Jimmy Carter photo

The President's News Conference

May 25, 1978

Held in Chicago, Illinois

THE PRESIDENT. It's always good for me to visit Chicago, one of our most beautiful cities and, perhaps, the best managed large city in our country or perhaps the world. This afternoon I have a brief statement to make, and then I'll be glad to answer any questions that you might have.


Our action to help rescue those who have been threatened in Zaire has virtually come to an end. Our transport aircraft, having completed their mission, will be returning to their bases within the next few days. I know that I speak for all Americans in expressing my abhorrence and distress over the violence and the killing that resulted from the Katangan invasion from Angola into Zaire. As great as the human tragedy was, it could have been much worse for the European nationals and for the Zairians, and the consequences much more severe for that country, if we had not joined in with our allies in a common effort.

Our action in Zaire was an appropriate and measured response to the situation. In this endeavor, we demonstrated both our ability to cooperate with our allies and our willingness to consult fully with the Congress before taking any actions. I imposed strict limits on the scope of our involvement, and they were rigorously observed. I'm gratified that we had the full support of congressional leaders before and during the rescue efforts in Zaire.

The Government of Angola must bear a heavy responsibility for the deadly attack which was launched from its territory, and it's a burden and a responsibility shared by Cuba. We believe that Cuba had known of the Katangan plans to invade and obviously did nothing to restrain them from crossing the border. We also know that the Cubans have played a key role in training and equipping the Katangans who attacked.

Our action to support the rescue efforts in Zaire was taken pursuant to present law and under my constitutional powers and duties as Commander in Chief. However, the tragedy in Zaire as well as other recent developments has caused me to reflect on the ability of our Government, without becoming involved in combat, to act promptly and decisively to help countries whose security is threatened by external forces.

Our military and economic assistance programs are one of the most important means of assisting our friends. Some of the legislation governing these foreign aid programs has the effect of placing very narrow limits on where and when they can be used. Some of these limitations, though they were enacted many years ago and under special circumstances, continue to be entirely appropriate and advisable today. Others may be outmoded. For that reason, I have concluded that we should review the full range of legislation which now governs the operation of these programs. I've asked the Secretary of State to conduct this review and to consult with Congress constantly in preparing the study for me. We want to take a careful look at whether our legislation and procedures are fully responsive to the challenges that we face today.

I will meet with the congressional leadership myself in the near future, so that we can reach a joint decision on the appropriate steps to be taken.

As for the Clark amendment, which prohibits action in regard to Angola, I have no present intention of seeking its modification, nor that of any other special piece of legislation. Any proposal for modifications will await our review of all restrictions and consultations with the appropriate committees of the Congress.

In the meantime, the existing provisions of law will, of course, be faithfully observed by me. But also in the meantime, we must resist further restrictions being attached to legislation now before the Congress.

As we consider new legislation, it is vital that we recognize our need to be able to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. The foreign assistance legislation now pending in Congress contains several proposed restrictions on Presidential authority in economic and military aid programs. While I am prepared to report to Congress and to remain fully accountable to the American people, I will oppose further restrictions. I do so not necessarily because I intend to exercise my authority in the areas in question, but to preserve Presidential capacity to act in the national interests at a time of rapidly changing circumstances.

I believe that the congressional leadership and the American people will support this position.

Thank you very much.

I'd like to now call on Melody McDowell for the first question.


Q. Melody McDowell, Chicago Defender. Critics of the Humphrey-Hawkins bill maintain that those who would stand to benefit would largely be going from one form of welfare to another, because the jobs that are being sold out are not those that would allow for marketable skills. Along those lines, what kinds of programs have you or do you plan to institute which would allow those who are impoverished to receive not only a job but also to gain marketable, career-oriented skills, particularly among black youth where the unemployment rate is disproportionately higher than any other group?

THE PRESIDENT. The Humphrey-Hawkins bill does not include specific programs designed to reduce unemployment. The Humphrey-Hawkins bill devises a system by which the President, the Congress, State and local governments, the private sector, can work together with a common goal of reduced unemployment over a period of years.

This legislation puts a constraint on me, as President, when I put forward a proposal to Congress, when I put forward a budget, for instance, to explain to the Congress how it will be impacted by and how it will help the unemployment rate in the country.

In the last 16 months, since I've been in office, we've seen a dramatic reduction in the unemployment rate. We've added a net increase of 5 1/2 million jobs; the unemployment rate has dropped from about 8 percent down to 6 percent on a nationwide basis. We still have a very high unemployment rate, however, as Melody pointed out, among young people, minority groups, and, in some areas, women. We have sharply focused Federal programs to put people back to work. And the National Alliance of Businessmen, the labor organizations, and others are also helping us, for instance, with veterans, with minority groups, and with young people.

Sixteen months ago, one of the highest unemployed groups in the country were Vietnam veterans. They now have a lower unemployment rate, because of these specially focused programs, than the average American who are in their age group.

And as we've put the general populace back to work, we can focus much more narrowly now on those who are the so-called hardcore unemployed, that is, the last ones hired and the first ones to be fired.

So, the Humphrey-Hawkins bill has nothing in it that would put excessive constraints on the American public or government. It gives us a framework by which we can plan together to continue to bring down an unemployment rate that has been improved but which is still too high.


Q. Mr. President, Frank Cormier, Associated Press. Former President Ford suggested today there should be an interrelationship between progress on the SALT and Soviet willingness to show restraint in Africa. Do you agree with this position?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I read President Ford's statement that he made today, and I think that his analysis is that we ought not necessarily to let Soviet action in other areas interfere with the progress of SALT. But he pointed out, and I agree, that unless the Soviets do honor the constraints on basic human rights, unless they also honor constraints on their involvement in places like Africa, that it will have a strong adverse effect on our country and make it much more difficult to sell to the American people and to have ratification in Congress of a SALT agreement if it should be negotiated between me and Brezhnev and those who work under us.

So, I never have favored the establishment by me or Brezhnev of a linkage between the two, saying that if the Soviets and the Cubans stay in Ethiopia, for instance, we would cancel the SALT talks. I think that the SALT agreement is so important for our country, for the safety of the entire world, that we ought not to let any impediment come between us and the reaching of a successful agreement. But there is no doubt that if the Soviets continue to abuse human rights, to punish people who are monitoring the Soviets' compliance with the Helsinki agreement, which they signed on their own free will, and unless they show some constraints on their own involvement in Africa and on their sending Cuban troops to be involved in Africa, it will make it much more difficult to conclude a SALT agreement and to have it ratified once it is written.

Q. Mr. President, Wes Pippert, UPI.

THE PRESIDENT. I'll get you next, Wes. Let me get—


Q. Mr. President, Dick Kay, WMAQTV. One of the Democratic candidates you are here in Chicago to campaign for, Alex Seith, says Illinois will be crucial to you for reelection in 1980, that your popularity is on the wane here, and that one thing hurting it is the possibility of closing at least three bases in Illinois—Fort Sheridan, Great Lakes Naval Station, and Chanute Air Force Base. I wonder, sir, if you are going to have any private conversations with local Democratic officials to heat up the relationship, so to speak, and if you have any comment on the possibility of those bases staying open?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have to say that I flew from Washington to Chicago on Air Force One with several members of the Illinois delegation, I think almost all the Democrats. They very quickly brought up this subject and discussed it thoroughly with me. And I have already had a chance to discuss this with Mayor Bilandic on the way in from the airport and with Adlai Stevenson, the Senator, who was with us also.

There's no doubt that if, say, these three major bases were closed under my administration, it would be a severe political blow to me. I think it's accurate to point out, though, that we'll make the decision in the final analysis not on the basis of political considerations, but on the basis of what's best for the national defense of our country now and, prospectively, in the future. The fact that these bases are on a potential list to be assessed has no significance at all.

For instance, if we have three major Marine recruit training facilities in our Nation and the Defense Department decides that we only need two of them and will close one, they put all three on the list to be assessed, so that after their assessment is complete, they will present to me and to the Congress proposals for the closing down of a base or changing its character. But before that is done, there will be 9 or 10 months of very careful analysis, plus a very careful study being done, which will continue for a long period of time, about the economic consequences to that area and to the country if it is closed down.

So, you've got the military assessment of need, a very long list—very few of the bases will actually be closed in the final analysis, not more than a third or so—and the economic consequences if a base is closed. So, I recognize the political consequences. But even then, I'll have to make a final judgment, and so will the Congress, on the basis of what's best for our country, not how much a local community might react adversely if a decision is made against them.


Q. Sir, will you have any private discussions to warm up the political relationship with the Cook County organization?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I've already begun those discussions. I was met by many of the candidates for office at the airport. All the Members of the House of Representatives are running for reelection, as you know. I met with them today. I've already met and ridden in and been up in my hotel room with Mayor Bilandic, who also happens to be here. Obviously, one of the reasons that I came here to Chicago is not only to meet and address the legislature tomorrow morning, which will be a bipartisan effort, but to help the Cook County Democrats and the Illinois Democrats win in the fall.

And my heart's in it. There is no difference of opinion between me and the Democratic candidates or leaders here about what should be done by the Illinois people in the elections this fall.


Q. Mr. President, a question about Africa again. Can you be more specific in the kinds of changes you would seek in this review? For instance, how do you feel that your hands are tied in extending aid to these nations in Africa? And further, under what conditions would you want to be able to extend aid, lethal or nonlethal, to such groups as the opposition forces in Angola?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have no intention of getting involved in the conflict in Angola. This is not my intention at all. But the Congress has had an increasing inclination recently, beginning long before I came in office, to impose one-House vetoes and to put very tight constraints on what countries we could give any aid to and prohibit even World Bank loans for countries, say, that produced competitive crops in the United States. For instance, last year the Congress attempted to impose a prohibition against any loans by the World Bank against a country that produced sugar products because it competed with sugar produced in our own country, or to prevent any aid being given to a country that produced tung (palm) 1 oil because it competed with soybean oil grown in our own country.

1 Printed in the transcript.

That means that we are prohibited from giving much needed friendship, mutual support, building up a trade relationship, giving aid when it's necessary to countries that might desperately desire our help, but be forced, because of an absence of it, to turn to the Soviet Union or to turn to Eastern bloc countries to help them sustain themselves.

There's a borderline region where I think the President ought to exert leadership and authority, keeping the Congress and the American people informed about countries that are not democracies, that might be socialistic in nature, but who don't want to be dominated by the Soviet Union or the Eastern bloc countries.

Some of them are already very good friends of ours. For instance, we are prohibited, except in the special circumstances, from giving any aid to Zambia. President Kaunda was here this past week. He's a very fine African leader whose friendship we want. Tanzania is another one. President Nyerere is one of our good friends now. He wasn't 3 or 4 years ago. Another one that would be an even more borderline case would be Mozambique, with Machel being the President.

I think that many of these African leaders are very strongly nationalistic in their attitude. They don't want to be dominated by us or anyone else. But if we are prevented from giving them any aid of a peaceful nature, even food, then they've got to turn somewhere else. And it ties my hands too much. It might be that when the Congress passes an amendment like this on a foreign aid bill that the reasons are sound, but then times change. Maybe after a year or 2 years, when that provision is still on the law books, there might be different leaders or different political circumstances there. I can't act to deal with the changing circumstance.

I might say that this problem was raised not by me with the Congress but by congressional leaders with me. And I'm not going to advocate any changes in present law until we have thoroughly discussed it with the congressional leaders in both Houses, both Democrats and Republicans. But I am opposing any tightly restraining amendments that are now being proposed by the Congress on the foreign aid legislation that we are considering this year.


Q. Mr. President, if Congress sends you a public works bill with fees on waterway users at the level set by the Senate recently, will you veto that bill, as Secretary Adams said you would? And if so, sir, what alternative solutions would you propose for problems of Alton Lock and Dam 26?

THE PRESIDENT. I would veto the Senate-passed bill, yes. We asked the Congress to impose water user fees so that we might get back a part of the cost of operating locks, dams, other very expensive waterway facilities, and, also, to get back part of the cost of the original capital investment.

In my opinion, at the present time, the barge traffic has a major advantage over other forms of transportation. Also, these facilities, when they are modified or built anew, cost very great sums of money. And I believe that it's proper for the Congress to pass a law that would let very modest user fees be imposed so that those who do use those facilities that are built by the taxpayers all over the country at least partially share in the cost of them. This is the case with other forms of transportation. I think it ought to be the case with water user fees as well.


Q. Mr. President, I suppose most of these restrictions that were written into the law were written with the idea of keeping the United States from becoming bogged down in another Vietnam. And I wonder, sir, do you see a comparison in the choices you now face and the choices that were faced by President Kennedy and President Johnson back in those early days when we began to get in just a little ways and then more and more came on? What differences are there in this situation than what they faced?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think there's any comparison at all. In my opinion, if President Johnson, President Nixon, President Eisenhower, Kennedy were in office now, having experienced the Vietnam war, they would be very cautious and very careful not to become involved again militarily, and I have that deep feeling myself. We are talking here about the kinds of amendments that I described to Wes Pippert a few minutes ago, an amendment that says we cannot either give any aid or even vote in the World Bank Board of Directors for a loan to a foreign country, just because their form of government might be different from ours or because they've had some past or even present human rights violations or even because they produce competitive crops that might be competing with crops grown in the United States.

And there's a trend in Congress that is building up that puts too much constraint on a President to deal with rapidly changing circumstances. We do not want to send military forces into Africa to meet the challenge of Soviet and Cuban intrusion. The Soviets and Cubans are eager to give either military aid, and even the Soviets send Cuban troops into a country to fight.

We don't want to do that at all, but if we can't even give a shipment of wheat or give a sound commercial loan or vote for a loan by the World Bank to that same people or that same country, it means that I can't compete at all, even peacefully, with the Soviet or Cuban military action in those countries. That's what concerns me very deeply.

I might say that it's not just my concern. I had a long conversation yesterday with President Ford. He, I think, perhaps is at least as deeply concerned as I am, and the congressional leaders share this same concern.


Q. Mr. President, when you were in Illinois campaigning, you said in Springfield and other places that if you were elected, we could depend on your doing something about inflation. And now we hear we're going to get a 9.3 for April and maybe the same for May. I wonder, sir, if you cannot control it, what political consequences will be to you and, secondly, would you consider taking a $20,000-ayear pay cut as suggested as a symbol for the Nation by Arthur Burns? 2

2"Former Chairman of the Board of Directors, Federal Reserve System.

THE PRESIDENT. I don't remember Mr. Burns volunteering to take a pay cut when I was in Government. [Laughter] We have imposed zero increase on all executive pay in the Federal Government in the executive branch. The Congress is now considering imposing the same zero increase in high-level pay for Members of Congress and members of the judiciary as well. I think that's well-advised.

It's obvious to me, looking back historically, that a year ago or 16 months ago, the primary concern in our country was unemployment. But my goal has been, as President, to bring down both unemployment and inflation. Last year we experienced about a 6-percent inflation rate—6, 6 1/2 percent. Now our projections for this year are that it might be 6 1/2 or 7 percent. I think the 9 percent that you referred to is a temporary aberration brought about primarily by high food costs because of bad weather.

We are doing everything we can now to cut down the rate of inflation, short of wage and price controls, which I do not ever intend to impose, barring a national calamity. And we've gotten good support so far from some of the major business leaders and the labor leaders, as well. General Motors, for instance, A.T. & T. have already publicly announced that they are going to hold down the price of their products and also put tight constraints on executive salaries and other salaries over which they have control.

The worst economic problem, the worst domestic problem that we have now is inflation. And I had a meeting this morning with my Cabinet officers to tell them that the 1980 fiscal year budget, which I'm now considering in its early state, will be very tight, with severe cutbacks than what we had anticipated recommending to the Congress next January.

I'm perfectly willing to meet any special interest group, no matter how benevolent, and hold my own in spite of the political consequences. And that includes business, it includes labor, it includes education, it includes transportation, it includes farmers, it includes all those groups who are very sincere and very good Americans, but who have to recognize that this year, at least, and perhaps next year as well, we have got to constrain inflation.

And I'm willing to take the political heat to do it, because it's very difficult for any one of those groups to agree to join in a common effort. But I think if we can get a spirit of deep concern, which I feel, and a common willingness to sacrifice, then I can meet my commitments to the American people and hold down inflation.

As you know, the Government does play a major role. It sets a tone and it controls the depth of the deficit, and it orients where spending programs are implemented and how much taxes are collected. We've already cut back our tax proposal, which will result in a decrease in the deficit for next year of about $10 billion below what we proposed in January.

So, I'm determined to fight inflation. I can't do it by myself. It's going to take all Americans to help, but I recognize that I have the leadership role.


Q. Mr. President, Walt Rodgers, with AP. It was just about a year ago at Notre Dame University you told Americans it was time to end their inordinate concern and alarm with communism. You seem to have fallen into that same preoccupation in Africa. My question is, what is America's vested interest in Africa, and why is it so important that we oppose the Soviets and Cubans on that continent?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have no fear of communism and no inordinate concern about communism. I'm not preoccupied with the Soviet Union. I don't fear them. I see the inherent strength of the United States economically and politically and militarily, and I'm determined, as President, to maintain that strength, which is, in almost every respect, superior to that of the Soviet Union.

We are concerned that the Soviets don't impose upon themselves the same constraints that we do. They have no reticence about becoming involved militarily in internal affairs in Africa.

I think the Organization of African Unity, the United Nations, the OAS in this hemisphere, and other similar regional and worldwide organizations can handle those disputes either within a country or across international boundaries without military forces being sent there. And that's the subject of my concern. And I feel that one of my responsibilities and one of the authorities that I have is to raise public awareness of it.

I think that Cuba, for instance, claiming to be a nonaligned country, is probably one of the most intensely aligned countries in the world. It's a joke to call Cuba nonaligned. They have military alliances with the Soviet Union, they act at the Soviet Union's direction, they are economically dependent upon the Soviet Union, they act as a surrogate for the Soviet Union.

And so, I think it's important for me as President, not being preoccupied or fearful, to let the world know what the circumstances are, because I think it's contrary to the hope that we all have for peace.

Q. But what's our vested interest in Africa?

THE PRESIDENT. We have a major vested interest in Africa. Our trade relationships are there. It's a tremendous developing continent. It goes all the way from ancient and highly developed civilizations, as you well know, in Egypt, in the northern part of Africa, through a burgeoning black population in the southern part of Africa.

In the past, we've not had an adequate interest there. And almost by default, because we came in ]ate or because we were not involved in a friendly, normal trade relationship where mutual trust and mutual friendships existed, we saw those countries turning to Marxist countries or Eastern countries for their support and their friendship. I think they would rather have a balanced relationship between us and the Soviets. I think in many instances they would rather have a democratic friend than to have a totalitarian friend. And I want to make sure they have that option.


Q. Basil Talbott of the Chicago Sun Times. Recent polls have shown your popularity dropping. I guess the Harris poll released this week showed that either Senator Kennedy or former President Ford could beat you if the election were held today. And there are some reports that your aides have urged you to get out around the Nation and try to bolster that image. I wonder if your trips to places like this—is that one .of the purposes for this trip? And if it is, does that mean that you're a candidate for reelection? And whether you are or not, are you concerned about these polls?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'm not a candidate for reelection. That's a question that I'll decide much later.

I've never been particularly excited about very good polls, and I've never been particularly concerned about very poor polls. They go up and down, as you well know. And quite often, polls vary among themselves at a particular time.

We've tried to address the crucial issues of our Nation without being fearful about political consequences. In some cases, they are long overdue in being addressed. Reorganization of government, welfare reform, energy policy, the Turkey arms embargo, which is now coming up, Mideast arms sales, the Panama Canal treaties-these things are not easy to do. And I could very well make every decision that I have confronting me on the basis of how it would affect me in the polls. I don't think that's the best leadership attitude for me to have. But I am concerned about it. I wish my popularity in the country was much higher.

And obviously, one of my duties as President is to get out among the people throughout the country, because I learn in the process. And in having these regional press conferences like this, talking to your legislature tomorrow, meeting with Democratic people tonight, and so forth, which I've done periodically ever since I've been in office, even when my opinion poll results were very high, I think it helps me to understand our country better.

So, I'd say it's a combination of hoping the people will understand and therefore like what I do, or at least sympathize with me and, in the process, let me learn more about the country.

MR. CORMIER. Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Carter's thirty-second news conference began at 4 p.m. in the Crystal Ballroom at the Blackstone Hotel. It was broadcast live on radio and television.

Jimmy Carter, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/245038

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