Richard Nixon photo

The President's News Conference

June 19, 1969

THE PRESIDENT. Won't you be seated, please?

QUESTIONS

ACTION AGAINST THE RISING COST OF LIVING

[1.] Mr. Smith [Merriman Smith, United Press International]

Q. Mr. President, I ask this question against the background of a continually heating economy. Now with your tax package seemingly on its way through Congress, are you giving any concern to doing something else--some new moves against rising prices and the rising cost of living as they are reflected monthly in the Federal indices?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Smith, it is true that we have rising prices, a rising cost of living, and also rising interest rates at 8 1/2 percent at the last report. However, in looking at an economy, we find that them is usually a lead time of about 6 months from the time decisions are made on the economy from a fiscal standpoint within Government and the effect of those decisions on it.

Now, this administration has made some decisions--decisions in cutting the budget, decisions in asking for an extension of the surtax, and we expect it to be extended, and other decisions with regard to tightening of credit. We believe that the decisions that we have made will begin to have effect within a matter of 2 to 3 months. If our projection proves to be wrong, then we will have to look to other courses of action, because we cannot allow prices to continue to go up, interest to go up, and the other factors which you have described to continue:

NEW YORK CITY ELECTIONS

[2.] Mr. Cormier [Frank Cormier, Associated Press]

Q. Could you tell us whom you favor for Mayor of New York at this point?

THE PRESIDENT. I think the people of New York have had some difficulty in that respect lately.

I will follow the practice as President of the United States and as leader of the Republican Party of endorsing all Republican nominees. Therefore, I will endorse Senator Marchi1 and the other Republican nominees on the city ticket in New York.

1New York State Senator John J. March: defeated New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay on June 17, 1969, in the mayoral primary election for the Republican nomination

However, I will also follow the practice that has been my practice during my entire political career of campaigning and participating in only national and State elections. I will not participate in, and I will not comment upon, city or local elections, including the election in New York.

THE PARIS PEACE TALKS

[3.] Q. Mr. President, on the Midway trip, we were told by an official of your administration that he felt the time had come for substantive negotiations to begin at Paris. Do you agree with this assessment, and, if so, what evidence is there to point it up?

THE PRESIDENT. I agree with the conclusion that the time has come for some substantive negotiations in Paris. As far as evidence that such negotiations have begun, there is no substantial evidence, publicly, to report.

However, I am not pessimistic about the outcome. As you may recall when these questions were first raised, when the talks in Paris were beginning, I pointed out that it would be a long, hard road after we got over the procedural points.

When this administration came in, all that had been decided was the shape of the table. Now we are down to substance. The two sides are far apart. But we believe that the time has come for a discussion of substance and we hope within the next 2 to 3 months to see some progress in substantive discussions.

MR. CLIFFORD'S ARTICLE ON VIETNAM

[4.] Q. Mr. President, former Defense Secretary Clark Clifford has suggested that 100,000 American troops ought to be out by the end of this year and we ought to say that all ground troops will be out by the end of 1970. I wonder if you think that is a realistic timetable?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I noted Mr. Clifford's comments in the magazine Foreign Affairs,2 and, naturally, I respect his judgment as a former Secretary of Defense.

I would point out, however, that for 5 years in the administration in which he was Secretary of Defense in the last part, we had a continued escalation of the war, we had 500,000 Americans in Vietnam; we had 35,000 killed; we had over 200,000 injured.

2Issue of July 1969, pp. 601-622.

And, in addition to that, we found that in the year, the full year, in which he was Secretary of Defense, our casualties were the highest of the whole 5-year period and, as far as negotiations were concerned, all that had been accomplished, as I indicated earlier, was that we had agreed on the shape of the table.

This is not to say that Mr. Clifford's present judgment is not to be considered because of the past record. It does indicate, however, that he did have a chance in this particular respect, and did not move on it then.

I believe that we have changed that policy. We have started to withdraw forces. We will withdraw more. Another decision will be made in August. I will not indicate the number, because the number will depend upon the extent of the training of the South Vietnamese, as well as developments in Paris, and the other factors that I have mentioned previously.

As far as how many will be withdrawn by the end of this year, or the end of next year, I would hope that we could beat Mr. Clifford's timetable, just as I think we have done a little better than he did when he was in charge of our national defense.

Q. Mr. President, Mr. Clifford goes on to urge that you order our military commanders to cease the policy of applying maximum military pressure against the enemy and switch, instead, to a policy of reducing the level of combat operations. Do you intend to issue any such instructions?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Scali [John A. Scali, ABC News], I have checked the situation with regard to our operations as compared with the enemy's since this administration took over. I find that our casualties are in direct ratio to the level of enemy attacks.

We have not escalated our attacks. We have only responded to what the enemy has done.

As far as Mr. Clifford's suggestion is concerned, it implies that the United States is at the present time responsible for the level of fighting. It takes two in order to reduce the level of fighting, and I would only suggest that if the enemy now will withdraw forces, one-tenth of its forces, as we have withdrawn one-tenth of our combat forces, that would tend to reduce the level of fighting.

As far as the orders to General Abrams are concerned, they are very simply this: He is to conduct this war with a minimum of American casualties. I believe he is carrying out that order with great effectiveness in the field.

NORTH VIETNAMESE REACTION TO U.S. TROOP WITHDRAWAL

[5.] Q. Mr. President, have you had any response from the North Vietnamese or the Vietcong either in Paris or on the battlefield to the withdrawal of the first 25,000 American troops?

THE PRESIDENT. No, we have not.

STRATEGIC ARMS LIMITATION TALKS WITH THE SOVIET UNION

[6.] Q. When and where do you expect to begin arms talks with the Soviet Union, and do you favor suspension of the testing of multiple warheads in the meantime?

THE PRESIDENT. We are just completing our own strategic review, and as a matter of fact, the National Security Council meeting dealing with our position on the SALT talks, as they are described--the first was held this last Friday, and the second will be held on Wednesday. Consultation with our allies will then proceed through the balance of June and through July.

We have set July 31st as a target date for the beginning of talks, and Secretary [of State] Rogers has so informed the Soviet Ambassador. We have not had a reply from them.

Assuming that our consultations are completed, and that the Soviets find this date is acceptable to them, I would say that sometime between July 31st and the 15th of August there would be a meeting. As far as the place of the meeting is concerned, it could be Vienna; it could be Geneva. We are open on that question.

VIETCONG ANNOUNCEMENT OF PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT FOR SOUTH VIETNAM

[7.] Q. Mr. President, the Vietcong and/or Hanoi recently announced the creation of a new provisional government for South Vietnam. There have been many interpretive reports of what that may mean for the political stability or instability of South Vietnam and its portent on the international scene for progress toward peace. Could you give us an assessment of the new government?

THE PRESIDENT. The new government is simply a new name for the same activity that was there previously, the NLF or National Liberation Front, as it was called. There is no new blood in it. It has no capital. As a matter of fact, I do not know where ambassadors would present their diplomatic credentials because it has no major city or town which it controls in South Vietnam.

As far as the changed situation is concerned, however, I would make this suggestion: President Thieu has offered to have internationally supervised elections to let the people of South Vietnam determine whether they want his government or some other government.

It would seem that if the provisional government which also claims to represent the people of South Vietnam really means that, that they would accede to this request and agree to internationally supervised elections.

As far as the United States is concerned, we will accept any decision that is made by the people of South Vietnam, but we think that the provisional government should join with the Government of South Vietnam, and any other political parties in South Vietnam, in participating in supervised elections.

CONSIDERATION OF MORATORIUM ON MIRV TESTS

[8.] Q. Mr. President, referring to an earlier question by Mr. Valeriani [Richard Valeriani, NBC News], do you regard further testing of MIRV's [multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles] as an obstacle to reaching an arms control agreement?

THE PRESIDENT. I am sorry, Mr. Semple [Robert B. Semple, Jr., New York Times], I forgot the last half of his question. I am glad you brought it back.

As far as the further testing is concerned, this suggestion was made to me by Senator Brooke [Senator Edward W. Brooke of Massachusetts] and by others in the Senate. I know that it is certainly a very constructive proposal insofar as they, themselves, are thinking about it. We are considering the possibility of a moratorium on tests as part of any arms control agreement.

However, as far as any unilateral stopping of tests on our part, I do not think that would be in our interest. Only in the event that the Soviet Union and we could agree that a moratorium on tests could be mutually beneficial to us, would we be able to agree to do so.

VIEWS ON CEASE-FIRE IN VIETNAM

[9.] Q. Mr. President, several prominent Americans have urged you to propose a cease-fire in Vietnam as a means of reducing American casualties. Why does that idea not commend itself to you?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the idea of a cease-fire, Mr. Lisagor [Peter Lisagor, Chicago Daily News], does commend itself to me. But I do not want us to cease and have the other side continue to fire, because, basically, as I have pointed out in a previous press conference, where we have a conventional war, cease-fire is very relevant; then we know that the guns have stopped firing.

In the case of a guerrilla war, unless you have an international force or some outside force to guarantee it, a cease-fire is a grave disadvantage to those forces that are in place.

I should point out, however, that in my May 14th speech, I advocated supervised cease-fires. That is the position of this administration. It is the position also of Mr. Thieu.

We want cease-fires, but we want them supervised. We don't want us to cease fire and the other side to continue to kill our men.

THE FBI AND ELECTRONIC SURVEILLANCE

[10.] Q. Mr. President, against the background of a controversy involving Mr. Hoover, J. Edgar Hoover [Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation], a controversy which revolves around electronic surveillance and in which one newspaper, at least, has called for his resignation, may I ask you two questions: One, does Mr. Hoover continue to enjoy your complete confidence; and, two, has there been any decision concerning his tenure?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Hoover does enjoy my complete confidence, and there has been no discussion with regard to his tenure as far as the future is concerned.

I should add, further, that with regard to the controversy on electronic surveillance, that I checked personally into the matter as to whether or not that surveillance which had been discussed had been conducted by him and the FBI, by themselves, or whether it had been, as is supposed to be the case, always approved by the Attorney General.

I found that it had always been approved by the Attorney General, as Mr. Hoover testified in 1964 and 1965. As far as this administration is concerned, our attitude toward electronic surveillance is that it should be used very sparingly, very carefully, having in mind the Fights of those who might be involved, but very effectively to protect the internal and external security of the United States.

A NEW RECONSTRUCTION FINANCE CORPORATION

[11.] Q. Mr. President, sir, the small business people of this country are suffering and much more so now because of the high interest rates. I wonder if you have given any thought to organizing a Reconstruction Finance Corporation again?

THE PRESIDENT. I know that the high interest rates have caused great concern, particularly to the small business people.

I do not believe, however, that a new RFC would necessarily be the approach that would be effective to deal with it. I think the way to get at high interest rates is to get at the cause, as I answered the earlier question put by Mr. Smith.

CONGRESSIONAL REPORT ON CAMPUS UNREST

[12.] Q. What is your answer, sir, to the report presented to you yesterday by the group of Republican Senators on campus unrest? 3

THE PRESIDENT. It Was a very thoughtful report by men who do not have the problem of the generation gap. They are young men, vitally interested in these problems, and they gave me a lot of information that is essential for this administration to have in mind as it develops a program to deal with campus unrest.

3The text of the report entitled "Report of the Brock Campus Tour" is printed in the Congressional Record (June 25, 1969, E 5237).

With regard to what our position is, I would like to point out, however, that I cannot support the legislative proposals in the House of Representatives which would simply cut off funds from any college or university in which there was a demonstration. This would be cutting off our nose to spite our face, and it would be just what the demonstrators wanted, because we do not want the Federal Government interfering in and responsible for discipline in every college and university in this country.

The responsibility for discipline in colleges and universities should be on the college administrators. That is why I have asked the Attorney General to develop, if he can, new legal remedies that might be available to college administrators to use where violence or lawlessness does occur on the campus. The responsibility should be theirs. The Government's role should be to help them meet that responsibility.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF HEW

[13.] Q. Mr. President, Secretary Finch very much wants Dr. John Knowles to be Assistant Secretary of Health. Evidently Senator Dirksen very much doesn't want him to be. Are you going to support your Secretary against your Senate leader?

THE PRESIDENT. I have heard of this controversy from some people. As you well know, the President of the United States, under the Constitution, makes nominations with the advice and consent of the Senate. I have found in my short term of office that it is very easy to get advice and very hard to get consent.

But with regard to this particular matter, Secretary Finch has the responsibility for selecting those who will be his Assistant Secretaries. When he makes a recommendation, after he has made every effort to clear it with the Senators involved, I will support that recommendation.4

4A White House announcement on June 28, 1969, of the President's intention to nominate Dr. Roger O. Egeberg as Assistant Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare for Health and Scientific Affairs is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 5, p. 926).

PRESIDENT THIEU OF SOUTH VIETNAM

[14.] Q. Mr. President, you expressed the hope earlier for substantive talks on Vietnam, perhaps in the next 3 months. I wonder, sir, in this process, and before elections are held in Vietnam, are we wedded, to whatever degree, to the government of President Thieu?

THE PRESIDENT. When you use the term "wedded to the government of President Thieu," I would not say that the United States, insofar as any government in the world is concerned, is wedded to it in the sense that we cannot take any course of action that that government does not approve.

On the other hand, I do not want to leave any doubt on this score: President Thieu is the elected President of Vietnam. He is cooperating with the United States in attempting to bring this war to a conclusion. He has made a very forthright offer and has supported our position that we have made, and I know will be making an offer of his own with regard to a political settlement. Under those circumstances, there is no question about our standing with President Thieu.

I would also say further that insofar as our offers are concerned, we are not going to accede to the demands of the enemy that we have to dispose of President Thieu before they will talk. That would mean a surrender on our part, a defeat on our part, and turning over South Vietnam to the tender mercies of those who have done a great deal of damage, to those in North Vietnam.

FURTHER COMMENT ON MR. CLIFFORD'S ARTICLE

[15.] Q. Mr. President, although not all of his recommendations were accepted, Mr. Clifford did reverse himself while in office, a rather rare thing for a public official to do. My question to you is perhaps somewhat philosophical: How do you keep from being locked in on a decision involving something as pressurized as Vietnam? How do you determine once a policy is adopted that it continues to be right?

THE PRESIDENT. This is one of my major concerns, and it is one of the reasons why I perhaps allow more controversy and, frankly, even open dissent, as I note from reading all the newspapers, within our administration than any in recent years.

I believe that a President must constantly reexamine the policies, and I am reexamining our policy on Vietnam every day. I am examining the military policy. I am examining the political policy, our diplomatic options, and I will not be frozen in.

With regard to my comment on Mr. Clifford, I do not mean to suggest that because he, in a very difficult position, was unable to do anything about it, that his words should not now be given some weight. They should be given some weight, and a man should be given credit for changing his mind if the facts have changed-

But I am only suggesting that, as I make up my own mind at this time, I have to look at the facts as they are presented to me today, and as they are presented to me today I think we are on the right road in Vietnam.

We have started toward the withdrawal that Mr. Clifford has advocated and, I hope, as I said earlier, that we will be able to beat his timetable and that we will not be in Vietnam as long as he suggests we will have to be there.

CONSULTATION WITH PRESIDENT JOHNSON

[16.] Q. Mr. President, your predecessor in office used to quite often solicit the advice of one of his predecessors, General Eisenhower, particularly with respect to foreign policy. Have you solicited Mr. Johnson's advice, and have you got any that is comparable to Clifford's, and does he back your policy?

THE PRESIDENT. I have talked to Mr. Johnson on the telephone, Mr. Potter [Philip Potter, Baltimore Sun], on two occasions, and he has been regularly briefed by members of the National Security Council, by Dr. Kissinger, and also by our Economic Advisers, and those briefings, of course, have provided an occasion for him to give his ideas to us. He has been very helpful in terms of advice and I think he will be more helpful in the future.

ELECTIONS IN LOS ANGELES, NEW YORK, AND MINNEAPOLIS

[17.] Mr. Kaplow [Herbert Kaplow, NBC News].

Q. Mr. President, what do you make of the recent election results in the mayors' races in Los Angeles, New York, and Minneapolis? What do you think the voters are saying?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think the snap reaction to the election in Los Angeles, which was understandable, may have been wrong. The snap reaction to that election, because it was a white man against a black man, was that it was simply a white-black vote.

And yet when you see Minneapolis, where there is only a 4 percent black constituency, coming up with a 62 percent vote for a candidate against the Republican candidate for mayor, and then in New York City where you see conservative candidates, that is the label that has apparently been given to both of them, in both the Democratic and Republican primaries, winning over the liberal candidates, it seems to me we have to take a different view.

What I feel is this: I do not believe the great majority of the American people in our cities are anti-Negro. I do not believe they are anti-poor, or anti-welfare, or reactionary, or members of hate groups.

I do believe, however, this, and this is the message that comes through rather loud and clear from these elections: The American people in our cities, in our small towns, and in this country are fed up to here with violence and lawlessness and they want candidates who will take a strong stand against it. I think that is the message for the candidates in the future.

HEW APPOINTMENTS

[18.] Q. Mr. President, the Surgeon General [William H. Stewart] said today that your administration faces what he called a crippling lack of leadership in its top health offices. You earlier indicated that you are staying out of the Dirksen-Finch controversy for now. Will there come a time when you feel that you must intervene as the nominating officer for those jobs?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that I can go even further than that. I will not have to intervene, because Mr. Finch will make a decision on that next week.

PRESIDENTIAL POWERS

[19.] Q. Mr. President, what do you think of the Fulbright [Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee] proposal that would limit the Presidential power to act militarily in an emergency?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I understand the sentiment behind the proposal. When I was a Member of the Senate and a Member of the House, I will have to admit that I felt that there should be more consultation with the Senate, and that Presidents should not have unlimited power to commit this Nation, militarily as well as politically.

On the other hand, as I now assume the responsibilities of power, I, of course, see it from a different vantage point. And for a President of the United States to have his hands tied in a crisis in the fast-moving world in which we live would not be in the best interests of the United States.

As President, I intend to consult with the Senate, with Senator Fulbright and with his colleagues on the Foreign Relations Committee and the Armed Services Committee before taking any action whenever I can.

But look, for example, at President Eisenhower in 1958. He had to move very fast in order to save the situation in Lebanon.5 There was no time to consult, and also it would have tipped off the enemy.

5See "Public Papers of the Presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1958," Items 172, 173, and 176.

Look at President Johnson when he sent in airplanes to save the missionaries in the Congo in 1964.6 He had to move fast. He had no time to consult.

6See "Public Papers of the Presidents, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-64," Book II, Item 780 [2, 10, 16].

I don't think a President of the United States should be tied down by a commitment which will not allow him to take the action that needs to be taken to defend American interests and to defend American lives where there is no time to consult.

THE MIDDLE EAST

[20.] Q. Mr. President, 5 months ago at your first news conference you described the Middle East as a dangerously explosive situation in need of defusing. In the 5 months since that time, do you think there has been any defusing that you can measure, or do you think the situation has become acutely worse?

THE PRESIDENT. I would have to admit that I see very little defusing. The situation is better only from the standpoint that we do have some four-power talks going, and we would trust that from those talks we might get some basis of communication between the two sides, and particularly that we might get all parties involved, including the Soviet Union, to use their influence to defuse a crisis. The talks will serve that interest if they serve no other interest.

Also in that connection, I would like to say that I, as you know, have met already with the King [Hussein] of Jordan, and I am hoping to meet sometime within the next month with the Prime Minister [Golds Meir] of Israel.

We intend to have bilateral talks, multilateral talks--anything that we can do-to attempt to defuse the situation.

EXTENSION OF THE SURTAX

[21.] Q. Mr. President, you said earlier that you feel that the income surtax will be extended by the Congress. However, it expires in just 11 days. If the Congress does not act or does not act in time, what economic situation will you be faced with, and what realistic policy options will you be considering?

THE PRESIDENT. Despite the fact that the surtax will expire, and that has happened before, the Congress will pass a resolution which will allow the forms to go out and the collections to proceed. What is important is not that the Congress pass the tax before it expires, but that the general public and the world knows that the tax will eventually be passed. That has a psychological effect.

In my belief, due to the bipartisan support--and it has been really statesmanlike support that we received from the Democratic leadership as well as the Republican leadership--due to that support, it will pass the House and I then think will pass the Senate.

GOVERNOR ROCKEFELLER'S VISITS TO LATIN AMERICA

[22.] Q. Mr. President, due to Governor Rockefeller's difficulties on his Latin American jaunt, do you see any usefulness. coming out of the trips, and could you tell us what it might be?

THE PRESIDENT. A great deal of usefulness. For example, in my conversations with President Lleras, the talking paper that President--Governor Rockefeller; a Freudian slip--the talking paper that Governor Rockefeller gave me was extremely helpful, extremely helpful because it gave me the background of his conversation with President Lleras.

I would say further that the very fact: that there are these rather explosive demonstrations indicates that such a trip was necessary. The United States can't be penned up within our borders simply because of the fear of demonstrations.

I remember very well when I planned' my trip to Europe there were several editorials to the effect that I shouldn't take the trip because of the possibility of demonstrations. As those of you who were with me will remember, there were demonstrations in every major city which I visited. Yet the trip was worthwhile.

As far as I am concerned, I am very happy that Governor Rockefeller has made this trip. He is getting valuable information which we needed to get.

I would add one further thought: We must not interpret these demonstrations as reflecting the will of the people of Latin America. The few demonstrators, violent as they are, in Latin America, no more represent the 200 million people of Latin America than the Black Panthers represent the 11 million law-abiding Negro citizens of this country. That is what we have to get across.

THE SAFEGUARD SYSTEM

[23.] Q. Mr. President, when you proposed the Safeguard antiballistic system, you said it was vital to the interests of the United States. Nevertheless, reports persist that it is in trouble, the program is in trouble in the Senate, and there is now talk of a possible compromise in our program. What is your position on Safeguard, and what do you intend to do to win passage for the program?

THE PRESIDENT. On March 8th, before I announced my decision on Safeguard, a story appeared in the Washington Post indicating that the count at that time was 20 Senators for it, 46 against it, with the rest undecided.

The latest count I have seen indicates that there are 50 or 51 for it, 46 against it, and the rest undecided. We will win the fight on Safeguard. It will not be necessary to compromise.

I don't mean by that that every section of the bill as presented to the Armed Services Committee has to be kept as it is. That is up to the Committee and to the Chairman [Senator John Stennis of Mississippi] to work out.

But in recommending Safeguard, I did so based on intelligence information at that time. Since that time new intelligence information with regard to the Soviet success in testing multiple reentry vehicles--that kind of information, has convinced me that Safeguard is even more important. Because however we may argue about that intelligence, as to whether it has an independent guidance system as ours will have, there isn't any question but that it is a multiple weapon and its footprints indicate that it just happens to fall in somewhat the precise area in which our Minutemen silos are located.

This would mean that by the year 1973, in the event the Soviet Union goes forward with that program, that 80 percent of our Minutemen would be in danger. ABM is needed particularly in order to meet that eventuality.

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

Note: President Nixon's sixth news conference was held in the East Room at the White House at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 19, 1969.

It was broadcast on radio and television.

Richard Nixon, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/239481

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