The President's News Conference
[The news conference was held immediately following the President's announcement of his decision not to seek reelection.]
Q. How irrevocable is your decision?
THE PRESIDENT. It is just as irrevocable as the statement says--completely irrevocable. You just take the statement and read it. There were no shalls, no woulds, no buts; I just made it "will."
Q. Can you describe the processes that led you to this decision; how long ago it started, what the factors were?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't have any calendar on it. I spent some time considering it. I guess perhaps the turning point was probably last November when General Westmoreland 1 was back here. But it wasn't anything definite or firm at that point.
1Gen. William C. Westmoreland, Commander, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam.
Q. Why was it when Westmoreland was back here?
THE PRESIDENT. That just happened to be the time.
Q. Mr. President, now that you have made this announcement, how do you feel?
THE PRESIDENT. I feel as good as a fellow could feel who has gone through what I have gone through today. I think I feel pretty good.
Q. Do you have a candidate for the Democratic nomination?
THE PRESIDENT. No. I made that clear, how I felt about that. You all get the speech and read it; all these questions will be answered for you.
Q. Mr. President, how about the why-why was it last year you began thinking in these terms? I am sure there are some personal considerations in here. I remember your saying as much as 2 years ago, I think you told Ray Scherer2 not to regard you as such an automatic man, that the life back at the ranch and the university appealed to you. Was this part of what went into your decision?
THE PRESIDENT. No. I tried to explain that in about 590 words tonight.
2Raymond L. Scherer of NBC News.
Q. I wondered about other considerations, other than the campaign.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I wouldn't say that I pointed to every consideration, but I think that basically it is just as I stated it.
Q. Mr. President, was there anything other than General Westmoreland's visit last November that goes into this decision?
THE PRESIDENT. No. His visit didn't bring it about at all. I just said that was the point that I remember identifying when I really turned that corner. I talked to him about it and that is why I remembered the date.
Q. Did you tell the Vice President this morning about the decision?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I didn't tell him that I was going to state this tonight, but I discussed it with him--and have discussed it with him a number of times.
Q. Mr. President, what do you think will be the situation of the Democratic Party now that you have made this announcement?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't know.
Q. Did Senator Kennedy's3 entry into the race have anything to do with the timing of your announcement?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, it added to the general situation I talked about that existed in the country.
3 Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York.
Q. Mr. President, will you support any nominee of the Democratic Party?
THE PRESIDENT. I am not going to spend much of my time on partisan politics between now and then. When the time comes to take an active part, I will make my announcement. But I don't want to get into that now.
I tried to make it clear that I don't want to mix up the Presidency and party politics when we have a half million men out there who are willing to give their lives in order to protect us back here. I want to try to get all the people in this country to support us to the extent I can.
Therefore, as I said tonight, I am not going to spend an hour on it or a day on it.
However, I will vote like every good American ought to vote. If there is anything that I think I should say concerning my own personal affairs, I will be glad to say it at the proper time--but I will have to select that time.
Q. Mr. President, is it your hope that removing the personal and political factor from this situation would put you in a better position to bring about a peaceful settlement?
THE PRESIDENT. I would hope that by what I did tonight that we can concentrate more of our energies and efforts on trying to bring about peace in the world and we will have a better chance to do it.
Q. Mr. President, are you now ready still to go anytime, anyplace, anywhere for peace?
THE PRESIDENT. We said that tonight.
Q. Have you had any kind of response yet, Mr. President, from any foreign capitals?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes.
Q. Good response?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes.
Q. What response?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I am not going to get into that.
Q. Mr. President, you have done more for our country than a number of people-whether it is education, housing, et cetera; more than any other President.
THE PRESIDENT. I have not done near enough. That is one of the reasons for the announcement tonight. I want to do a lot more these next 9 months.
Q. Why don't you stay on, since you have not done as much--
THE PRESIDENT. I have 9 months to do what I am going to try to do. I hope, by the end of that time, I will have contributed my part and done my duty. But I have several months yet to do it. And I am going to spend all the time I can trying to get the big job done.
Q. With these fundraising dinners that are coming up, does that mean, sir, that you will not participate--like the one in Washington Thursday night?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't know what my schedule will be Thursday. I want to do anything that I can to see that first things come first. I feel that the most important thing for us right now, that I have this week, is some of the efforts I launched tonight.
I just don't know what I will be doing on these dates.
Q. Mr. President, there are many men around the country, like Governor Hughes4 and Mayor Daley,5 who supported your candidacy for reelection. Did you convey your thoughts to them of this decision then, before you made it on television tonight? Or did they learn about it as everybody else did?
THE PRESIDENT. No. I had not talked to them. I talked to some folks after the speech tonight. I have not personally talked to them.
4 Governor Richard J. Hughes of New Jersey.
5Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago.
Q. Mr. President, could you say whether the way was prepared for this step of deescalation that you have taken, by diplomacy?
THE PRESIDENT. I am not sure I understand what you are saying.
Q. Well, you said you had no assurance that Hanoi would accept your suggestions of tonight. I was wondering if you could say whether or not the way had been prepared, however, perhaps by third parties or by other forms of negotiation for presentation at this time?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I would not have anything to say about that.
Q. You would not want to say, for example, whether you have discussed--
THE PRESIDENT. I said I wouldn't have anything to say about that.
Q. Mr. President, you said your decision is irrevocable. If this peacemaking initiative is successful, do you foresee a situation where you could be under great pressure to run again?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I cannot. My statement speaks for itself and is very clear. I don't see any reason why we ought to have these high school discussions about it. I am genuinely sincere in what I said. There wasn't any reason that caused me to say it except I felt that it was the thing that I ought to do in the interest of my country and in the interest of the people who had so much at stake.
I don't feel very good about asking half a million men to stand out there and defend us, and offer their lives and die for us, and for me not to do everything I can to put myself in a position to do a job as successfully as they do theirs.
I think that if I do not have the aura of a political campaign around me and I am not out trying to win a primary or a State convention or please some party leader, that my efforts might be a little more fruitful.
I have never been a deep partisan, some of you have referred to some of my actions as consensus. I do think now is the time--if it is at all possible to do so--to try to remove yourself from any selfish actions and try to turn in as good a result as the men out there are turning in.
So, as I have told you before--we have priorities and this is the top priority.
Q. Sir, then you are sacrificing yourself.
THE PRESIDENT. No, no, I am not sacrificing anything. I am just doing what I think is right, what I think is best calculated to permit me to render the maximum service possible, in the limited time that I have left.
Q. Can you amplify on these rather important meetings you hope to have this week?
THE PRESIDENT. This gentleman standing up there with the blue tie on will be involved in some of them--and you can just guess what will be the general subject matter.
Q. Who is he?
THE PRESIDENT. The Secretary of Defense. That question was from Miss Thomas.6 [Laughter]
6Helen Thomas of United Press International.
Q. Sir, maybe somebody asked you this before I got here. But Senator Jackson7 raised tonight the question of continuity here. You will stay in office until January?
THE PRESIDENT. That is my plan, God willing.
7Senator Henry M. Jackson of Washington.
Q. And you do not feel under these circumstances you will provide the country--
Is Mr. Humphrey coming back to the country right away?
THE PRESIDENT. I am not sure. I would think tomorrow.
Q. Mr. President, Mr. Christian 8 said earlier that Horace Busby9 and then, during these months of decision-making, that Mr. Clifford knew when he was appointed Secretary of Defense that you might be leaving.
8 George E. Christian, Special Assistant to the President.
9Horace Busby, management consultant, Washington, D.C.
THE PRESIDENT. Yes.
Q. He did?
THE PRESIDENT. He did not know that I would not be a candidate, but he did not know that I would be.
Q. What role did Mrs. Johnson play in your decision?
THE PRESIDENT. The same role she plays in every decision I make--a very important one.
Q. Did Governor Connally10 know?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes.
Q. Has he known it for a good while?
THE PRESIDENT. No, he did not know until tonight that I was going to say what I said tonight--but he knew before he announced that he was not going to run for Governor that there was a strong possibility that I would not run for President. He told me that he would like to consider that in his decision; if I thought that I was going to run and it was important that he run, he would like to consider it.
10Governor John B. Connally of Texas.
I told him no, that I felt that I was not sure what my plans were and if he felt like he did not want to run, that would be all right with me.
So, I think that he understood. I talked to very few people about this. I discussed it with Mr. Clifford. I discussed it with Mr. McNamara before he left--in fact, I guess, last August--about the possibility.
I discussed it with Secretary Rusk, Governor Connally, and I have talked with Mr. Busby about it and some of the staff members--Mr. Christian.
But generally speaking, I have asked the people whom I have great confidence in-both in their judgment and in their ability-- to counsel with me in private, and several members of my family and my very close official family.
Q. Mr. President, you may have answered this before I got here--but, is your health all right?
THE PRESIDENT. Perfect. Never better.
Q. Sir, there is a very delicate question that comes up here, and I don't have anyone to ask it of but you, and you are the only one who has the answer, and Mr. Clifford.
THE PRESIDENT. You ought to be in the habit of asking delicate questions; go ahead.
Q. But sir, what affect do you think this will have on the troops in the field tonight?
THE PRESIDENT. I think they will understand what I have done and the reasons for it. I would hope they will appreciate the value-if any--that flows from it. I think they will. I discussed that with General Westmoreland and asked him what effect he thought it would have when he was here in November.
Q. Mr. President, do you care to discuss what your plans might be after January?
THE PRESIDENT. No. I have no immediate plans.
Q. Do you intend, for instance, to return to Texas?
THE PRESIDENT. I said I don't have any immediate plans.
Q. Sir, what effect will this have on the dollar, do you think?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I hope that what I said tonight will strengthen it.
Q. Mr. President, will you ask your Cabinet aides and others also not to spend any particular amount of time on the campaign?
THE PRESIDENT. No. I have not asked them to spend or not to spend any time. The Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, who are the principal Cabinet officers involved in Vietnam, do not engage in partisan political activities, although that is just a matter of their choice. They are perfectly free to do so because individuals, like institutions, have the right of dissent. They have the right to answer and defend and advocate and so forth in this country.
But it has been generally the practice of the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, under my administration, to try to avoid being involved in deep partisan matters. I think they have been reasonably successful in that. That is not to say that they would not attend a public meeting and speak on Vietnam. I don't want them to ever be intimidated because somebody might say that a Cabinet officer is traveling out of town at Government expense and $48 is paid by the Government--and try to hush him up that way.
Just as we invite people to express their views, who may differ with us, we reserve that same privilege for our own people.
Q. Mr. President, do you plan to go to the Democratic Convention?
THE PRESIDENT. I have no plans at this time one way or the other.
Q. Would you like to be a member of the Texas delegation to the convention?
THE PRESIDENT. No.
Q. Mr. President, perhaps one other question that we could ask you: The historical record shows that when people are known to be leaving seats of power, they sometimes suffer a diminution of influence. Do you anticipate any difficulty along that line and had you put this into your calculation of the timing of your announcement?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. It was, I guess, 16 years ago this week that President Truman made a similar announcement, March 29, 1952. This is March 31. But you were not at my meeting March 29, so I had to wait because I didn't w-ant you to be scooped. I had a press meeting yesterday or the day before, but I thought it would be better to wait until all of you could be here.
Q. Mr. President, by any chance, did you discuss this before tonight with President Truman?
THE PRESIDENT. I think the answer would be no to this particular event tonight. I have discussed with him the problems of the Presidency and the service of the Presidency and things of that nature, but if you asked me, did I talk to him about announcing that I would not be a candidate, and I would not accept the nomination--the answer is no.
Q. Mr. President, can you tell us anything about the reaction within your family?
THE PRESIDENT. Oh, I think that it is a mixed reaction. I can't really speak for them. You are running pretty dangerous when you speak for women, but I think they all go along with the decision I made. Lynda has not been here and she wasn't sure that it was as imminent as it was, but she came in at about 6:30 or 7 o'clock this morning. Her mother and I met her. We wanted to be at the door when she came back.
So, we discussed it back and forth a good deal of the day. She had ridden all night and she slept part of the day.
I took time out with Luci to go to church with her while Lynda slept.
Q. Mr. President, is it fair to interpret what you said tonight and in fact everything that you are doing as really a plea to all the candidates and all parties to just leave this war out of their campaign?
THE PRESIDENT. No. You just take my script, that is the safest thing for you to follow. I just gave my own views, briefly and succinctly as I knew how. I hope it was all right and I would hope that you thought it was the best thing to do; at least, I did.
Q. Mr. President, did you get any calls asking you to reconsider?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. We have had a good many calls. I won't go into the content of them.
Q. Sir, does this mean that in the months ahead--
THE PRESIDENT. I don't want to hold an individual press conference now with you, Sarah.11 You have had your share of questions. Get one more and let's go on.
11Mrs. Sarah McClendon, representative of Texas newspapers.
Q. Does this mean in the months ahead that you are going to devote the main part of your time on getting peace and does it mean that you will also be still working to bolster your domestic programs or not?
THE PRESIDENT. It means I am going to work on all of the problems of the country. High on that list of problems, of course, and a thing that concerns most of us, is an early peace, if it could be found. There are many other problems, though, that require attention every day. We hope we will not neglect any of them.
I think maybe we will go out and take a trip tomorrow, but I am not positive, so I can't announce it tonight. If any of you want to go with me, you might want to check in early in the morning. If we make a decision to go I won't know until I have a meeting a little later in the evening.
Mr. Christian or Tom 12 will notify you. The best thing for you to do is go home and get some sleep and get comfortable and be ready early in the morning in case we go, if you want to go. If you don't, why we can get by without you.
12Wyatt Thomas Johnson, Jr., Assistant Press Secretary to the President.
Q. Why don't you go get some sleep, too?
Merriman Smith, United Press International: Mr. President, thank you very much.
Note: President Johnson's one hundred and twenty-second news conference was held in the Oval Room at the White House at 11 p.m. on Sunday, March 31, 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/238047