Lyndon B. Johnson photo

The President's News Conference

May 21, 1966

THE PRESIDENT. I have a brief statement I thought you would be interested in.


[1.] We are watching the situation in Vietnam very closely. We believe everything possible should be done to bring the various factions to an understanding of the need for unity while the constitutional process is moving forward. That is what our people are trying to do.

General Westmoreland and Ambassador Lodge 1 are both in Vietnam now. We are in very close contact with them by cable, and our lower level people have other communication.

1Gen. William C. Westmoreland, Commander, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, and Henry Cabot Lodge, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam.

The South Vietnamese are trying to build a nation. They have to do this in the teeth of Communist efforts to take the country over by force. It is a hard and a frustrating job, and there is no easy answer, no instant solution to any of the problems they face.

We are not in Vietnam to dictate what form of government they should have. We have made it abundantly clear that it is our wish to see them increasingly able to manage their own affairs with the participation of an ever broader share of the population. We regret any diversion from that task and from efforts to defeat the Communist attempt to take over South Vietnam.

I will, of course, during the day and the week, and all the time that I am in this office, until we have a satisfactory solution of our problems in that area of the world, be in dose touch with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Rostow,2 and other experts, both here and out there.

2 Dean Rusk, Secretary of State, Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense, and Walt W. Rostow, Special Assistant to the President.

I know of nothing that I could add that would contribute to improving the situation. Therefore, I think I have said about all that I can on that general subject today.

I will answer any questions you may have on any other matters that may interest you.


[2.] Q. There is a technical matter, Mr. President. Has this statement been duplicated or mimeographed?

THE PRESIDENT. It will be given to all of you, and it will be in the transcript, too.


[3.] Q. Mr. President, can you clarify your Chicago speech? 3 The New York Times and other people have thought that you were indicating that some people were less patriotic than others and that you might be interested in purging some members of your own party. Can you give any indication as to what you meant in Chicago?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I had no such feeling of that kind. I didn't think the speech was susceptible to that interpretation. I do think it is very important that the President of this country have the right, and I think he does have the duty and the obligation when the Nation is involved in the serious difficulties that we have in the world, to make it clear to all would-be opponents, and certainly those who challenge our system in Vietnam and other places, that the President is supported by the people of this country-that the President is determined to carry out the duties of his office.

3 See Item 228.

In doing that he will find people who differ with him, who disagree with him, who dissent from the policies of the Government or the Congress or of his Cabinet officials. We all understand that. We accept that.

We just want to be sure that others understand that. Because we have dissent does not mean that we have been dissected, and because we do have differences does not mean that we are torn to pieces, as we sometimes think other countries are when we read about what is happening.

Q. Have you seen any signs, Mr. President, that that is what other countries think of us now?



[4.] Q. Mr. President, so we are clear, did I understand you at the beginning when you read your statement to say that you would take questions on other subjects but not on the present situation in Vietnam?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't want to be charged with barring you from asking anything you want to. I made clear what I had to say on the subject, sir.

Q. Mr. President, I wonder if you could give us any impression as to what your attitude toward Premier Ky 4 now is, in light of the present situation?

THE PRESIDENT. I think what I have said on that subject is what I should say today and I don't believe I would go further. I don't believe a direct response to your question would do anything to contribute to solving the serious problem that your country has out there.

4 Nguyen Cao Ky, Prime Minister of the Republic of Vietnam.

Q. Mr. President, have you possibly had any communication with Thich Tri Quang in response to his letter to you?5

THE PRESIDENT. I think I have said all I want to say on that. I think that question has been answered by others, if you will check the record.

5On May 16 Thich Tri Quang, a leader of the Buddhist opposition, appealed to the President and Ambassador Lodge for American intervention against Premier Ky. The appeal was made in a message delivered to the U.S. Consulate in Hue.


[5.] Q. Mr. President, can you tell us something about your talks yesterday about NATO, the meeting last night?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Ambassador Bruce has been here for several days. Secretary Acheson, Secretary Ball and Ambassador Bruce, Mr. Rostow, Mr. Moyers,6 and others have, over the period of several weeks, been exchanging ideas and views preparatory to the ministerial meeting in Brussels in early June.

6David K. E. Bruce, U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Dean Acheson, former Secretary of State (1949--53) and Special Adviser to the Secretary of State on France and NATO March 15--June 17, 1966, George W. Ball, Under Secretary of State, and Walt W. Rostow and Bill D. Moyers, Special Assistants to the President.

The Belgian Foreign Minister 7 has been here carrying on consultations, as have other foreign ministers. Before Ambassador Bruce returned we decided that we would spend the last 3 or 4 days reviewing the problems of NATO.

7 Pierre Harmel.

As a matter of fact, someone said it looks like we are going to call this NATO Week because we were spending a good deal of our appointment calendar on that subject.

We did finish up our meetings for the week last night, and Ambassador Bruce, I believe, left this morning. We are exchanging views with the 14 members of NATO, and we have given Ambassador Bruce our views to carry back to London with him.

Secretary Rusk is making preparation for the Brussels meeting. Things have gone orderly and I think thoroughly and satisfactorily.


[6.] Q. Mr. President, have you seen General Eisenhower's letter to Mr. Zablocki7a on the NATO situation?


7a Representative Clement J. Zablocki of Wisconsin.

Q. Did you discuss it with anyone?



[7.] Q. Mr. President, could you tell us how you regard some of the very recent polls that show considerable public dissatisfaction over both Vietnam and the economic situation as to inflation?

I.. The Economic Situation

[8.] THE PRESIDENT. I think that the public very generally always feels that we should get a better price for the things we sell and have a lower price for the things we buy.

I have observed that in polls all my life. I think there is somewhat more concern now than you would have in a normal period because we are coming close to reaching our objective of full employment. As we do, as labor gets scarce, as commodities get scarce, there are increases.

But comparatively speaking--I will get this chart for you on prices--comparatively speaking, our price situation is so much better than any other of the major nations of the world.

We have much to be thankful for.

Here is a chart I had made last night--that I asked for in connection with price statistics.8 You will see the consumer price here as 100, for 1960, and here it is in 1966. In Japan it is 140. In Italy it is 130. In France it is 120-plus. In the United Kingdom it is 120-plus. In Germany it is 115, in that neighborhood. In the United States it is under 110. It looks like about 108.

8The chart "Consumer Prices in U.S. and Other Major Countries" was prepared by the Council of Economic Advisers and dated May 20, 1966.

Our average price increase has been less than 1 1/2 percent a year. Rates in other countries have been at least double that. Germany has the next best record with an annual rate of 3 percent.

For France and the United Kingdom the average yearly rise has been 3 1/2 to 4. Italy's annual rate of inflation is 5 percent. Japan leads the parade with a rate of about 6 ½ percent.

So the cost of living record of the United States is far superior to the performance of any other major industrial country.

We are reaching a point that we have worked for so long, trying to get employment for most of our people. When you reach that situation, you run into other problems. I would rather face the problems I face now for this reason: increases in wages have come faster than the prices. The fact that people have work, and the fact that we have income coming into our Treasury to permit us to increase our educational efforts, our health efforts, our beautification efforts, our conservation efforts--I would rather have these problems than problems that come when unemployment is high and incomes low.

I spent some time this morning with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Director of the Budget 9 on the debt linnet. We have expenditures planned for this year of $106 billion 400 million. We believe that they will be under that.

9 Henry H. Fowler, Secretary of the Treasury, and Charles L. Schultze, Director of the Bureau of the Budget.

It is difficult to predict. I don't want to have our credibility questioned if we are off a half percent out of 100. But we are hoping that that expenditure could be under what we predicted, which would be unusual. It is unusual for the President to spend less than he says he is going to spend 18 months later.

Our revenue, we believe, will be up some. We rather believe our deficit will be less than we predicted in January. I think even less than we predicted 18 months ago.

So on that problem, we recognize it. We are aware of it. We give a good deal of attention to it. The best minds in the Nation are dealing with it. It is one that we prefer to have than ones we have had.

2. Discontent With War

[9.] Now I will answer your Vietnam question. The longer we are there, the more sacrifices we make. The more we spend, the more discontent there will be. The more dissatisfaction there will be, the more wish and desire there will be to get out. Leading that parade is the President.

If you want to feel that it troubles you 100 percent, just double that and make it 200 percent for the President. Say his concern doubles yours. I am glad to say that a substantial majority of those that you refer to do approve of the course of action that we have taken. They do support their Government.

There are others who have different plans. Some would pull out, run out. Some would run in further. Some would just stand still and do nothing. You are aware of our plan.

We think that under the circumstances we are doing the best that we can. We would like to have peace. We have had two pauses. We have had economic proposals. We have had diplomatic invitations extended to all 115 or 120 countries. We sent Ambassadors to some 40 of them.

We have asked the United Nations to help. We have supported the Secretary General U Thant when he proposed that he take a trip. They would not receive him. We sent Mr. Harriman, Mr. Goldberg,10 and the Secretary of State to other capitals.

10 W. Averell Harriman, Ambassador at Large, and Arthur J. Goldberg, U.S. Representative to the United Nations.

We had 200 conferences privately. We had visits to 40 countries publicly. We have been unable to get the other people to sit down and talk instead of fight. We are trying to provide the maximum deterrents that we can to Communist aggression with a minimum cost. That is our policy.

We think we are doing the best we can, given these facts. There are some, I think-a very small percentage of the dissatisfied-who would run out. There is a somewhat larger percentage who would run farther in. When you add the two together and put them with the group that would just sit and try to hold--you don't hold when you sit, that is the trouble, you get into deeper trouble--if you put those together, you will have collectively a certain percentage of opposition.

But those who approve of what we are doing are almost twice as many as all these various factions combined. I don't think this detailed explanation will change anyone's mind, but I hope it does give you my view of it. That same view will apply down the road. That has been it all along.


[10.] Q. Mr. President, are you talking of this fiscal year?

THE PRESIDENT. I am talking about fiscal 1966, which will end June 30, a month from now. We predicted that our deficit would be $6.4 billion. This January we predicted that. That was with several billion additional for Vietnam we had not anticipated. But we are getting several billion additional revenue we had not estimated. Seventeen months ago we predicted the deficit would be $5.3 billion. I believe that our deficit will be lower than the $6.4 billion and lower than the $5.3 billion.

I would say our expenditures would be $106.4 billion, as we predicted, minus a few hundred million, or plus a few hundred million. I must have that flexibility there. But that means that even with all the extra Vietnam expenses, our expenditures are not going to be greatly over what we anticipated.

Our revenues, the last estimate we made, I believe were $100 billion. I believe our revenues now will be $102.5 billion, and I would like to make it clear that it could be more.

That would leave you about $4 billion, or a little less than a $4 billion deficit compared to the $6.4 billion we predicted. You must give us several hundred million either way on those. But it appears that we will not spend a great deal more than we anticipated, and we may even spend less. I think we will. That depends on our June buying.

We will take in a good deal more than we anticipated, at least $2 ½ billion more. and it could be more.

I would think the problem that you are concerned with on revenues would be covered by these figures that we have.


[11.] Q. What is the debt limit figure you will ask for?

THE PRESIDENT. That will be given by the Secretary. I am not sure that a deficit situation has been made. It will be between $330 billion and $335 billion. It is $328 billion now. I would have to have a little range because, again, it is not decided.


[12.] Q. Mr. President, on this economic thing, it sounds like you are a good distance away from a tax boost.

THE PRESIDENT. I don't want to comment on your hearing or about the way it sounds to you. I have a problem with these lights and sounds on the telephone. I frequently don't hear them ring. But I have given you the facts and the speculations.

Q. Is there any change in the outlook for a tax increase?

THE PRESIDENT. We are considering all these things now. When we have any recommendations to make, you will be among the first to know them.

I see the chart go up and down based on predictions and speculations. I don't see that it really serves any good purpose. Until we reach the conclusion that we should make a recommendation, I don't want to create any false impressions one way or the other.



[13.] Q. Mr. President, have you any thoughts on what seems to be indications of mounting racial tension in this country, such as Watts and in some other areas?11

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, we are very concerned with the problems in Watts. We have been in close touch with the local officials who are dealing with that problem in the State and in the area. I commented on that last night.12 I would refer you to some of the statements I made about the desirability of trying to avoid provoking antagonisms and trying to pull people together.

11The Watts district of Los Angeles, a predominantly Negro area, was the scene of extensive riots in the second week of August 1965. See 1965 volume, this series, Book II, Items 426 and 453.

12See Item 235.

I was talking to Mr. Ramsey Clark13 just a few days ago. He spent a good deal of time on that situation. A lot of problems come into play when in areas people are urging skilled workers to come to work for high wages. We have unemployed men who cannot qualify for those jobs because they don't have training. Even if they could qualify, sometimes they can't get to work because of transportation.

13 Deputy Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who as the President's personal representative led the team of Federal officials who developed, with Governor Edmund G. (Pat) Brown of California and Mayor Samuel Yorty, the 1965 program of assistance to Los Angeles.

There are those things, and we are concerned with them. We are working with the local officials. We are proceeding as rapidly as we can to contribute what we can to their solution.

Last night I said: 13a

"But the lesson of 12 years is that compassion, when it ceases to be a cliche of the platform and pulpit, can become the binding cement of a new fraternity.

"This is the time for bridges to be built, not for antagonisms to be aroused. This is the time for those to act who have the power to change what just must be changed. For privilege is power, and its misuse, especially to uphold an unjust status quo grown obsolete, is a dangerous wrong.

"It is the time, too, for passion to bow to reason. The gains since 1954 must be steppingstones to greater fulfillment, not future reminders of what might have been."

13a See Item 235.

That is why Secretary Wirtz, 14 with whom I spent a good deal of time yesterday, is working so hard on his manpower training and development and on his Neighborhood Youth Corps.

14 W. Willard Wirtz, Secretary of Labor.

That is why we are working so hard on our poverty and educational problems. That is why we are trying to conduct experiments in transportation. That is why we are urging and pleading with our people to help us meet this desperate housing problem.

People are living with their families and their children, in a good many of our cities, while rats are running through the room where their children eat and sleep. We have had the very minimum amount of housing built for people with low incomes in the large cities, too little.

That is why we are striving so earnestly to have some of our experiments put into practice, like the rent supplement, and to get private business to take on some of this development. We have a limited number that can be built under public housing-about 35,000.

We have housing, transportation, and training problems we are dealing with.

I had a memorandum this morning from the Vice President on meetings he has had with mayors. I have reports of meetings he has had with Governors. We are trying to do what we can to find training and employment for people this summer.

He met with the Council of State Governors, the Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, the International City Managers, the National Association of Council Officials.

In addition, we have had Secretary Weaver and Mr. Shriver, Gardner Ackley,15 Secretary Wirtz, and others working on this problem to try to find answers.

15Robert C. Weaver, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, R. Sargent Shriver, Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity and former Peace Corps Director, and Gardner Ackley, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

We have made great progress in this field in the last 2 1/2 years. We are appropriating almost $10 billion more for education and health since I became President than we were the day before.

We are spending about $2 billion more on poverty each year, not to mention what the States, counties, and cities are doing.

I will have a copy of this chart made for any of you who want it.


[14.] Mr. President, in this same vein, I asked you a couple of months ago about the Mexican-Americans and their unrest. Can you tell me what the situation is today?

THE PRESIDENT. I went to California on a conference in that field when I was Vice President. I have done everything I could to contribute to a better understanding. I had Members of the House who were of Mexican-American ancestry go on a visit with me to Mexico.

During that time we talked about the desirability of a meeting with the Latin American leaders in the United States, that is, the Mexican-Americans. Since then, some of my people in the White House have had conferences with Members of the House and Senate, and other leaders of various organizations, the G.I. Forum, the LULACS,16 the veterans organizations, and others.

16 The American G.I. Forum of the United States, an organization of Mexican-American veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the League of United Latin American Citizens.

We have been concerned about the special problems of the Mexican-Americans and other Spanish-speaking peoples in our country. I am very familiar with those in the Southwest.

We hope that we can arrange a meeting to invite the Mexican-American leaders and others to the White House to meet with members of the staff and probe more deeply into their problems and the actions that can be taken.

I have tried to find qualified employees for the Government from this group. I now have a good many requests out for recommendations.

Q. What about the White House conference coming up? Will that include members of that group?

THE PRESIDENT. No, the White House conference flowed from my Howard speech, 17 but we will be glad to have one of the same type for their problems.

17The President's commencement address at Howard University in Washington on June 4, 1965. See 1965 volume, this series, Book II, Item 301. For remarks by the President on June 1 to the delegates to the White House Conference "To Fulfill These Rights," and for his statement on August 25 upon receiving the report of the Conference, see Items 248 and 408.


[15.] Q. Mr. President, a few minutes ago, a bit earlier, you alluded to the intensive diplomatic efforts that this Nation has conducted in order to try to get a settlement in Vietnam.

Would you now say that those efforts are stagnant? Is there anything in the diplomatic area--

THE PRESIDENT. Not at all. We are working every day at it. We will as long as I am President. I think that answers the only way I can now. I assume your next one will be to please tell you what is going on.

I had two nice long visits with Ambassador Gronouski,18 who is returning to engage in conversations next week that will have a bearing on this general field.

18 John A. Gronouski, U.S. Ambassador to Poland.

Every day we get reports from other countries and their reactions to suggestions that have been made. I would say that we religiously and determinedly are pursuing every lead we can get to take advantage of every possibility that might lead to a negotiating table.

That is why I said it again the other night: If you will name the day and the place, you will find this Government ready to sit down with any other government to discuss these things.

I have with some of our most experienced and some of our new and fresh men. Ambassador Gronouski is very new to this field. He is a very creative person and an imaginative person.

I have been interested in some of his reports he has been making about some of his recent conversations and what he proposes to say in the days ahead. This week I saw a number of Ambassadors. These appointments--Congressmen, Senators, Ambassadors, Deputy Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries-do not always appear on this appointment list for obvious reasons.

I will meet with some today, including a Supreme Court Justice; you can't list them always because that creates more problems than the meeting solves.

No one wants peace in the world more than the United States of America. There is no one willing to go further to obtain it than this President.

Merriman Smith, United Press International: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Johnson's sixty-third news conference was held in his office at the White House at 12 noon on May 21, 1966. The President also read a portion of his statement on Vietnam for radio and television.

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

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