The President's News Conference
THE PRESIDENT. I have an announcement or two I would like to make while I am here, if you want to use them, and then I will be glad to answer any questions, if you have any, that may occur to you. We will call this, I guess, a White House impromptu press conference.
ADDITIONS TO THE WHITE HOUSE STAFF
[1.] I want to announce today two new additions to the White House staff.
As a Special Assistant to the President and as Secretary to the Cabinet, I am naming a man who is an old White House reporter and known to most of you, Mr. Robert Kintner, the former executive with the National Broadcasting Company.
When I came to Washington sometime in the early thirties, I remember coming back on the train with President Roosevelt, and I first met Bob Kintner and his wife Jean. They have been friends ever since, and I have asked him to come and work with me. He will work at the highest level with the Cabinet, and as a Liaison not only with each Cabinet department, but with the other agencies that report to the President.
He will take a substantial part of the work that Jack Valenti is doing with the Cabinet at present, and Joe Califano.1 They are dividing it, and Mr. Kintner will assume that responsibility and relieve them for other work.
1Jack Valenti and Joseph A. Califano, Jr., Special Assistants to the President.
He will advise me on a broad range of matters, including organizational and administrative problems, coordination of the Great Society programs, as well as topflight presidential personnel.
Mr. Macy 2 does not replace him or change his duties in any way, but frequently I am unable to interview and evaluate all of the people. He will originate suggestions from here on top quality personnel. Any of you that don't want to get on the public payroll had better dodge Bob when he is walking down the hall.
2John W. Macy, Jr., Chairman, Civil Service Commission, and personnel adviser to the President.
Bob Kintner is a man of wide experience in public affairs, journalism, and executive management. He is an innovator, administrator, and a genuine doer. I think the Government is fortunate to secure his services.
WALT WHITMAN ROSTOW
[2.] I am also naming as Special Assistant to the President Mr. Walt Whitman Rostow. Mr. Rostow is presently Assistant Secretary of State for Policy Planning and Counselor of the Department of State. He is one of the most original thinkers that I know. He is a man of long experience in academic and governmental circles.
He will come to the White House to work principally, but not necessarily exclusively, in the field of foreign policy. I will especially look to him for the development of long-range plans in that field, as well as special coordination of Latin American development, in which we are intensely interested, and in which he has played a very special part in CIAP (Inter-American Committee on the Alliance for Progress).
It is one of his fields of particular interest, and I shall look to him as a catalyst for ideas and programs on the various continents of the world.
As Special Assistants to the President, Mr. Kintner and Mr. Rostow will earn $30,000 annually. The Press Office will have biographical material on each man available when we have finished here.
I will be glad to answer any questions on this subject or any other that you may have, and if Smitty will keep time on us, so that I can count this as a regular, impromptu, unannounced, hurried-up press conference, I will appreciate it.
PURPOSE OF MEETINGS WITH MAYORS AND BUSINESSMEN
[3.] Q. Mr. President, in your speech today over at the mayors,3 you seemed to indicate a new sense of urgency and concern about the inflationary threat. Is there any single event or group of events that you can identify that have caused this concern and led you into this series of meetings, such as last night and today?
THE PRESIDENT. No. When I came into the Presidency, that led me into them. I regard the institution of the Presidency as requiring responsible leadership, and I think the country expects the President to provide that leadership. Shortly after the tragedy that took President Kennedy away from us, I asked the labor leaders of this country to come meet with me and counsel with me and discuss the problems of the Nation. They have done that at frequent intervals since then. I have done the same thing with the business leaders. I think I met with them the night before I went to the hospital last October. I met with them, I believe, again in July. I met with them last February or March again.
3 See Item 155.
I have had innumerable meetings of this kind. They are not anything new, not anything panicky, not anything frantic, not anything different. We have a review of the general problems that may be facing the Government at the time that we have the meetings. It happened that Mr. Murphy, the president of Campbell Soup,4 who happens to be head of the Business Council, asked me to address the Business Council last year, and I was unable to do so. I talked to them by telephone, if you will remember.5 He asked for an appointment the other day to come and see me on other matters, including a trip that he was taking. In the course of the discussion, we talked about when we could get back together again. Wednesday night seemed to be a desirable night.
4 W. Beverley Murphy, President of Campbell Soup Company and Chairman of the Business Council.
5 See 1965 volume, this series, Book II, Item 632.
Secretary Rusk took them on a trip around the world. He discussed the African Continent, the Western Hemisphere, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, India, Pakistan, the Tashkent Agreement, the Soviet Union, the Chinese situation, Vietnam.
The Vice President discussed his trip and a variety of matters involving economics, military, political.
The Secretary of Defense talked about the number of men in the Department, the operation of that Department, the problems facing that Department, our military strength, our equipment, various matters.
Each of them took questions on any subject--not the British system of appearing before the House of Commons and answering questions, but we extend it a little further. We have had all the Congress in this year. We have had a number of the labor leaders in this year--Mr. Meany and Mr. Reuther.6 We plan to have a dinner of this kind for them just as soon as we can arrange it. We are trying to be in touch with Mr. Meany to see what his pleasure is in the matter.
6 George Meany, President of the AFL-CIO, and Walter Reuther, President of the United Automobile Workers of America.
We will have educators, lawyers, doctors, dentists, and newspaper people in. And when we have these meetings, they will have the privilege of doing what you do twice a day here, ask questions about matters that concern you.
One of the matters that I think indicates a need for information and pointing up of problems just at this moment is our cost of living. Every poll shows that our people are concerned with the cost of living. Every day the President is concerned with the cost of living. Every day every housewife is concerned with it.
So when I called in the Governors the other day,7 I pointed up to them that we are approaching full employment. We had 3 million unemployed, 73 million employed. I gave them my view as I did the mayors this morning, as I did the businessmen last night, as I did Mr. Meany and Mr. Reuther when I met with them earlier this year, as I did all the Congress--every Member of the House and every Member of the Senate, as I did all the House chairmen and all the Senate chairmen, and as I did you last week.
7 See Items 121-124.
There is not much difference. New facts come in. We get a new picture on revenues one day, and a price rise one day, a price decline another day, and they change the story some--but the general problem that you have is an economy where you have most of your people working at reasonably good wages and shortages developing, things of that kind. So we discussed that last night. We discussed it this morning. We will be discussing it with the Congressmen, with the Senators, with the country, with the Governors, with business and labor, et cetera.
BUSINESS REACTION TO DISCUSSIONS
[4.] Q. Mr. President, how sympathetic did you find the businessmen to your suggestions that they cut back on capital investments?
THE PRESIDENT. I outlined to them the situation as I saw it. I made no demand of them and just pointed up to them what we could accomplish together if we all had the same information and understood the same problem. I thought the reaction both from the standpoint of the questions asked and the exchanges that occurred were very constructive and very helpful.
I don't want to be recommending myself for the approval they gave us, but they all applauded the statements made by the various Cabinet officers, by the Vice President, and by myself. They all had a good understanding of them. They asked questions. Several of them got up and pointed out how they appreciated this, that there had never been the flow of information between any President and the industrial leadership in this country that we had now, meeting every few months and discussing them, that our door had always been open to them and they appreciated this.
I asked them about how many of them would recommend a tax increase if they were President. I answered some of the questions they asked me. We had a good constructive meeting. A good many of them were kind enough to say they thought this was the best meeting we had ever had together.
We had the Secretary of State who had to go to another meeting, and the Vice President who had to go to another meeting. The Secretary of Defense appeared before the dinner. We ate dinner in about 45 minutes. We went in to dinner about 8, I guess, and came out about 9.
I had a reception line and shook hands with each one of them. Then we went in and had the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Vice President, in that order. We went in and ate at 8 o'clock; we came back at 9 o'clock. Then I spoke to them for 15 or 20 minutes, answered questions, and had each member of the Cabinet there, plus the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, plus the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Mr. Martin, and plus the Director of the Budget, Mr. Schultze. I told them that each man would be ready to answer any question any businessman had to ask, and we would be glad to have their complaints, their suggestions, their criticism.
POLITICAL SITUATION IN VIETNAM
[5.] Q. I wonder, sir, if you can give us your views and comments on the current domestic political trouble in South Vietnam, and specifically, should there be a change in government, what effect this might have on the war?
THE PRESIDENT. I would answer all your questions in one sentence, that there is not any information that I could give you that would add to what you have read in the papers. I think that there is a very adequate free flow of information out there, and everything that is reported to this Government in that field is pretty well known to you either simultaneously, by the time I get it, or maybe sometimes a little ahead of me.
DUTIES OF THE SPECIAL ASSISTANTS
[6.] Q. Mr. President, could it be said that as your new Special Assistant, Mr. Rostow will take over all or many of the duties and assignments handled by McGeorge Bundy? 8
THE PRESIDENT. It could be, but that would be inaccurate. It would not be true. Most of the men play any position here. We hope--I hope Mr. Rostow can. Part of the work Mr. Bundy did we will say will now be done by Mr. Komer. Some of the work Mr. Bundy did is now being done by Jack Valenti and Bill Moyers.9 There will be some of the things Mr. Valenti and Mr. Moyers formerly did that Mr. Kintner will do. He will be Special Assistant. He will be paid $30,000 a year.
8 McGeorge Bundy, former Special Assistant to the President.
9 Bill D. Moyers, Special Assistant to the President.
He will be at the service of the President, and if he needs to play first base or second base or third base, I hope that he can do it. He is equipped to do it. I don't want him to play any position too long, because he gets too familiar with you all--and familiarity breeds contempt.
[7.] Q. Mr. President, in your speech this morning you seemed to be advocating in some sense a buyers' strike. I hate to use that word, but you suggested that housewives and consumers might not--
THE PRESIDENT. No, I would not use that word, and I did not advocate that. You were very accurate on my statement yesterday on the tax situation. But I did not advocate any buyers' strike. I won't advocate any kind of strike, ever.
Q. I just wondered if you would give us your thinking on this matter?
THE PRESIDENT. I did this morning. I can't add anything to that- I think it would be wise for all of us to be selective in our purchases, and when we see that a commodity is scarce or that it has suffered from the weather or from some other unusual situation that has resulted in the price skyrocketing, that we can just turn the other cheek, go the other way, and that will have a very good effect and balance things out.
I think it would be good if our wives chose to do so. I am not requiring them to do it or forcing them to do it, or trying to make them do it. Don't get that in there. But I think it would have a good effect if we would really put on our glasses and look at these prices and see who it was that had a commodity or product that was in short supply, and whether we could make any substitute or exchange for it.
My mother used to say, "The one eats the most corn bread gets the most cake." I assume that was because we had more corn bread than cake. That is a thing we might all practice now when our fellow man is working and buying.
[8.] Q. Mr. President, have you heard anything to the effect that Mexican Americans feel they should have more attention?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I have heard that all my life. And I agree with them. I think they should have more attention. I am going to give them all the attention I can. I haven't given them enough. I want to give them more. I think that they are entitled to more consideration in Government employment than they have received. I think they have been discriminated against in housing, in education, in jobs. I don't think we can be very proud of our record in that field.
I want to see it improved. I feel a very high regard and great respect for their people and a deep affection for them. I want to do everything I can to improve their lot. I think some of their complaints and their protests have been well founded, and they have pointed up some things that we needed to hear. I hope that the appropriate people, including the President, can take prompt action on it.
Q. Mr. President, do you think they might be included in the coming up Conference on Equal Opportunity?
THE PRESIDENT. I have not explored that. I don't know the thinking behind it. But they can be included in any conference any time they would have one. My door is open to them always. I am very anxious to exchange views with them. If they are ready for a conference, I will be ready for one.
BUSINESS OPINION ON TAX INCREASE
[9.] Q. Mr. President, when you asked the businessmen last night if any of them would call for a tax increase now if he were President, can you say what their response to that was?
THE PRESIDENT. I asked anyone who felt that they would recommend to the American people that the Congress increase taxes now to raise their right hands, and there were no hands raised.
CONGRESSIONAL ACTION AND THE BUDGET
[10.] Q. Mr. President, in relation to the talk about inflation currently
THE PRESIDENT. Whose talk? General?
Q. Yes, general talk. Would you comment on various actions that the Congress has taken with your budget, both in cutting and adding to?
THE PRESIDENT. We have a great problem in housing in this country, particularly in the cities. If you will go into the center of our cities and see how some of our people live--the fact that there are not many people building or renovating or improving, or who have been providing in the past desirable housing for our poor people--you can see the problem we have.
We are trying to find a new approach to that through the experimental rent supplement. We don't know that that is the answer. But the National Association of Real Estate Boards, and the home builders' industry, and the experts in housing in private and Government circles feel that it is worth testing.
So we asked, as you know, for a modicum of money for that experiment. It was authorized last year. I went to the hospital and the appropriation was held over until this year, until the Appropriations Committee could consider it further. Due to the fact that a good part of the fiscal year is gone, the money we asked for last October-October, November, December, January, February, and March have passed--the Committee reduced that request for a Teacher Corps and for a rent supplement to a figure around $21 million, the two of them, I believe, $21 or $22 million.
Now that was a great issue, and you all had your backgrounders that the future "fall" of the Johnson administration was just around the corner.
That was the test, and I read about it for about 3 days here and sat trembling, waiting for the announcement of that roll call, because everything depended on that $22 million vote. They had it and it was adopted.
Then in the same bill they added one that was not so important, $41 million to school districts in the impacted areas, some of which are rather wealthy districts--some adjoining here that are in rather good shape. That was over and above the budget. So they attempted for 2 days to reduce the $21 million, and then in 2 minutes put in $41 million. That is a sample of the reaction on that appropriation bill.
The Coast Guard bill I signed this morning,10 and you have a statement on that-the total authorization is $126 million. The Committee and the Congress in their wisdom saw fit to add $23,079,000 in excess of what we desire or request or think is desirable this year.
10 See Item 159.
The GI education bill was the first bill we got this year.
Is Senator Long 11 still here? He is gone, but that came out of the Congress, and a good many were here who signed it. That added almost $300 million to our budget this year, and will add almost $2 billion over the total period. Now we have cut, as I said this morning, $16 or $17 billion from the departmental requests, and there are certainly more that may be able to be reduced. Any place we can find something that we think it is wise to forgo, we are going to do it.
11 Senator Russell B. Lung of Louisiana, majority whip of the Senate.
We have Cabinet officers coming in here tomorrow to meet. I hope Mr. Kintner can be here to meet with them the first time. We are going to look at anything under their jurisdiction that could be forgone or eliminated or postponed or stretched out in the hope of saving money, particularly in the tight places where labor is tight and commodities are tight, lumber and construction and those fields. But the whole field we will review. Now we do that nearly every month, but we will do it again tomorrow.
If we can impound anything that we don't have to spend, we will do it. In my judgment--I talked to the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee again this morning; I am in consultation with the men in the House and Senate Appropriations Committees nearly every week--I believe it is fair to assume that the committees and the Congress will not substantially, I am speaking in terms of billions now, reduce that $112 billion-plus budget.
I don't think they will reduce it. Now we are going to have a lot of speeches on it and we are going to have a lot of talking and there are going to be a good many handouts. They are going to say we ought to cut expenditures, but you cut one of these veterans hospitals and see what a buzz saw you run into--or you eliminate some post office and you cut out some water project or you defer some of these things.
My judgment is that the money we have in the impacted areas, milk for children who can afford to pay for it, land-grant college aid, defense loans, some of those items we have cut, from the Record that I read every morning, they are going to be put back in.
I thought we could reduce them and have a new formula, because we would be putting more back in, in education, this year. I would like to have a million and a half children who have no school lunch at all to have a school lunch before a rich man's child gets milk at a subsidy. But I am not going to be unreasonable about it. Congress has their viewpoint and I have mine. I will try to reconcile them and try to keep it to a minimum of friction.
I don't think that we can reduce the present budget by billions. We will have to let time see. So you look at these men who tell you about how much they ought to reduce the budget. You say, "Okay, give me your bill of particulars." Then look at their roll call on the $41 million. Well, they did not have a roll call on that--excuse me, that was the $41 million addition--but look at the roll call on the GI bill, $300 million.
We have a bill up there for a wage increase. We have agreed to move the Government workers and the military along each year for wage increases within the 3.2 increased productivity. Last year, as you know, we increased both of those, the Congress did. I had to come back for several hundred million dollars more this year in a supplemental to pay for that over-riding. I hope they won't do that this year.
I have had a general understanding that we would try to stay to the guidelines, but there will be efforts to increase it. If I had to just make a prediction, and I was really anxious to keep as good a record as Drew Pearson 12 says he has, I would predict that the budget that finally comes to me in the form of an appropriation bill is increased over what we submitted.
Does that summarize what you want?
12Author of the syndicated column "Washington Merry-Go-Round."
FBI CHARGES AGAINST DRAFT EVADERS
[11.] Q. Mr. President, yesterday the FBI filed some charges against some people who were involved in trying to evade the draft. Do you have some thoughts on a problem of this kind in the country today?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't understand that word--soughts? Oh, thoughts. No. I saw that report. That is about the extent of my information on it, Sid.13
13 Sial Davis of Westinghouse Broadcasting Co., Inc.
INFILTRATION BY NORTH VIETNAMESE
[12.] Q. Mr. President, there are reports that the North Vietnamese are infiltrating into the South in greater numbers. Can you comment on that?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, they are infiltrating into the South, and they are infiltrating in substantial numbers. They have been for some time. I think that is very evident. They are suffering very heavy casualties. They are attempting to find an answer to their problem there. They are bringing in a good many more people than they did in the early days of the conflict out there and for that reason, it has been necessary for us to do likewise.
But I believe last week they had the second largest week of casualties that the enemy has ever suffered out there. I think that the count of those actually killed by body count, plus those who die, according to our estimate from those wounded, will be in the neighborhood of 50,000 since the first of the year. I get that report each morning. Their dead by body count is in excess of 10,000. Their wounded is something we estimate at more than three times that much. They lose most of their wounded, and we lose less than 1 percent of ours.
[13.] Q. Mr. President, President de Gaulle has now set a specific timetable for withdrawal of NATO, of the NATO Command from France, and of French officers from the NATO Command. Do you have any comment on this?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I have no comment. We are keeping in constant touch with that situation. I have communicated my views to the General, and as he spells out his to us and to the other nations involved, we will receive them, consider them, and act appropriately. When we do, we will keep you fully informed.
U.S. FORCES IN VIETNAM
[14.] Q. Mr. President, does the increased infiltration by the North Vietnamese indicate we may have to increase substantially our forces over there?
THE PRESIDENT. We will, as I told you last July, from time to time add to our forces in such numbers as our Joint Chiefs and General Westmoreland 14 may feel is desirable, and as the President may approve.
14Gen. William C. Westmoreland, Commander, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam.
Merriman Smith, United Press International: Thank you, Mr. President.
Note: President Johnson's sixty-first news conference was held in the Cabinet Room at the White House at 12:50 p.m. on Thursday, March 31, 1966.
Lyndon B. Johnson, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/239473