Lyndon B. Johnson photo

The President's News Conference

May 03, 1968



THE PRESIDENT. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

[1.] I was informed about 1 o'clock this morning that Hanoi was prepared to meet in Paris on May 10th, or several days thereafter.

As all of you know, we have sought a place for these conversations in which all of the parties would receive fair and impartial treatment. France is a country where all parties should expect such treatment.

After conferring with the Secretaries of State and Defense, Ambassadors Goldberg and Ball, Mr. Harriman, and Mr. Vance,1 I have sent a message informing Hanoi that the date of May 10th and the site of Paris are acceptable to the United States.

1Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of Defense Clark M. Clifford, Arthur J. Goldberg, former U.S. Representative to the United Nations, his successor, George W. Ball, Ambassador at Large W. Averell Harriman, and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus R. Vance, private advisor to the President.

We will continue in close consultation at all stages with our allies, all of whom I would remind you now have representation in the French capital.

We hope this agreement on initial contact will prove a step forward and can represent a mutual and a serious movement by all parties toward peace in Southeast Asia.

I must, however, sound a cautionary note. This is only the very first step. There are many, many hazards and difficulties ahead. I assume that each side will present its viewpoint in these contacts.

My point of view was presented in my television statement to the American people on March 31st.

I have never felt it was useful for public officials to confuse delicate negotiations by detailing personal views or suggestions or elaborating positions in advance. I know that all of you, therefore, will understand that I shall not discuss this question further at this conference.



[2.] I am delighted to have with us this morning the Chairman of the Mexican-United States Border Commission between our two countries, which is meeting here in Washington. I especially welcome Senor Vivanco and Mr. Telles, the American Chairman.2

I am glad that discussions have been fruitful here.

I will be glad to take any questions that you may have.

2Jose Vivanco, Chairman of the Mexican Section, and Ambassador Raymond Telles, Chairman of the United States Section, United States-Mexico Commission for Border Development and Friendship. A White House announcement and summary of their February 3 report to the President is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 4, p. 212).



[3.] Q. Mr. President, without trying to contravene your desire not to discuss this further, I would like to refer to your March 31st statement, when you expressed the hope that after we cut back our bombing, you hoped that this would also lead to additional restraints on both sides.

Since March 31st, has there been any detectable military restraint on the part of the North ?

THE PRESIDENT. We have been quite concerned with the developments since my March 31st statement, and we have been following them very closely. You may be sure that we are aware and will at all times protect the American interests.


[4.] Q. Mr. President, you have had some talks with your diplomatic and military leaders from Vietnam recently, both here and in Honolulu. Can you comment on the state of affairs in Vietnam and whether or not the South Vietnamese Government and army are prepared to take over more of the burden of the war?

THE PRESIDENT. We think that they are working to that end. We think that they are making progress. We have detected increased efforts there and among our other allies, and certainly in this country, to expedite our equipment so that they may be able to effectively carry a larger share of the burden.

As you know, they have taken certain actions in connection with their own draft, drafting 19-year-olds and drafting 18-yearolds. They have substantially increased their call-up of forces.

I think they are doing about all that we could expect them to do under the circumstances.


[5.] Q. Mr. President, will this new move by Hanoi toward the peace table in any way affect the other part of your announcement of March 31st against running for another term?


Q. Mr. President, to go on, perhaps could you clarify the second part of your March 31st statement for us to this extent:

Could you tell us whether you plan to campaign on behalf of the Democratic candidate, no matter who he may be?

THE PRESIDENT. I would not want to go into that matter at this time. I will be glad to visit with you about it after the convention, when we see what the situation is.


[6.] Q. Mr. President, referring to your statement here, you spoke of the delicate nature of these negotiations that are going to take place in Paris. Would you go far enough to say that perhaps it would be a good idea to declare a moratorium in our political campaign and public discussion of these negotiations while they are taking place?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I would not urge that. I think my viewpoint was presented about as effectively as I knew how in my March 31st statement.

I do not think we do justice to our country and keep faith with our people when we spend our time pursuing personal ambitions that result in dividing our people.

I think we must be very careful not to do that. That does not mean that we must put a stop to expressing individual viewpoints.

In my own judgment, we still have too much division in this country and too many people thinking of self and too few people thinking of country.

I would remind everybody of President Kennedy's statement in his inaugural address with regard to that. I don't think we have put an end to all the division since March 31st, although I do think that some of the personal criticism has been more restrained and has abated.

I do think that our country has benefited from it. I think it will continue to benefit by individuals recognizing what their individual duties are and permitting the Executive, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of Defense to discharge their proper constitutional duties.

We frequently confuse the world in our democratic system, which has been a part of our history, by a clamor of voices, individuals assuming to speak for the United States, or at least other nations assume they do speak for the United States, when it does not represent the official Government position.

So I would not say that we should stop discussing these very important problems, but I do say that everyone should measure what he has to say, and the public generally should size up the man who is free to comment on any given occasion, on any given subject, most of which he may not have all the details on, or may perhaps not have enough information to justify the decisions or judgments he reaches.

We in the White House, in the State Department, and in the Defense Department, try to constantly develop this information with our Ambassadors from throughout the world, with our Ambassadors to the United Nations, Ambassador Goldberg and Ambassador Ball, who met with us this morning-Ambassador Goldberg, whom I talked to at length--and try to take a careful reading and evaluate all the conflicting reports.

Now, there are just no other people who have that information available to them. While we always are anxious and welcome suggestions from any source--private, editorial, congressional, judicial, or whatnot-we do think that our Nation's best interests are served sometimes if those suggestions are made privately, even though they don't make a headline, to the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Defense or to the President.


[7.] Q. You have invited President Thieu of South Vietnam to the United States. Can you say anything today about the imminence of that visit?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. We expect it to be in the next few weeks. We expect to have visits with various of our allies--the Prime Minister of Australia, representatives from Thailand, representatives of South Vietnam. We expect them to come here.

We just finished a very successful, productive meeting with the very able President of South Korea. We will be meeting with representatives from these countries in the days ahead.


[8.] I plan to leave here after the press conference this morning to go to Kansas City to meet with President Truman later in the day. We talked about this before the announcement early this morning, so we plan to carry out that program. After you have a chance to file your statements, we will proceed to Kansas City.


[9.] Q. Mr. President, sir, the Reverend Dr. Abernathy,3 who is leading the Poor People's March on Washington, was quoted yesterday as saying that the "shantytown" they are going to build here will remain here until something is done.

3Dr. Ralph D. Abernathy, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and leader of the Poor People's March which converged on Washington from all parts of the country during the first weeks of May 1968, and occupied a campsite in West Potomac Park known as Resurrection City, U.S.A. The purpose of the march was to bring to the attention of Congress and the administration the need for intensified action on behalf of some 29 million economically disadvantaged Americans.

I wonder, sir, if you could give us your view as to whether Congress might respond affirmatively to this kind of pressure or whether you think it would be wiser for them to work for the kind of Congress that will pass the programs they want from their home bases?

THE PRESIDENT. The Congress now has under consideration some $80 billion worth of recommendations that the President has submitted in connection with social matters, welfare, the poor, security payments, additional food allotments, and so forth.

We are hopeful, and we expect, that the Congress will give due consideration to all of these matters and act in the best interests of the country.

We recognize that there are a good many different viewpoints as to the adequacy of what the Federal Government is doing for the poor and what we are doing in connection with the urban crisis that we face in this country.

We all think more should be done. We all want more to be done.

Reverend Abernathy and the people represented in his march have presented their viewpoint respectfully to the many members of the Cabinet who have listened with interest and concern. We are now attempting to do everything that we think can properly be done to meet the needs of the country.

The people of this country must always have a right, and we hope the opportunity, to present to their Government their viewpoints, as long as that is done lawfully and properly.

We do expect that the poor will be better served if, after that viewpoint is presented, the Congress and the appropriate administrative agencies can have the time to try to act upon it and execute it.

We hope that the presentation made will be nonviolent, although we are well aware that no single individual can give any assurances that they can control a situation like this. It contains many inherent dangers. We are concerned with them. We have made extensive preparations.

Every person participating and every person in the Capital should be aware of the possibilities of serious consequences flowing from the assemblage of large numbers over any protracted period of time in the seat of Government where there is much work to be done and very little time to do it.

So we expect the leaders to present their viewpoints. We expect to seriously consider them. We believe the Congress will do likewise. Then we expect to get on with running the Government as it should be run.


[10.] Q. Mr. President, sir, it has been traditional for the Secretaries of State and Defense to keep out of politics in an election year. I wonder if you could tell us why you have extended this rule to all members of your Cabinet?

THE PRESIDENT. I told you that in some detail on March 31st.

I felt that perhaps the Communist leaders of the world were getting a false impression of this country because of the great divisiveness that existed and the personal statements that were being made, the acrimony that existed.

I felt that I could better serve my Nation by trying to withdraw from that personal campaign, and try to unite the country. I felt that if I did that, perhaps I could get the help and the cooperation of the various candidates of both parties in trying to heal the wounds, unite the Nation, and present a united front to the world instead of a divided one.

Now, I think it would be very difficult to do if the President took that position, and his Secretary of State or his Secretary of Defense, or any of the other Cabinet members, or the Presidential appointees ran around the country campaigning for one candidate or the other.

Every person has the right to state who he is going to vote for and to campaign for whomsoever he pleases. But I don't think he should do it as an appointee of the President while he is paid to perform a public service.

I think he has plenty to occupy him. He ought to stay on the job and do that job well. Of course, he can vote for whomsoever he pleases, but if he desires to run up and down the country campaigning for any individual, I hope he will give me an opportunity to have someone else take over his job here in Washington.

I made that abundantly clear--I thought I made it clear--in my March 31st statement. But I have tried to clarify it some since.


[11.] Q. Mr. President, what, in your opinion, are the prospects for Congress enacting your recommended tax increase this session?

THE PRESIDENT. I think we have a long and difficult road ahead. My own views were expressed by Secretary Fowler to the Appropriations Committee this week.

If I were making up the budget for the next fiscal year in May, as I made it up last fall, I would perhaps add some to it instead of taking from it.

We have additional needs from our men in uniform, additional equipment in the form of helicopters, armaments, ammunition, and things that we couldn't foresee at that time.

We have very serious problems in the cities that should be met; very serious problems with the poor that need more attention.

So it is my personal view, the President's view, that the $186 billion expenditure is a very lean budget.

However, the President cannot handle these tax matters alone under our Constitution. Since 1966 I have felt that it was very important for many reasons--to avoid large deficits, to try to help the inflation picture, to get the confidence of the financial leaders of the world, and to best serve our own people--that we have a tax increase.

I got little, if any, support for it in 1966. In 1967 that support increased some and the business leaders and the labor leaders agreed to try to help me.

The Congress has not been that cooperative. They talk about increasing taxes, but they haven't taken any action in that direction except for the action the Senate took.

They tied to that certain restrictions that I do not believe would serve the national interest. I do not think we could live with them. I think they would really bring chaos to the Government.

We have informed the leadership of our views on that, but we must receive their views and consider them.

The Appropriations Committee, responding to suggestions from Mr. Mills of the Ways and Means Committee,4 and others, met this week, and by a very close vote determined that they expected to prune the President's requests and try to reduce expenditures by $4 billion, and obligational authority or appropriations by $10 billion, and the President would be called upon to rescind about $8 billion.

4 Representative Wilbur D. Mills of Arkansas, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

We did not agree with that viewpoint. We do not think it is the wisest course for the Nation.

We had pointed that out a number of times, but we said that if that is the only way that we can get the Ways and Means Committee to take action, if that is the only way that we can get Mr. Mills to report out a tax bill and try to pass a tax bill, after more than 2 years of urging, if the Congress in its wisdom, decides that it wants to do this and submits this kind of a program to the President, the President, while he will not recommend it and does not urge it, and does not submit it, would reluctantly approve it.

That may have just whetted the appetite, because as it appeared that the tax bill might be possible, other views began to be expressed which, in my judgment, will serve the purpose of killing a tax bill if they are insisted upon, because in my judgment the Congress is not going to cut more than $10 billion in appropriations, and more than $8 billion in rescission, and more than $4 billion in expenditures.

If it did so, it would injure the national interest instead of serving it.

Actually, in my judgment, if Congress is left alone, it probably will not reduce appropriations the $10 billion planned, will not rescind the $8 billion, and will not reduce expenditures more than $1 1/2 or $2 billion. That is all it did last year, until the President stepped in and asked them to take additional action.

I am informed by the Appropriations Committees this year that they would not anticipate more, normally, than a $i ½ billion cut. So it is easy to demand figures that cannot be reached.

The Senate has voted increases to the budget, not decreases, in the supplemental appropriation bill it passed. But it does serve as an excuse to people who don't want a tax bill at all to say, "Well, unless you cut expenditures deeper, you can't get a tax bill."

We would hope that the Congress, in their wisdom, would conclude that the action taken by the House Appropriations Committee-namely, to reduce appropriations $10 billion, to have that as their goal, recisions $8 billion, and $4 billion expenditures-would be acceptable.

We will have to await the pleasure of the Congress. This is an independent decision for them to make.

You asked for our view. I have tried to give it. I have been giving it for 2 or 3 years.

I want to make it perfectly clear to the American people that I think we are courting danger by this continued procrastination, this continued delay.

The President can propose, but the Congress must dispose. I proposed a budget. If they don't like that budget, then stand up like men and answer the roll call and cut what they think ought to be cut. Then the President will exercise his responsibility of approving it or rejecting it and vetoing it.

In my judgment, they will not send me appropriation bills that cut more than $4 billion. If they do, it will be some phony paper cut. I have seen no inclination there to do this. But there are individuals who think that can be done.

I don't want to charge any partisanship, but I would hope that men of both parties would try to go as far to meet us in the executive department as we have gone to meet their view. If they do that, I think we can have a tax bill.

I do think that we can absorb some reductions that Congress would normally make anyway, without wrecking our urban program, killing off all of our Corps of Engineers' public works projects, or stopping our highway building or taking needed items from the men who fight to defend us.

But I think the time has come for all of the Members of Congress to be responsible and, even in an election year, to bite the bullet and stand up and do what ought to be done for their country.

The thing that I know that needs to be done more for their country than anything else, except the step we have taken this morning to try to find a peace solution, is to pass a tax bill without any "ands," "buts," or "ors." If they want to effect reductions, then as each appropriation bill comes up, they can offer their amendments like men out on the floor, and call the roll. But don't hold up a tax bill until you can blackmail someone into getting your own personal viewpoint over on reductions.


[12.] Q. Mr. President, could you give us your present assessment of the Pueblo 5 situation? Have you evaluated these confessions, sir, that have been coming from North Korea?

THE PRESIDENT. We have nothing to report that is new. Secretary Katzenbach,6 the day before yesterday, and Secretary Rusk, yesterday, reported all of the information we have in connection with the Pueblo situation.

5The U.S.S. Pueblo, an intelligence ship seized by North Korea on January 23, 1968. One crew member died in captivity; the remaining 82 men were released on December 22, 1968 (see Item 641).

6Under Secretary of State Nicholas deB. Katzenbach.

We have made it clear to the North Korean authorities that we think these people should not be held; that they should be released; that we will carefully examine all of the evidence following their release.

If there is any indication that we have acted improperly, or have violated their boundaries, we will take appropriate action.

That is where the matter stands. We think the next step is up to them.

We hope that upon careful reflection, they will release the men. Then the United States will fairly and impartially look at all the facts available and take a position in keeping with those facts.


[13.] Q. Mr. President, without indulging in politics or partisanship, what particular qualities do you look for in your successor to the Presidency?

THE PRESIDENT. Let's leave that to another day. I am going to devote a good deal of my attention in the months ahead to the Presidency, while I am in office, and as soon as I get out of office, on how we can improve the office, how we can improve its administration.

I don't think the question is nearly so much a matter of the individual's personality as it is his background, his training, and his philosophy.

Between now and November, the American people will have adequate opportunity-more opportunity, perhaps, than they want-to judge each person.

Who am I, after almost 40 years in political life, in public office by virtue of the votes of the people--who am I to question their good judgment?


[14.] Q. Mr. President, in 1960 President Eisenhower directed that no more dependents accompany U.S. military personnel to Europe because of the balance of payments problem. The balance of payments problem, of course, is much more serious now.

I wonder whether you have given any thought to either sending the dependents home and shortening the tours of the troops there, or even reducing the troop level a little more than you have.

THE PRESIDENT. I can assure you that we have given all the thought of which we are capable to the balance of payments situation and all of its ramifications. We are taking every prudent step that we feel we can take to improve our balance of payments situation.

That does involve the rotation of troops. That does involve efforts on the part of the Government to reserve our expenditures, not only dependents, but in all other fields.

We know of few questions that are as important to us as the improvement of our balance of payments situation.

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

Note: President Johnson's one hundred and twentyfifth news conference was held in the East Room at the White House at 10:02 a.m. on Friday, May 3, 1968. The news conference was broadcast live on 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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