John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

April 03, 1963

THE PRESIDENT. Good afternoon.

[1.] Q. Mr. President, when a Government department feels it necessary to check on a news story that is displeasing to that department, how do you feel about using lie detectors on men you've appointed to office?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, are you talking about a hypothetical case or an actual case?

Q. I am talking about a case that started at the Pentagon, but was called off today.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that the case--Secretary McNamara was asked to investigate how this Air Force document was put out to the press. And at the suggestion of the committee, investigation was begun. I think that it was a mistake to suggest a polygraph. And I think Secretary McNamara, when he learned that in the investigation that a document was suggested which would indicate that the witness might be willing to accept a polygraph, I think he decided that that was in error, and he and Secretary Zuckert changed it. So I don't think we need concern ourselves in the future about it. The fact of the matter, no polygraph was given.

[2.] Q. Mr. President, do you intend to support SEC staff recommendations for legislation designed to curb certain abuses in the securities industry?

THE PRESIDENT. I will have to see the recommendations when they come to the White House. And then we will have a chance to look at it and then I can give you a better answer, after we have examined it.

[3.] Q. Mr. President, 2 weeks ago you said you wanted to wait until the end of March before taking another look and saying something about the Soviet troops in Cuba. Do you have any new information for us on how many have been pulled out and what can be done to get the rest of them out?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we estimate that 5,000 Soviet troops left in November, immediately with the missiles and with the bombers. And we estimate that in the last month approximately 4,000 Soviets have left. If we accept the figure, which was always a rough calculation, that there were 21,000, 22,000, Soviets there at the height of the crisis, we could get some idea of where approximately we think the figures are today. It is bound to be a generalized figure because it is impossible to take a detailed head count. That still leaves some thousands on the island. We hope they're going to be withdrawn. And we will continue to observe very closely in the next days, the immediate weeks ahead, whether there are going to be further withdrawals which, of course, we wish for.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, again 2 weeks ago you indicated that the situation in Korea had not yet hardened to a point where any talk by you would be helpful. There does appear to have been a hardening situation in the meantime. Would you say how you feel now about the continuation of military rule in Korea?

THE PRESIDENT. As you know, the conversations have been going on between the military group and the civilian opposition. It is our hope that a situation will develop which will permit the blossoming of democratic rule, in responsible and stable democratic rule in South Korea. These conversations have not finished. The United States Government feels that this is a finally--in a final sense, a decision for the people of South Korea. We've indicated what our hopes are, but this is a judgment which the people of South Korea must make, and the responsible officials in South Korea. In any case, it is our hope that an accord will be reached between the military group, its chairman, and the civilians, so that we will see in the future a merging pattern of democratic rule. But as of today, the situation is not clear.

[5.] Q. Would you be willing to discuss with us, sir, the political and military difficulties of preventing these hit-and-run raids by Cuban exiles who believe they are striking a blow for freedom?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, obviously Florida is a long coast, and it is possible for some people to go from Florida and strike at a target and come back. We have attempted to discourage it for a number of reasons. We believe it is ineffective. There was a raid conducted in Cuba, left around the 17th, I think, the evening of the 17th or 18th, that shot at a Soviet merchant ship as a target of opportunity. It returned, a number of the people who took part in it came to Washington and held a press conference. It does not seem to us that this represents any real blow at Castro. It gives additional incentives for the Soviet Union to maintain their personnel in Cuba, to send additional units to protect their merchant ships. It is not controlled. No one in a position of responsibility knows about it. So that it will bring reprisals, possibly on American ships. We will then be expected to take a military action to protect our ships, which may bring a counteraction.

I think that when these issues of war and peace hang in the balance, that the United States Government and authorities should-and when American territory is being used-should have a position of some control in the matter. So we don't think that they are effective; we don't think they weaken Castro. We don't think a rather hastily organized raid which maybe shoots up a merchant ship or kills some crewman, comes back, holds a press conference, it doesn't seem to us that that represents a serious blow to Castro and, in fact, may assist him in maintaining his control.

Now, I want to contrast that kind of action with action of some other Cubans, and I don't criticize these men who took part in this. They are anxious to see their island free, but we just don't feel that this advances their cause. I contrast that with some others.

For example, between 400 and 500 members of the brigade who were prisoners, who were at the Bay of Pigs, have joined the United States Army, 200 as officers and 250 as men who are now in training, and who, I think, will be very fine soldiers, and can serve the common cause. The head of the-the commander of the brigade, Oliver, who is a Cuban, a Negro, got all of his marks at 100 in joining the service. So I think there are a good many very determined, persistent Cubans who are determined that their island should be free, and we wish to assist them.

We distinguish between those actions which we feel advances the cause of freedom and these hit-and-run raids which we do not feel advances the cause of freedom, and we are attempting to discourage those.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, two weeks ago six Republican Members of the Joint Economic Committee, House and Senate, wrote you a long letter of suggestions about Federal expenditures, including a request that you establish a Presidential Commission on Federal Expenditures, somewhat similar to the Clay Commission on Foreign Aid. What would be your position on that suggestion?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think we have the Bureau of the Budget which oversees and gathers together all of the recommendations which we wish to make for programs. We then submit it to the Congress--the House and Senate. And they finally appropriate the money; we do not. So that the House and Senate has its opportunities with its staff, the Appropriations Committee. We have probably the most effective staff in Washington, for the amount of work they do and the men employed, in the Bureau of the Budget. I am very satisfied with this procedure.

[7.] Q. Is it valid, sir, for the Government to give a defense contract to a firm in order to keep that firm as part of the production arsenal of this country? And, two, did that happen in the case of the TFX award to General Dynamics?

THE PRESIDENT. No, to the last part. In the first case, if it is a hypothetical case, I would say it would depend on the circumstances, how great the need is. Is it for particular kinds of tools which we might need in the case of an emergency? I can think of cases where it would be valid. It has nothing to do with the TFX.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, even though this is a new Congress, hasn't it in its 3 months of life made a very low record of accomplishments, and what do you think is the trouble?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I must say that I am familiar with these stories in March and April that the Congress isn't doing anything, and I think this Congress is going to act on the major pieces of legislation.

The House Ways and Means Committee is now considering the tax bill. The House Rules Committee reported out the bill for aid for medical construction and education today in the House. The Senate this afternoon is considering the transit bill. It will be considering in the next few days the youth employment opportunities bill.

So I would say that you will see in April and May and June a good many important pieces of legislation coming to the Floor. But I think that this is, if I may use that word again, a rhythm of January and February, and then March the story starts to be written about the Congress not doing anything in April, and then in May we begin to get some bills to the Floor and some are defeated and then there are those stories about Presidential leadership. [Laughter]

[9.] Q. Is there a lesson in the recent New York newspaper strike that might lead to the settling of labor disputes in this particular industry by means other than strikes in the future?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't see it. I think that unless the unions and the employers are ready to accept compulsory arbitration, and there is no indication that either would be, I don't see that we are going to be able to set up any mechanical operation which would stop a city strike.

Now, a State may want to set up emergency procedures, which the Federal Government has in cases affecting the national health and safety. That's a State judgment. But I don't see any Federal actions that can be taken. I do fed, looking at that strike, that that strike could have been settled many days before it was, on conditions quite similar to what was finally accepted. But neither side was prepared to take those actions which would have brought it to an end. But I don't see any mechanical changes we can make in laws which would affect the situation.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, Israel has been evidencing growing concern over the 'manufacture of missiles in Egypt, and unofficially has asked the United States to use its good offices with Bonn to discourage the use of German scientists in this endeavor. Can you tell us anything about that point, and, secondly, can you tell us anything about Israel's requests for more armaments from this country?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, the German Government itself has indicated its displeasure, and there is some question of whether it may be a breach of the law, the German scientists who are working on missiles, air engines, and airframes for the U.A.R. There is not a great number of them, but there are some of them, and of course they do affect the tensions in the Middle East. So I think this matter has been very strongly brought to the attention by the Israeli Government and by other interested parties who are seeking to diminish rather than increase the arms race in the Middle East.

Now, on the question of what military assistance we would give the Israelis: as you know, the United States has never been a supplier of military equipment directly to the Israelis. We have given economic assistance. The Israelis themselves have bought equipment, a good deal of it from France. We will just have to see what the balance of the military power may be in the Middle East, as time goes on. We are anxious to see it diminished rather than participate in encouraging it.

On the other hand, we would be reluctant to see a military balance of power in the Middle East which was such as to encourage aggression rather than discourage it. So this is a matter which we will have to continue to observe. We have expressed our strong opposition to the introduction or manufacture of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and we have indicated that strongly to all of the countries. So we have to wait and see as the time goes on. At the present time, there is a balance which I think would discourage military action on either side. I would hope it will continue.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, General Eisenhower has taken a crack at the national budget. He told Charlie Halleck in a letter that he thought it could be reduced by about

$13 billion. The General was especially critical of your space program. He said that there were enormous sums being wasted in that field. Would you care to comment?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that President Eisenhower referred us to Maurice Stans, his budget director, for guidance, and I have examined that record. Under Maurice Stans, this country had the largest peacetime deficit in history. It took a $500 million surplus and put it into a $12.5 billion deficit. It had the largest outflow of gold in dollars in our history, 1959, about $3.9 billion. We had two recessions, 1958 and 1960, and we had the highest peacetime unemployment, 1959, since World War II. That is not a record that we plan to duplicate if we can help it.

Secondly, the United States Congress almost unanimously made a decision that the United States would not continue to be second in space. We are second in space today because we started late. It requires a large sum of money. I don't think we should look with equanimity upon the prospect that we will be second all through the sixties and possibly the seventies. We have the potential not to be. I think having made the decision last year, that we should make a major effort to be first in space. I think we should continue to do so.

Now President Eisenhower--this is not a new position for him. He has disagreed with this, I know, at least a year or year and a half ago when the Congress took a different position. It is the position I think he took from the time of Sputnik on. But it is a matter on which we disagree.

It may be that there is waste in the space budget. If there is waste, then I think it ought to be cut out by the Congress, and I am sure it will be. But if we are getting to the question of whether we should reconcile ourselves to a slow pace in space, I don't think so. This administration has concentrated its attention since it came into office on strengthening our military. That is one of the reasons why you could not possibly put in the cut which has been recommended, $9 or $10 billion, without cutting the heart out of the military budget. The fact of the matter is, when we came into office we had 11 combat ready divisions; we now have

We increased the scheduling on Polaris, nearly double per year. We've increased the number of planes on the 15 minute alert from 33 percent of our strategic air force to 50 percent. In a whole variety of ways--in the Navy we have added about 46 vessels, we've strengthened ourselves in defense and space.

The fact of the matter is, in nondefense expenditures we have put in less of an increase in our 3 years than President Eisenhower did in his last 3 years. I am concerned that we may not be putting in enough, rather than putting in too much, because the population of this country is growing, 4 million people a year. So that I think we ought to go ahead with what we are talking about. We ought to have effective, tight budget control, which we have tried to have. The Congress may be able to improve on it. But this idea that you can cut the budget wholesale without cutting very essential national programs, and, number two, taking $9 billion out of the economy, is just bound, in my opinion, to put you in an economic decline instead of a rise.

I think we ought to recognize that the percentage of our budget expenditures as a percentage of our gross national product are about the same as they were all through the riffles. The budget may have gone up because the country is growing and the population is growing, but so is our gross national product. And the debt as a percentage of our gross national product is steadily declining.

So I think we are in good position, providing we can prevent an economic decline of the kind we had very rapidly in 1958 and 1960. Then I think we can do that if we have effective programs of the dimensions that we are talking about, plus the tax cut, because we have to have, just to absorb the people coming into the labor market, we have to have a $25 billion increase in our gross national product just to absorb the people coming into the labor market, let alone cut down the number who are now unemployed. So that is my view of the matter.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, as you know, we have had difficulties lately in both Guatemala and Argentina, two countries which under the Alliance for Progress were making efforts to get on their feet economically and politically. I wonder how you feel about these developments? Do you regard these as symptomatic of the problem the Alliance is trying to attack? What are your views?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I think so. That's right. I do regard it as symptomatic. There is instability, part of it through the hemisphere comes from maldistribution of wealth, part of it comes from inadequate wealth, part of it comes from the fact that they have been in a depressed state really since 1957 and 1958, because of a drop in commodity prices. Part of it comes from illiteracy, and it is very hard to maintain a democratic form of government as we have seen even in Western Europe, which has many advantages. So that to do it in Latin America, with so many disadvantages, is extremely complicated. Great progress has been made, and a good many democratic governments now exist. I saw one of the finest in Costa Rica the other day. But I certainly would agree with you that what is happening in Guatemala and what's happening in the Argentine is symptomatic of the challenges which face us in this hemisphere and which the Alliance is trying to meet.

Q. Mr. President, Venezuela has said that it does not intend to recognize the new government in Guatemala because it took power by force. This is a recurring problem in various places. Are we going to have any consistent or uniform policy on whether or not to recognize governments that take power by force?

THE PRESIDENT. No, We haven't got a consistent policy, because the circumstances sometimes are inconsistent. What we are interested in now is what assurances we get as to when a democratic government--or when elections will be held. This government which has taken over in Guatemala has indicated that it will provide a return to democratic rule. When we have a clearer idea of that and also what the position will be of the other Central American countries who are so intimately associated in the Common Market and other ways, we will then be able to make a judgment as to whether it is in our interest to proceed ahead.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, we have a brand new issue in Kentucky in the Democratic primary. The question is: how much time Governor Chandler spent with you on Monday. Mr. Salinger and Mr. O'Donnell were there, and you popped out and shook his hand. Mr. Chandler got back home to Kentucky and said he spent more than half an hour with you and he says Mr. Salinger has quit managing the news and is now not telling the truth. Can you tell us how much time you saw Mr. Chandler? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have never attempted to--Governor Chandler called up and talked to, I think, Mr. O'Donnell on Monday morning and he said he was in town and he was there with his wife and two sons and his granddaughter and would like to pay a friendly call. And I was glad to see the former Governor--Senator--and one whom I have known for a good many years. So I was delighted to have him by and I wouldn't possibly clock him. [Laughter]

[14.] Q. Mr. President, on your trip to Europe, there have been a lot of rumors about other cities than Rome and Bonn and Berlin .wanting you to visit them. I wonder if there is anything you can tell us now about what other cities, you might visit, possibly London or even Paris, and also if you could tell us when you might be going?

THE PRESIDENT. No, we have no plans to visit London or Paris. We will be going, I would think, the last half of June, to Rome and Bonn, and Berlin. That is our present schedule.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, we are told that the principal reason that you have asked Congress to increase the size of the Peace Corps to 13,000 is because of the new emphasis on Latin America. But isn't there some danger that these countries will be disappointed if that goal isn't reached?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. We are going to attempt to make a major effort in Latin America in the Peace Corps. I would hope that this month, when we must really get our applications for the summer, when most of the students will be available, I would hope they would put their applications in, in April.

We need nurses, teachers, those who are knowledgeable in the mechanical arts, liberal art school graduates. I would hope that we would get a good, strong, volunteer group in April. We will concentrate on Latin America, and I think, based on our experience already with them, it will be most useful.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, tomorrow they start hearings in the Senate on the new Foreign Service Academy. Why is this necessary? Why wouldn't it be better to have returning officers go to the schools in Pennsylvania, Harvard, or Chicago, and see something of the country to which they are returning, while they are doing their studies?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think you might say "Why don't we eliminate the National War College?" I think that the problems which they face are very specialized, particularly those Ambassadors or Ministers or Foreign Service officers who go to Latin America, Africa, and Asia, the Middle East, where you have got a good many paramilitary, economic, social, political problems, all the rest. I think the Foreign Service Institute has indicated a response to that need, but we need a much stronger service in the same way that we need the National War College. Now that doesn't mean that some students may not continue to go to the places you named. But I think we need one here in Washington which is directly tied to the work of the State Department, particularly the work in the areas which I have described, where an Ambassador--I just looked. I saw Ambassador Gullion this morning, from the Congo.

When you think of the decisions, for example, which our Ambassador in Guatemala must now make, our Ambassador in South Korea must have made over the last 3 weeks, and we depend heavily, of course, upon the judgment of the people there, the judgment that our Ambassador in Laos has had to make over the last year, the judgment of our Ambassadors in Pakistan and India, these are the most important, significant--the judgment of our Ambassador in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, I think we need this school, because I think these men deal with questions which are so intimately related to the work of the Department, itself, that I think that the institute ought to be here, close to the Department and working with it.

[17.] Q. Sir, do you plan to take any action to head off the threatened railroad strike?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, we will, and by this afternoon we are going to announce the appointment of a board.

[18.] Q. Mr. President, what is your evaluation of Khrushchev's present status, and the nature of the political struggle that is apparently now going on in the Kremlin? And is the uncertainty in the Kremlin affecting U.S. policy decisions right now, for instance, over Cuba?

THE PRESIDENT. No, but I would think it is possible that Khrushchev is subjected to the same--I don't think we know precisely, but I would suppose he has his good months and bad months like we all do.

Q. By when do you think we will be first in space, and in view of Russia's current lunar probe, do you think we will beat Russia with a man to the moon?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. We started well behind. Quite obviously they had a tremendous advantage in big boosters, and we are still behind, because obviously we haven't gotten our new boosters yet, which we won't get until 1964, '65 and '66. So that we will have to wait and see, but I can assure you it is an uphill race at best, because we started behind, and I am sure the Russians are making a major effort. Today's indication of what they are doing makes me feel that their program is a major one and is not spongy, and I think that we would have to make the same ourselves.

So I would say we are behind now, and we will continue to be behind. But if we make a major effort we have a chance, I believe, to be ahead at the end of this decade, and that is where I think we ought to be.

[19.] Q. Mr. President, will we be able to maintain our special relations with the United Kingdom if Mr. Harold Wilson and the Labor Party win the next election?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't see any reason why our relationship should change with Great Britain. It has existed with Labor governments and Conservative governments. I think it is a relationship based on history and common interest. And we also have strong relations with other countries of Western Europe, and we have special relations in Latin America. I think Mr. Wilson said, and I think probably Mr. Macmillan has said, that the word "special" is probably not the most appropriate word to describe it. It is a very strong, intimate, and reassuring relationship, and I think it will exist regardless of who is in power.

[20.] Q. Sir, I wonder if you think that there should be a double standard for Congressmen and one for men in the executive branch of Government. I am referring to these articles on cheating Congressmen which lack Anderson wrote about the other day. And I wonder if you think that since you have been in Congress and the executive branch, if there should be the same standard for no conflict of interest and honesty as Congress insists upon for the executive, and if you think these should be the same thing for Congressmen?

THE PRESIDENT. I think this is a matter where the Congress is the best judge of their own standards. As a matter of fact, I think the Constitution so states. And I would think that they would be jealous of their reputation as really any man or woman should be.

[21.] Q. Mr. President, you said a moment ago that your administration had no intention of emulating the record of the Eisenhower administration in a number of economic respects, and you have often stated your desires to move the country ahead in a number of social fields, education, for instance, and yet you say that in your first three budgets your nonspace, nondefense expenditures are less than in the last three Eisenhower budgets. My question is this: does this balance of resources, this commitment of resources, disturb you?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I would like to see the United States able to do more in some areas, even though the programs we have suggested in education, if accepted by the Congress, would be very important, not only this year but also in the other years. That is a major program. So I think that we have a solid basis for action. But I do think it is.

On the other hand, I think that the defense program is, in my opinion, essential, and I think the space program is vital. But what we are now talking about are those who wish to cut this program, the civilian and the nondefense expenditures, by such a substantial figure. For example, those who say that we should cut our foreign assistance by a billion and a half, even though this assistance is vital to the maintenance of a good many countries' independence, while at the same time, as I have said before on other occasions, anti-Communist speeches are made, they want to prevent any Communists taking over in Latin America, they want to deny Latin America any economic assistance and they want us to do something about Cuba, because it is Communist. I don't understand that logic. I think the budget we have sent up is soundly based. I do think there is always a question of whether we are expending enough for civilian needs. But it still is a large budget, a large deficit, and I think that we have done about as much as we now can do. In other years we may have to do more, because this year we held our nondefense expenditures to the same figure as last year.

[22.] Q. Mr. President, yesterday according to reports comedian Dick Gregory was manhandled by police in Greenwood, Miss. Do you have any comments on the voter registration drive in Greenwood, and particularly do you think the Justice Department can do more in terms of speed and effectiveness to enhance the effort down there?

THE PRESIDENT. We have had a suit there since last August against the registrar on the ground of discrimination in the voting. We have now a suit which we launched the other day against the denial of the rights of the voters themselves, and that is due for a hearing very shortly, perhaps this week.

Then I would hope that the court would find that there has been a denial of rights, which seems to me evident, but which the court must decide. Now if we secure the passage of the voting bill which we sent up to the Congress this week, in the case of the voter registrar case, a registrar would be permitted to sit during the period that the case was being considered, because what we now have is a registrar who is charged with discrimination in denying certain citizens the right to vote, and he has been sitting since last August when our suit was filed, and the suit, because of the law's delay, has not yet been settled. So that is an area where there is a vacuum in the law, and I would hope we could fill it. But on the subject, itself, we have two Federal suits and both of them are very important and both of them, I hope, will result in actions which will bring justice in Greenwood, Miss.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Kennedy's fifty-third news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 4 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, April 3, 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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