Lyndon B. Johnson photo

The President's News Conference

December 27, 1968



THE PRESIDENT. [1.] We had a good visit with Dr. Paine1 this morning and reviewed the developments and had his observations on what had transpired the last few days.

1Dr. Thomas O. Paine, Acting Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Following that, I talked to the three wives of the astronauts2 and expressed our gratitude and the gratitude of the Nation to them for this great performance of their husbands and the contribution it had made to our advancement and the advancement of the world, to America's standing and prestige in the world.

2 See Item 645.

All of us know that a man's wife is an integral part of his every act. Except for the strength and comfort that we get from them, few of us could really measure up to what people expect of us.

These men have given us so much pride that I wanted the womenfolk to know how the Nation felt about it.

Naturally, as you would expect, I have never been a wife; I don't know what to expect; they were very excited and very thrilled, and looking forward eagerly to when their men get back on the carrier.

We have a brief statement that the President will communicate to the men if they decide to bring them back by chopper, pick them up before daylight, and bring them back to the carrier. We will probably communicate it to them. 3 If we do, we will communicate from the Fish Room and Tom 4 can prepare you in advance for it.

3See Item 647.

4 Wyatt Thomas Johnson, Jr., Assistant Press Secretary to the President.


[2.] We then plan to leave. Mrs. Johnson and, I think, Lynda and the baby are going. Luci went back yesterday on a skiing expedition or something that she is going on football games and so forth5 So she is already there.

5Lynda Bird Johnson (Mrs. Charles S. Robb), her daughter Lucinda Desha Robb, and Luci Baines Johnson (Mrs. Patrick J. Nugent).


[3.] We will stay at the ranch for the next few days, wrapping up some of the official things that we have yet to do this year, and making some minor appointments, filling some places that need to be filled to carry on, working on the three principal things that we have to turn out some time between now and January 20th. We don't know just when it will be. That will depend on the progress we make.

We have had outline after outline. We now are developing the State of the Union Message, which will be coming along sometime in January. The budget will have to go to the Congress preceding the Economic Message.6

6 See Items 676, 678,684.

As most of you are aware, we have gone over with all the Cabinet departments their budget problems. We have not finished them by any means yet; although we have their budget views, I have not resolved a great many of the differences.

Every department has a difference of from a few million to a few billion. For instance, Defense alone asks many more billions than the Secretary could grant, and the Secretary is probably asking more than we can approve. So between now and the time we return, which I would expect to be after New Year's, we will be making some of those decisions, because sections of it will have to go to the printer.

We are ending the year, I think, in reasonably good shape from the standpoint of our agenda. I have seen almost half of the new Cabinet, and spent some time in the Mansion this morning with Mr. Klein,7 exchanging views and talking about problems of the Presidency.

7Herbert G. Klein, designated by the President elect as Director of Communications for the Executive Branch.

You know the others. I won't recount them. I saw Mr. Volpe yesterday, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, and others. I had planned to see Secretary. Kennedy, but he had a death in his family and it had to be canceled. I will do that when I come back, as I will with other members of the Cabinet.8

John A. Volpe, William P. Rogers, Melvin R. Laird, and David M. Kennedy, Secretaries-designate of Transportation, State, Defense, and Treasury.

The transition is going along very smoothly and we are very pleased. I think it is what the American people have a right to expect. The new administration seems to be bending every effort to adjust themselves to our problems. I hope our people are leaning over backwards to try to help them with what would be their problems, because this is all one country, and the same people pay all of our salaries. They have a right to expect us to perform with good humor, good taste, and maximum efficiency.

I think up to now Mr. Murphy and his counterpart, Mr. Lincoln,9 have kept things very well channeled.

9Charles S. Murphy, Counselor to the President, and Franklin B. Lincoln, Jr., designated by the President-elect to collaborate with Mr. Murphy on matters concerning the transition of executive power.

I received an economic report last night that is very good for the year. The unemployment report is down to 3.3, as you know. We are thankful for that.

Our education programs and training programs have been effective. The fact that people are working and factory smokestacks are burning, and production is running well, means that we are getting a good deal more revenue than we anticipated. What was once thought of as a deficit now looks like it will be a surplus for this year.

So with unemployment down, with revenues up, with a balanced budget, with our boys home from Cambodia, our men home from the Pueblo,10 the Apollo coming in as it has, as I told you this morning, Mr. Vance11 says he believes we can get going in substantive talks after his return there, and we are just praying that can be true. The one thing that mars all of our hopes and wishes this Christmas is that our men are away out there protecting us.

10 Cyrus R. Vance, deputy U.S... representative at the Paris peace talks with North Vietnam.

But the casualty rates are down. We are just hoping that we can have some progress in Paris. If we can do that, we would just almost throw our hats in the air.

I am even thankful that you all seem to be doing better this Christmas. You have the Christmas spirit, wearing red dresses around, kind of like Santa Claus.

So we are generally very happy and thankful for the good breaks that are coming our way.

I will take any questions you want. I expect we will be leaving within the hour. I will go straight to the ranch. I expect to stay there the entire time.


[4.] I feel all right. I am not sick, but I am tired, and I have been trying to get these things cleaned up so we can leave. I do still have this hacking cough. I am just hoping I can get some 80-degree sunshine for a day or two. I have had a cold and cough back and forth almost since we went to West Virginia. I am getting tired of it. I am getting disgusted with it.12

12The President was released from Bethesda Naval Medical Center on December 22 after being hospitalized for a respiratory infection. A statement on his health was released the same day (4 Weekly Comp. Pres. Docs., p. 1740).


[5.] Dr. Paine said this morning that he remembered when Mrs. Johnson and I saw the Sputnik through the skies from the banks of the Pedernales. That is almost a decade ago, more than a decade ago. It was November 25, 1957, following the orbiting of the first earth satellite on October 4th. Here is the Library of Congress report:

"Senator Johnson took the initiative in the first congressional hearings on our satellite program. The inquiry into satellite missiles resulted in testimony from all the Nation's experts during the following two months. On January 23, 1958, the subcommittee concluded that decisive action must be taken to strengthen the United States space program and accelerate it in 17 specific areas."

So in this decade, we do have--this was 1957. That is a Congressional Library report, if you want to look it over, any of you. Helen?13

13 Helen Thomas of United Press International.



[6.] Q. Mr. President, did Mr. Vance give you anything in the way of specifics on why he thought we would now move into a substantive part of the Paris talks?

THE PRESIDENT. He expressed the hope that when he got back, progress could be made.


[7.] Q. Mr. President, have you decided, sir, on how you are going to deliver the State of the Union Message?



[8.] Q. Mr. President, do you plan to see the three astronauts in person?

THE PRESIDENT. We have no definite plans as yet.


[9.] Q. Does this put us ahead in the space race and quickest to the moon?

THE PRESIDENT. We are very pleased with the progress we have made. There are various firsts. Each side has different examples of its achievements. But in the 10 to 11 years since Sputnik I that I was talking to you about, when we didn't even have a space committee in the Congress, when we were talking about the basketball up there in the air, when we have weathered the storms that have brewed--everyone who wanted to cut anything, the first thing they wanted to cut was the space program--when we have seen the editorial professors inform us that there was really no value in doing all of this anyway, it gives me great pleasure now to see the thrill that even they are getting out of it.

It must be a great satisfaction to men like Mr. Webb, Dr. Paine, and poor Dr. Dryden,14 who has passed on, to know that his men have not let him down.

14James E. Webb, who resigned as National Aeronautics and Space Administrator on October 7, Dr. Thomas O. Paine, Acting Administrator, and Dr. Hugh L. Dryden, former Director of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and Deputy NASA Administrator. For the President's statement on the death of Dr. Dryden, see 1965 volume, this series, Book II, Item 634.


[10.] Q. Mr. President, do we have any reason to believe that the Vietcong offer to exchange prisoners had any substance to it?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think I would want to comment on that kind of a question.


[11] Q. Mr. President, in terms of Mr. Vance's hope for progress in Paris, can you give us any specifics, sir, on what progress has been made?

THE PRESIDENT. Not any more than what I said to Helen.

Q. Pardon me, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Not any more than what I said to Helen.



[12.] Q. Mr. President, can you tell us a little bit about your feelings this morning as you watched television and waited for the ship to get back, waited and watched? Were you excited? Did you feel kind of tense inside about it? How did you feel about it?

THE PRESIDENT. That is very difficult to describe, to portray accurately. I think all of you must know the anxiety that a President feels during a period like this. I think you must have thought a thousand times, "Are you sure we are ready? Is this the date? If something terrible happens, why does it happen the last week I am here or the last month I am here?" or "Has every possible precaution been taken? Has every man performed his every requirement?"

About all you can do under those circumstances is to pick men that you have confidence in, that you trust, give them the support they need, and then hold on. That is what I have done.

President Kennedy asked me at Palm Beach to assume responsibility for the space program and try to give it some leadership and direction.

The first thing he asked me to do was to select the leader for it. I interviewed 28 different people before I interviewed Mr. Webb for the second time, when he turned it down the first time. I kept going back to him. He had a combination of military experience in the Marines, State Department diplomatic experience, budget experience, scientific experience, that very few men in this country had.

The President talked to me a number of times about the desirability of setting a goal to go to the moon in this decade, and the dangers of it and the wisdom of it. He asked for my recommendation, which we made in writing. I recommended this goal for this decade. Mr. Sorensen15 and I discussed the goal at length before it was announced.

15 Theodore C. Sorensen, Special Counsel to President John F. Kennedy.

In view of the fact that our beloved President had set that goal, naturally we have religiously adhered to it and tried to make it. There have been many pitfalls every step of the way. I don't know how many folks have just wanted to abandon it, clip it, cut it, take the money for the cities or the war or just anything else. Space has been a whipping boy.

So when you see the day approaching when visions, and dreams, and what we said to the Congress when we created the Space Administration back in 1958 are becoming reality, you naturally are hopeful.

I don't guess your blood pressure can get down completely normal until you see the astronauts back with their wives in Houston, until they come up out of that water, until they come on the carrier, until they are moved back home.

But we have come so far, so fast, so good. I have said many prayers the last few days expressing thanks for the good fortune we have had.


Q. Mr. President, having nursed this thing along and having been with it since the beginning, have you a specific recommendation you are going to make to your successor involving the space program and where it goes?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I think President Nixon feels very strongly about the program and its value. He will have to-looking at all the other priorities confronting him, and the problems that he faces--determine how this fits in.

I have every confidence that his decision will be a good one. I am not very strong on advising Presidents and speaking with cool authority on just how they ought to handle each specific subject. I have received a lot of advice in my time and a good deal of it has been worthwhile, but I am not sure that the next President would profit a great deal by just having my personal views on some of these things. They will be available to him on anything that he wants them on, but I want to try to follow a policy somewhat like President Eisenhower has followed with me: To be there to help if you can, but don't be presumptuous enough to think that you are required.



[13.] Q. Mr. President, this morning you said something very interesting about using the oil shares as a possible resource for an education fund. Has anything specific been done to try to implement an idea like that?

THE PRESIDENT. It hasn't been developed very much yet. You know what has been done about trying to kind of examine and explore to see if the processes we have, with the estimates and values we have--we don't know really what it is worth, how much it is worth, until we get some bids. The bids weren't very good.

But back in, I guess, the late forties, I was very anxious to earmark--I haven't been too much of an earmarker as President--but as a legislator, I wanted to earmark all the Continental Shelf for education.

I do think we ought to give a good deal of thought as to how we can take our resources and dedicate them to such things as education. I think that is worthy of some exploration.

I, as a Member of the Senate, tried to bring about the earmarking. As you know, last year we all had a bill that Mrs. Johnson was interested in, in earmarking part of the Continental Shelf revenues for conservation, which we have done in acquiring public domain as extra land.

Q. How much do you estimate would be available for education?

THE PRESIDENT. I wouldn't know at all. If there is no more than indicated by these last two bids, it wouldn't be very much. But there is a great variance of views there. Helen, you wanted to say something.


[14.] Q. Sir, I wanted to ask you if you had any particular goal between now and January 20th that you would like to achieve, something that you feel would be summing up your 5 years.

THE PRESIDENT. I have a lot of them, Helen, but I don't know that we will do any of them. I think we don't want to ask too much. A lot of good things have come in a few days.

The one thing that would make us all happier than anything else is to have a truce in Vietnam and to have substantial progress toward peace, and make progress on substantive matters, to cut out all of this dillydallying--talking about where you sit at the tables, who comes in first, who speaks first, and all that.

But I think the thing that nearly every American wants more than anything else is to have our boys home. We just had the best Christmas I think we nearly ever had. Everyone was gay, healthy, happy, prosperous. But you just couldn't look at either one of these little babies without knowing that their daddy was gone. As a matter of fact, we talked to them at Da Nang the other night. Pat had slipped off up there Christmas and spent a day with Chuck. He had to be out at 4 o'clock. We heard their voices on the phone and had to make the baby cry a little so her daddy could hear her voice. The little boy got stubborn and didn't want to talk, but I tickled him some and let his daddy hear his voice16

16The President's sons-in-law, AIC. Patrick J. Nugent, USAF, and Capt. Charles S. Robb, USMC, both serving in Vietnam, and his grandchildren, Lucinda Desha Robb and Patrick Lyndon Nugent.

These are just two of 550,000. Those other men have babies, too, at home. It would just be paradise if we could end that thing. But we must end it with honor.

As Mrs. Johnson has said so often, if we have to defend what we believe in, and we have to carry out our promises, and some men are going to have to be there, we are glad ours are there with them, although I will tell you it is pretty hard for every woman to kind of understand it. I imagine it is so even for the little boy. He goes up and hears his daddy's voice played back to him on tape and kisses his picture. Things of that kind wring your heart. Peace--that is what all of us want more than anything else.

Advances in space are wonderful. Great movements forward in education and health, that is good. Making this a more beautiful land, all we have done in conservation, we are thankful for that.

But what really counts is whether we can keep people from dying, whether we can get our men home. lust running out is not going to do it, because we have found out, as Mr. Chamberlain did, and a good many times in our history, that unless things are settled honorably, they are not settled. You may pay more dearly later on if you appease.

So, that is what we would like to see. That is what we are working hard for. I talked to Secretary Roger, about it, and a great deal to Mr. Vance about it. Governor Harriman17 is doing everything he can. But we are not the only ones involved. We just have to hope and pray and do the best we can, right up until the bell rings, which we are all going to do.

17W. Averell Harriman, chief U.S. representative at the Paris peace talks with North Vietnam. A press briefing by Mr. Harriman, held on December 4, 1968, following his report to the President and the Cabinet, is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 4, p. 1660).

We will be letting up some at the ranch. The main thing we are going home for is we are just hoping we can get a little sunshine. I can make more progress there than I have made here.

I still have three important things: the details of the Economic Message--and in that you have to include all the things that you think would be good to be done, from that standpoint. We have had big charts that I have looked at by the hour in my bedroom in the morning before I get up.

So we will try to prepare our State of the Union Message, the Budget and the Economic Messages, not as a guide or a lot of advice to our successor, but as an attempt to present our views on the state of the Nation and things that ought to be considered.

I want to get home, if you will let me, in time to see Mrs. Johnson's television performance on ABC, with Howard K. Smith, at 7:30.18 I am getting a little jealous.

18See Item 648.

Q. It is very good.

THE PRESIDENT. Have you seen it?

Q. I read the script.

THE PRESIDENT. I haven't seen it or read it. I asked them to let me see it last night, but they said they couldn't. Are there any other questions, any of you?


[15.] If not, we will put an end to this. I wanted you to have some idea of my feelings and the plans as the year ends. Some of you want to know exactly what we are going to do. I would like to finish that, too.

We have no plans to take on any jobs of any nature, either as counselors, advisers, chairmen of the board, or to even go on any boards, although we might do some health work or education work of a public service nature.

We are not going to be in any business enterprises. We are going to rest and maybe take a little visit some time in some warm climate in February. We will be doing some reading and some writing. We have 31 million pages of material through this ado ministration. A good deal of it will have to be reviewed, selected, and transferred over to the library. There will be groups of people from the Government and from our staff working to process those. I would like to process them during the next few years.

Some of President Truman's haven't been completed yet. I would like to have the job of saying that "This goes in with a 25-year release date," than have Luci doing it.

So, that is what I am going to be working a good deal on. Preparing, dictating from my notes while I still have some little recollection of these things. But you don't need to anticipate any great adventures or anything new. I will spend most of the time right there at the ranch.

I will go into Austin on occasion. I will have six or eight lectures during the entire year, of limited duration, on the course they are teaching on the American Presidency as I told you this morning.

So, to summarize, it will be this, and there will be a lot of aides, prognosticators, and prophets who will have their own dreams and ideas about what I am going to do. It will be first to rest and then read and then write. That will be something you can misunderstand.

I will repeat it for you so you won't be in any doubt. Rest, read, and write. If there is a little extra time I might walk some with Lady Bird.


[16.] Q. One final question: Is there any hope by the end of the year that we might see some of the fliers released from North Vietnam?

THE PRESIDENT. I can't make any prediction of that now.

Reporter: Thank you.

Note: President Johnson's one hundred and thirty-fourth news conference was held in his office at the White House at 11:55 a.m. on Friday, December 27, 1968. 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

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