John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

May 22, 1963

THE PRESIDENT. Good afternoon.

[1.] Q. Mr. President, how do you regard the Alabama Governor's announced intention to block the integration of the University of Alabama? For instance, do you or does the Government plan to use Federal marshals as it did in Oxford, Miss., if the Governor does go through with his announced intention to prevent these Negro students from entering?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I hope that would prove unnecessary. I hope this is a matter that can be settled by the local authorities in Alabama. The university since last October has--the Board of Trustees have taken the position that they would accept a court order. They have now indicated that they will accept these students. The courts have made a final judgment on the matter, and I would hope that the law-abiding people of Alabama would follow the judgment of the court and admit the students. Every other State in the country has integrated their State university, and I would hope that Alabama would follow that example.

I know there is great opposition in Alabama, and indeed, in any State, to Federal marshals and Federal troops. And I would be very reluctant to see us reach that point. But I am obligated to carry out the court order. That is part of our constitutional system. There is no choice in the matter. It must be carried out, and laws which we do not like must be carried out, and laws which we like. This is not a matter of choice. If it were a matter of choice, it would not be law. So these decisions must be enforced. Everyone understands that.

Now, I cannot believe that the Governor wants us to send Federal troops there. I cannot believe he wants us to send Federal marshals there. I cannot believe he would not prefer to have the people of Alabama govern this matter and accept the order of the court and maintain law and order. The Governor has taken action against Federal troops who are now stationed at Federal bases in Alabama, and has taken the action to the Supreme Court. I said I welcomed that. This is where these disputes should be settled. So I would hope that the fact that the Governor has chosen to carry out our dispute in the courts indicates that in the final analysis he will accept the judgment of the court, in the cases coming up in June, as I would accept the judgment of the courts as to my powers to use--control Federal troops under certain conditions in various States. We are a people of laws, and we have to obey them.

[2.] Q. Mr. President, you have predicted a sharp drop in the price of wheat as a result of yesterday's referendum. I wondered if consumers can look forward to proportionate reductions in the costs of certain foodstuffs as a result?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, the amount that a farmer gets in a loaf of bread is about 1 cent, so that you won't expect a very sharp drop. What I am concerned about has been that you would have a drop in prices because you would have a great buildup of surpluses. A free market is regulated by supply and demand. If the supply is greater than the demand, then quite obviously it can be and will be because everyone is now free to plant what they wish.

Then, of course, that knocks the price down. So that we will have a combination of lower prices and larger surpluses. We sought to avoid that. But this is a free country and the farmers were offered their choice and they made the choice by--a great number of them voted for the free market and unlimited production. So we are going to be faced with the problem, but I don't think it will have much effect on the consumer. It might, but I think it is going to cause more difficulty to the economy, because it is going to provide these large surpluses and it is going to, I think, reduce farm income, particularly wheat farmers, and that is not to the interests of the consumers, of course, or the farmer.

Now, our feed grain bill will give him some relief. We will administer the laws that are now in effect in such a way as to give him maximum protection--the wheat farmer. We will cooperate in every way we can to maintain his income as high as we can. But I am concerned, as I said before the vote, that production will be increased and income will drop and prices will drop.

Q. Mr. President, if there is no new legislation and the price of wheat does decline rather sharply, what would be the political consequence of that for you in 1964?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. I have tried to make it very clear what the alternatives were and what I thought was in the best interests of the farmer, the wheat farmer. I felt that his best interests would be served by attempting to bring production in line with demand with an adequate income for him. Now the farmers have chosen to plant freely without controls and without that high support. We will have to see what the effects will be.

In any case, under the law that was passed, there is a chance for another referendum next year, and then we can see what the effect of this action has been. But we want to help in every way we can. But the farmers have made a choice, and even though I didn't agree with the choice, I recognize it and accept it and we hope that it does not have an adverse effect. I think some of the people who put material out to the farmers may have misled them on what the effect will be. We tried to make it as clear as possible.

[3.] Q. Mr. President, a high-ranking Indian mission has been discussing with you and your advisers India's military assistance requirements. Can you say if the picture has clarified somewhat now and if there is any commitment by the United States to help India in this regard?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, at the time of Nassau, we both--Great Britain and ourselves--agreed to proceed ahead with the program of assistance. The Indian Defense Minister is now proceeding on to Great Britain. We are going to be in consultation with the Commonwealth, and we will be giving further assistance to India.

[4.] Q. Did the astronauts raise with you, sir, their desire for another Mercury flight? And do you have any opinion yourself tentative or otherwise as to the desirability of another Mercury flight?

THE PRESIDENT. I think they feel that it is worthwhile. I haven't discussed it with Mr. Webb. NASA should make the judgment and will make the judgment, and I would not intervene, but they do feel that a flight is useful, and that the experience of Major Cooper has indicated that the time between the last Mercury flight and the new Gemini flight, which is a period of almost 18 months, they feel may represent a gap which could be filled very usefully by another Mercury flight. This will be a matter which I think they are going to be talking about this week with Mr. Webb and which I would discuss with them next week. But the final judgment must be NASA's.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, how do you feel now about the compromise settlement that was reached at the GATT talks in Geneva? Don't we still have a very long and hard row to hoe, sir, before we start realizing any of the objectives of the Trade Expansion Act?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I think we have a long road to hoe, but we have always known that. When you are talking about economic matters, and tariffs, these are all matters which involve very strongly the interests of countries, but I think that the settlement was satisfactory. We have got a situation where there are different tariff structures in many different countries, where you have great, contrasting economic interests not only between the United States and the Common Market, but between other newly emerging countries as well as those completely dependent upon agriculture. So I think it was a satisfactory settlement. But I quite agree with you that during the next year when this matter will be coming down to final negotiations, we will have a long road, but one that I think we can travel and should travel and must travel. And because that was a common realization by both the Europeans and ourselves is why I think finally an adjustment was reached and we didn't have a breakup. I think the fact that we did make that adjustment, compromise, final agreement, indicates that both sides realize that the West cannot possibly afford to have a breakdown in trade relations.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, a recent lecture by Mr. Sorensen1 disclosed that we apparently fell down on the job at a recent press conference when you had prepared-by recalling your own boyhood, apparently-your answer to a possible question about what you would think of corporal punishment in the District of Columbia schools. Could I make up for that slip now and ask you that question?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I didn't--I don't-[laughter]--I thought the idea was that that conference had passed into history, and that you would never have a chance to ask that question.

1 Theodore C. Sorensen, Special Counsel to the President, had delivered the Gino Speranza Lectures at Columbia University on April 18 and May 9, 1963. They are published with a foreword by President Kennedy as "Decision-Making in the White House: the Olive Branch or the Arrows" (Columbia University Press, 1963).

But as long as it hasn't, I think when we talk about corporal punishment, we have to think about our own children, and we are rather reluctant it seems to me to have other people administering punishment to our own children. But because we are reluctant to do so, it seems to me it puts a special obligation upon us to maintain order and to send children out from our homes who accept the idea of discipline. So I would not be for corporal punishment in the school, but I would be for very strong discipline at home so that we don't place an unfair burden upon our teachers.

[7.] Q. Sir, on your forthcoming trip to Europe next month, can you tell us whether you plan or have any hopes of meeting with Pope John in Rome?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I would hope to. I plan to, yes. We have a plan to and I am hopeful that we will.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, Republicans have charged that some kind of agreement exists or may exist someday for our abandoning Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Could you comment on that, please, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that that charge indicates as some people have suspected before, that there was some political motivation in some of the attacks upon our policy with regard to Cuba. That of course is completely untrue. It has never been considered. It will not be done. And to raise that with no evidence merely because we happen to be putting in an acoustical center for improving our underwater detection system in Bermuda and strengthening a naval base in Puerto Rico--from those two actions it was deduced that we must be giving up Guantanamo. I would hope that we would find a good deal more realism in the Republican conversations about foreign policy, because that is untrue. They know it is untrue. But it may be the sort of thing we are going to hear now for the next 18 months.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, Governor Rockefeller, Governor Romney, and Senator Goldwater, none of these gentlemen are willing to admit that they are candidates in 1964. I wonder if to your experienced eye any of them looks like a candidate, and would you be a little more frank than they are about your plans? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. If I had to, I would say that if the party, if the spirit of the party comes to them that they will answer the call in all three cases, and I would say that is about my position, too. [Laughter]

[10.] Q. Mr. President, the brother of the President of South Viet-Nam has said that there are too many American troops in South Viet-Nam. Could you comment on that, and give us some progress report on what is going on?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I hope we could--we would withdraw the troops, any number of troops, any time the Government of South Viet-Nam would suggest it. The day after it was suggested, we would have some troops on their way home. That is number one.

Number two is: we are hopeful that the situation in South Viet-Nam would permit some withdrawal in any case by the end of the year, but we can't possibly make that judgment at the present time. There is still a long, hard struggle to go. We have seen what happened in Laos, which must inevitably have its effect upon South Viet-Nam, so that I couldn't say that today the situation is such that we could look for a brightening in the skies that would permit us to withdraw troops or begin to by the end of this year. But I would say, if requested to, we will do it immediately. As of today we would hope we could begin to perhaps to do it at the end of the year, but we couldn't make any final judgment at all until we see the course of the struggle the next few months.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, are we providing any material assistance currently to any Cuban refugee organization, any Cuban exile organization?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we may well be, but you would have to make the question more precise.

Q. Any arms or financial assistance on a regular basis to any specific organization?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, none that I am familiar with. In addition, I don't know whether it would be a matter I would want to discuss here, in any case. But to answer your question, I don't think as of today that we are. But I wouldn't want to go into details, if we were.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, I think new legislation is being introduced today by some of the people who opposed your wheat plan, providing for a soil bank arrangement of acreage retirement and other features. What is your attitude toward legislation of that kind?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I would have to take a look at it and see what effect it would have on production and how much it would cost. Of course, any plan that offered us a hope of reducing the surpluses, of maintaining the farmer's income, and that was not excessive in cost, we would certainly listen to. I don't know why--I am not familiar with any proposal which was made by any of the Republicans, if that is who is proposing it, at the time we proposed our wheat plan. But if there is any plan that offers us hope of accomplishing those three objectives, we would, of course, look at it. I think it would be difficult to get a bill by the Congress. As you recall, the bill which led to the referendum was very close. There is no indication that there is a consensus on agricultural matters in the Congress, between the House and Senate. The feed grain, itself, which I think has been very successful, passed by a very close vote. So we would have to take a look at the details of the bill. But as of now--I looked at the statement of Congressman Albert, the Majority Leader. He indicated that he did not think any bill would pass this year.

[13.] Q. Sir, in El Paso there are 900 jobs in the smelter dependent on some executive action by you. And according to the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers and management there, and even the Chamber of Commerce, there are plants in Denver, Colo., and California and other. States that are also dependent on executive action that you might take in reallocating lead quotas from South Africa. I wonder how you think this affects domestic mining and what you plan to do about it?

THE PRESIDENT. I am not familiar with the matter. I will be glad to look into it, but I am not familiar with what the executive powers might be in regard to the importation of lead from South Africa, nor am I familiar with the exact quantity of lead we are receiving from South Africa. But I will be glad to look into it.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, there is still quite a lot of discussion in the Congress, Senator Lausche among others, on the increasing buildup militarily of Cuba. Is there anything you can say that would be in any way encouraging about the removal of the Russian troops there, or of the military situation in Cuba?

THE PRESIDENT. We do not have any evidence of increasing military buildup of the Soviet Union. I think in previous press conferences I have given an answer in response to the question of how many Russians were there and the comment in regard to the withdrawal of Soviet troops. We have no evidence that there is an increasing military buildup. There has not been a satisfactory withdrawal as yet. That is quite true, but we have no evidence that there is a number coming in larger than going out.

Q. Pardon me, sir. I was thinking more in terms of military equipment going into Cuba.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I understand that. We have no evidence that there is an increasing military buildup in Cuba. The intelligence community has not found that.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, do you think Mr. Freeman's effectiveness as Secretary of Agriculture has been seriously impaired by the results of the wheat referendum?

THE PRESIDENT. No, no; I think he is doing very well. If you compare farm income this year--the last 2 years, 1961, 1962--it is higher than it has been any time since 1953 at the end of the Korean war. The farmers are better off today than they have been for 10 years. In addition, if we had not had the feed grain proposal, there would have been a much higher surplus and there would have been a much lower farm income.

So I think that while this is a very complicated problem, because automation has hit the farmers much harder than it has hit any other element in our community and their production is growing faster than our consumption, and therefore this has a tremendous effect on support prices and it has a tremendous effect, of course, upon the market price. Mr. Freeman is attempting to deal with them. My judgment is that he has met with some successes, because he has prevented us from spending a lot more money than we would have spent.

We are getting rid of our grain surplus. We are hopeful in 2 years it will be gone. I think we could have made important progress with our wheat surplus if we had been successful. It may be that with the experience we are going to have now, the farmers may agree with that next year. But the fact of the matter is in 1963 the farmers are better off than they have been for 10 years, and I think Mr. Freeman deserves some of the credit for it.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, there has been considerable discussion in the Far East that Chiang Kai-shek might be preparing to invade the mainland of China. How would our Government view an attempt of that sort?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the treaty relationship, as you know, provided by the 1954 treaty--the so-called Eisenhower Resolution-provides for very close consultation between the two governments before any such action would be taken.

As a practical matter, this of course does involve the United States, and we have expressed our views to the Government of Formosa on the matter.

[17.] Q. Mr. President, just a year ago we talked about the fact that several independent scientific studies have shown a causal connection between cigarette smoking and cancer. And the next week I think the Public Health Service appointed a blue ribbon panel to look into it, and you expected to hear from them in some months. I wondered, have you heard anything lately, and when do you expect a report from the panel on this problem?

THE PRESIDENT. I would think very soon. We haven't received it yet, but I think it will be very soon.

[18.] Q. Mr. President, how much will the negative vote on wheat affect the GATT negotiations at Geneva?

THE PRESIDENT, Well, we will have to see. As you know, there was the agreement that agriculture would be included in those conversations, which I think was helpful. In addition I think the Secretary has indicated today--or if he hasn't he will--that we are going to do everything we can to sustain our international agreements on wheat, and to prevent dumping and all of the rest.1

1 On May 22 the President issued Executive Order 11108 "Delegating Authority Under the International Wheat Agreement Act of 1949, as Amended, to the Secretary of Agriculture" (28 F.R. 5185; 3 CFR, 1963 Supp.).

But quite obviously, we are in the process of attempting to persuade others to limit their agricultural production so we don't have a worldwide surplus and a worldwide depression in agricultural commodities. And when we make a choice for overproduction, which is what the choice was, and what the effect will be, it is bound to make it more difficult for us to persuade other countries not to open wide the gates themselves.

So that we have to operate the CCC and all of the other laws, and international laws, in such a way as to prevent worldwide results from the decision of yesterday.

[19.] Q. I would like to ask you a hypothetical question addressed to you as a politician of some considerable skill. Do you think that a potential presidential candidate who divorced his wife and married a recently divorced woman would damage his chances for the Presidency?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I must say that neither as a--if I occupied the position you described, or speaking personally, would I want to comment on it.

[20.] Q. Sir, are you considering asking Congress for new civil rights legislation as a result of the recent developments down South?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, we are considering, as a result of the recent developments and as a result of the Supreme Court decision yesterday, we are considering whether any additional proposals will be made to the Congress. And the final decision should be made in the next few days.

As you know, we have several proposals up there now, dealing with voting, extension of the Civil Rights Commission and the Conciliation Service. But I think there may be other things that we could do which would provide a legal outlet for a desire for a remedy other than having to engage in demonstrations which bring them into conflict with the forces of law and order in the community.

I would hope that we would be able to develop some formulas so that those who feel themselves, or who are, as a matter of fact, denied equal rights, would have a remedy. As it is today, in many cases they do not have a remedy and therefore they take to the streets and we have the kinds of incidents that we have in Birmingham. We hope to see if we can develop a legal remedy.

[21.] Q. Mr. President, a group of students in California are very perturbed because their prom has been evicted by your $1,000-a-plate dinner. I wonder if you might comment on the dilemma and offer any advice?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I just heard about it a few minutes before I came here, and I can assure you that if there isn't a satisfactory place for them we will postpone our dinner and I will come out on some other occasion.

[22.] Q. Mr. President, I have a question about the nuclear test ban proposal. Mr. Harold Brown 1 has said before a Senate committee that we could accept as few as six onsite inspections. Do you think that there is further ground for us to move now to approach the Soviet Union in the test ban situation?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that is--the position we have taken more publicly--there've been seven. There has been discussion of six. Mr. Brown, whose judgment I value highly has not set the official Government position. He was giving his judgment as a scientist. There are a good many other questions that must be settled. We have suggested to the Soviet Union that we would consider the makeup of the inspection team, the rules under which the inspection team would operate, the area where there could be drilling, all these questions, and then if we can get those settled, we could then come finally to the question of the number of tests. The Soviet Union has refused, however, to consider these other matters until we agree with their position of three. Now that has not been an acceptable negotiating position. We feel that we ought to try to wind up all the other questions which divide us. Then we could finally come and decide what would be--given the arrangements we have made for these other matters--what would be a responsible number of tests. But we are back and forth to the Soviet Union and we are still hoping that we can find a perhaps easing of their position.

1 Director of Defense Research and Engineering, Department of Defense.

Q. Where is the genie, sir? Is it out of the bottle or in the bottle?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it is neither in nor out right now. But I would say that we will know by the end of the summer whether it is finally out. I have said from the beginning that seemed to me that the pace of events was such in the world that unless we could get an agreement now, I would think the chance of getting it would be comparatively slight. We are therefore going to continue to push very hard in May and June and July in every forum to see if we can get an agreement which I regard as of--but I will say as of now, since December there has been no change in the Soviet position on the number of tests nor willingness to discuss in any way any of these other questions until we accept their position of December, which is not a satisfactory position for us.

Q. Are we about to move, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. We are not going to move. On the question of the number of tests? As I indicated, what we are proposing is we settle the other matters and then come to the number of tests. So in answer to your question, we are not moving at this time on the number of tests.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Kennedy's fifty-sixth news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 4 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, May 22, 1963.

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

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives