John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

February 21, 1963

THE PRESIDENT. Good afternoon.

[1.] I have sent to the Congress today a message on the needs of our 17 1/2 million senior citizens. The number of people in this country age 65 and over increases by 1,000 every day, as science prolongs the life span. But it is not enough for a great nation merely to add to the years of life. Our object also must be to add new life to those years. I have recommended a reduction in the taxes of older citizens by nearly $800 million, an increase in social security and old-age assistance protection, and new efforts in employment, housing, education, recreation, and community service.

My most important recommendation is a revised hospital insurance program for senior citizens under social security. Only 10 to 15 percent of the health costs of senior citizens today are reimbursed by private insurance. Hospital costs have quadrupled since the war, and now average more than $35 a day. And since a great many retired workers have little more than $70 a month on social security, prospects of the usual two or three bouts in the hospital after age 65 confronts them with an impossible choice. They either have to ask their children or grandchildren to undergo financial hardship or accept poverty and charity themselves, or suffer their illness in silence. I think this Nation can do better than that. Social security has shown for 28 years that it is a logical first line of defense in this field.

The revised bill would give every individual the option of selecting the kind of hospital insurance protection that will be most consistent with his budget and health outlook, to be administered without any interference with medical practices, much as Blue Cross is administered today.

It would include a special provision for those who do not have social security coverage. I feel very deeply that this legislation should be enacted this year if we are to fulfill our responsibilities as a great free society.

[2.] There is one other statement I wish to make. The New York newspaper strike is now in its 75th day. The situation has long since passed the point of public toleration. The essence of free collective bargaining in this country is a sense of responsibility and restraint by both sides, not merely an effort by one side or the other to break those who sit across the bargaining table from them.

It is clear in the case of the New York newspaper strike that the Local of the International Typographical Union and its president, Bertram Powers, insofar as anyone can understand his position, are attempting to impose a settlement which could shut down several newspapers in New York and throw thousands out of work. Collective bargaining has failed. The most intensive mediation has failed. This is a situation which is bad for the union movement all over the country, bad for the newspaper management's and bad for the New York citizens, more than five million of them, who are newspaper readers.

In my view, one solution to this prolonged strike, if no immediate progress is made, would be for the striking printers, companies, and other involved unions, to submit their differences to independent determination of some kind. I cannot see any other alternative which at present would bring about a solution to this critical labor dispute which has already had a vital effect on the economic life of this great city of New York.

[3.] Q. Mr. President, could you elaborate on what is meant by "all necessary action" to prevent attacks on our shipping by Cuba-based planes? 1

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I have asked the Department of Defense to make any necessary revisions in standing orders so as to insure that action will be taken against any vessel or aircraft which executes an attack against a vessel or aircraft of the United States over international waters in the Caribbean.

1 Shortly before the news conference the Press Secretary to the President had read the following statement to the reporters:

"A strong protest has been sent forward through diplomatic channels against an attack by Cuban aircraft on an unarmed American fishing vessel. The United States Government will expect a full explanation from Cuba. Orders have been given to the armed forces to take all necessary action against any repetition of such an attack."

Q. Mr. President, in the same vein, taking your announcement about the message from the Russians on removal of some of their troops and this incident involving the fishing boat which has produced some very loud reaction in Congress, including Speaker McCormack saying it is an act of aggression, Senator Russell advocating a "hot pursuit" policy, these two things together, how does it affect the net situation with Cuba? Are we better off or worse?

THE PRESIDENT. Better off or worse than when? Yesterday?

Q. Than before the Russian message was received or before this fishing boat incident.

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know whether these two incidents can be--these two matters can be that clearly linked. I think that we are very interested in seeing the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Cuba and we'll be watching the progress that's made in that area over the next 3 weeks.

I don't think we know the full reasons behind this attack on this vessel, whether it was a deliberate decision by the Cuban Government or a decision by the pilots involved. In any case, I think we made it very clear what our response will be and we would hope that this response would make any future attacks such as this unlikely.

Q. Mr. President, does the fact that the note of protest was sent to the Cuban Government mean that the United States Government holds the Cubans accountable for the use of Mig's instead of the Russians?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. These planes came from Cuba and flew under a Cuban flag and, therefore, unless the Soviet Union should claim that they were flying them, we would hold the Cubans responsible.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, the USIA is keeping secret so far the prestige polls about United States prestige abroad, which you referred to last week. Do you think that is justified or might you direct them to release those polls?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't--there are only--there are some polls which would probably be not in our interest to release. They really go to the polls which may have been taken which involve the personalities of other countries, policies of other countries, which might provide some diplomatic embarrassment. There is no poll involving the standing of the United States or the standing of any political figure in the United States that would be embarrassing to release.

We are, I think, going to have a--USIA is going to have a conversation with Congressman Moss, and also with the ranking minority member, and go over the polls. If it seems to be--these polls will be available to any Member of Congress. Most of them could be released at any time.

There are several which would be unwise to release, but which do not involve the prestige of the United States. So that I think that at periodic intervals we will be able to release really all polls unless they involve directly the interests of the United States. I would not think that any poll dealing with the prestige of the United States would involve such an interest, so we would be glad to release those at periodic intervals.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, today's incident has caused some people in Congress again to say that the rocket-firing proves that the Soviet weapons in Cuba are not defensive. Will this incident cause the administration to reevaluate its definition between offensive and nonoffensive weapons?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I think we made that very clear. When we are talking about offensive weapons, we are talking about weapons which have the capacity to carry great damage in the United States, bombers, particularly missiles. A Mig, with its rather limited range, is not regarded ordinarily as an offensive weapon, and the attack which took place on this vessel, which was lying in the water and which did not, as I understand, carry any flag, was relatively--it was 40 miles or so off the coast of Cuba. I don't think that that changes our definition.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, the hospital plan that you just discussed, of course, failed of passage in the 87th Congress. What do you think its chances of passage are in this current session of Congress; and also, how willing are you to enter some sort of compromise with those Republicans who are in favor of a hospital plan to help its passage?

THE PRESIDENT. There were five Republicans last year who joined with Senator Anderson, and they have introduced a bill which is comparable to the Anderson bill of last year. I would hope that it would be 'possible for the Members of the Congress, regardless of party, to support the program. Now, it failed. A change of one Senator would have passed it last year. I would hope that this year it could pass the Senate. It has the problem of coming out of the Ways and Means Committee.

I think it has a good chance this year, and I would hope that Members on both sides would support it. I think it's a vital piece of legislation. As I say, the people who really have the most to win in this matter are not only those who are over 65, but also their children who support them, and who must also educate their children at the same time. If an adult is sick for a prolonged period of time, and I know very few people who have not had some experience with this, they have some understanding how quickly these bills can mount up. So I think we might get the bill by this year.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell has been in the news quite a bit recently. Much of the publicity has been evoked by an attack on him by Senator Williams of Delaware on the floor of the Senate. There have also been published reports that his activities are embarrassing to the White House. Number 1, since you are a former Member of the Senate, what do you think of the propriety of Senator Williams' attack on Mr. Powell; number 2, are the activities of Mr. Powell embarrassing to the White House; and number 3, as President of the United States, what is your assessment of him as a Congressman and as a Negro leader?

THE PRESIDENT. I would not comment on the dispute between Senator Williams and Congressman Powell. Congressman Powell has proved in his life that he is well able to take care of himself. [Laughter]

Number 2, I have not been embarrassed by Congressman Powell.

Number 3, I would not attempt to rank Congressmen. What I am most interested in is the passage of legislation which is of benefit to the people. I thought last year that committee did a good job, in the House Education and Labor Committee, in passing out bills which were very useful--minimum wage, the education bill. I would hope we would have the same kind of record this year.

I think that is the best answer to any attacks. And I hope the chairman holds that same view.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, would it be possible to say, in the event of future attacks upon our shipping in the Caribbean, whether we would turn to the doctrine of hot pursuit?

THE PRESIDENT. I would prefer to leave our status as I have described it, and to make judgments as they come along. We've made it very clear now that the United States will take action against any vessel or plane which attacks our planes or vessels. But the details of those standing engagements, I think, can wait on events. But there will be an initial response. How far the pursuit would go, and all the rest, is a matter which I think the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of State, we all might consider as the situation develops, and as we see whether today's action was an isolated incident, the result of a pilot decision, or was a deliberate decision by the Cuban Government which forecasts other attacks. I would think when we have got a clearer pattern, then we could make a judgment on whether hot pursuit should be carried out to the shores of Cuba.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, the practice of managed news is attributed to your administration. Mr. Salinger says he has never had it defined. Would you give us your definition, and tell us why you find it necessary to practice it?

THE PRESIDENT. You are charging us with something, Mrs. Craig,1 and then you are asking me to define what it is you are charging me with. I think that you might--let me just say we've had very limited success in managing the news, if that's what we have been trying to do. Perhaps you would tell us what it is that you object to in our treatment of the news.

2Mrs. May Craig, Portland (Maine) Press Herald


Q. Are you asking me, sir?


Q. Well, I don't believe in managed news at all. I thought we ought to get everything we want.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that you should, too, Mrs. Craig. I am for that. [Laughter]

[10.] Q. Mr. President, spokesmen for the Indian Government said today India will ask the United States, Britain, Australia, and Canada to provide air defenses in the event that they are attacked by Chinese Communist aircraft. Would you tell us how you feel about this air support to India, and under what circumstances we would give it?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Well, there was an original request made in November, and then the British Government and the United States Government have sent a mission out at the present time to explore this matter of air security with the Indian Government. The mission has not completed its task or made recommendations. We are anxious to help India maintain itself against an attack, if such an attack should come again, and I think it's a matter which we ought to explore with the Indians in the next 4 or 5 weeks. India is a key area of Asia--500,000,000 people. It was attacked without warning after trying to follow a policy of friendship with countries on its border. We will find ourselves, I think, severely--the balance of power in the world would be very adversely affected if India should lose its freedom. So we will be responsive to India, when we have a clearer idea of what the challenge is and what their desires are, and what our capabilities are. But we don't have that now and won't have it until the joint mission comes back.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, does the fact that Secretary Wirtz, just a few days ago, informed the AFL-CIO Executive Council that the administration would not object to a negotiated 35-hour week represent a change in policy?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have only seen the newspaper report because Mr. Wirtz has been on an island in Florida, and so I haven't had a chance to talk with him. I think he made it clear that we were opposed to a change in the 40-hour week by statute.

I would be very reluctant to see any change by negotiation of the 40-hour week to a 35-hour week if it was going to substantially increase the cost, the labor cost, per unit of Production, if it was going to make it more difficult for us to compete abroad, if it was going to launch an inflationary spiral of wages and prices in the United States. So I would prefer to wait until I have a chance to see Mr. Wirtz' statement in detail. My Own position is opposed to the 35-hour week.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, just before Senator Humphrey left Geneva, he said that unless a nuclear test agreement were in final stages of preparation by April, that mankind might lose forever this unique opportunity for agreement. Do you think that April should be more or less the deadline month which will determine whether the Soviets ever intend to agree to this?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think April 1st in the sense of sort of an ultimatum. I would hope that we would have progress by April 1st, but that's 5 weeks away. There are a good many detailed matters to be settled. I would think by springtime we should know whether the Soviet Union is willing to make those arrangements which can provide for a satisfactory test. But I wouldn't put down the date and say by this date we will know finally.

We've been on this business for 15 years. I must say that a good many people are opposed to this effort which is being directed by Mr. Foster in Geneva, and quite obviously it's a matter which we should approach with a good deal of care. But the alternative, if we fail, of increasing the number of nuclear powers around the world over the next 5, 10, 15, or 20 years, that alternative which I think is so dangerous keeps me committed to the effort of trying to get a test ban treaty. I think it's what motivates Mr. Foster and others who have been involved in this for many months. There are, of course, critical areas which must be very carefully defined. But I think people who attack the effort should keep in mind always that the alternative is the spread of these weapons to governments which may be irresponsible, or which by accident may initiate a general nuclear conflagration. So we are going to keep at it if not by April 1st, beyond April 1st.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, as I understand it, the New York printers are very firmly opposed to arbitration as you suggested. Do you see the need of legislation in strikes like the New York and Cleveland strikes, in the public interest?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I haven't suggested-I tried to use a different phrase rather than arbitration, because of the traditional position of the printers against arbitration. But I did suggest a third party might be able to play abridging role.

I don't think that today we ought to consider compulsory arbitration. As I have said before, this is a matter which involves a community, a city; it's not a national issue, it doesn't affect the national health and safety. And I think the best solution is for the union to demonstrate a sense of responsibility and not merely try to carry this to its final ultimate of cracking the publishers, because if they do it they will close down some papers and I think will hurt their employment possibilities themselves.

I think the best thing now is to see if we can get a third party in who can move perhaps a step beyond mediation but still perhaps not to the final step of arbitration which, as you say, historically they have been unwilling to accept.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, there is obviously quite a strong opposition in Congress and in some segments of the country to your tax .program. Yet you've made it quite plain that you consider the economic stimulus of that program to be very important to the economic future. Well, now, in the event that the program is cut down to the point where that stimulus would not be forthcoming, what alternatives are there, or in preparation, and would these include a large increase in public spending?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I would think that we have a number of programs which we've sent up since the first of the year--retraining and youth employment and all of the rest-which will be of help, but I think the most useful thing can be the kind of tax cut that we've suggested.

I quite agree that it ought to be large enough to do the job, and I think that the expenditures which we're now making, plus the proposed tax cut, plus the revisions, I think will give us a stimulus to prevent the kind of downturn I talked about last week.

My judgment is we're going to get the tax cut. There isn't any doubt that the NAM want a tax cut of a certain kind, the AFLCIO want another one, and CED want a different kind, some economists want another kind, but at least there is a consensus there should be a tax cut.

There is a majority support, in my opinion, among those who are closest to the economy who understand it the most, there should be a tax cut.

What they are arguing about is who should get the cut and how it should be divided, but I think the Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee can deal with that task. I believe we're going to get a tax cut because I think the argument is overwhelming in favor of it, and those who oppose it would have to take the responsibility for any deterioration in the economy which might come about over the next months--or rather years, because the prospects still look good for the economy now-but would have to take the responsibility. And I would think that they would be reluctant to take that responsibility in view of the pattern of the economy in the late fifties.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, do you have any comment on our recurring difficulties with Haiti?

THE PRESIDENT. No, but it is a very critical situation in Haiti.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, now that the Soviets apparently have agreed to remove some of their troops from Cuba, do you feel that you should press for the removal of the remainder of the Russian troops in view of the fact that if they leave without their weapons, that these weapons will fall into the hands of the Cubans themselves?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Well, I would think that--we have indicated very dearly that we would find it difficult to accept with equanimity a situation which continued Soviet troop presence in Cuba. I think we have made that very clear. Now there has been, as I have said, a series of withdrawals of missiles, planes, and some men. We have to wait and see now in the coming months, and we will continue to work on the matter as we have over the last 4 months.

[17.] Q. Mr. President, you met with New England and Western Senators about a month ago and promised them an answer on their request that you impose further restrictions on imports of wool textiles. Have you reached that decision?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we have discussed the problem of wool imports increasing from about 17 percent up to 21 or 22 percent, and then the danger of going to 25 percent. This is a matter of concern.

On the other hand, the countries which are exporting to the United States are very anxious to maintain this market. I get periodic meetings from chicken growers who are anxious for us to provide a free flow of chickens into Western Europe, and from other Members of Congress who are anxious for us to prevent a free flow of textiles into the United States, others who wish us not to limit the importation of oil, and others who wish us to encourage the exports of various other things into the market.

It's quite difficult to get a balance, but that's what we're attempting to do. Governor Herter is working on it. We are attempting in this rather varied economy, with interest, some of which wish to encourage exports, some of which wish to diminish imports, we are attempting to get a fair balance. Quite obviously we cannot have it all our way, just exports without accepting some imports. Woolens, however, are a particularly sensitive problem. This administration had conversations last year about woolens which have made us anxious to see if we can limit. We are in touch with the various governments. It's rather a difficult time now, however, because of the British not getting into the Common Market, which has made them more sensitive about their export markets.

In addition, we have some difficulties with the Japanese over cotton textiles. So that so far we have not been successful, but it is a matter which Governor Herter is talking about a good deal.

[18.] Q. Mr. President, some French newspapers seem to be convinced that there is a quid pro quo arrangement between Washington and Moscow on removal of troops and other matters. Could you indicate what sort of diplomatic leverage this Government has used to bring about the troop withdrawal?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I think on November 6th, in a letter to Mr. Khrushchev, I indicated that the continued presence of troops, as well as the bombers, was a matter of great concern to us. And he wrote back, as I said before, in November, saying that in due course or in due time that he planned to remove those troops which were necessary to the defense of the offensive weapons.

We have been back to him on this matter several times, most recently by Mr. Rusk and Mr. Dobrynin, and Saturday Mr. Dobrynin gave the message which has been already announced. So that we've kept at it, indicating that we believe it creates tension in the Caribbean and also makes it more difficult for us to adjust our other problems between the Soviet Union and the United States as long as this is being used as a military base by the Soviet Union.

Q. Mr. President, would you please give us a picture of the current economic condition of Cuba and how much of an Achilles' heel it might present currently to the Castro regime?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think they've had a bad economic situation. It's costing at least $1 million a day for the Soviet Union to sustain the economy. The sugar crop has not been very good, even though the world price of sugar is up. They have other economic difficulties. It is not in my opinion an ornament of the Communist system. And those in Latin America who may have been attracted at the beginning by whatever plan that Mr. Castro had I should think would be disillusioned by the economic deterioration which has taken place in the island, and which is obscured to some degree by Soviet subsidies.

Q. Mr. President, you indicated in answer to a previous question that you have told Mr. Khrushchev that it would be difficult to solve other problems until we have the Cuban problem settled. I wonder if you could tell us what other problems may be solved after the Cuban problem?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we've got a good many matters which are of concern to us. I didn't put it quite that way. But there are a good many matters involving disarmament and all the rest, matters which we're now in conversation with, and quite obviously what happens in Cuba affects our ability to work out equitable arrangements with them. You can go all around the world, and the Soviet Union and the United States are in discussion or in disagreement, beginning with Laos, and all the way through Europe, Latin America, and other places, in space and on the ground and underground.

Q. Would you think Berlin would be a problem that could be settled, and if so, perhaps how?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know whether an equitable solution can be worked out in Berlin. We don't know. That's a matter which has been considered, and as you know, we've had over the past 2 years exploratory talks to see whether serious negotiations could be undertaken. But we have never found that these talks have indicated that there was a basis for an accord about Berlin.

At the present time this question of further exploratory talks has come up, and we are now considering whether there is a satisfactory basis for negotiations. I make a distinction between the talks and negotiations, but we've not been able to reach any understanding with the Soviet Union on some of the basic principles which we believe-accepted by them--which we believe essential for the maintenance of the viability of the city.

[19.] Q. Mr. President, can you tell us how the Nassau Pact jibes with the new reports that are making the rounds now about a surface fleet of NATO nuclear weapons? And can you tell us whether there is any difference in the difficulty it might be for you to get permission from the Congress to share either the warheads or the nuclear-propelled shipping?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the principle of the Nassau accord would carry whether it was a submarine or a surface ship. There are technical advantages and disadvantages to both. The surface fleet could be probably more easily multination manned; it would come sooner. It would not involve a balance of payments loss for the countries which would be involved, as the ships could be built there as well as here. So this is a matter which Mr. Merchant will be discussing with them.

Q. But, Mr. President, I mean on the matter of getting permission from the Congress, would not the Congress have to approve American warheads--

THE PRESIDENT. I think the Congress should approve any arrangement which is made, which is as important as this, whether it's a submarine or whether it's a surface ship. In my judgment this matter should be submitted to the Congress, to the Senate, and we would plan to do so, because regardless of any legislative limitations, I think it's an important matter which the Congress should have a chance to give its views on.

Q. Mr. President, what basis do you have for your belief that a test ban treaty would inhibit the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and if you got a test ban treaty, how would this be used in the case of France?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, in my judgment, the major argument for the test ban treaty is the limiting effect it might have on proliferation. Quite obviously, if it did not have that effect, then the treaty would be abrogated, and any treaty would so state that either side would have the right to abrogate the treaty if proliferation resulted.

Now, on the question of France, France has been recognized as a nuclear power by the Soviet Union. It would be up to the Soviet Union to make a judgment as to what action they would take on the treaty, if France continued to test. This is a matter which we will have to discuss with the Soviet Union. In addition, we are concerned about other countries testing, so that we would have to--the Soviet Union and the United States and Great Britain would have to make a judgment as to the position of France, after consultation with France, and would also make a judgment as to what action we might take if other countries tested. There is no guarantee, if we sign a nuclear test ban, that it will end proliferation. It is, however, our feeling that the Soviet Union would not accept a test ban unless they shared our view that proliferation was undesirable. And it might be a weight in the scale against proliferation, and I so regard it.

Now we are quite far apart on the details of a test ban treaty. Even if we get the test ban treaty, it may not have the desired effect, but in my opinion it's very much worthwhile making the effort and we will continue to do so.

[20.] Q. Mr. President, in view of the action of the Cuban Mig's in firing on this two-man shrimp boat, is the Government making an inquiry as to the possibility that this may have been the fate of the Sulphur Queen, the industrial tanker which left Beaumont on the 2d of February and has not been heard from since the 3d of February?

THE PRESIDENT. We've no information that that is the reason. Certainly, we would examine it, but we have no information.

Q. Mr. President, Secretary McNamara, I believe, has testified that we have intelligence that in Russia they have hidden missiles in hard stands underground. Have you explored the possibility that perhaps we might have those in similar sites in Cuba that would not show up in the aerial reconnaissance?

THE PRESIDENT. I think Secretary McNamara, himself, stated that he felt beyond a reasonable doubt that that situation did not exist.

Q. Mr. President, the Defense Department announcement on the incident in the Florida Straits said simply that the Mig's fired near the shrimp boats.

THE PRESIDENT. That is correct.

Q. And you used the term "attack." Did these Mig's attack the boat and miss or did they harass the boat?

THE PRESIDENT. That's a--I don't think we have the answer to that question. I think the shots came within--what? 40 yards of the boat? I would think, if you are on the boat, that is regarded as an attack, and whether they were trying to hit the boat or whether they were merely attempting to target practice--all these things, I think, we will have to look at in the next day or so.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Kennedy's fiftieth news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 4 o'clock on Thursday afternoon, February 21, 1963.

John F. Kennedy, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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