John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

May 08, 1963

THE PRESIDENT. Good afternoon.

[1.] I am gratified to note the progress in the efforts by white and Negro citizens to end an ugly situation in Birmingham, Ala. I have made it clear since assuming the Presidency that I would use all available means to protect human rights and uphold the law of the land. Through mediation and persuasion, and where that effort has failed, through lawsuits and court actions, we have attempted to meet our responsibilities in this most difficult field where Federal court orders have been circumvented, ignored, or violated. We have committed all the power of the Federal Government to insure respect and obedience of court decisions and the law of the land.

In the city of Birmingham the Department of Justice some time ago instituted an investigation into voting discrimination. It supported in the Supreme Court an attack on the city's segregation ordinances. We have, in addition, been watching the present controversy to detect any violation of the Federal civil rights or other statutes. In the absence of such violation or any other Federal jurisdiction, our efforts have been focused on getting both sides together to settle in a peaceful fashion the very real abuses too long inflicted on the Negro citizens of that community.

Assistant Attorney General Burke Marshall, representing the Attorney General and myself on the scene, has made every possible effort to halt a spectacle which was seriously damaging the reputation of both Birmingham and the country. Today, as the result of responsible efforts on the part of both white and Negro leaders over the last 72 hours, the business community of Birmingham has responded in a constructive and commendable fashion and pledged that substantial steps would begin to meet the justifiable needs of the Negro community.

Negro leaders have announced suspension of their demonstrations and when the newly elected Mayor who has indicated his desire to resolve these problems takes office, the city of Birmingham has committed itself wholeheartedly to continuing progress in this area.

While much remains to be settled before the situation can be termed satisfactory, we can hope that tensions will ease and that this case history which has so far only narrowly avoided widespread violence and fatalities will remind every State, every community, and every citizen how urgent it is that all bars to equal opportunity and treatment be removed as promptly as possible.

I urge the local leaders of Birmingham, both white and Negro, to continue their constructive and cooperative efforts.

Q. Mr. President, against the background or possibility of similar trouble developing in other Southern towns, I wonder if you could tell us how you regard the techniques that were used over the last few days in Birmingham by either side, dogs and fire hoses used by one side, and the use of school children and protest marchers by the other side?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think what we are interested in now is seeing the situation peacefully settled in the next 12-24 hours. I think all of our statements should be devoted to that end. Quite obviously, as my remarks indicated, the situation in Birmingham was damaging the reputation of Birmingham and the United States. And it seems to me that the best way to prevent that kind of damage, which is very serious, is to, in time, take steps to provide equal treatment to all of our citizens. That is the best remedy in this case and in other cases.

Q. Mr. President, do you see any hope of Birmingham serving as a model for a solution in other communities facing similar problems?

THE PRESIDENT. We will have to see what happens in Birmingham over the next few days.

[2.] Q. Mr. President, do you consider the situation in the Middle East, the balance of power there, to have been changed as a result of recent developments, and what is the U.S. policy towards the security of Israel and Jordan in case they are threatened?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think that the balance of military power has been changed in the Middle East in recent days. Obviously there are political changes in the Middle East which still do not show a precise pattern and on which we are unable to make any final judgments. The United States supports social and economic and political progress in the Middle East. We support the security of both Israel and her neighbors. We seek to limit the Near East arms race which obviously takes resources from an area already poor and puts them into an increasing race which does not really bring any great security.

We strongly oppose the use of force or the threat of force in the Near East, and we also seek to limit the spread of communism in the Middle East which would, of course, destroy the independence of the people. This Government has been and remains strongly opposed to the use of force or the threat of force in the Near East. In the event of aggression or preparation for aggression, whether direct or indirect, we would support appropriate measures in the United Nations, adopt other courses of action on our own to prevent or to put a stop to such aggression, which, of course, has been the policy which the United States has followed for some time.

[3.] Q. Mr. President, a proposed commission to draw up legislation on Puerto Rico's future status consists of 12 members. Four would be from Congress and 4 would be named by you and the remaining 4 by the Governor of Puerto Rico. Republicans complain that there should be people on the committee only from Congress and the Puerto Rican legislature, and I wondered what are your own feelings on this?

THE PRESIDENT. Are you talking about the commission that would be set up by the Puerto Ricans?

Q. That has been introduced in Congress.

THE PRESIDENT. Oh, by Congressman Aspinall?

Q. Yes, the 12 men.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Well we are going to take a look at that. It seems to me Congressman Aspinall's proposal might be useful in making more precise the alternatives before the Puerto Ricans. We'd have to make a final judgment on it later, but I would think it offers a basis for consideration. But I couldn't give you a final United States Government position on this at this time as yet.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, in the Alabama crisis at Birmingham, according to your interpretation of the powers of the Presidency, was there power that you possessed either by statute or the Constitution that you chose not to invoke or did you use your powers in your view to the fullest in this controversy?

THE PRESIDENT. There isn't any Federal statute that was involved in the last few days in Birmingham, Ala. I indicated the areas where the Federal Government had intervened in Birmingham, the matter of voting, the matter of dealing with education, other matters. On the specific question of the parades, that did not involve a Federal statute as I indicated in my answer. And that is the reason why Mr. Marshall has been proceeding the way he has--and we have not had for example a legal suit as we have had in some other cases where there was a Federal statute involved.

Q. Two Negro graduate students apparently plan to apply for admission this summer in the Huntsville branch of the University of Alabama, and the Governor of Alabama has said that he will physically bar their entrance. Is there anything the administration can do to avoid this collision?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we would hope that the decision of the court would be carried out--this is our continual view--in a way that maintains law and order. This of course does involve the Federal Government, because it's a Federal statute. But we would hope that all people would follow the dictates of the court whether they agree with them or not, and that law and order would be maintained by the local authorities and that all those who have a responsibility under any local or State constitution for the maintenance of law and order would meet their responsibilities. This is a matter of course, as I said, that does involve the Federal Government.

[5.] Q. Sir, the fact that Admiral Anderson was not retained as Chief of Naval Operations has been written about in such a way as to imply that he did not measure up to your expectations as a head of the Navy, that he might have bucked reorganization plans, that he opposed Defense Secretary McNamara on the TFX, and other things which you probably are familiar with. Is it true that he was not retained as a sort of warning to others in the Navy to get in line with the Secretary and yourself?

THE PRESIDENT. No, that isn't the reason. As a matter of fact, Admiral Anderson is going to continue to serve the United States Government. I am very gratified that he has. I talked with him today and he has agreed to accept--to continue to serve the United States Government in a position of high responsibility. So quite obviously, the reasons--if I did not have the highest confidence in him I would not want him to continue.

Q. Could you tell us what post, sir, he will serve in?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I--he continues as, of course, head of the Navy through August and therefore at an appropriate time this summer we will make an announcement. But he has agreed to continue to serve and I am delighted because I think he will be a great addition to the Government in this new position which requires a good deal of skill, which .requires a good deal of dedication, and to which I would appoint someone for whom I had only a high regard.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, in view of the strained relations that have existed with the former Canadian Government, would you be willing to share with us a discussion of the objectives of your meeting with Prime Minister Pearson at Hyannis Port?

THE PRESIDENT. I think the central objective is to go over all the areas which involve the common interests of our country--defense, trade, the various matters of concern of distribution of natural resources, the flow of investment, and all the rest, which are of concern to either Canada or the United States. As close neighbors we have a whole spectrum of interests and problems in common and I am looking forward to going over them all with the Prime Minister. So we will, I think, cover the entire waterfront.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, in the most prominent park in London, Grosvenor Square, with which you are familiar, there is a statue of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Do you know of any plan for us to erect here a statue of Winston Churchill, our most honored honorary citizen?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't know of any, although it seemed to me that the action which the Congress took by overwhelming vote, the ceremony which you witnessed, is perhaps really the best indication of our strong support for him.1

1 See Item 126.

Q. Americans who go to London always go there, and every time there's Britishers laying little tributes and wreaths. And it seems to me we ought to have one of him here.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, he is still very much with us, and I think we ought to lay our wreaths at his feet. [Laughter]

[8.] Q. Mr. President, you have spoken out before against the dangers of the so-called radical right in politics. Could you update those observations today, in view of the fact that a dozen States or so, influenced in part by extremist groups, have given varying degrees of approval to legislation which would change the form of amending the Federal Constitution and would undercut the powers of the Supreme Court as well?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it has always seemed to me remarkable that those people, and organizations who are founded in order to defend the Constitution, should seek always to change it, and particularly to change it in such a basic way, either to affect the power of the Congress, to amend the Constitution and put severe limitations upon the Congress which after all represents the people most directly, or otherwise to affect the power of the Supreme Court, which is one of the most important protections of individual rights and one of the most important securities we have for an amicable settlement of disputes, and which, after all, became such a significant part of our American constitutional development under the leadership of an American who is usually heralded-Mr. John Marshall. So I would think that the efforts will come to nothing, and I will be glad when they do not.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, what conclusions, if any, have you drawn from the recent discussions in Moscow between Under Secretary Harriman and Chairman Khrushchev and between Ambassador Kohler and Chairman Khrushchev?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the conversation between Governor Harriman and Mr. Khrushchev dealt with the maintenance of the agreement of Geneva and also of Vienna that Laos should be neutral and independent. Mr. Khrushchev, at the time of the visit of Mr. Harriman, reaffirmed his commitment to a neutral and independent Laos. But that was in Moscow and now that commitment, we hope, will be implemented on the Plaines des Jarres. Quite obviously, the action a few days ago of attacking the ICC helicopters, action taken by the Pathet Lao, indicates that they are not at the present time living up to this commitment.

I would hope that the Chairman would be able to convince them that it was in the long-range interest of all concerned and most especially of the people of Laos and of peace in the area. So we are going to have to wait to see whether that happens. Now, Mr. Kohler did not have any direct conversations, except to deliver a message to the Chairman dealing with testing.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, back on the subject of Presidential advisers, Congressman Baring of Nevada, a Democrat, said you would do much better if you got rid of some of yours--and he named Bowles, Ball, Bell, Bunche, and Sylvester.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, he has a fondness for alliteration and for "B's." And I would not add Congressman Baring to that list as I have a high regard for him and for the gentlemen that he named. But Congressmen are always advising Presidents to get rid of Presidential advisers. That is one of the most constant threads that runs through American history and Presidents ordinarily do not pay attention, nor do they in this case.

[11.] Q. Back to the subject of Viet-Nam, could you explain to us, sir, why we have committed ourselves militarily in Viet-Nam, but have not committed ourselves militarily in Laos, depending instead upon this neutralist government?

THE PRESIDENT. Because the situations are different. That's why the remedy has been different. We have had a commitment for a good many years to the integrity of South Viet-Nam. We are anxious to maintain the neutrality of Laos. It may not be possible to do so, and it may be necessary to seek other remedies. But we have adopted what we considered to be, considering the geography, the history, the nature of the threat and the alternate solutions--we have adopted for each country what we regarded as the best strategy. And we'll have to wait and see what happens on them.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, do you feel that the OAS should apply diplomatic or economic sanctions against the Duvalier regime?

THE PRESIDENT. I think we ought to wait until the peace-keeping group which has just gone out with new instructions from the OAS, which are broader than the previous ones--I think we ought to wait and see what they are able to do in the next 2 or 3 or 4 days.

Q. Do you have the feeling that the OAS should take further action than it has?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that the OAS action at the present is the proper one. I think it is very important that we proceed in company with the OAS, and therefore I'm supporting the action the OAS has taken in setting up this peace machinery.

[13.] Q. Sir, there has been a good deal of discussion about this forthcoming wheat referendum. The opponents have suggested that should the farmers reject the control plan, substitute legislation could be passed. Spokesmen for your administration and congressional leaders have said they oppose this. I wonder whether you could tell us whether the administration would not merely not support new legislation, but whether you would oppose the passage of a substitute?

THE PRESIDENT. I'm sure there won't be new legislation, because the fact of the matter is, this legislation passed by the closest of votes. The legislation on the feed grains passed in the Senate by the closest of votes. We have not got a consensus on dairy legislation. We have not got a consensus today on cotton legislation. We may not have any cotton bill.

There is such a division among the farming groups themselves as well as among those in the non-farming congressional groups that I don't think you could get a majority. If this legislation is defeated, I don't think you can get a majority in the House and Senate.

It is not a question of not wanting to do the best we could, but this seemed to us the best proposal. The farmers can vote it up or down. I think those who suggest that if this is defeated there will be some new bill that will come forward, I think they mislead the farmers. I don't think that you will see new legislation this year, because I don't think that there is an agreement on it. And if they will look at the record of the last 2 years and see the limited--in the last 5 or 10 years--how few agriculture bills have passed, they will come to the same conclusion that the Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee has come to, the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee has come to, and the Secretary of Agriculture: that there cannot be a new bill because there is not a general agreement on what that new bill should be and this, therefore, represents the choice that the farmers will be faced with this year. And I think they should judge it on that, and not on some hope that some new bill will come which will solve all of the problems. There's just no such thing in the wings.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, to try to improve race relations in a non-crisis atmosphere, last Sunday, according to the UPI, 160 Knoxville, Tenn., white and Negro families visited each other's homes. Do you feel it would be in the public interest for you to use the prestige of your office to encourage similar church- and civic-supported projects nationally?

THE PRESIDENT. I think it would be very helpful, and I think it can start right here in Washington, D.C., where this is greatly needed. And all groups, it seems to me, can afford not only to concern themselves as they do with Birmingham but also to look into their own lives and their own eating habits, and all the rest, to see whether they are living up to the spirit you have expressed in your question.

[15.] Q. Sir, do you believe a tax cut program which does not directly benefit people in the lower income brackets will sufficiently develop the consumer demands, stimulate the economy, and overcome unemployment as you wish?

THE PRESIDENT. Do I think it will?

Q. Yes.

THE PRESIDENT. The total tax cut as estimated, I see, most recently by the Joint Committee on the Economic Report would provide a stimulation of nearly $40 billion to the economy. This would have a great effect upon employment and job security, as well, of course, as it would lighten the tax burden of those in all classes. But in the bottom classification it amounts to nearly 40 percent reduction, so that we've tried to provide a balance. The overall effect, of course, is what we are most looking at and a $40 billion increase in the economy I think would provide a substantial reduction in unemployment and a substantial increase in economic well-being.

Q. May I ask whether the Ford 1 committee, the businessmen's committee on tax cuts, has a program which meets with your approval?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as I said at the time, I disagree with some of their proposals. They don't agree with the reform section of our bill, but they are in favor of a tax cut of the same amount that we are. There is the exception, however, on reforms. This is a matter about which a good many members of Congress and citizens disagree, but the central point is that they are in favor of the 10 1/2 billion tax cut which I am in favor of. They would redistribute it somewhat differently, but they have their views and I have mine. But we are in favor and join on the necessity for a tax cut for the economy.

1 Henry Ford 2d, Chairman, Business Committee for Tax Reduction in 1963. See Item 145, above.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, ever since you permitted the telecast of press conferences, a great deal of attention has been paid to little things that occur, especially in the home offices and newspapers. Would you save us a couple of hours of work tonight and explain what the Band-Aid is doing on your left hand?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I cut my finger when I was cutting bread--unbelievable as it may sound. [Laughter]

[17.] Q. Mr. President, in view of the Clay 2 report, do you think the Bokaro steel mill project in India should be rejected on the grounds of public versus private?

THE PRESIDENT. No. There is such a need for steel that is going to be unfilled and providing it is an efficient project, I would think we could assist if it meets what the economy of India requires. I must say that I don't quite get the logic of those who so vehemently oppose this very much-needed project; not just take possession of a steel mill already constructed but to build one. So that there is an important distinction. At the same time, when we lend hundreds of millions of dollars to Canada to join in the nationalization of the electric lights in Quebec--in order to--private companies. Now I think that this is a stimulus which will go up. All the evidence we have is that it will not go up unless the United States joins in. The Soviet--I think we ought to do it--I think we ought to do it. Now, the Congress may have other views, but I think it would be a great mistake not to build it. India needs that steel.

2 Gen. Lucius D. Clay, Chairman, Committee to Strengthen the Security of the Free World. See also Item III

[18.] Q. Mr. President, on the test ban issue, are you--do you join what seems to be the general feeling that prospects for a test ban at this time are zero, that the Moscow atmosphere is so chilly, or is there something in your private correspondence with Chairman Khrushchev which will give you some hope?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I'm not hopeful, I'm not hopeful. There doesn't seem to be any sense of movement since December on the offer of two or three that the Soviets have made. We have tried to see if they will change that figure. We have, as you know, reduced our requirements. We have indicated a willingness to negotiate further. We have tried to get an agreement on all the rest of it and then come to the question of the number of inspections, but we were unable to get that. So I would say I am not hopeful at all.

Q. Mr. President, would you assume that we will have another round of testing by both the Soviet Union--

THE PRESIDENT. I would think if we don't get an agreement that is what would happen. And I would think that would be--personally I would think that would be a great disaster for the interests of all concerned. If we don't get an agreement this year--they almost had one in 1958 and 1959--at least in retrospect it seems it might have been possible. We thought maybe we were moving toward it in December. Now we seem to be moving away from it. If we don't get it now I would think--perhaps the genie is out of the bottle and we'll never get him back in again.

[19.] Q. Mr. President, on the matter of improving race relations in the United States, do you think a fireside chat on civil rights would serve a constructive purpose?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it might. If I thought it would I would give one. We have attempted to use all--what happens is we move situation by situation and quite obviously--and all these situations carry with them dangers. We have not got a settlement yet in Birmingham. I've attempted to make clear my strong view that there is an important moral issue involved of equality for all of our citizens and that until you give it to them you are going to have difficulties as we have had this week in Birmingham. The time to give it to them is before the disasters come and not afterwards. But I made a speech the night of Mississippi--at Oxford-to the citizens of Mississippi and others. That did not seem to do much good, but this doesn't mean we should not keep on trying.

Q. May I ask you a question on your statement on Birmingham? I believe you said that the results of the efforts by Mr. Marshall have been that the business community has pledged that substantial steps will begin to meet the needs of the Negro community. Could you expand that? What kind of substantial steps?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I said as the result of responsible efforts on the part of both white and Negro leaders over the last 72 hours, the business community of Birmingham, and so on. So it's their efforts and not the Federal Government's efforts. I would think that it would be much better to permit the community of Birmingham to proceed now in the next 24 hours to see if we can get some--and not from here.

[20.] Q. Mr. President, a number of observers have noted that morale among the military at the Pentagon is particularly low and they ascribe it usually to the heavy-handed treatment by Mr. McNamara and his civilian secretariat, in addition to the wide dissatisfaction with the military pay bill. I understand that you recently went over to the Pentagon and spoke to an assemblage of military officers. I wondered whether you found any morale situation there that concerns you, or can you tell us the purpose of your visit?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I went over last year and this year and will go every year. I think the problem--pay is one of the problems. Housing is another. There are some shocking examples of inadequate housing for our military people. Obviously, there are bound to be some disappointments with the decisions of civilian leaders. Somebody has to decide whether we are going ahead with the Nike-Zeus or the Skybolt or one .plane or another; or what the size of our conventional forces will be, our strategic forces, missiles. The military, as they always will agree, always feel more is needed. Mr. McNamara had to scale down their request some $13 billion even to reach the very hard budget figure and now there is some understanding that there may be a billion dollar cut in the budget we set up, which I think would be a serious mistake. That budget was very hard. As I say, $13 billion had been cut out of it. Now, any time you cut any amount of money some important interests are sacrificed. That causes some reaction. But I think this administration has put a good deal of attention in strengthening the military. We have increased the budget substantially. There have been those who said it could be cut 10 billion. I don't think it can be cut hardly at all, so that I would hope that we would be able to proceed ahead.

There are bound to be some friction's and differences of opinion. They're strong-minded men but I must say I have great confidence in their loyalty to their country and I think they will go on. I am sure there will continue to be disputes. But that is why we have the organization that we have. We have to have a Secretary to make the final judgment. You have four services. I think everybody will get along.

Q. Mr. President, aside from the top command, I was thinking more of a morale problem throughout the--

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that is a somewhat different problem. And I think part of that is pay; part of that is housing; part of that is the feeling that perhaps the military is not recognized for the service they are rendering at rather inadequate compensation; part is some disappointment or feeling of the Reserves that perhaps their services are not recognized, sometimes companies don't give them the kind of treatment that would permit them to carry on their Reserve activities.

I hope--as we depend very much upon our military and as we have been very well served by our military in the last 2 years, and as I said the other day, one of the things that impresses me greatly when I write letters on the death of servicemen--and 3500 lost their lives in the service from one action or fatalities of one kind or another in the last year-that the tremendously strong letters that come back from their families indicate a great interest in the love of their country. So this is a terrifically valuable asset for us. I would hope we can keep it and if there is anything we can do to improve the morale, I think we ought to do it.

[21.] Q. Can you tell us what our central objectives will be at the forthcoming trade talks at Geneva, and are you hopeful that they will lead to a big round of cuts in 1964?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. The objective of this, as you have described it, is to provide for satisfactory negotiations with the Common Market in 1964, and this GATT meeting is essential for that success.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Kennedy's fifty-fifth news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 4 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, May 8, 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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