John F. Kennedy photo

Press Conference of Senator John F. Kennedy, Caucus Room, Senate Office Building, Washington, DC

September 01, 1960

QUESTION. Senator, on page 3 of your statement, you say, "A majority of the Republicans voted against civil rights, while we were supporting civil rights."

By "we" you mean the undersigned, not all the Democrats.

Senator KENNEDY. Yes, the undersigned.

QUESTION. You have 42 here, and there are 66 Democratic Senators. Does that mean that the other 24 are opposed or are you united on it?

Senator KENNEDY. No; but these Senators all voted for the five measures that I mentioned in the statement.

QUESTION. That would imply that only a minority of the Democratic Senators voted that way.

Senator KENNEDY. It implies that these Senators voted for all five of these measures.

QUESTION. Yes, but that is still only less than half of the Democratic Senators.

Senator KENNEDY. I think you can count and I can count.

QUESTION. Yes; that is right. But how can it be the Democratic program, then, if only 24 out of 66 are for it?

Senator KENNEDY. The program that I am announcing is my view and the view of these Senators.

Senator CLARK. And also the view of the platform.

QUESTION. How can it be carried out in the Senate?

Senator KENNEDY. We are attempting to carry that out.

Senator CLARK. We will have more than half.

Senator KENNEDY. There were others who voted for these measures. We will have their support.

QUESTION. I notice your running mate, Senator Johnson, is not included here. Does he endorse or support this statement?

Senator KENNEDY. I am sure there were other Senators who would have signed it, but we asked the Senators who voted on these five key amendments to support it.

QUESTION. Senator, in the light of Senator Clark's motion to table the civil rights bill during this session, do you think he can adequately explain his position and your position as well on civil rights?

Senator KENNEDY. Obviously I do. That is why I asked him to serve on this committee. Senator Clark's record is well known. He can comment on it.

Senator CLARK: For myself, I may say I have no doubts on that subject.

Senator KENNEDY. I think the reasons for the tabling motion were suggested in my statement.

QUESTION. Senator, on civil rights next year, will you run into the same difficulties that you ran into this session with other legislation, in the House Rules Committee and in the possibility of extended debate in the Senate? What do you propose to do about those things or to urge Congress to do about those things if you are elected?

Senator KENNEDY. Of course, the rules of the House and the rules of the Senate have to be determined by the Members of the House and the Members of the Senate. I have voted - I think my record is clear on that matter, when it was suggested by Senator Anderson in 1953 and again in 1957. If I am a Member the Senate, I will express my views on that occasion.

Senator CLARK. I would like to say in that regard that I think we take the platform a lot more seriously than some of you gentlemen do. I think you are going to find that this platform is going to be implemented when Senator Kennedy becomes President.

QUESTION. Senator Kennedy, if you are elected President, will you urge the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives to change the rules so that legislation may be brought to the floor with more ease than it is now?

Senator KENNEDY. I would say I think it would probably be inappropriate for me to comment on the rules of the House as a Senator, as a presidential candidate. Well, therefore, I don't plan to do it. My views on the rules of the Senate, as I say, are well known because I have commented on them and have voted on them. I think there are Members of the House who are extremely concerned that the rules of the House will be responsive to the needs of the times. But that is a decision which the Members of the House must reach.

QUESTION. Would you encourage them, Senator?

Senator KENNEDY. Well, we will make a judgment on what my responsibility would be in that field next January. But I do think that the Members of the House have to decide what the House rules are.

QUESTION. Senator, in view of the problems that they had passing the civil rights bill this year, would you encourage the public to believe that they could properly expect that passage of the full civil rights plank in your platform next spring?

Senator KENNEDY. I think all we can do is commit ourselves to that object. I don't think there is any doubt that there is a great deal of difficulty in trying to pass civil rights legislation. We have passed two bills, and in neither one of those bills do I think there was everything that some of us wanted in them. But at least they were progress. This is a difficult fight. It is not easy. If it were easy, we would not be talking about it now. But all I am saying is that we are committing ourselves to the fight.

QUESTION. Senator, in view of the issues that were in this short session, and all over the world, could you tell us, sir, how it happens that as the session ends your first major press conference is devoted to civil rights?

Senator KENNEDY. Well, only because I do think we should give a clear explanation of our position on a very important question. There has not been an opportunity to pass in this session of the Congress the kind of civil rights bill which I thought should have been passed. I think that it is an appropriate time to consider the matter. We were not able to do anything in this session, but I would not want our inability to do anything about the platform in civil rights in this session to mislead anyone that we were not going to try to do it in the proper time.

QUESTION. Are there also some votes in this issue?

Senator KENNEDY. I would say there are a good many arguments about that question, and you are familiar with them all. But I do think it is proper, when we go out and ask people for our votes in the North, the South, the East and the West, that at least they have my view on this question. I will say that I am sure my view will not be totally endorsed, what we have said here today, politically.

QUESTION. Senator Johnson's name is absent from this list. Does that mean that he does not join you?

Senator KENNEDY. The question was why Senator Johnson's name is not on the list? We did not attempt to secure the support, the signature, of Senators who had not voted for what we considered to be the five key amendments that were attempted to be tied to the civil rights bill this year. I think a good many Members of the Senate would have stated their support of the platform. But we confined it to those Senators who had this year voted on these five key measures alike.

QUESTION. You did not ask Senator Johnson to sign?

Senator KENNEDY. I did not. I informed him I was making this statement, but we confined it to those Members.

QUESTION. Sir, are you saying today that civil rights legislation will be the first piece of domestic legislation that you will urge to a Democratic majority, if there is one in the Senate, to push for it, should you become President in January?

Senator KENNEDY. No, I am saying that we are going to do the preliminary work under the leadership of Senator Clark and Congressman Celler. Early in the session we will attempt for the bill to be introduced and we will attempt to secure action on the bill early in the session. Therefore, it is a matter of great importance.

QUESTION. This pledge to obtain consideration of a civil rights bill next year follows two other developments, one the large crowds that Vice President Nixon is drawing in the South and also the fact that religion is becoming more of an issue in the South. Does that mean that you are going to concentrate more in the South and feel that the so-called solid South is going to drift away?

Senator KENNEDY. No. We are merely restating our position taken in the platform which was taken before both of those events.

QUESTION. Senator, how many Southern States do you expect to carry?

Senator KENNEDY. I don't know.

QUESTION. Since Senator Clark feels---

Senator KENNEDY. I don't know how many Northern States we are going to carry, either.

QUESTION. That you people are considering the platform more seriously than some of us are, may I digress to another field as long as I stay within the platform? You mentioned about a week ago that you were standing on the platform, including its pledge to repeal the authorization for the States right-to-work laws. In that connection, sir, I ask you, since you in March 1955, I believe, were a cosponsor of S. 1269 which called for changes in the Taft-Hartley law, including repeal of the authorization for the States right-to-work laws, does that represent your present thinking, particularly in view of the Democratic platform pledge to that effect?

Senator KENNEDY. My view about right-to-work - I have never supported right-to-work bills. I don't think it is a---

QUESTION. Sir, you were a cosponsor listed on that bill.

Senator KENNEDY. That is it. That is why I say I have never supported right-to-work laws.

QUESTION. In other words, your present thinking is that you not only support the platform but personally would support a repeal of States right-to-work laws?

Senator KENNEDY. I gave a hearty answer to the North Carolina delegation. I don't know when that matter might come before the Congress. I cannot make that judgment. It has been before the Congress since 1948. It has not come to the floor for a vote. Therefore, I have never stated that the platform would be implemented in every way immediately. But I do make the statement that my view on the question has been indicated on many occasions.

QUESTION. Didn't S.1269 in 1955 come before the Labor Committee?

Senator KENNEDY. I do not believe that it ever came to a vote, no. That is what I meant, that it had not come for any votes.

QUESTION. It didn't come up for a vote?

Senator KENNEDY. That is right.

QUESTION. Why does civil rights have this No.1 priority whereas the labor platform planning doesn't seem to have any importance at all?

Senator KENNEDY. It has importance. I am now talking about civil rights. I will be talking about labor in the campaign.

QUESTION. You said it did not have any particular priority on bringing up the right to work.

Senator KENNEDY. That is right; I don't.

QUESTION. This is being worked on before inauguration?

Senator KENNEDY. That is right. I think this is extremely important. I think it involves a great question that is of great interest to all American citizens and I think it is good for us to state our views on it.

QUESTION. Senator Kennedy, did you anticipate that you would have as much trouble with your legislative program in this postconvention session in the Senate?

Senator KENNEDY. No.

QUESTION. In retrospect, do you think the session was a mistake?

Senator KENNEDY. No. I think we had to come back. I think it would have been a much bigger mistake for us to say that we were not going to do anything about these matters, and that we were going to adjourn and not do anything about some of the appropriation bills, the Antarctic Treaty, education, housing, minimum wage, and care of the aged, that we were not going to try. We did not do as well as I thought we should have done. But I do think it was better coming back and making the effort because we can now get a clearer picture on what the problems are in attempting to carry out this kind of legislation. I think we bad a good experience in the last 3 weeks. I am delighted we came back.

QUESTION. Senator, do you feel you have been hurt by this session?

Senator KENNEDY. I think the legislation has been hurt. I think the final political effects, I would not make a judgment on yet, because the conclusion I draw from this session, and there are different conclusions that are being drawn, but my conclusion is that it is impossible to carry out this sort of legislation against the wishes of a President. I think that there is not any doubt that a Congress can block the President, and President Truman discussed that in the 1948 campaign. But there also is not any doubt that a President can block a Congress. When you have a President who is not supporting this legislation but is opposed to it, who threatens to veto it if it comes m a form not satisfactory to him, it is extremely difficult to carry action in both the House and Senate, and in a short period of time.

QUESTION. Actually the President did not veto any of these bills. The bills were blocked by the coalition of southern members in your own party and the Republicans.

Senator KENNEDY. Yes but you will recall in the discussion on medical care to the aged being tied to social security, offered as an amendment to the Kerr bill, the minority leader made it clear that the President would veto any bill that had the Anderson amendment in it. Therefore, any Member who was anxious to secure the passage of the Kerr bill had a good argument for not voting for our amendment, and that is "If I vote for is amendment, the total bill will be dead," and it is better to get some action than no action. The same thing happened to a degree in the minimum wage. I am not saying that some members of the Democratic Party did not vote against us. Quite obviously they did in both the House and Senate. But if you take the minimum wage conference as I said yesterday, every Democrat participating in that conference but one voted for the $1.25, every Republican participating in that conference except one voted against it. Six out of seven supported the $1.25 and six out of seven voted against it. Because we lost one Democrat we were defeated in the conference. I don't deny that the Democrats voted against us, but they have been aided because they had the argument that if this legislation passed, it would be met by a veto. I have some confidence, even though I recognize that in two parties there will be elements in both parties that don't have the same views, but I do think that with the support of a President who does believe in this legislation and fights for it, we can secure majority support. I will say there is quite a division in the Republican Party. A majority voted against the minimum wage, but 15 Senators voted for the $1.25.

QUESTION. May I ask you one question about the question of leadership involved in this campaign which you and your opponent have both made quite a point of? Do you feel it reflects on you that you as the new leader of the party would not be able to get through your own Senate the very program that you pledged yourself to get through?

Senator KENNEDY. We did get through minimum wage, on which I had a personal commitment. We failed by five votes in getting through social security for the aged. But I think I have explained some of the difficulties connected with that bill. On the question of housing and education, we had passed it in the Senate, as you know, and we could not get it out of the Rules Committee. In the case of both of those bills, in the House Rules Committee, not one of the Republican members would vote to bring either one of those bills to the floor of the House. My understanding is that the only way that they reach an agreement to permit the minimum wage was because they had an understanding with the House conferees that they would not go beyond the House bill. So I think we did not do as well as I had hoped we could do. But I must say in attempting to analyze what happened in this session, I think that it was the result of a President who opposed us, using the vast constitutional powers that he has, plus the fact that some members of my party do not support this position. But they have not for many years. But two-thirds of them do.

QUESTION. Senator, would you like to make an appraisal of the Vice President's role in this session?

Senator KENNEDY. No. No; I am not going to discuss the Vice President until he is out of the hospital.

QUESTION. Would you discuss him in another context? Governor Almond of Virginia said yesterday that he thought the Vice President was surreptitiously encouraging the introduction of the religious issue into the campaign. Would you comment on that?

Senator KENNEDY. Well, I am not sure - I am sure that the Vice President does not want this campaign, and I hope the members of his party feel the same way, I am sure the responsible ones do; do not want this campaign to hinge on a religious debate. I am sure that is not the Vice President's idea of a successful campaign, whether he wins or loses.

QUESTION. Senator, Communists reproach us because in this country, full of agricultural surpluses, families can't afford to buy the food that we have. As President, are you going to be able to do better than the Republicans in 8 years with the cost of living going up all the time? How would you bring the cost of living down for ordinary people, particularly food? You were in West Virginia; you know what it is there.

Senator KENNEDY. Well, Miss Craig, I am not running on the expectation that I am going to bring about a reduction in the cost of food in the United States in the 1960's. I hope that the increase in the cost of food will not take place, but I don't think that anybody in office today can tell you that the cost of food is going to be reduced in the 1960's.

QUESTION. Isn't that a reproach to capitalism? We have the food and people can't get it.

Senator KENNEDY. No. What I would like to see in the 1960's is to make sure that every American has a standard of living and an income which would permit him to buy the food we produce. Unless the Federal Government is going to embark on a program of subsidizing directly each food item that appears, you are going to have to pay a price for food which permits the farmer to make a decent income. I hope that it is going to be possible for us. In the ease of West Virginia, the problem there is not the cost of food, though I hope what he finally pays for it could be lessened, but the problem there is that there are not any jobs. If the people had jobs, they could afford food, but they don't have any jobs. I do think there are some things that the Federal Government can do about that. I never thought that a farm program would provide a reduction in the final cost in the 1960's of food items. I don't think that is going to happen.

QUESTION. Is it not the history that the cost of living outclimbs wages all the time?

Senator KENNEDY. No, it is not the history since the war. Wages have gone up more than the cost of living has gone up since 1945. But the problem is that there are those in the bottom part of the economic ladder where wages have not kept up, which is one of the reasons why I think it is unfortunate that this Congress defeated the minimum wage bill. To talk about constitutional issues connected with this bill as an argument for not paying a decent wage I think is most unfortunate, and that is what the real issue was in this discussion in the Congress. It was not a constitutional debate. It was a question of whether these people in business, making that kind of an income, would pay a decent wage. The problem is that the unusual workers are able to maintain their wages in relationship to the cost of living, that the people at the bottom are not. That is why the Federal Government has a responsibility.

QUESTION. Senator, do you think that the planned visit of Premier Khrushchev to this country, the United Nations, has a real significance on this campaign? Do you think it is going to in effect upstage you and the Vice President during the campaign?

QUESTION. We could not hear the question.

Senator KENNEDY. The question was whether I thought Mr. Khrushchev's visit to the United States would have an effect of upstaging Mr. Nixon and myself in the campaign.

The problem may happen, but I don't think that is his central purpose. But I don't think that concerns us, really.

QUESTION. What do you think is the significance?

Senator KENNEDY. Well, Mr. Khrushchev wants to come because he wants to present the Russian view on disarmament and probably other related questions in a major forum. That is why he is coming. I hope while he is here that he understands that while we are glad, as part of the United Nations charter, to serve as host to any foreign government, and those who make up the delegations, that we are involved in an important campaign. I am sure it can be explained to him before he comes that he should respect our tradition of settling this matter in our own way in our own country. His involvement in it would be unwelcomed by us.

QUESTION. Senator, did you say that you are not going to discuss the Vice President until he is out of the hospital?

Senator KENNEDY. That is right.

QUESTION. Does that mean no personal references in your speeches?

Senator KENNEDY. That is right.

QUESTION. But you will resume?

Senator KENNEDY. Well, we will see what happens then. I may discuss some of the Republican shortcomings but not Mr. Nixon's.

QUESTION. You are not going to mention his part in any of them?

Senator KENNEDY. Unless I can praise him

QUESTION. Do you mean that as long as he stays in the hospital, he has sanctuary?

Senator KENNEDY. Yes, that is right. And I may go there.

QUESTION. Senator Kennedy, this morning Congressman Powell said if he is chairman of the House Labor Committee next year, as he normally would be, that he expects to appoint an FEPC Committee right away with himself as chairman and attempt to get FEPC legislation through. Would you endorse that effort and expect it as part of your civil rights program?

Senator KENNEDY. I have never discussed it with Congressman Powell. The Democratic platform calls for FEPC. I have supported it when I was in the House of Representatives when it came up. I would feel that we should take action in every available area to expand civil rights, jobs and all the rest of it.

QUESTION. Senator Kennedy, I have a personal question to ask you. There have been reports that your father has removed himself from the public eye because he considers himself controversial. I would like to ask you, sir, whether you have discussed this matter with the Ambassador and whether he intends to have any active role in the campaign.

Senator KENNEDY. Well, as far as the first question, he has gone every year in the month of August to Europe in the last 15 years, and he went this year. He was not, therefore, exiled, but went willingly. He is coming back Sunday, I think, Sunday or Monday, as he always does, for his birthday.

Now, on the second part, I think he is not going to participate actively in the campaign, but he never has. But I will be talking to him, frequently.

QUESTION. Senator, would you tell us how you voted in the labor committee on the Goldwater antidiscrimination amendment to the situs picketing bill?

Senator KENNEDY. I think I voted to table it. I do not think anybody suggested, including Senator Goldwater, that that was any effort except an attempt to hold up the situs picketing bill. I do not think anyone would say anything but that. Senator Goldwater would agree to that.

Senator CLARK. This would clearly prevent its passage.

Senator KENNEDY. If you would say, am I in favor of that kind of legislation, I would say I am, but that is not the purpose that held the situs picketing because if there had been interest it could have come up any time this year, this bill.

QUESTION. Would you accept an invitation to talk to Mr. Khrushchev while he was here, or do you intend to take the initiative?

Senator KENNEDY. I do not intend to take any initiative. If I were invited and the Vice President invited, I would undertake to see Mr. Khrushchev , but only if the invitation were extended to us both and if it worked out satisfactorily to both of us.

QUESTION. This morning, someone said that in his opinion the election would be decided in New York State. Would you agree?

Senator KENNEDY. I think New York is a key to winning the campaign, but I don't know. It is going to be decided in a lot of States, but I think New York is essential. But so are a lot of States. Some people in other States feel it will be decided there. I suppose it is decided by a combination of electoral votes, but I would think New York would be essential to securing the necessary combination.

QUESTION. Thank you, Senator.

Senator KENNEDY. Thank you very much.

John F. Kennedy, Press Conference of Senator John F. Kennedy, Caucus Room, Senate Office Building, Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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