughter] And we've got 32 Federal judges now who are women, and I've appointed 28 of the 32. And we've had a net decrease in Federal employment, since I've been President, in the bureaucracy, but we've had a 26,000 increase in the number of women employed.

I would like to see, with the equal rights amendment applicable throughout the Nation, a time in the not distant future when no President or no public speaker, including Governors or Members of Congress, would have to ever mention again how many women judges there are.

At this time, I'd like to ask those who have questions to come to the microphones, and I'll try to keep my answers as brief as possible. I think they are numbered, and I will try to keep up with them.



Q. Mr. President, I'm Edith Bornn of the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands. We'd like to know if you'd give your promise to us today to participate in the League-sponsored Presidential debate this fall, if you are the nominee of the Democratic Party. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I will be glad to participate this fall, if I am the nominee. [Laughter] It will be a great pleasure to be the nominee and to debate. [Laughter]



Q. Mr. President, my name is Ruth Dixon; I'm president of the D.C. League of Women Voters. I would like to ask, what is your position on ratification of the D.C. voting rights amendment?

THE PRESIDENT. I'm strongly in favor of it. I believe that this is necessary. We have, again, an unmet need, which has been recognized by the Congress, of providing voting rights for a large unfranchised group of Americans. So, I'm strongly in favor of the ratification of the D.C. amendment.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President.


Q. Mr. President, Ruth Johnson of the Dover, Delaware, League. What are the administration's plans for taking SALT II off the back burner? We need arms control, and we're very concerned about the effects of military spending on our budget.

THE PRESIDENT. At the time the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, I worked with the congressional leaders, Senator Byrd and others, in not withdrawing SALT II from the calendar. It is still on the calendar as a top-priority business in the ratification of treaties. I'm looking forward to an opportunity to revive the ratification of SALT II, and I have made it plain to the Soviet Union leaders that until this treaty is ratified, provided there's a reciprocal commitment by the Soviet Union honored through our own close observation of their actions, that we will also honor the provisions of SALT II even before it is ratified.

We are now prepared to move forward on the theater nuclear force discussions, which affect primarily medium-range missiles, not located in our own country, but in Europe, East and West Europe, and also to commence work on SALT III. This is a deep commitment of mine, and I'm determined that before I go out of office that we will have successfully concluded the negotiations with the Soviet Union to drastically reduce nuclear weapons, with the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons completely from the face of the Earth.


Q. I'm Merrill Clark, Niles, Michigan, League. You have supported a massive synthetic fuels program and an energy mobilization board with powers to waive substantive environmental laws. How is this support consistent with your stated commitment to increased use of renewable energy sources, conservation, and environmental protection?

THE PRESIDENT. I do not favor any waiver of substantive law.

What we put forward, and what I hope the Congress will agree to do, is to have an energy mobilization board which, in effect, just cuts through redtape and expedites decisions to be made on projects that will provide more energy for our country. This is called a fast-track method. It does not get into whether or not a project should be approved. It does require that a quick decision be made and not dragged out for 7 or 8 years, one way or the other. But I do not favor any waiver of substantive law.

The security corporation will provide adequate funding for the provision of alternative sources of energy, derived about 75 percent in the first number of years from coal—and this oil and gas would be clean burning—and then later, of course, to move into the production of oil and gas from shale, which is not presently being tapped in our country.

My conviction is and my commitment is that this will be done without lowering the air or water standards at all. And I believe we will be successful in getting the legislation and also protecting substantive law by our country, the National Government, and also the State and local governments and protect the environmental quality as well.


Q. Beverly Rosenstein, League of Women Voters, Highland Park, Illinois. Mr. President, the well-intended and well-debated programs designed to rescue our cities, already in trouble, are suffering from malnutrition, largely lack of adequate funding. What will you do to save our cities?

THE PRESIDENT. With very few exceptions, the mayors of the country have been very supportive— [laughter] —of not only the programs that we've put forward to save the cities but also of me and my reelection campaign. [Laughter] And I think this is indicative of a new sense of common partnership that presently does exist between local governments, both county and city, and also the State and Federal Governments. We've had a major rejuvenation of the quality of life in the cities already.

In our search for a balanced budget in order to turn downward the interest rate and inflation rate increases, we have done the best we could to preserve those programs that are important to the cities, both in employment—we'll have a million youth jobs this summer. Most of the CETA programs are preserved. The employment and public service jobs are still preserved. We have a $2 billion proposal put forward for youth employment. The local portion of the revenue sharing has been protected in our recommendations to the Congress, and also we advocated, as you know, that $500 million each year from the State portion of revenue sharing be allotted to those cities which need help most.

My opinion is that the best way to ensure that the cities will continue to improve is to orient not just special programs designed for the cities but all programs-in transportation, education, health, and environmental quality, jobs, housing—to orient those toward the deteriorating areas of our country as a top priority. This means some shift in past policy compared to what was the attitude of previous administrations. And I think we again have the strong support of local governments.

But I think that in the last 3 years we've had a substantial improvement; still have a long way to go. But there is an overwhelming support of what we have put forward by the county and city officials in the country. I think this is the best indication that what I've told you as an analysis is completely objective, not subjective, not biased, but accurate. And our commitment to the cities will not be attenuated in the future.


Q. Mr. President, I'm Janet Otwell, from the League of Women Voters of Illinois, the next State that's going to ratify the equal rights amendment.


Q. We're grateful for your support, and we were grateful for your support 2 years ago, because we know you did make telephone calls and help. I understand a delegation of our members, a bipartisan delegation of the members of our general assembly, is in Washington today to speak with you.


Q. I wondered if you could tell us what kind of support you're going to offer them and also what kind of support, or if you have talked with the mayor of the city of Chicago and the president of the Cook County board, and if they have given you any indication of the kind of support that we will get in the general assembly.

THE PRESIDENT. In the last, probably, 5 or 6 months, I have met every month with the leaders of, I would guess, 15 different organizations committed to the ratification of ERA. I meet with them personally. Quite often the Vice President joins us, and my wife, also.

We have our best prospect in Illinois. Two years ago, as you said, we didn't do our early work adequately, neither I nor others who were interested in ERA. We started quicker this year. We still have a very accurate assessment or count on the number of Illinois members of the house and senate who might be inclined to vote for ERA. As you know, the recent primaries showed that of all those in the house, I think, 6 who lost were anti-ERA. They were replaced with pro-ERA, and one pro-ERA house member lost but was defeated by someone, I understand, who was even stronger for ERA. [Laughter]

So, this afternoon I will be meeting, as you say, with a bipartisan group of legislators from the house and senate in Illinois to make plans on how we might be successful this year in Illinois. I have a good relationship with the mayor of Chicago on this issue— [laughter] —and also with the other political leaders in Cook County; for instance, the former mayor's son is also going to be helping us with the ERA effort. And it's still in doubt. It would be a mistake for any of those in this room to think that it will be an easy task, but I believe we have a better chance this year than we've ever had before in Illinois.

In my judgment, if Illinois does go with ERA, it'll only leave two States, and it'll be much easier for us to get those States subsequently if we win a victory in Illinois.

So, I'm in it with you; we all need to do a lot of work. And if any of you can add your voice to mine and others to get ERA ratified in Illinois this year, it will be a major step forward to give an equality of treatment for women, who have felt too long the burden of discrimination.

Let me add one parenthetical note. If any of you are interested or know the members of the house or senate in Illinois and you'd like to know what you can do to help induce them to vote or how they stand on the issue, if you would call Sarah Weddington, who's sitting on my left, third on my left, at the White House, she can give you an update on the issue so that you can help in your own way.


Q. I'm Marian Shapiro from Hayes, Kansas, League of Women Voters. I've been persuaded to ask this question by the Florida group. [Laughter] And I've been told by your aide that I can stop shaking, because you're a nice guy. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. If you'll be nice to me, I'll stop shaking, too. Okay? [Laughter] I hate to hear this one coming. [Laughter] Go ahead.

Q. In light of thousands of illegal and legal immigrants arriving daily, a problem which is reaching critical proportions, what does your administration intend to do about enforcing current immigration laws and providing funds and programs for dealing with these newcomers, who are presently a great burden on local communities?

THE PRESIDENT. The entire subject or issue or problem of the Cuban refugees has been greatly aggravated by the inhumane approach by Fidel Castro. We, as a nation, have always had our arms open to receiving refugees in accordance with American law. We now have more than 800,000 Cuban refugees in our country, who are making outstanding new American citizens, as you know.

I have a responsibility to administer the law, because I've taken an oath to do so, and to administer it in a fair and equitable way. It's important for me, for instance, to treat the Cuban refugees with the same degree of compassion and understanding and with the same commitment to the law as we do the refugees from Haiti and from other countries. We are the most generous nation on Earth in receiving refugees, and I feel very deeply that this commitment should be maintained.

Ours is a country of refugees. Many of those in this room have either parents or grandparents who were refugees who came here looking for a new life of freedom, a chance to worship as they pleased, or a chance to combine their own talents to build a growing and dynamic country. Those of us who have been here for a generation or six or eight generations ought to have just as open a heart to receive the new refugees as our ancestors were received in the past.

I have organized within the White House, under a senior assistant, Jack Watson, a combined group of departments who are working on this special inflow of Cuban refugees. In the last few days we have received more than 10,000 from Cuba. We've now opened up a staging area at Eglin Air Force Base in the northwestern part of Florida, and we're receiving these refugees now, primarily into the Key West area.

As you know, there are almost 400 of those who have been issued visas by our country who are hiding from mob violence instigated by Castro himself, and we're trying to get those freed by Castro to come on into our country. These are primarily former political prisoners. So, those 400 plus literally tens of thousands of others will be received in our country with understanding, as expeditiously as we can, as safely as possible on their journey across the 90 miles of ocean, and processed in accordance with the law.

So, I don't know how else to answer your question except to say we're doing the' best we can. I think the local and State officials in Florida have been extraordinarily forthcoming. We do have a need to go back to the Congress for additional funds to care for this unexpected influx of refugees. You can help here; the League can help. But we'll continue to provide an open heart and open arms to refugees seeking freedom from Communist domination and from economic deprivation, brought about primarily by Fidel Castro and his government.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Joann Fritz, and I'm from the greater Dayton area. And inasmuch as Ohio is fast becoming a depressed State, please relate to us your opinion of the upcoming Federal budget cuts that may affect child development programs and emergency assistance programs, coupled with the employment factors as a result of automobiles, steel, and population movements.

THE PRESIDENT. I will. This will have to be the last question I'll take.

We have put forward to the Congress a budget that is very carefully balanced and which is very carefully designed to protect those programs which you have mentioned. This is a year, however, when the battles within the Congress are not going to be easy ones.

Both the House Budget Committee and, even worse, in the Senate Budget Committee, those programs which you mentioned have been severely cut. These proposals will now go to the floor of the House and Senate for a resolution of the difference between the two budget committee recommendations, and then, of course, we'll go to the individual appropriations committees and then back to the floor again for the second and third budget resolutions.

As time goes on and the effect of the deprivation of these programs, including food stamps and others, are felt on a personal basis, my judgment is that the individual Members of the House and Senate, whether they be Democrats or Republicans, liberal or conservative, will see that out of humaneness, they will come back to the proposals that I made originally, which will protect these job programs, the housing programs, and others.

My recommendations in some areas are quite liberal. As a matter of fact, my first recommendation to Congress, when we put forward a balanced budget, was to increase federally assisted housing by 25 percent above what it is in the current year, up to 300,000 federally assisted homes. We've now asked the Congress to expand the 235 program, with Government-subsidized interest rates, to add another hundred thousand homes that will be federally assisted. This is still an issue that is in doubt, but I think with the crippled homebuilding industry and with the increasing demand for homes by our citizens, particularly the low- and middle-income groups, the Congress will eventually adopt substantially what I recommended for a budget.

The proposal that I put forward on defense expenditures is adequate. The Congress is naturally inclined, in a time of international tension, to want to raise that even more. The Senate has done so. We defeated, as you know, the Holt amendment this past year, that would have taken $5 billion more out of domestic programs and put them into defense programs. I think that's an early indication of what will come in the future.

But I genuinely need to have the support of the League and all those in our country who are concerned about children-we've not cut AFDC at all—who are concerned about the elderly—we've not cut social security, SSI, we've not cut Meals on Wheels—and are concerned about jobs. As I said earlier, we have not cut public employment jobs, we've not cut the million summer youth jobs. We're trying to build up those job programs in spite of budget stringencies.

So, in all of the proposals that I've made, I believe that in your own analysis-and the League does a superb job in doing this—you'll find that it's to the advantage of those deprived people to have the administration's budget approved and to eliminate some of the unwarranted cuts that have been put forward in the House and Senate.

Let me say this, in closing, to you: Your influence in this country, I think, is probably underestimated, even by the members of the League of Women Voters. Quite often, because of the tremendous diversity of responsibilities on a Member of the House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate or a President, there's not enough time to address every individual issue in a definitive and a deep way. And in your own subcommittee work, in education and housing and transportation and environmental quality, in health, those kinds of issues can be more deeply understood by you.

And there is nothing more effective, in my judgment, than to have a small group from the League ask for and receive an appointment with a Member of the Senate or House, particularly when they are home on a weekend or on a temporary vacation, and just say, "I want to talk to you for a few minutes about health or children or education."

And I hope that you will stay very close to me. Ruth Hinerfeld sees me probably more often than she would want to, because I call on her so much. [Laughter] And her avenue to the Oval Office is absolutely unimpeded. She can talk to me anytime she wishes, to express to me clearly the commitments and the motivations of the League of Women Voters. It's a stabilizing effect on our country and also an inspirational and a dynamic and aggressive approach to problems.

I'm eager to be a partner with you, and I'm convinced that we can have forward progress and, together, make the greatest nation on Earth even greater in the future.

Thank you very much for letting me be here today.

Note: The President spoke at 11 a.m. in the ballroom at the Sheraton Washington Hotel.

Jimmy Carter, League of Women Voters Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at the League's Biennial National Convention. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249981

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