Lyndon B. Johnson photo

The President's News Conference

March 22, 1968

THE PRESIDENT. I have a few appointments that I thought you would be interested in and would give you something to do over the weekend. I want to keep all of you occupied. There are no trips in the offing.


[1.] I am naming Sargent Shriver as Ambassador to France. Secretary Rusk talked to him today in Europe. He understands that the French Government has cleared him. The nomination will go to the Senate and when acted upon by the Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate, he will go through a period of briefings here, and then go to the Paris post at a reasonably early date.



[2.] I am asking Mr. Wilbur Cohen to be my new Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. He is the present Under Secretary. His successor has not been chosen.

We have tentatively reviewed some names together and we will meet again and talk about the Department, his functions, and the specific types of people we would like to carefully consider for Under Secretary. It will take some time, but we will make that announcement as soon as a decision is reached.


[3.] I am asking Mr. Bert Harding, the Deputy to Mr. Shriver, to take over the duties of the poverty program during the time Mr. Shriver is away, and while he is going through the Senate confirmation hearings. When I make a permanent decision on the Poverty Director, you will be informed.


[4.] I have had under consideration for some time the filling of the expiring terms of certain members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On January the 19th, Mr. McNamara1 gave me several alternatives here with his recommendations. I have had Mr. Clifford 2 review those alternatives and those recommendations.

1 Robert S. McNamara, former Secretary of Defense.

2 Robert S. McNamara, former Secretary of Defense.

We have not completed action on all of them, but I have secured the consent of General Wheeler3 to an extension of one year in his term that would expire normally July 2, 1968.

3 Gen. Earle G. Wheeler, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Secretary McNamara, in this longhand note, was hopeful these could be announced in early February. General Wheeler has had a physical and taken the necessary steps, and he is available. If Congress is willing, his term will be extended for 1 year. The resolution will be submitted. It will be necessary to get congressional action.

I have conferred with Senator Russell, the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Congressman Rivers.4 They both enthusiastically support this decision.

4 Senator Richard B. Russell of Georgia, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Representative L. Mendel Rivers of South Carolina, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

General Johnson's5 term expires as Chief of Staff of the Army in July 1968. He plans to retire. He has notified us of his desire to retire. He will be succeeded by General Westmoreland,6 who will assume the duties, assuming the Senate acts on the confirmation at that time, on July 2, 1968.

We have not selected a successor to General Westmoreland.

5 Gen. Harold K. Johnson, Chief of Staff, United States Army.

6 Gen. William C. Westmoreland, Commander, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam.


[5.] Admiral Sharp's7 term ends May 1st. We are going to ask Admiral Sharp if it is possible for him to continue through a July date so that we can have this transition smooth and simultaneous. If that is possible, we will ask him to continue to July 2d.

7Adm. U. S. Grant Sharp, Jr., Commander in Chief of U.S. Forces in the Pacific.

His successor will be named from nominations from the services. The Air Force will nominate a man, the Navy will nominate one, and perhaps the Army, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the Secretary will make that recommendation. I believe that is all that I have now.

I would say that the resolution on General Wheeler will go up very shortly. The nomination on Mr. Cohen will go up today if the Senate is still in session. If not, it will go up when the Senate is in session. The same thing will be true of Mr. Shriver.

I would be glad to take any questions that any of you may have. If I am not talking loudly enough, I will sit down and you can hear through the microphone.



[6.] Q. Mr. President, when would you anticipate General Westmoreland coming back to this country?

THE PRESIDENT. July 2, 1968, is when I would anticipate his taking over the duties of Chief of Staff. I don't know what the pleasure of the Senate committee would be. But, they very likely would want him present to act upon him.

When they do want to act upon him, if they want him personally present, I would imagine that would be when he would return, Smitty,8 but I am not sure.

8Merriman Smith of United Press International.


[7.] Q. Mr. President, when would you think would be the latest that you would have to name a successor to him in Vietnam?

THE PRESIDENT. July 2. That successor post specifically doesn't require Senate confirmation. General Westmoreland would be relieved of his duty effective that day. I would think a successor would be named much earlier. But your question, as I understand it, was the latest I would announce a successor.


[8. ] Q. Mr. President, are we any closer to peace?

THE PRESIDENT. I cannot answer that question. Peace is a very elusive thing. We cannot pinpoint a time or a date that may be in other people's minds. We are trying constantly each day to think and plan in every way we can for a solution that would bring a resolution to what is happening in South Vietnam.

But what may be in the enemy's mind I am not able to speak with any real authority. I would not want to try to be prophetic about what their decisions might be. We are living, I think, in a very dangerous time. It is taxing the ingenuity, the determination, and the strength of the leaders of the Nation, as well as our fighting men.

I have no doubt about what the resolution will be. But as to the moment or the exact timing of it, I cannot speak for it.

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Frankel.9

9Max Frankel of The New York Times.


[9.] Q. Thank you. To help us meet the invariable discussion that will greet some of these appointments, could I ask two questions?

One, does the replacement of General Westmoreland imply any change of search and destroy strategy with which his name has been associated or any other tactical adjustment in Vietnam?

THE PRESIDENT. The strategy and the tactical operations have nothing to do with the appointments as such. I do not know at this time who the commanding general of our troops there will be.

Therefore, I cannot speak for his plans or for his program. I feel that General Westmoreland is a very talented and very able officer. He was considered for the Honolulu assignment and for the Chief of Staff assignment that has been held by many of the greatest men in our military history--such as General Pershing, General Eisenhower, and General Wheeler.

After thorough consideration for many months and upon the recommendation of both the outgoing Secretary and the incoming Secretary who evaluated every general in the Army, to be Chief of Staff of the Army, General Westmoreland was selected.

Now, what contributions he will make to the Joint Chiefs of Staff will be a matter for him to decide and what the recommendations his successor will make will be for him to decide.

I don't think it would be fair or correct or possible today to announce the program of the unannounced, unknown successor.


[10.] Q. The second part, Mr. President, goes to Mr. Shriver. Did he ask to be relieved of his OEO duties, or is this just a good time?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I would not say that he asked to be relieved. He told me many months ago that he had been in the poverty job and in the Peace Corps job in Washington for many years--some 7 years--that he had looked forward to the possibility of some foreign service, that the opportunity that he had for relations with other nations in the Peace Corps was a very satisfying experience for him. He said if there were anything that would be available where he could serve his country abroad, he would be glad to be considered for it.

I told him there were two places that he could be considered for. He gave me his preference. He had discussed this with the Secretary of State before he discussed it with me.

After our conversation, I sent him back to the Secretary of State. They exchanged views. And the Secretary recommended to me that his name be submitted to the French Government. That was done some time ago.

In accordance with the custom, we attempted to respect their wishes on the matter and made no announcement until they had been given the courtesy of considering his name and acting upon it.

They did that, I believe, yesterday.

The Secretary talked to Mr. Shriver today and informed him that the French Government had acted upon it and that he was prepared to submit to the President his recommendation if Mr. Shriver felt that he wanted that done in light of the action of the French Government.

Mr. Shriver stated that he did. Secretary Rusk submitted it to me this afternoon following the luncheon I had with him.

Does that answer both of your questions?

Q. Yes, sir; very well.


[11.] Q. Mr. President, have you reached a decision on the question of additional combat troops for Vietnam?

THE PRESIDENT. I have not. I have no specific recommendations at this point. The people in the field and the people in the Department are giving this matter very thorough consideration--replacements, extra needs, developments that are taking place there, the enemy's actions, and so forth.

When I have any recommendations that I am able to act upon and do make a decision, I will announce it to the extent that I can without involving our security.

I don't want to speculate on it because, first, I don't have a recommendation or facts enough to know. If I don't know, I don't know who does know, because the decision really has to be made here.

Figures from 1,000 to 1,000,000 you will be reading, hearing, and reporting. But that is a matter of somebody else's credibility. I want to try to watch mine.


[12.] Q. Mr. President, do you know yet whether you will have to have a supplemental appropriation for Defense?

THE PRESIDENT. No. We have not made a decision on that. We do know that there are going to be some step-ups in filling inventory needs. The new Secretary has talked and consulted frequently with the Chairmen of the two Armed Services Committees about certain of those needs.

I don't want to get into specifics, but they involve everything from types of spare parts to ammunition, to guns, to certain types of equipment, both for us and for our allies, for extra troop commitments that our allies are making and for extra equipment commitments that we are making, such as to Korea.

So, when those things are decided upon and costed out, the Congress will be informed.


[13.] Q. Mr. President, rightly or wrongly, speculation grows that the coming presidential election campaign is going to be one of the most bruising, if not one of the most brutal, in memory, partly because of the divisive and emotional issues of Vietnam and race in this country.

Do you have any comment on that and, as a footnote, do you have any reaction to Governor Rockefeller's action yesterday?10

THE PRESIDENT. First, reaction--I don't know whether it is hope or speculation, but both, maybe. My reaction is that I would hope that is not true. I would hope that the American people and their candidates for public office can discuss the issues with those people factually in an atmosphere where people can deliberate and make a decision based on what is best for their country. I hope and I believe that can be done.

10Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York had announced his decision not to be an active candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

I would not want to accept the anonymous speculators' judgment that it is going to be a bloody and bruising campaign, or whatever other adjectives you used.

So far as Governor Rockefeller is concerned, I am not in the practice of selecting or speculating on the candidates of the other party. I do not want to interfere in their business. My relationship with most of the Governors is very good.

I don't believe there has ever been a period when any President had more cooperation or better relationships with the States than the Federal Government and this President have with the Governors and the States at this time.

Right at the top of this list is Governor Rockefeller. He has been very cooperative, very helpful, very wise and constructive in all of his suggestions. We communicate with each other frequently in connection with the problems of the cities, the problems of the ghettos, the problems of the defense of the Nation, foreign relations, and other matters. I have always found him, while not always in agreement, always constructive.


[14.] Q. Mr. President, within your own party, sir, Mr. Weisl,11 the Democratic National Committeeman in New York today said that Senator Kennedy of New York 12 has a lust for power to become President.

11 Edwin L. Weisl, St.

12 Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

How do you evaluate or what is your reaction to Senator Kennedy's entrance into the presidential race?

THE PRESIDENT. I would have no comment on Senator Kennedy's entrance other than to say I was not surprised. And I could have made this statement to you this time last year.


[15.] Q. When are you going to announce your own entrance into the race, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. When I get to that bridge, I will cross it. I am not there yet.


[16.] Q. Mr. President, there have been some people in public life who expressed disappointment that you did not react the way they felt you should to the report of the Commission you appointed on civil disorders.13 I wonder if you could tell us how you feel about some of this criticism and about the report?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know much about the criticism. I spent a good deal of time selecting the Commission. I tried to select men of ability and dedication and competence in this field. I thought I picked a very good Commission.

13The "Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders" is dated March 1, 1968 (Government Printing Office, 425 pp.).

I did not, in any way, make suggestions to them after I appointed them and explained to them the kind of study I hoped could be made. We selected an outstanding staff director. We provided several hundreds of thousands of dollars to the staff--I believe something over $1 million. We provided a good many Government people. We cooperated at the White House in every way we could.

We thought the report was a very thorough one, very comprehensive, and made many good recommendations. We did not agree with all of the recommendations, as certain statements have indicated.

When the report was received, we asked that copies of it be widely distributed to the Cabinet, to the Congress, to the Governors, to the Mayors, to the housing people and the Attorney General in connection with matters under his jurisdiction. He was asked to give special attention to the problems that they dealt with.

We felt that overall the Commission wanted to be and was constructive and helpful.

A good many of the things they recommended we had already made decisions on. Those are in one basket.

A good many more recommendations we had incorporated into our cities message14 that had gone up and was pending. There was a difference in amounts, perhaps, although they did not cost out theirs. I am not sure how much difference, but we could recognize differences.

14 For the President's message to Congress "The Crisis of the Cities," see Item 87.

Housing, for instance. We recommended all that we thought that we could get the Congress to act upon--6 million over this period of time--and it represented a great acceleration. The Commission felt that it should be more.

I would not oppose more if we could get more and if we could get more funded. But we recommended what we thought we could build, realistically, and what we could get funded.

I asked the Budget Director the day after the report was prepared:

One: To have each Cabinet officer analyze it and to divide it into three phases: What we were doing that they had recommended, see how we could improve on it in line with their suggestions.

Two: To see what they had recommended that we had already requested authorization on and appropriations for: jobs, employment, housing, civil rights matters, and to try to accelerate those and get them passed.

Three: To put in this basket the things that we recommended that we had not taken action on and then to call upon the Cabinet officers to submit to me their recommendations on the things that had not been acted upon.

The Budget Director did that. We have heard from those Cabinet officers and have taken some action on them. From time to time I am sure that we will not only be acting upon other things in the report, but some things not covered by it.

We don't agree with everything in the report and they don't agree with everything we are doing. But there is a general "simpatico" of views, I think, between the Cabinet officers who handle these programs and the recommendations of the Commission. In some cases there is a different sum in amounts and emphasis.

We think it was a good report made by good men of good will that will have a good influence. We hope that every person in the country can read it and try to take such action as they can to implement it.

I talked to the Assistant Secretary of HEW. I talked to Secretary Gardner himself. I talked to Mr. Whitney Young and Mr. Wilkins and a good many of the leaders who are interested in housing, .particularly Mr. Weaver.15

15Whitney M. Young, Jr., Executive Director, National Urban League, and Robert C. Weaver, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The President may also have referred to Roy Wilkins, Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or his nephew Roger W. Wilkins, Director, Community Relations Service, Department of Justice.

Some of our people, I think, talked to the leaders in the Senate and the House.

We want to take action on every recommendation that we can embrace that they think would be helpful.

I have detailed comments from the various Cabinet officers on parts of it, but I do not think you want me to go into this. But I will read one department's brief comments:

"The Department of Commerce concurs with the Commission that the Federal strategy of the cities is needed, but devoted its comments to economic development and employment, the suggestion that in addition to the budget, the Economic Development Administration and the Department of the Army are well along in their planning for civil disturbance control.

"My staff has prepared a thorough analysis of the agencies using initial reports from the agencies and the data they will provide.

"This, in effect, will provide information on main points.

"Funds are now being devoted to areas in which they have made recommendations; additional action to carry out the recommendations within existing funds; action to carry out very high priority Commission recommendations by modest budget add-ons; which recommendations cannot be implemented now; actions through Federal leadership consultations; State, local and private agencies to promote adoption and acceptance of the Commission's recommendations."

This budget report came back to me in the middle of March. It already has been reviewed by all the departments and has been communicated to most of the appropriate chairmen of the various committees.

Merriman Smith: Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Any of you all want to wait and visit with my grandson, I will be glad to have you.

Note: President Johnson's one hundred and twentieth news conference was held in his office at the White House at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, March 22, 1968.

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

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