Jimmy Carter photo

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Interview With Correspondents of WCAU-TV.

October 02, 1980

Q. We are live in the Ambassador Suite of the Fairmont Hotel in Philadelphia with the President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. Welcome to Philadelphia, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. I'm glad to be here.


Q. Some of the questions that we're including in this program were solicited from our viewers last night. They phoned it in at 6 and 11 o'clock last night. And I'd like to begin with a question from Nicholas Schiller, of Windmore. He says, "Mr. President, you asked to be elected in 1976 because you said you could restore confidence. Confidence is nowhere to be seen. Why should you be reelected now?"

THE PRESIDENT. I think we've got a lot more confidence now than we had in '76. At that time we were coming out of the time of great shock to our Nation, with the Vietnam war, the Watergate scandals, the CIA revelations. The unemployment rate was extremely high. Farm income was at an abysmal low.

Since then we've had, I think, notable success. Our country's been at peace for 3 1/2 years. We created 8 1/2 million jobs. We've made good progress in resolving the biggest single threat to our domestic and economic prosperity, and that was the energy crisis brought about by excessive dependence on foreign oil. And now with that energy base intact, we're ready to revitalize the American industrial complex. We've also begun to weather the threat that existed to the steel industry. I think the new steel program will put it back on its feet.

This year, for instance, we will produce more coal than any year in the history of our Nation. We'll drill more oil and gas wells than any year in our history. And we've got a good prospect in the future to have OPEC oil as a major worldwide energy source replaced with Pennsylvania coal. So, there's plenty of reason to be confident now about the future.


Q. Mr. President, in the past few hours you've talked to voters, both here in Philadelphia and its suburbs, and now by being with us here on TV tonight you're also talking to the voters of New Jersey, which is the State I cover and which is a State that you must win. You didn't carry New Jersey 4 years ago. Given your track record there, coupled with the Anderson factor on the ballot this year, how do you expect to win New Jersey's 17 electoral votes?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it's hard to depend on a State, but a lot can happen between now and November the 4th. The Anderson factor is significant because, in my judgment, a vote for Congressman Anderson is the same as a vote for Reagan. Lately there's been some indication that that factor is not as important as it was a few weeks ago.

I think we've got a good record for New Jersey people. They're interested also in the energy crisis. They're interested also in the revitalization of the steel industry. They're interested in the production of new jobs for Americans and in the modernization of tools and factories. I think they've seen that our Nation has stayed at peace, that our defense structure is much stronger than it was 4 years ago. So, I believe the same factors that are important in Pennsylvania and New York will also permeate the consciousness of the people in New Jersey.

I remember a couple years before, Brendan Byrne ran for reelection. I went to New Jersey to campaign with him, and his prospects were virtually almost nonexistent. And he came through with a roaring victory for the best interests of the people of New Jersey. So, I can't predict flatly that I'll win, but we've got a much better chance to carry New Jersey than we had in 1976.

Q. Is it a key State for you?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, it is; certainly is.


Q. Mr. President, as a consumer reporter I was very interested in your statement yesterday that America makes the most efficient and safest cars in the world. So, I have a related question. What has your administration done and what does it plan on doing about the widespread failure of the American car manufacturers to promptly and fairly act on complaints about defects of workmanship? In the tristate area, all the consumer protection agencies that I've talked to say the efforts of the American manufacturers range from inadequate to disgraceful.

THE PRESIDENT. We're going through a phase now of unbelievable change in the automobile manufacturing industry of our country, brought about primarily by the explosion in OPEC oil prices last year. The price of oil increased more in I year than it had since oil was first discovered. And the American automobile industry is retooling.

I was in a plant in Wayne County around Detroit yesterday and then went later to Flint. I went through the plant and drove off the assembly line one of the new Ford models and examined at the airport the new Ford, Chevrolet, American Motors, Chrysler, and Volkswagen American cars. In my judgment, those cars now in workmanship and those cars in durability and those cars in safety are as good or better than any in the world, and on efficiency they're very competitive.

We've learned a lesson in this country on automobile production. We were taking it for granted. There's a new interrelationship, too, between the automobile workers and the industrial management leaders and the Government. Three years ago we were all adversaries—the Government versus the industry, labor versus management. Now we're working as a team with the interests of the American automobile buyer as a first interest and the most important factor. And I believe that in the future, now and in the future, when Americans go to shop for an automobile, they'll see that this is a highly competitive car in workmanship and quality with any in the world, highly efficient, and that the automobile industry of our country deserves a fair chance with American buyers.

There have been defects in the past in the absence of efficiency and different buying styles for the country, but I don't have any doubt that in the future that quality will be there.

Q. What I was getting at was, what has the administration done to require the automobile industry to pay attention to the problems and complaints of the consumer? In other words, they're not taking care of them. Someone suggested, for example, that in return for all of the loans and loan guarantees, that the Government require some kind of arbitration program, because people are simply left out in the cold. They have no remedy today. They can't afford to take a lawsuit ordinarily. And the American manufacturers, in effect, are turning their back on the American people as far as settling complaints.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think both the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Transportation have the authority to require an automobile manufacturer, either a domestic or a foreign manufacturer, to take back from a consumer an unsafe automobile or one that has an inherent defect in it and to repair that defect at no cost to the consumer. And the high publicity that is promulgated through all the news media of our country when there is a serious defect, in a tire or some component part of the automobile, is additional protection. As I say, we've not lowered but we've raised our standards for both the quality of American workmanship in automobiles and also the meeting of the efficiency standards that we've never had to meet before.


Q. As President, both John Anderson and Ronald Reagan have criticized you for "abusive remarks" and "scare tactics." Do you think that you're really taking the high road of this 1980 campaign?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I do. It's part of the American political system for candidates to do three things: one, to point out the previous record; secondly, to point out their visions or commitment for the future; and third, to point out the differences that exist between myself and my major opponents. That's been a part of democracy. And other than presenting those three views, the voters would have, I think, an inadequate basis on which to make a choice on November 4th. There are some honest differences between us.

I have never felt that Ronald Reagan was going to lead this Nation deliberately into war. But it is a legitimate issue to point out, for instance, that on numerous occasions the last 8 or 10 years, or even quite recently, he has advocated in trouble spots in the world the sending of American forces, American combat forces there to resolve differences—with Ecuador, with Cuba, with North Korea, Cyprus, Lebanon, many other places—when the incumbent President, myself or even my Republican predecessors, were trying to solve those same problems not with gunboat diplomacy or with American military forces but by diplomatic means.

Another very important thing on the so-called war and peace issue is the handling of nuclear weapons. Every President since Harry Truman, Democrat and Republican, including, of course, Eisenhower, Ford, Nixon—all the Presidents have been committed to a SALT agreement that would limit, balance, and then reduce nuclear weapons. Presidents Ford and Nixon, before me, and I culminated a SALT II agreement.

Day before yesterday Governor Reagan announced that he was going to abandon the SALT II agreement and replace it with an American nuclear arms race, to use his words, "to play as a card against the Soviet Union." This indicates to me that he has misunderstood the tremendous importance of that radical change from previous postures of Presidents since the nuclear weaponry came into being, because the change in the psychology or attitude of American people, influenced by a President, away from controlling nuclear weapons and the impact on our allies and friends and the impact on nations that don't have nuclear weapons and the impact on the Soviet Union to know that it's no longer fruitful for them to join in with us in limiting nuclear weapons is a very, very important issue. And I feel the responsibility as a candidate to make clear that extreme difference between me and him on that important issue.

Q. But isn't it kind of harsh to suggest in a Presidential campaign that a vote for Ronald Reagan could be a vote for war? Isn't that kind of strong?

THE PRESIDENT. That would be too harsh, yes; that certainly would be.

Q. Haven't you sort of insinuated that?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think so. You know, when you make a long speech, quite often extemporaneously, or when you answer questions that you don't know will come, quite often because of brevity you use fewer words than you would if you have time to explain in detail all the nuances that I've just tried to do for you. And I have always made very clear that I'm not criticizing my opponents personally.

But the American people will have to go to the polls on November the 4th and decide—because of my past record of maintaining this Nation at peace, my past record of trying to control nuclear weapons, my past record of working in harmony with our allies and friends for the peaceful commitment around the world, here, in the Middle East, and other places, compared with the statements and policies that Governor Reagan has put forward as a candidate, day before yesterday and over a period of years consistently-which candidate is most likely to keep our Nation strong militarily on the one hand and deeply committed to peace. I think that's legitimate.


Q. Mr. President, 4 years ago it seemed that you had a lot of fun during your campaign for President. I recall specifically the Peanut Brigade. You say it's better this time, but many of my colleagues seem to think that the joy has gone out of your campaign this time. What's the difference between now and then? Does incumbency change things?

THE PRESIDENT. Not as far as the candidate is concerned. I think as far as the news media is concerned, it changes things. There's a more sober analysis of an incumbent President and what I say and what I do than it was in 1976, when at first I was a lonely candidate with no friends and no chance to win and then later grew up to be a candidate who had the nomination of my party.

For instance, this morning in Dayton, Ohio, in a townhall meeting, I think there were, in a 1-hour exchange with the audience, there were probably 10 or 15 times when laughter swept the convention hall. And everybody felt in a very good and an enjoyable mood. And recently in a suburban backyard, near Philadelphia here, again the atmosphere was one of give and take and friendship and enjoyment.

I really like the political life and enjoy every day that I'm President, in spite of the crises and the sometimes loneliness of the job and the difficulties of the White House. But I think there is a more sober careful judgment of the actions of a President than there is of a candidate who's running against the President.


Q. Mr. President, for the last 4 years we at Channel 10 have been trying to get out thousands of mislabeled household products off the market that, according to virtually all medical experts, are likely to kill little children, because products, which are poison, carry first-aid instructions that are erroneous and that if followed will kill the victim.

Despite continued appeals to Federal agencies and a personal visit to the White House to see your special adviser on consumer affairs, no action has been taken. And only yesterday the EPA told me it will probably take another 10 years to get this mess straightened out. Mr. President, isn't that a little slow and a little ridiculous, even by the standards of Federal regulatory agencies?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, it is. I would be glad to have you present the material directly to me, and I will guarantee you that it'll get immediately, that day, to the Federal Trade Commission or the EPA or whatever agency is directly involved in that product.

One thing that happened last week—I think it may have been covered by your network—was that we signed the infant formula bill, where manufacturers of baby formula—and it's made out of soybean oil base—had a defect in the formula. And babies were becoming ill; they couldn't eat; they were losing weight and even having convulsions. A doctor in Tennessee finally believed that it was the formula. And we investigated it as rapidly as we could and found that it was, indeed, an absence of chloride. And the Congress passed a bill, I signed it into law, and gave us the authority under the Health and Human Services Department now to monitor baby formulas, when formerly we didn't have that right under law.

But if you'll give to me personally the information that you have about these dangerous products, I will see to it that same day that I get the product information, that it goes to the appropriate agency, and we'll also give you a report back on what action is taken.

Q. I'll send it to you immediately. But I guess I should ask why can't these Federal agencies move more quickly than that? I know that you can get the job done in 15 minutes, but why should a Federal agency take 14 years to take household labels off the market that all the experts say are going to kill little children? There's no argument over it. Everybody admits that this is wrong, and they're just not doing it.

THE PRESIDENT. That's a question I can't answer. But I've given you my answer. I haven't heard about it before. But now, having heard about it from you, there will be no delay in its being investigated and managed.

Q. Thank you very much.



Q. Paul Walker, a viewer from northeast Philadelphia, wants to know your stand—and this is a very important local issue—


Q.—on tax credits to parents of children who attend Catholic and other nonpublic schools.

THE PRESIDENT. I'm not in favor of tax credits to be given to parents, but I am in favor of greatly improving the Federal programs that go to ease the financial burden on parents who send their children to private schools.

Q. Why do you oppose the tax credits, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the Attorney General believes and his predecessors in the Attorney General's office believed that there are constitutional prohibitions against the Federal Government paying directly for religious instruction in the schools and the buying of books that relate to religious instruction.

But in order to avoid that constitutional prohibition we have done other things. We have expanded the title I programs for disadvantaged children to include private schools for the first time. We've added substantially to the amount of money that goes to the private schools for the school lunch program. The amount of aid that goes for college students going to private colleges has now made it possible for any young person in this Nation to go to a college if they're academically qualified to do the work, regardless of the financial status of that family. There just are different ways to approach the same problem. We also have established now a Department of Education and, for the first time, have within it a special agency to enhance the quality of private education without having the Federal Government interfere in the free exercise of management over those private schools.

So, within constitutional boundaries, as defined by my top legal adviser, the nation's top legal adviser, the Attorney General, we are moving to give Federal assistance to the private schools, including the religious schools, for instance, with the Catholic Church.


Q. Mr. President, the prime rate went up again today to 14 percent at one of the major banks. In our area the construction and the housing industries are suffering very badly and so are the people who would like to borrow money to buy new homes. When will things ever get better for them?

THE PRESIDENT. It depends on where you draw the comparison line. Compared to last March, things are much better. We've had a sustained housing construction industry in this Nation—the first 3 years I was in office, almost 2 million homes per year on the average. Recently, the interest rates have begun to go up again. It's something that I deplore very seriously. It would be obviously much better for me as a candidate for election if the interest rates were going down.

The Federal Reserve Bank, the Board that manages it, is an absolutely independent agency. Under law, the President has no influence over the decisions made by the Federal Reserve Board. They have a formula that they have developed that if the supply of money in the economy gets too great, there's too much money for any given level of products, then this would cause inflation to escalate, and they use that formula to raise the interest rates by the Government, and the banks sometimes follow suit.

We are trying to work as best we can to keep inflation rates, and the interest rate down and to provide a source of funding so that the homebuilding industry can continue to be strong. The last reports I got were that the homebuilding industry was still improving each month in the number of homes constructed and the new housing starts that were authorized by permits. I think the last figures I got were over 1.4 million homes per year rate, which is fairly good.

I don't know what will happen with the pow interest rate increases. My hope is that they will turn downward soon and help me politically and obviously help our Nation economically.

Q. Do you see a prime rate of 10 percent again in the foreseeable future?

THE PRESIDENT. I can only say I hope so, yes. I owe a good bit of money myself in my warehouse business down in Plains and I have to pay interest at the prime rate plus 1 or 2 percent. So, it hurts me personally when these interest rates go up.

We have tried to minimize the adverse consequences in the construction industry and throughout the economy that have been brought about by the interest rates tied directly to the inflation rate, primarily foisted on this country by the more than doubled price of OPEC oil, a decision made by foreign oil producers.

One of the best things that can be done to hold down interest rates and inflation rates in the future is to continue to save energy and produce more American energy of all kinds. The new energy program is doing that. For instance, every year [day]1 in 1980, we are buying from foreign countries 2 million barrels of oil less every day. And this will hold down the flood of foreign oil, which also brings with it inflation and unemployment. So, to become more energy-secure and move toward energy independence is a major commitment of our Nation. That will be a major factor in the future in helping to control interest rates and inflation.

1White House correction.

Q. Just one followup question: What good are those new homes if people can't get the mortgage money to move into them? They might be sitting empty next year or the year after.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the data that I gave you are predicated on existing interest rates, and there has been a fairly good recovery since last March. It's hard to predict the future of the homebuilding industry, but I think, in general, the homes are still being built. There's still a pretty heavy demand for them.

And one of the things that I've done, in spite of a very tight and restrained budget, is to increase substantially the number of federally assisted homes, where the rental rates and the interest rates charged on loans have been helped by the Federal Government, so that the people can go ahead and buy a home. For instance, since I've been in office, the Farmers Home Administration has loaned more money than it has in its 45 previous years of existence. And we have increased greatly the number of homes that will be built in this current fiscal year, that began yesterday, so that the Federal Government can have a beneficial effect on the homebuilding industry throughout the country.


Q. Mr. President, we've been doing a story on toxic chemicals in this area.


Q. One theme emerges. The people of Collegeville, Pennsylvania, for example, whose wells have been poisoned by the chemical TCE, say Federal officials are not helpful and have to be badgered and pressured and beaten into taking action. Why can't your agencies, such as the EPA and others, convince these people that the Federal Government is able and willing to help?

THE PRESIDENT. My own belief is that the EPA is a very dedicated and able agency that's made tremendous strides forward in controlling the toxic material that you've mentioned.

Yesterday, in Niagara Falls, New York, I signed two documents. One was a new bill that permits us for the first time to solidify nuclear waste into an almost impregnable solid so that it can be stored safely. The other bill I signed was an agreement with the Governor of New York to help those who had been hurt with the Love Canal contamination to move to a safe neighborhood without suffering financial damage.

We've gotten through the Congress to the House now the so-called superfund bill, which addresses for the first time in the history of this Nation an insurance fund that will correct toxic dump sites in the future, which will be paid for out of a small fee charged the chemical companies as they produce potentially toxic products to sell to the American public and also will help to clean up the more than 2,000 dangerous dump sites that exist in this country.

These are problems on nuclear waste disposal and toxic materials disposal that have never been addressed before. It takes a long time to convince the Congress, sometimes with the concerted opposition of chemical companies and the nuclear companies, that we must move. It took me 3 years to get through the Congress energy legislation. We've been working on toxic materials now for about a year, and the bill I signed last night in Niagara Falls is the first legislation ever signed in the history of this country to deal with the disposal of nuclear waste.

So, we are making progress. I can't tell you that it's fast enough, but it's as fast as I can move in setting up laws that give us the authority to do as you want.

Q. Of course, Mr. President, though, I'm not talking about legislation or regulation or authority. I'm talking about the heart and soul of the agencies. These people simply feel that these agencies are not their friends. They should be. Government is supposed to protect these people. And why do they view them as just a bunch of bureaucrats who don't act and won't act? Isn't that a problem?

THE PRESIDENT. You ask a question with an underlying premise with which I disagree. I know Doug Costle, who heads up the Environmental Protection Agency. He is as dedicated a human being as I know to do the job that's his under the laws of this country, to protect the health and the safety of American people. He works day and night at it, just as hard as you do being a consumer advocate through the television media. There is no doubt in my mind that his people who work under him are doing the best they can within the constraints of the law to protect the health of the American people against toxic materials.

The point is that quite often these toxic dump sites and nuclear waste sites have never been under the protection of the Federal Government before. And you have to get a law passed, through a very reluctant Congress at times, over unbelievable opposition from interest groups, to give the Federal Government the authority to act quickly, without delay, to protect the lives and the safety of our people.


Q. Mr. President, before we conclude tonight, of course your mother, Miss Lillian, broke her hip today in a fall in Plains, Georgia. How's she doing?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I just got a report, when I was walking into this room, from the White House physician, who's talked to Mama's physician. She just came out of surgery a few minutes ago. She was in there for an hour and a half. They had to operate on her hip. The upper femur, the large leg bone, was fractured and displaced substantially. They implanted a steel pin in the marrow of the bone and put a plate on her hip. She's in good physical shape. Her heart is strong. She's 82 years old, which makes it more serious. But the reports that I have is that although she's still under the effect of the anesthesia, the doctor says the operation was successful.

I thank you for asking about it.

Q. Okay. President Carter, thanks for joining us tonight. We've been talking live in the Ambassador Room, the Ambassador Suite at the Fairmont Hotel with President Jimmy Carter. Right now, for Lottie Yapczenski and Herb Denenberg, I'm Larry Kane. Good night.

Note: The interview began at 7 p.m. and was broadcast live from the Ambassador Suite at the Fairmont Hotel.

Jimmy Carter, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Interview With Correspondents of WCAU-TV. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/252064

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