The President's News Conference
THE PRESIDENT. [1.] We have some nice spring weather, I see.
Mr. Zwick, the Director of the Budget, is here. We will have a release1 that you are somewhat familiar with involving reduction in foreign personnel abroad in various Government departments. It runs from $12 million to $15 million for the transitional year, and to $20 million to $25 million for the coming fiscal year.
1See Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 4, p. 618).
Mr. Zwick will be glad to answer any specific questions you have on that at the conclusion of the meeting.
I would be glad to take any questions you want to ask.
WISCONSIN DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY
[2.] Q. Do you know who is going to win the Democratic primary in Wisconsin?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't.
ADDRESS TO THE NATION
[3.] Q. Mr. President, there has been talk about another bombing pause. Can you tell us what your thinking on that possibility is?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't think that a military strategy that is under review from time to time, or troop deployments, or matters of that kind, ought to be speculated on until the President has made a decision. There is not anything to announce at this time.
I do think that as a result of the intensive review that the President and the diplomatic and military and congressional officials have given Vietnam in recent weeks, particularly since the Tet offensive, that it would be well if the President would speak on that subject rather fully.
Therefore, I plan to speak from my office tomorrow evening to the country at 9 o'clock.2 I will at that time discuss troop speculations that have taken place, what our plans are, and what information we have that we are able to talk about now. I will also talk about other questions of some importance.
2 See Item 170.
It will be more or less a report on the reviews which have taken place, together with an announcement of some actions that we are taking.
REQUEST FOR A TAX INCREASE
[4.] Q. Mr. President, Representative George Mahon3 said yesterday it would be meaningful, that you really should ask the people for a greater tax increase than the 10 percent surcharge. I wonder if you are prepared to do that?
THE PRESIDENT. We can't do much about it between now and Sunday evening. I will cover that in my statement Sunday evening--my views on the entire fiscal policy. These remarks are being prepared now.
3 Representative George H. Mahon of Texas, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
POOR PEOPLE'S MARCH ON WASHINGTON
[5.] Q. Mr. President, how do you feel about the proposed Poor People's March on Washington next month in light of the events in Memphis this week, sir?4
THE PRESIDENT. I recognize that there are many serious problems, some anticipated and some that frequently are not anticipated, that flow from situations of this kind.
4 See Item 166.
In this season of the year, we are very concerned about dealing properly and adequately and appropriately with the various protests and marches that may take place.
The Attorney General has met with the Governors and with the mayors and has been in touch with them from time to time. Generally, he tries to plan and anticipate problems to the extent he can with the mayors and with the Governors, whose primary responsibility it is to maintain order.
In the case of Washington, the Attorney General and Mayor Washington 5 and others have given a good deal of their time to it. I would hope if there is a march that it will be in keeping with the law, that the law will be obeyed, that the individual rights of all will be respected, and that no violence will flow from it.
5 Mayor Walter E. Washington of the District of Columbia.
Q. Mr. President, on that point, there has been a suggestion in the Senate that there be an injunction to stop the march, or some type of restriction. What is your personal viewpoint on that?
THE PRESIDENT. I am not familiar with the suggestions. I have given my viewpoints generally. We believe that these marches should be kept within the law. We know of no way to prohibit people who comply with the law from exercising their rights.
DECISION ON VIETNAM AND THE PRESIDENT'S ADDRESS
[6.] Q. Mr. President, does your speech tomorrow indicate that you have come to the end of your A to Z evaluation? Does the speech tomorrow on Vietnam mean that you have arrived at a decision?
THE PRESIDENT. No, Helen.6 We are constantly reviewing this problem every day-we will never fully complete our work until we have peace in that area of the world.
6 Helen Thomas of United Press International.
We haven't even completed our work in Europe. We are reviewing it every day.
My statement tomorrow night will deal with evaluating the problems as I see them, giving the Nation my views on those problems, and announcing certain actions that I propose to take.
That is not to say that we have completely closed the door and nothing else will be considered. I will have conferences next week. They are rather important ones in connection with the actions that I will announce tomorrow night. But I think you will get from the speech pretty generally the Government's position and the course that we intend to take.
Q. Sir, will it be painful?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, you call me and tell me after you hear it.
Q. It will be on television, though, won't it?
THE PRESIDENT. We are going to make it available, if they choose to carry it.
EXCHANGE OF PRISONERS
[7.] Q. Mr. President, have the talks that resulted in our releasing the three North Vietnamese sailors been encouraging to you as far as our making progress on the Pueblo7 and in having dialogue with the North Vietnamese generally?
THE PRESIDENT. We are always glad to be able to get the release of our prisoners and to be able to reciprocate the actions they take.
7United States intelligence ship seized by North Korea on January 23, 1968. The crew was released on December 22, 1968 (see Item 641 ).
I don't know just how to describe those releases in your terms. You will have to draw your own conclusions there. We are pleased that those exchanges have worked out to the extent they have. We would like to see more of them.
STATUS OF U.S. DEFENSE SYSTEM
[8.] Q. Mr. President, this last week Senator Stennis said something about the Defense Department being down to kind of a bare bones position and there has been a request for some $3 billion or $4 billion in addition. Are you satisfied with the status of the preparedness or do you have any special concern at the present time?
THE PRESIDENT. We are constantly trying to strengthen the weaknesses that develop in the defense system of the Nation--the shortages that appear. Sometimes it is helicopters. Sometimes it is helicopter parts. Sometimes it is M-16 rifles. Sometimes it is ammunition. Some days it may be various fuels of certain kinds at certain spots.
Overall, I think generally there has never been a war fought as far away as this one has been fought that has been as well supplied and has had as few necessities in short supply.
But that is not to say that we don't make errors. That is not to say that we don't goof at times. We are constantly trying to find those goofs and correct them.
There will be some increases in certain items like helicopters, parts, guns, ammunition, and other things that flow from the needs that we found that appeared after the Tet offensive. The cost of those items is being worked on now. They are substantial, but there is not anything like the amounts that have been speculated on. I will try to give you some more accurate estimate of them tomorrow evening.
I would say they will involve a few billion dollars, but not anything like the $10 billion to $20 billion that I have seen and heard people use. It will not be anything like the hundreds of thousands of call-ups and deployments that I have heard speculated upon.
HANOI'S RESPONSE TO THE SAN ANTONIO FORMULA
[9.] Q. Mr. President, has there been any change in the San Antonio formula, and has there been any reaction from Hanoi to it in a positive way?
THE PRESIDENT. We extended the offer at San Antonio. And that offer still stands. They have commented on that offer. As far as I am aware, they have not indicated to anyone that it was acceptable to them.
We constantly explore leads that we think might offer some hope. But I am not able to point specifically to any action that they have taken in response to the San Antonio formula that makes me believe that it is acceptable, totally acceptable, to them now.
THE MISSING F--III AIRCRAFT
[10.] Q. Mr. President, do you have a report on the F-111 that disappeared in Southeast Asia, whether it was shot down or just crashed?
THE PRESIDENT. Do you want to be a little more specific?
Q. This week an F-111 flying over North Vietnam or in the vicinity disappeared.
THE PRESIDENT. The only information that I know that is available is that it did not return; that it is missing. That is the last information I have.
THE PRESIDENT'S CAMPAIGN PLANS
[11.] Q. Mr. President, do you have any plans tomorrow to discuss your future role in this campaign, or candidacy?
THE PRESIDENT. No.
Q. Mr. President, there was a story a week ago saying---on what authority it wasn't indicated--
THE PRESIDENT. What story? I don't want to chase these vacuums.
Q. It was a dope story. The authority wasn't indicated, but it said you won't announce your plans as far as 1968 are concerned until the August convention in Chicago. Is that possible?
THE PRESIDENT. I won't comment on any of those stories. I will cross that bridge when I get to it. The fact that it is a dope story is the best evidence of its total unreliability. Usually those stories are the thoughts of people who are not making the decisions, although we haven't made any decision on the matter yet.
MEETINGS ON ACTIONS TO BE TAKEN
[12.] Q. You mentioned that you were going to have a series of important meetings next week related to your speech tomorrow.
THE PRESIDENT. I said we will be meeting through next week on all of these matters, trying to implement them and carry them out, review them.
Q. I was wondering if those meetings were going to be here in Washington or whether you are considering another specific meeting?
THE PRESIDENT. I will be here in Washington at least some of next week. If there are any meetings out of Washington, I will make an announcement when they are definitely determined.
[13.] Q. Mr. President, do you have any plans to meet again with Premier Kosygin this year?
THE PRESIDENT. No. We have no plans.
PLANS TO ATTEND HEMISFAIR OPENING
[14.] Q. Do you plan to go to the Hemis-Fair opening next weekend, Mr. President, and meet with President Diaz?8
THE PRESIDENT. It is difficult for me to talk this far ahead, Helen. Of course, we would like to. Mrs. Johnson has plans to be there. If I can, I would like to. But there may be other items that would not make it possible for me to go there.
8 Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, President of Mexico.
[15.] Q. Sir, I realize the fact that you are not yet a candidate for reelection, but would you please tell us who you consider to be your main leader in your organization, the manager of your organization?
THE PRESIDENT. No. I just hope that all of you are as helpful as you can be.
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
[16.] Q. Mr. President, as regards the Memphis turbulence, have you talked to Dr. Martin Luther King,9 or do you plan to, sir?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I have not talked to Dr. Martin Luther King.
9 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
FRENCH POSITION ON THE GOLD PROPOSALS
[17.] Q. Mr. President, there are indications out of Stockholm that the French are declining to go along with our latest proposals on gold. Are you disappointed in that?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I think I would say I am disappointed, but it is not unexpected. Is that clear?
You don't think I ought to advertise the wire services? What is this? Is this Reuters?
The Agence France-Presse says a spokesman for the French delegation declared-I just saw this before I came out, and I thought this would be helpful to you--"We decline to associate ourselves with the final communiqué of the Conference of Ten." French Minister of Finance and Economy Michel Debre will distribute a statement and answer correspondents' questions as soon as possible.
Mr. Ed Fried of my staff is there with Secretary Fowler and Mr. Martin.10 He has reported to me from time to time. His first reports said that the first day was spent in staking out positions, with no great surprises; that Mr. Debre carried on discussions extensively, and they seemed to be isolated on most issues; that he spoke on each issue.
10William McC. Martin, Jr., Chairman, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.
The outcome has not yet been determined. So I would hope that this conference will be successful. We will have to read the communiqué that is in the process of being prepared.11
11On March 17, 1968, the White House released the text of a communiqué by governors of the central banks of gold pool member nations following their meeting in Washington (4 Weekly Comp. pres. Docs., p. 536).
It is obvious that the French have not agreed with our position. We have tried to be tolerant and flexible. We are very proud of our representation there--Secretary Fowler, Mr. Martin, and others--and we are very pleased generally with the cooperation that comes from the other members.
Now, just what will come out finally, I don't want to say at this time, although I hope that it will be successful.
THE F--III--B AIRCRAFT
[18.] Q. Mr. President, on the F-111, the F-111-B was shot down also by the Armed Services Committee on a 11 to 2 vote this week after an expenditure of I think somewhere in the neighborhood of $ I billion.
I wonder what your view is on that and the plans to go into some other new plane?
THE PRESIDENT. I think you specialists in that field could better deal with that. The Navy and Mr. Clifford have some first-hand information on what has taken place on that.
I don't think I could add anything to what you already know or change your opinion in any way.
NEW COMMANDER IN VIETNAM
[19.] Q. Mr. President, do you expect to name a new Vietnam commander tomorrow?
THE PRESIDENT. No.
SITUATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST
[20.] Q. Mr. President, we have had a renewal of hostilities in the Middle East in the past few days. Have you had any personal involvement in trying to cool things off there outside of what we are doing at the U.N.?
THE PRESIDENT. We keep in very close touch through our diplomats in that part of the world. They are reporting to me all the information that they have together with any suggestions they may have.
That is under the general jurisdiction of the Assistant Secretary in charge of the Middle East, Mr. Battle.12 I have had a number of meetings with the Secretary of State and the Assistant Secretary, Mr. Battle, as well as with Ambassador Goldberg. I have had a number of conversations with Ambassador Goldberg at the U.N.
12Lucius D. Battle, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs.
We are trying to exercise all of the strength we can in the direction of avoiding hostilities and maintaining peace consistent with the five points that I announced back last June. That is our general position.
That is what we think should be considered and carried out. We are trying to help with the Jarring 13 mission wherever we can.
13Gunnar Jarring, Swedish Ambassador to the Soviet Union and United Nations mediator in the Middle East dispute.
Ambassador Goldberg and Mr. Battle are working on the general problem every day. We deplore and regret violence wherever it originates on both sides.
We think fighting is a very poor substitute for reasoning and meeting with each other. We would hope that all sides to the controversy would be more amenable to talking it out rather than fighting it out.
But I cannot say to you that we have their agreement to that kind of a program as yet.
COPPER STRIKE SETTLEMENT AND THE ECONOMY
[21.] Q. Mr. President, could you discuss with us your view of the effects of the copper developments, the settlement, that seems to be emerging and the price increases that seem to be emerging?
THE PRESIDENT. We are very happy that we are able to resume production and to get the strike settled. We regret very much the inflationary aspects attached to that settlement.
We did everything we could to try to keep the increases in wages and prices lower.
In a free enterprise system where you have collective bargaining, unless you have mandatory controls which we do not have, all you can do is to lay down your views and express them and appeal to the individuals concerned to bear them in mind in their collective bargaining decisions.
Chairman Okun of the Council of Economic Advisers spoke very emphatically about the effect of these decisions. He spoke and I think released his statement to the press.
I would hope that all the copper producers would not follow the example that had been set of accelerating a general round of price increases.
We are very concerned about the inflation picture. We have been appealing to the country to give us support and to the Congress to give us support that we think would help to avoid inflation.
Early in 1966, we felt that the time had come when we ought to consider restoring some of the tax revenues that we had repealed in 1964 and 1965.
We counseled with labor and business and the congressional leadership. It was evident that it would be impossible to get a tax increase in 1966.
In 1967, we were more hopeful. Both business and labor agreed to support us. But as you know, the Congress did not agree with us for various reasons.
Some thought the economy was sluggish and didn't need it. Some thought that there ought to be reductions in the budget and a variety of reasons.
The economy, I think, demonstrated that it could take a tax increase and that it would be desirable. Most of the bankers, insurance companies, and economists testified to that effect as well as the labor leaders.
But the demand was made that we reduce expenditures. We could not act on that until Congress had their chance to do it. When they did, they reduced appropriations by several billion dollars and expenditures by somewhere between $1 and $2 billion.
The leadership thought that was not enough and asked us to reduce them even further. We agreed and recommended a formula to Congress that was known as the 2-10 formula that made additional reductions which ran about $8 billion or $10 billion in appropriations and about $4 billion in expenditures last year.
In light of this, we were hopeful that we would get a tax bill to deal with the constant increase in prices, the constant challenges to the dollar, the fear that we had of the in. crease in interest rates, and the effect that would have on employment, on housing, and all of the other matters.
Congress has not seen fit to favorably act upon the tax bill. Although I do believe that if the country would indicate its willingness to face up to this very necessary situation, I believe Congress might act favorably.14
14 The Revenue and Expenditure Control Act of 1968 was approved by the President on June 28, 1968 (see Item 343).
I think the country ought to know that it is very dangerous not to act. We are carrying on quite a gamble. Unless we have a tax bill with the increased expenses that we have in our defense setups in supporting our fighting men, as well as what we are trying to do in our domestic programs, then the price that we are going to have to pay is going to be much higher than the price we would pay by acting prudently and passing a tax bill.
So I think that that would be the best action we could take to help the price situation. In the meantime, we are going to try to encourage labor and encourage business to exercise restraint in their bargaining decisions.
We cannot force them. We do not have the power to restrain them and keep them from reaching these decisions.
We encourage collective bargaining in this country. But we do think that in this instance the increases are excessive.
Helen Thomas, United Press International: Thank you, Mr. President.
Note: President Johnson's one hundred and twenty first news conference was held in the Rose Garden at the White House at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday, March 30, 1968.
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/238067