Lyndon B. Johnson photo

The President's News Conference

September 21, 1964

THE PRESIDENT. [ 1.] I have just put together three appointments for the Comsat Board-Communications Satellite. It is a 12-man board, and 3 appointments by the President. I have appointed Mr. Frederic Donner, who is chairman of the Board of General Motors, and has been since 1958. I delayed you a little bit because I had to have his acceptance. I just received it. I have Mr. George Meany, the president of the AFL-CIO. I will have Mr. Clark Kerr, president of the University of California. Those are the three Presidential appointees.

Q. How is that name spelled?

THE PRESIDENT. D-o-n-n-e-r. This has required a good deal of study and discussion, and I feel very pleased that these men have indicated their willingness to make a sacrifice to lend their peculiar and unusual talents to the direction of this great adventure between Government and free enterprise. Needless to say, all of them have a good many duties at the present time, but because I pointed out the need for their experience and their broad knowledge, they accepted membership.

[2.] That is about all I have to tell you. I will go over some travel plans that I have as nearly as I can make them. I hope you will be understanding with me in case I have to adjust them or modify them in some ways. Sometimes we have to make adjustments from time to time.

On Friday morning I will be in El Paso to meet with President Lopez Mateos.

We will then go to Oklahoma to dedicate the dam 30 miles south of Muskogee. That is a long-standing commitment I made to dedicate this dam, the Eufaula Dam.

I will then go on to Oklahoma City to speak at the Oklahoma State Fair. I had agreed with Congressman Albert, the Majority Leader, and with Mr. Monroney, head of the fair association, some time ago, to be there.

On Monday, September 28th, I hope to visit the New England States. I hold an honorary degree from Brown University, and I have had a very warm feeling for that institution, and particularly for President Keeney, which I formed through Senator Green, who is a member of the board of trustees there. I hope to be able to call on them. They asked me last spring to come see Senator Green and speak at the university. I agreed to it if the good Lord was willing and the creeks didn't rise. So I am going to be there on the morning of September 28th at the university's bicentennial convocation. It is a long-standing engagement, but unless something intervenes, you can plan to be there with me.

I would like to go on to Hartford, Conn., at noon, and to make stops in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont before returning to Washington.

Q. The same day?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. On Tuesday, September 29th, I will be visiting Mr. Brosio, the Secretary General of NATO. The visit will start here, and where it will end up we are still planning, but it will probably be at one of our interesting installations that command his interest. It will be something that he would like to see. It could be a naval installation, a missile installation, or something else.

On Thursday, October 1st, Dr. Milton Eisenhower, president of Johns Hopkins University, has invited me to speak to the student body and the faculty of that school, and I have accepted.

On Monday and Tuesday, October 5th and 6th, just before you ladies take off on that train with Lady Bird, we will have President Macapagal of the Philippines here for a state visit that has been planned for many months now. I believe that is the time that Lady Bird leaves on her trip.

On Wednesday, it is likely that I will be in the Midwest to make a political speech. I will give you more details as soon as we finish out some of the arrangements that are being made now by the security people and by the advance people.

Q. Of this week?

THE PRESIDENT. No, October 7th.

On Thursday, the 8th, I will be in Cleveland, Ohio, for a Democratic dinner, and there make a Democratic campaign speech.

I have some other plans, but they are tentative and they involve other foreign visitors, and I don't think I had better announce them here until we coordinate with their announcements, so we will not create problems for them, but I will give you them a little later.

[3.] I will answer any questions you have that are important, and then I am going to walk around at least once or twice, around the back here. I am going to take a short walk and a longer swim, but I have some appointments around 12:30. I will be glad to answer any questions you have here. I gave you this before we started the walk because somebody told me Muriel 1 has not permanently fixed the heel on her shoe, and I didn't want her to take notes on the trot.

1 Muriel Dobbin of the Baltimore Sun.

[4.] Q. Speaking of your travel, do you envision anything beyond the campaign, specifically, trips abroad? Tokyo hears you might go there, and Latin America hears you might go there. Have you thought anything about such trips at all abroad?

[The question was answered on a "background basis."]

[5.] Q. Mr. President, sir, do you have any further information on what may have happened in the Gulf of Tonkin and, if so, what do you think were the motives of whatever these ships were that approached the destroyers?

THE PRESIDENT. This is for background. No, I will let it stand for the record.

I have no further information on the incident other than that given you, other than the information you received Saturday on a background basis. I am unable to speak with any authority on the motives of the persons you referred to.

On Friday morning at around 9 o'clock, which was around 9 o'clock in the evening in the Tonkin Gulf, we received a flash information that has been described to you, namely, that ships were approaching our destroyers. The ships were unidentified; that a warning shot was being fired; and that they would, pursuant to orders, fire additional shots in order to protect and defend themselves.

So I received that information from Secretary McNamara. I asked to be informed immediately upon receipt of any other information. I conferred with the National Security Adviser and asked him to meet with the appropriate officials of State and Defense and keep me informed from time to time.

It was night out there, and it was day here, Friday. I was later informed that the ships or the unidentified vessels continued to approach our two destroyers and they opened fire. The ships disappeared. They would keep us informed. Planes had been launched and were in the air to protect the destroyers and to conduct a search, and to contribute anything they could contribute during the darkness of the night.

As we went into Friday night, which was morning out there, during Friday night the members of our fleet and our planes spent the daylight hours out there, the night hours here, attempting to conduct adequate reconnaissance, locate any hostile vessels that might be in the area.

Saturday morning, which was the end of the day out there, they notified us of their reports through the Commander in Chief of the Pacific, and CINCPAC, both of whom evaluated their reports, which were brought to me here in the Cabinet Room. I spent 2 hours reviewing them with the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of State, and my security people.

At that time I directed Mr. McNamara and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to issue an operational statement giving you all the facts that we had been able to confirm from the first daylight hours surveillance we could make, and the first reports we could finalize on that reconnaissance, and to give you specific times and locations and area and types of ships, and all of the details that they could from an operational standpoint, because it has been the custom of the President in my relationship to you to have operational things decided by operational people relayed to you because they have a knowledge of it, and they have a duty and obligation to maintain a relationship with the people in the field.

At the same time I informed them that I would be giving a full background to the people who covered the White House. As soon as they left here, I proceeded to call for you and you were in here shortly thereafter.

[The remainder of the President's answer was on a "background basis."]

[6.] Q. Mr. President, the President of Mexico, Lopez Mateos, has already announced detailed plans for the development of the Chamizal Zone on the Mexican side, and the El Paso Times would like to know what you are going to announce for the American side.

THE PRESIDENT. We will see, and I will be in touch with you.

[7.] Q. There is a strike deadline of 6 a.m. tomorrow set by various rail unions. Do you have any plans to ask for a postponement in that strike deadline?

THE PRESIDENT. I have nothing I would like to say at this point in connection with those negotiations.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, has there been any information at all that would suggest whether these boats in the Tonkin Gulf were torpedo boats like they were before, or larger ones?

THE PRESIDENT. I think you will have to stay with the announcement that Mr. McNamara gave that came from CINCPAC because I think it reflects exactly what happened and is about all of the sure information they have. They saw unidentified vessels on their radar and I don't think I can go beyond that. It is not because I don't want to, but I don't have any additional information.

[9.] Q. On the west coast trip, everyone feels you were way ahead in stating your visit, but they felt this was overconfidence and this was something you were going to have to overcome by shaking up the Democratic organization. Have you talked over that problem of overconfidence yet?

THE PRESIDENT. First, I don't think it exists. I think we all recognize that a very important derision is going to be made in November. I think every patriotic American will want to participate in that decision wherever he is.

My wife is certainly not overconfident, because she is exploring where she is going to vote in absentia. Before a very important election her car was turned over and a reporter asked her, "What was your first thought when you came to?" and she said, "I wished I had voted absentee."

So we don't believe in overconfidence. We think that the people want to hear from us, they want to get our viewpoints on public questions, they want to know how we stand on issues, so we are going to be visiting all over this country. I expect, myself, I will be in many, many States.

I don't have any accurate poll on them, but to just pick a figure out of the air, I would think now, since I have been President, the 10 months and maybe 11 months by election time, that I will be in States that involve a population of 125 million and probably more than 30 States. I know that Luci told me that she was finishing 10 that she had been in. Lynda Bird has been in 8 or 10, and Mrs. Johnson is going to be in some 20-odd.

Luci moved her father's presidential campaign into Indiana yesterday and brought 3,000 Hoosiers screaming to their feet with a plea, "Help me ring the bell for freedom." So I hope she is not criticized now for leaving out the word "freedom" there. At least Luci does her own speeches and she won't take any recommendations from anyone. I found that out the other evening when I tried to make a suggestion to her.

We will all be giving our viewpoints, the family, in places where we can. I will join Mrs. Johnson's train, I hope, someplace for an appearance, and both girls will be with her in and out where the school duties permit, and I will be in as many States as my Presidential duties permit. I would like nothing better, if I could do it, to be in all States. I hope to be in them all while I am President, and I hope I don't have to pick up several between November and January.

We think it is good that people in most of the States indicate their approval of the job that we are doing. We want them to continue to indicate their approval right through November and right through the next 4 years. In order to do that, we are going to look them in the eye like we look you in the eye, and we are going to talk to them and answer their questions and try to be available.

I am glad we came in from Utah the other morning. I got to bed at 5 and I was talking about the Tonkin Gulf the next morning. I was glad it was 9 that morning and not the morning before, because I would have been in Portland, Oreg., then. I could have done everything I did there, but I was just glad from the public standpoint that I was here. So I will be in and out of this office, and this will have first priority. I will be President first, but we will be out campaigning when the opportunity permits, to the extent it permits.

At the same time, we will have to dedicate airports and we will have a dam here and there, and we have visitors from here and there, and we will have interviews and press conferences and we will have all of these other things that are part of the Presidency.

Q. Mr. President, you specifically said that a couple of these appearances are going to be political. Does that rule out politics on the others?

THE PRESIDENT. I am going to make a Democratic fundraising appearance in Cleveland. As I recall, that is the only fundraising I make. I will make Democratic appearances in New England on behalf of the Democratic Party. I don't consider when I meet with you that I am making a Democratic appearance. I consider that I am doing my job as President, and that extends to a lot of places.

I might go to the Hill next week sometime to have a lunch with somebody, and you might consider that. I notice some of you considered the California appearance a political appearance. I don't care what you consider it. You have free speech. I don't want to guide the news. I don't want to try to lead the news. You just consider what you want them to. We had members of the Judiciary, Republican Members of the Senate, Republican Party of California, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and folks of that kind. We were in a defense-interested State. I am sure there were a good many Republicans in the audience. I would think that with a good many people like that, there were some Republicans. In fact, I saw two or three folks that just looked like they were Republicans.

When I go to meetings like that, I try, as I do in my hometown when I invite people to come in, I don't try to be offensive with them. All of you thought my speech in Detroit was a red-hot political speech. I thought I was going out at the invitation of the labor union in Detroit on Labor Day to make a Labor Day speech.

I was very pleased that I had not been partisan in the speech and had not been denouncing any Republicans in the speech when I saw the distinguished Republican Governor had come there to welcome me. I would have felt a little bad to invite him into my home and denounce the Republicans. I would have felt bad to have him invite me on the platform there and then start denouncing him. You can rate or classify that any way you want to.

I know my speech in Cleveland will be about the Democratic Party and will be charged for it, and I know some of my speeches in New England will be at the invitation of Democratic people up there, and so forth. I don't consider reviewing a hurricane as a political thing. It could hurt or help you.

The President has to do that just as I am doing like I am doing now. I will be doing things like that every day. I don't think you can cut off all announcements and not issue any information and not tell what is happening. You will be seeing from day to day developments in Government between now and November. I am President, and if I tell you about them you will say they are political announcements, and if I don't tell you, you will say we are guiding the press.

Q. Are you going to Atlantic City too morrow?


Q. Where are you going to be on Election Day?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. We have not planned that far ahead.

I am going to make a speech to the Steelworkers.2 I did last year, and the year before in Miami. I agreed to do this sometime ago, and I will go up and come right back.

2 See Item 589.

Q. Mr. President, the Steelworkers are probably concerned about labor-management. Can you characterize the Chrysler-Ford contract for us?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think I would. I will give some thought this evening to what I say to the Steelworkers and I will try to work out something to them that will be satisfactory.

Q. Might your trip to El Paso include a trip to Los Angeles?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think so.

Douglas Cornell, Associated Press: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Johnson's thirty-first news conference was held in his office at the White House at 12:31 p.m. on Monday, September 21, 1964.

Lyndon B. Johnson, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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