The President's News Conference
THE PRESIDENT [in response to a question before the arrival of the official stenographer]. [1.] I haven't received that note. I saw Reuters1 carried a dispatch that it would be delivered to us today. I think that you know that we have exchanged correspondence with General de Gaulle.2 He has given his viewpoints and we have given ours. We have all the decisions related to them constantly reviewed and I believe they will be discussed with the Secretary as soon as he gets back.
I don't have anything to add to what we have said at this stage. I haven't seen the letter.
1 British news agency.
2 President Charles de Gaulle of France.
UNREST IN VIETNAM
[2.] Q. Mr. President, it has been about a month now, since the unrest has broken out in Vietnam. I wonder what comments or observations you might have to make about that.
THE PRESIDENT. We think that the Vietnamese people are going through a trying period. They are trying to build toward and develop a constitutional government. We realize that the Vietnamese military and our military also have a problem, along with our allies--Australian, New Zealand, Korean, and all the others associated with us there--in maintaining a unit capable of directing a successful resistance effort.
We agreed in Honolulu to do everything we could, not only to continue the resistance and defeat aggression but to try to defeat social misery and establish a stable, democratic society and to seek peace.
I doubt that the Vietnamese people have ever seen such efforts made in this direction as have been made following the Honolulu conference.3
3See Items 53-56.
There are regional, religious, and tribal differences there. The country is split by those differences. In some ways they accentuate these differences.
I think the Prime Minister indicated in his January 15 speech, as he confirmed in our meeting in Honolulu, that there was a widespread feeling that, despite the war, they should move toward a constitutional and democratic government. It affects all of us. I believe we are moving in that direction.
I think it is also dear that the Communists hoped the Vietnamese people will not be able to carry it out, or that the military will not remain united, or that our people here will get tired and want to change.
But I do believe that in due time that the constitutional government will be formed.
RESULTS OF THE HONOLULU CONFERENCE
[3.] Q. Mr. President, some have said this Honolulu meeting may have caused some of the problems we have seen in the past weeks in Vietnam.
THE PRESIDENT. I don't think there is any basis for that at all. I think that the leaders of the Government in Vietnam have indicated their desire to have constitutional government, and many people believed to be opposed to the military effort in Vietnam were very anxious to get ahead with the pacification effort.
Prior to Honolulu, we had Ambassador Porter 4 come in and we had organized that. A good many of the Senators and others had urged us to increase our economic assistance, speed up our educational development and our health program.
4William J. Porter, Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam.
So we met with the representatives of the Vietnamese Government for that purpose. We outlined our plans rather successfully. We are very proud of what happened.
I don't think that there is any connection with the Honolulu conference and the statements that it brought about a crisis. I had a report here this morning from Ambassador Lodge.5 I don't have his full report, but here is a quotation from the weekly report which I think gives us reason to be pleased with our discussions in Honolulu.
5Henry Cabot Lodge, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam.
He says, "For the first time in the history of this country, some competitive spirit is in evidence on who cares the most for the underdog. This would not have happened without Honolulu."
I think from all of the people who know what happened there, they are very glad that the meeting took place. They are very satisfied with its accomplishments.
THE PACIFICATION PROGRAM IN VIETNAM
[4.] Q. Mr. President, Senator McGee 6 has said more South Vietnamese troops will have to be used in the pacification program and that would mean more American troops would have to be used in combat. Do you have any comment?
THE PRESIDENT. I haven't seen the Senator's statement. We have secured the interest and deep concern and cooperation of the Vietnamese Government which is essential. General Westmoreland7 and those under his command will cooperate in this effort as outlined in Honolulu and as followed by the Vice President, Secretary of Agriculture, and Secretary Gardner.
6Senator Gale W. McGee of Wyoming.
7Gen. William C. Westmoreland, Commander, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam.
Whatever cooperation is necessary for General Westmoreland to help the Government of Vietnam accelerate education, production, health efforts, I am sure it will be done.
One of our primary objectives at Honolulu was to get General Ky8 and General Westmoreland to understand how important we felt it was to carry along this two-pronged approach to matters there, not only military but economic.
8Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky of South Vietnam.
MANAGEMENT OF VIETNAMESE WAR
[5.] Q. Mr. President, some of the Republicans have been a little more vocal in their criticism of the administration in Vietnam. Congressman Ford9 used the word "mismanagement" and former Senator Goldwater10 said they are not prosecuting the war to the fullest. Do you have any comment or reaction to these statements?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I think we can expect some people to be critical of what we do and the way we do it. I am sure that you find that in all periods of strain like the one we are now going through. This is not anything new.
9Representative Gerald R. Ford of Michigan, minority leader of the House of Representatives.
10 Barry Goldwater, Senator from Arizona 1953-1965 and Republican candidate for President in 1964.
I picked up a note this morning I had Mr. Jacobsen11 write General Westmoreland in February about a need for some spark plugs at a certain place. A Member of Congress was rather critical of General Westmoreland and Secretary McNamara.
11Jake Jacobsen, Legislative Counsel to the President.
I inquired about the situation and General Westmoreland wrote Mr. Jacobsen back and said, "My response to the President in Honolulu was that there are no shortages in supplies for the troops in Vietnam which adversely affect combat operations or the health and welfare of the command. This is a valid appraisal of the supply situation." That was February 19th.
We recognize that every day you do not have all you want, where you want it, when you want it, in an operation as big as the United States Government conducts. I ran out of lead pencils last night in my night reading about 2 o'clock. I wondered why they didn't sharpen some that were there. They had all broken off. But there was nobody around to criticize so I had to get up and go to my coat pocket and get a new pencil.
We have those problems. There is no mistaking it. It is going to be increasingly difficult as we carry on this effort so far from home. It requires so much in the way of health facilities, material supplies, ammunition, guns, and planes.
I don't want to play down the fact that we do make mistakes and that we do have criticisms at times. But I would say that I am very grateful for the general support and the general reaction of the Republicans, as I am of all Americans.
I think they have tried to be generally, with a few possible exceptions, very helpful to us in this whole effort.
THE NOVEMBER ELECTIONS
[6.] Q. Mr. President, what do you see shaping up as the major issue or issues in the November election?
THE PRESIDENT. I think that we probably emphasize the election a little bit too much too early. We don't have any national election in the terms of an administration, selection of a President or Vice President, this year.
There will be congressional elections, some senatorial elections. But I reviewed them for the purposes of answering questions of some of the Democratic leaders and committeemen about the Democratic seats that are up. This time it looks like in the Senate most of the Senate seats are reasonably safe.
I think even the most optimistic opponent won't assume there is more than one or two in doubt of the Democrats. It just happens it is a good year for us. The Republicans have, I think our boys feel, about six in the Senate that have serious problems. I don't look for any great sweep with that number-two on one side and six on the other.
In the House the men will be campaigning, of course, on their record. I don't believe any Congressman on the Democratic ticket ever had a more comprehensive record or a better record to campaign on.
The sentiment everywhere seems to support that record. Most of the polls show that 90 percent of the people think that we have gotten along well with Congress. The polls run from 85 to 95 percent, the President working with the Congress. I think I have reviewed now about 30 polls. I think Kentucky was off from 64 to 63, and a Southwestern State was off one or two points although we still have a 56 margin.
Except for that, there were rather substantial increases in the other areas. Our men don't know where some get this information that there is going to be any great difficulty this year. I guess it must be the wish is father to the thought, or maybe you people promote some of this doubt.
When you get out and see the folks, I think they approve of the education program. Our problem is to keep the Congress from appropriating far in excess of the budget. Someone told me the other day they are considering appropriating several hundred million dollars more in the health-education bill than we recommended. I know this year they have already appropriated almost $300 million more in the GI bill, they authorized that; $20-odd million more in the Coast Guard; $41 million more in the deficiency for impacted areas.
The agriculture bill today is $128 million more. So it seems like the Congress is not only for the programs, but for spending more on them than we have recommended.
I would think that we are going to have a rather peaceful and constructive preelection period, unless some of you fellows provoke some disputes up there.
EFFECT OF WAR ON THE ELECTION
[7.] Q. Mr. President, do you think the Vietnamese war will hurt the Democrats in the fall election?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't really believe that any of you want to make this a Democratic or a Republican Army or Air Force or Navy or war. I never use the party term in connection with the servicemen and what they are doing. I don't see many people that do.
I try to talk to the leaders of both parties in this country about the national interest and I have never seen many of them put their party ahead of their country. I doubt that they, will.
SPENDING FOR DOMESTIC PROGRAMS
[8.] Q. Mr. President, Senator Bobby Kennedy 12 said he thinks that the domestic program this year has been cut where it will especially hurt the poor--in health, education, and housing. Do you have any comment?
THE PRESIDENT. Our budget was $99 billion last year, and it is $113 billion this year. I think about $5 billion of it is in the Great Society programs generally for the poor. I have repeated to you many, many times that since I succeeded President Kennedy we have increased the spending appropriations for education and health and poverty from $10 billion to $12 billion more in the last 2 years than was being spent before.
12 Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York.
We want to continue to spend as much for education and health as we think the budget will permit. I never object to anyone being interested in education or health, or any of those things. I am glad to have the help of all I can in that field. We are going to need it. I may not be able to go as fast and as furiously as some think is possible, but we are making great progress and we are going to be making more.
MILITARY OPERATIONS IN VIETNAM
[9.] Q. Mr. President, you have spoken of the political situation in Vietnam. Could you report to us on the military operations?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't have anything that I could tell you that you haven't seen in the papers. I get the intelligence briefings every night and the operation reports every morning, but I hear out of my left car on the radio just about what I am reading. Sometimes I believe you fellows get these things--they court you--before they get to me with some of them.
There is a sizable operation going on there now. I have been very proud of the way our men have conducted themselves. I think we have the very best in military leadership under General Westmoreland.
[10.] Q. Mr. President, is there any hope of changes in the diplomatic front?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't have anything that I could announce that is new there. We expressed ourselves on Senator Mansfield's 13 suggestion. We had made that type of suggestion in somewhat similar form several times before. I think that nearly everybody in this country has heard from us several times.
13Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana, majority leader of the Senate.
If you have any information from them through any of your sources that will encourage me, we would surely welcome it. I think you know how we feel about it. We must continue to hope and try. We will do that through every avenue, but to say to you that there has been any indication from the Vietcong or from North Vietnam that they are ready to cease their aggression, I have to say no.
They are still determined to swallow up the people of South Vietnam and by force bring them to their knees. I presume they still think they can do it.
SERVICEMEN'S TOUR OF DUTY
[11.] Q. Mr. President, in the event that this continues for some time in Vietnam, is there any plan now for consideration that may extend the servicemen's tour of duty beyond the 12 months they are currently serving now?
THE PRESIDENT. No.
Q. Mr. President, it looks like they will be able to handle the 12 months.
THE PRESIDENT. The answer to your question is no.
TESTIMONIAL DINNERS FOR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS
[12.] Q. Sir, in light of your years in the House and Senate as a Member of the legislative branch, have you any thoughts about the desirability or need of testimonial dinners for legislators to help meet expenses?
THE PRESIDENT. I have spoken at many testimonial and appreciation dinners at various times for various Members and others who have received awards from time to time. I have expressed my appreciation to distinguished Members of Congress.
Q. Mr. President, do you think it is appropriate for these dinners to be used to raise money for a Congressman's personal use?
THE PRESIDENT. I have had no information about any dinners held for anyone to obtain funds for personal use, none that I have ever attended that I knew were being held for that purpose.
I always understood that they were having an appreciation dinner or testimonial dinner but I didn't know that it was for personal, or political, or local campaign, or national.
I have been asked to appear, and have. I see from your papers what is reported and I see that Senator Stennis and Senator Bennett 14 are considering the facts in the case. I would think the appropriate thing to do would be to have the body set up by the Senate to receive all the information that is available and make its judgment, and I would be willing to have confidence in their judgment.
14Senator John Stennis of Mississippi, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Standards and Conduct, and Senator Wallace F. Bennett of Utah, member of the committee.
Merriman Smith, United Press International: Thank you, Mr. President.
Note: President Johnson's sixty-second news conference was held in his office at the White House at 5 p.m. on Friday, April 22, 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/239271