The President's News Conference
THE PRESIDENT. I will take any questions you have.
[1.] Q. Sir, over the weekend we have had reports from Saigon about three new kinds of military actions--shelling by the Navy, the mining, and the long-range artillery fire into North Vietnam.
Can you give us a reading on whether this represents a step-up in U.S. activities? Do you regard it as any change in the level of the war?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I would say that there is some activity taking place that we would not say has been normal through the past weeks, particularly the truce period. I think you could, if you searched, find some comparable action here and there, some similar actions.
I wouldn't want to put my credibility in doubt by saying it never had happened before and then have somebody do a little research and find that on occasion something had happened that was at least comparable.
But I think it is fair to say that this is action over and above what has been taking place over the last few weeks. Certainly it is more far-reaching.
The step-up may connote something that I wouldn't want to embrace, but I would say it is more far-reaching.
Q. Would you say, sir, you would characterize it as just keeping the pressure on? You have spoken of that kind of an approach.
THE PRESIDENT. I would say we don't need to label it, really. I think what we would want to conclude, really, is that our military and civilian leaders are doing what they believe is best to do to protect the safety, the lives of our men there and to try to bring about a halt to the war and the aggression.
I don't mean that it necessarily follows that we ought to have a slogan for it. But it does represent the reasoned judgment of our military and civilian men that this is desirable and essential in the context of our situation there, namely, their infiltration and their buildups and so forth.
Q. Sir, I was going to ask if they consulted with you before or after the action.
THE PRESIDENT. What action?
Q. This action they have just taken now. Did they make you aware of it before?
THE PRESIDENT. Sure, we are always in touch with them on the situation out there; that is through our military people, our Ambassador, and sometimes direct, and through the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense.
Q. Mr. President, there were reports out of Saigon that there is a military victory psychologically there now. Is that reflected in the reports you have been getting?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't think we ought to speculate on that. I would have to be explaining whatever I said ad infinitum if I did.
I think we are doing the best we can to bring about peace in the area, to deter aggression and to bring an end to the hostilities. I think the men are giving a very good account of themselves.
APPOINTMENT OF ATTORNEY GENERAL
[2.] Q. Mr. President, can you give us any idea of how soon you expect to appoint an Attorney General?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I would think very soon. If I didn't think you would criticize me I would appoint one now. You like to get it mimeographed, don't you?
Q. No, sir.
THE PRESIDENT. Can I get a commitment it will be all right with you if I name one now?
Q. Yes, sir.
THE PRESIDENT. I will very shortly.
[3.] Q. Mr. President, this stepped-up action or far-reaching action
THE PRESIDENT. I didn't embrace that. You and Bailey 1 get together on those slogans.
1 Charles W. Bailey 2d of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune.
Q. You did say it was far-reaching, did you not? Does this make the situation more ominous? Are we moving far away from hopes of peace to come?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think so.
Q. Mr. President, does it represent a recognition of failure of political or diplomatic efforts to bring peace?
THE PRESIDENT. None whatever. We have fired from ships before. We have done what we could to stop supplies coming down before.
As I said, I believe it is more far-reaching than some of the actions before, but I wouldn't interpret it beyond that.
Q. Mr. President, last week Congressman Laird said, in effect, that you should give the American people and the Congress the report on the Vietnam war, the Vietnam situation that you mentioned in your State of the Union Message. Do you intend to give them anything like that or some similar report in the near future?
THE PRESIDENT. I do that almost daily. I did it at such length in the State of the Union that some of you felt that the message was too long because I had to go into some of my views on Vietnam there.
Some of the reporters said we spent too much time just talking on one subject in the last press conference. We do plan, from time to time, in our testimony and in our statements, to review that with the various Congressmen and with the people.
As a matter of fact, one Cabinet officer spent over 50 hours on that subject this year. He has released statements, I believe, almost 200 pages on Vietnam. It will be necessary for us to do some more of it as we go along. It will be present in all of our exchanges and speeches and testimony on different things. I think it should be.
I don't know of anything new that I can say that I haven't said. I met with the joint leadership of the Congress this morning at breakfast at 8:30. I reviewed with them some of these subjects in some detail.
I will be doing that with the American people from time to time. Secretary Rusk and Secretary McNamara also will.
INTER-AMERICAN MEETING IN BUENOS AIRES
[4.] Q. Mr. President, can you give us at this point any views on the inter-American meeting in Buenos Aires and your own plans in that respect?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. We discussed that this morning. I met with the bipartisan leadership to have a general exchange of views. It lasted approximately 2 1/2 hours. Mr. Christian 2 can give you the exact timing.
2 George E. Christian, Special Assistant to the President.
Secretary Rusk reported in some detail on his meeting with the foreign ministers. He told them the date of the conference, the conference first suggested by a Latin American President.
We were asked if we could attend. We told them we would try to do so. Subsequently, in Mexico in our trip there, you will remember I said we would be glad to attend if they decided they wanted to have a conference.
Since then I have met with the President of Mexico on two occasions. We have discussed it. The foreign ministers have met and we have all concluded that if an agenda can be worked out that would meet with the approval of the Latin Americans that they would evolve an agenda and the foreign ministers go over it and reach conclusions on it, that we would be glad to attend and be available and participate. We plan to do that.
I believe the place is Punta del Este. I believe the dates are April 12 through 14.3 We did review the agenda, the economic matters, and others that we will discuss there.
3 See Items 171, 173, 175-178.
The Secretary said, in effect, that the conference was very serious and very successful; it concentrated on the problems of economic integration. There will be five or six items on the agenda.
PLANS TO VISIT OTHER LATIN AMERICAN COUNTRIES
[5.] Q. Mr. President, could you tell us whether your plan, at this time, includes visiting any other Latin American areas on this trip?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I could not. I do not have any plans at this time to do so. I do not anticipate doing so, but would not want to foreclose that possibility.
We might have to touch down and get gas somewhere and we might want to, if the time allowed, go some other place. But we have no plans now to do so.
[6.] Q. Mr. President, do the signs, somewhat, of the slowdown in the economy demand more of you this moment than the release of the highway funds? Are you planning to step up to an earlier time the lifting of the investment credit or any other action on money? 4
THE PRESIDENT. We will follow this very closely on a day-to-day basis. There is not anything unusual. The Council of Economic Advisers have reported their views and my views to the country. That is where we stand as of this time. We did that last September.
4 On February 20, 1967, the White House had made public a report to the President from Alexander B. Trowbridge, Acting Secretary of Commerce, on the impact of investment tax credit suspension. The report stated that capital spending programs planned for 1967 had been trimmed $2.3 billion below what private industry would have spent in the absence of the legislation, and that 1966 capital expenditures had been reduced by over $300 million.
The complete report is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 3, p. 288).
We said that we felt that if we could take these series of actions--several were contemplated as you recall. One was to ask the States and the cities and other public bodies to share with the business people of the country the responsibility of cooling some and of resisting inflationary pressures by not putting gasoline on the fire.
We called the Governors, the mayors, the businessmen, and the Federal Government in for a series of meetings. Thirty-four of the leaders of the Congress asked us not to put all the responsibility for restraint either on the Federal Reserve, through monetary restraints, or private business, through plant and equipment expenditures.
So we pledged to them then, when we sent that message in September, that we would attempt to defer, stretch out, hold back a series of allotments there to the extent of $3 billion in programs--emphasize, capitalize programs--and to have the Federal Government share some of that responsibility.
In addition to that, we had withholding action of $600 million on soldiers' housing at that time. The housing has waited about 18 months. We have released that because we felt, first, the economy could take it, and second, that the soldiers shouldn't have to take it any longer. They had waited 18 months.
Two, we released $250 million in private housing, because housing dropped from a rate of 1,200,000 to 800,000 plus. We thought that had gone far enough and that we should do something to help that field. They had been restrained enough so we released $250 million.
Third, I suggested to the Secretary of Transportation over the weekend--and we have consulted the Governors--that we would release $175 million of the $1.1 billion in highway allocations, in authorizations, that had been temporarily withheld. This will permit them to do some planning, particularly in connection with safety, right of way, bids and things of that nature. It will equalize some of the hardships that have taken place. We said we would move the date that would end it up to July from October.
There is not a great deal of difference there. But it would provide 2 or 3 months so they could plan, could see, could get in the work in the summer months when weather is not such a big problem in construction. We are going to release $175 million immediately. We are speaking of allocations.
I think I had better break this up. The whole expenditure is only $400 million. We are going to try to bring the $400 million expenditure back in line by the end of the fiscal year. That is what our commitment was originally. I don't think that is because of the economic condition. But it is taken in the light of the economic condition.
We think it is a good time. We think it won't heat up things like it did last September. The plant equipment that was 18 percent over last year when we took these series of actions--Governor Rockefeller took some very excellent ones in New York, Governor Hughes in New Jersey took some good measures, and the other Governors did, too-but when some other Governors and mayors did defer, it had the effect of bringing it down where they are estimating 6 or 7 rather than 18.
Q. Down to rather than off the top?
THE PRESIDENT. An increase of 6 or 7 over last year instead of 18.
VIEWS OF SECRETARY RUSK AND SECRETARY MCNAMARA
[7.] Q. There was surprise last week when Secretary McNamara felt obliged to say that he had never disagreed with Secretary Rusk on the bombing in the North.
Can you elaborate on why he felt so obliged?
THE PRESIDENT. The reports, you know, back and forth, from the testimony said: "Doesn't this involve a difference of opinion? It seems to us, when you are testifying here that you intimate that this is the situation and the Secretary seems to intimate this way. Do we concede that to be a difference in viewpoint? And does it actually exist?"
I haven't discussed this with him, but from what I have seen and read--what was the word you used?
THE PRESIDENT. He did feel obliged to protect his credibility. That is the truth. These are facts. I am unaware at any time that we have ever met and discussed these high .policy matters when we didn't leave the room in general agreement on general decisions.
That not only applies to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, but it applies to other civilians in the Government.
I have never observed two men who I thought could represent the State and Defense Departments more successfully and also the national interest more cooperatively.
Secretary Rusk is a man with some background in not only diplomatic matters, but in military, too. Secretary McNamara is a man with some civilian diplomatic background. He understands Secretary Rusk's problems and Secretary Rusk understands Secretary McNamara's problems.
We are very fortunate in the respect that they not only understand each other, but that we have men of such high caliber in high places, men who have had 6 years experience in their jobs.
Their experience is a great asset to this country. They have gone through a great many trials together.
[8.] Q. Are these far-reaching steps being taken because the bombing has not halted the infiltration into the South, and do you have any better reading than you did a few weeks ago on that rate of infiltration?
THE PRESIDENT. I want to reconstruct your statement a little bit. Rather than put a slogan on it of some kind, I would say that the action itself is more far-reaching than it was the day before or something. That is what I mean. I don't mean to imply that these are in themselves a far-reaching thing. That is clear?
Q. Yes, sir.
THE PRESIDENT. I don't want to get that connotation in that context.
No, I don't think that we can state with any great precision how many individuals are in South Vietnam because we didn't bomb or did bomb during a period. We were very careful about that. Some people will put up a straw man sometimes and say bombing hasn't done what you said it would do.
Well, if you will go back to what we said it would do when we started there--and what we said in Baltimore in April--generally speaking, we feel that it has done those things that we expected it to do.
No one has ever expected, except those who want us to stop it, that bombing would stop infiltration. So that is my comment on your question. We never thought it would stop infiltration.
We do think that there are hundreds of thousands of people who are busy trying to put the bridges back and the railroad ties back, and the other things back. I would estimate we have lost less than 500 men in our bombing experiences. Probably we have lost a billion dollars in planes. We thought that we could make them pay a rather heavy price in manpower.
They may have a hundred thousand busy on air defense. They may have a hundred thousand or so busy on coastal defense. I don't want to be held to these figures.
I am just illustrating there are a substantial number of people engaged in these activities. Some have estimated as many as 300,000 additional on roads, rails, and these other things--if they were busy in cleaning up after them, repairing the roads, bridges, and railroad ties.
So you have a labor force of 500,000 there busy doing these things that the 500 men who lost their lives brought about.
If they weren't doing that they would be down there with some of your cousins and brothers doing other things or bringing in other things. Their efforts in this direction now would be doing something else. We know that. We do think it has cost them. We do think from their own voices and their sympathizers and their friends in the world that there are good indications that they would like to see the bombing stopped. They would like to see these men unrestrained and let them go on to doing other things that our men over there, our 500,000, would have to defend.
I don't know how much more ammunition these people would be down there using and fighting if they weren't building bridges. You can't be precise on all of those things.
I think the proof is in their own statements, how they feel about stopping this activity. Just as I would like all of you to write and talk and speak on the stopping of the bombing of Danang yesterday. I assume there will be a good many speeches today, a good many editorials tomorrow, and a good many columns from the press that will really say that the bombing of Danang yesterday was a very bad thing because it killed a number of Americans, wounded a number of Americans. It destroyed a lot of things on that air base. The hand grenades and mortars they fired did this.
We know it hurts us. We assume it hurts them. We believe it does.
Does that answer what you want me to say?
PROSPECTS FOR PEACE
[9.] Q. Mr. President, you answered a question a few minutes ago as to whether the present moves in Vietnam were ominous and were leading away from peacemaking and the conference table by saying no. I would like to turn the question around, if I could.
THE PRESIDENT. I don't think I can predict exactly what is in somebody else's mind or heart. It is not our purpose or our belief that this is what is happening.
I have a quotation here that someone sent me in a letter signed yesterday from one of the great men that America has produced, General Stimson,5 Secretary of War and State. It says:
5 Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War under Presidents William Howard Taft, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry S. Truman, and Secretary of State during the administration of President Herbert Hoover.
"The sinfulness and weakness of man are evident to anyone who lives in the active world. But men are also good and great, kind and wise. Honor begets honor; trust begets trust; faith begets faith; and hope is the mainspring of life. I have lived with the reality of war, and I have praised soldiers; but the hope of honorable faithful peace is a greater thing and I have lived with that, too.
"That a man must live with both together is inherent in the nature of our present stormy stage of human progress, but it has also many times been the nature of progress in the past, and it is not reason for despair . . .
"We have been late in meeting danger, but not too late. We have been wrong, but not basically wicked. And today with that strength and soundness of heart we can meet and master the future . . .
"Let them learn from our adventures what they can. Let them charge us with our failures and do better in their turn. But let them not turn aside from what they have to do, nor think that criticism excuses inaction. Let them have hope, and virtue, and let them believe in mankind and its future, for there is good as well as evil, and the man who tries to work for the good, believing in its eventual victory, while he may suffer setback and even disaster, will never know defeat. The only deadly sin I know is cynicism."
I don't say that all of that is pertinent to your immediate question. But I think that each day the big road we follow is a search for peace. Everything we do is in that direction.
I believe that what I am doing--the course open to me now--is best calculated to bring that about. I don't mean that I can do that tomorrow. I don't think I can. But I don't see any other alternative.
I think doing nothing would take me much further away from it. Our principal objective there is to provide the maximum deterrent to people who believe aggression pays with a minimum cost to us and to them.
Do you want to follow through on that?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't think we have to be limited in this conference. One of the things I think about in an exchange of questions like this, if you ask a question you can follow through, which you don't always get to do on TV.
Q. I wanted to be sure we got a positive rather than a purely negative answer to whether in your judgment you consider the moves in Vietnam are positive in the direction of peacemaking. I think you have answered that.
THE PRESIDENT. I don't want to predict that they are going to bring that about and be held up to scorn next week for being a poor prophet. But I do believe this is the best course.
I have evaluated a good many options. As you see, a good many are suggested from time to time.
TACTICS IN VIETNAM
[10.] Q. Mr. President, sir, in view of these new moves in Vietnam, what do you say to those who say you haven't gone far enough, especially in light of the mining of the waterways? You have still left Haiphong untouched.
THE PRESIDENT [quoting from Lincoln]. "I will do the very best I know how--the very best I can; and I mean to keep on doing it until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said about me won't amount to anything.
"If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.
"if I will try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business."
That is generally the way I approach these suggestions that I have from day to day. I think they are indispensable to the democratic form of government. They are very good.
I went around the table this morning and asked every man there to make his comments. I heard expressed some views I considered extreme one way or the other. I am sure they can pay me the same compliment.
But after all those exchanges--as President Truman says, "The buck stops here"--I finally have to do what I believe is right. Even when you put it off as long as you can and you do it then a few hours later, there is some strange something that will wake you up and say, "Did you think of these two points?" Then you consider them.
But we have taken the actions that we think are best calculated to protect the national interest of this country, freedom in the world, and humanity everywhere.
From time to time we will make mistakes and we will make decisions that will be open to question. We try to get all the information we can.
We try to hear all the experts we can. We try to get all the civilian advice we can. One time last year the congressional leadership said that we were consulting too much. After these consultations, then we make the decision.
One of the great men in the country said to me a few weeks ago, "Call in all of your civilians and listen to them. Then call in your Joint Chiefs of Staff and listen to them. Then call in all your scientists and listen to them. Get representatives of all groups of various administrations. Then," he said, "go over there to that bedroom and pray, pray. You may be wrong with what you do then."
That is what we try m do with these things. Some of the decisions, people think, are very late in coming. That is true.
But in my judgment, if they weren't wise we wouldn't have made them. I may be wrong in that. I know I am in some instances, but I don't see some of the things that other people think ought to be done now nor do my advisers. That is why we haven't done them.
[11.] Q. Mr. President, some of the criticism of our situation in Vietnam has been political rather than strategic. For example, Governor Romney has said political expediency has led us to where we are now. Do you have any response?
THE PRESIDENT. I do not want to get into that.
AMBASSADOR GOLDBERG'S TRIP
[12.] Q. Would you be surprised if Ambassador Goldberg turned up in Burma now with the North Vietnamese committee there which is meeting with U Thant?
THE PRESIDENT. Ambassador Goldberg, I think, had intended to visit Burma originally. If my memory serves me correctly, it is one of the countries I asked him to visit. Because of the hearings he had to divide his trip.
I have not been informed just where that division will be. I don't think you should place any unusual significance on whether he did it in the first trip or the second trip, or the second or the first trip.
Q. I meant at this particular time when the North Vietnamese are supposed to be there.
THE PRESIDENT. He is not on any peace mission. He is visiting some of the areas.
Alvin A. Spivak, United Press International: Thank you, Mr. President.
Note: President Johnson's ninety-sixth news conference was held in his office at the White House at 11:25 a.m. on Monday, February 27, 1967. As printed above, this item follows the text of the Official White House Transcript.
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/237699