John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

February 01, 1961

THE PRESIDENT. I have several announcements to make.

[1.] First is one made at the request of Mrs. Kennedy. Since the election, the birth of our son, and the inauguration, Mrs. Kennedy and I have received over 100,000 letters and telegrams of congratulations and good wishes. They are now building up in available rooms at the White House. Unfortunately, it's not going to be possible for us to acknowledge and answer as we would like to answer each and every message, and therefore I wish to take this opportunity on behalf of Mrs. Kennedy and myself to thank everyone who has been so kind and generous.

[2.] Secondly, I'm happy to be able to announce that the restrictions recently imposed on travel abroad of dependents of service personnel will be lifted as soon as the necessary detailed arrangements can be made in the Defense Department. Secretary McNamara has been able to work out arrangements for equivalent savings in personnel costs abroad, so that this change does not imply any weakening of our determination to protect the value of the dollar.

This is a matter of great importance. The Chiefs of Staff have been most concerned about the effect of this order on morale and on the rate of enlistment, and therefore we have had to make a balanced judgment as to which actions in which areas would be in the national interest, and after giving this matter careful consideration, it is the judgment of the Defense Department that other savings can be made which will be more satisfactory to us and to the position of the Armed Forces.1

1A White House statement of March 6 summarized proposed means for reduction of overseas expenditures by individual members of the Armed Forces, Department of Defense civilian employees, and their dependents in order to effect savings which would have resulted had the number of dependents in foreign countries been reduced as originally directed,

[3.] Third, I'm announcing that there are going to be set up five pilot projects for food stamp distribution, and that these will be in areas of maximum chronic unemployment. All the areas have not yet been determined, but one will be in West Virginia, one in Pennsylvania, one in southern Illinois, and the other in eastern Kentucky, with a fifth yet to be determined.

[4.] Next, the Veterans Administration has been instructed to speed up the payment of the National Insurance dividends. This is a sum of over $250 million, which would be paid out throughout this year. We're going to try to pay it out this winter in order to assist the economy at a critical time.

This, of course--the Veterans Administration fund has very ample reserves, very generous reserves. And I feel that this will be of some benefit.

[5.] Lastly, in order to lower the cost of housing credit and stimulate that sector of the economy, I've directed the Federal Housing Administration to reduce the maximum permissible interest on FHA-insured loans from 5 3/4 to 5 1/2 percent. Complementary action will be taken by the Federal National Mortgage Association.

In addition, I've asked the Community Facilities Administration to reduce interest rates on new loans to local public bodies for the construction of public facilities, and to broaden their eligibility requirements.

And I've instructed the Housing and. Home Finance Agency to hasten those approved projects where a speedup can be effected without waste. Thank you.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, as you know, Adlai Stevenson said the other day it was his guess that you would be happy to meet with Khrushchev if he should come to this country for the U.N. session. I wonder, was he correct in his guess that you would be happy to meet with Khrushchev?

THE PRESIDENT. As Governor Stevenson-Ambassador Stevenson said, I have not discussed the matter with him. I have no idea whether Mr. Khrushchev is coming to the United States or not. There's been no indication, either publicly or privately, that he is planning a visit to the United States, and therefore I think it would be appropriate to wait in regard to what plans we might have as far as seeing him--it would be more appropriate to wait until we have some idea whether he's going to come or not.

[7.] Mr. President, could you tell us something of the reasoning and the background of the apparent restrictions on the RB-47 fliers in publicly discussing their experiences in Russia? We get the impression from the Pentagon that this blackout on any public interviews or discussions of the two fliers is to be more or less an indefinite thing. Now we are told at the Pentagon that this is in the national interest. First of all, I wonder if you could tell us why it's in the national interest, and second, what personal feelings you have in the matter on the reasoning behind this decision to keep these men quiet.

THE PRESIDENT. Well I'll say that when they've finished their short leave and when they have been debriefed by the Air Force, and the Air Force has had an opportunity to have conversation with them, as far as I'm concerned I'd be glad to have them talk to the press. And therefore I would assume they would be available to the press as soon as that leave is over.

[8.] Q. This may be a corollary question, but your administration has indicated that it expects officers of the military on active duty to support, in their public statements, or at least not to be hostile to the foreign policy of your administration. Does this project itself into other areas? What about the Atomic Energy Commission? What about economists working for the executive branch who may have differences about economic policy?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that the procedure which we have established is a traditional one. I think that the Eisenhower administration made, according to the accounts that I have seen, over 65 known efforts to make sure that speeches by members of the military were in accordance with the general objectives of American foreign policy.

I think--we're going to continue to do that. If a well-known, high-ranking military figure makes a speech which affects foreign policy or possible military policy, I think that the people and the countries abroad have a right to expect that that speech represents the opinion of the National Government.

Now the speech of Admiral Burke which raised this question--when the speech was drafted Admiral Burke may not have known, nor did any of us, whether these fliers would be released, for example. Therefore, there is some value in coordinating statements made by high-ranking responsible officials of our national--involving national security--coordinating them, and making sure that the State Department, the White House, and Defense are informed about the speeches and that they represent national policy.

That has been the policy followed by President Eisenhower; it is the policy which must be followed by this administration.

Now in the question Mr. Morgan asked, it's not intended that this will serve as a restraint on the ability of people in this administration to speak out, particularly when those speeches do not involve national security. I think the important point here is when they involve national security.

[9.] Q. Do you consider the current business slump serious enough to justify a tax cut?

THE PRESIDENT. I do not at this time. I've stated that we're going to make another judgment on the state of the economy in 2 to 3 months and will then decide what action could be usefully taken. But I have not proposed a tax cut at this time nor do I intend to.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, some critics stated that proposals of added Federal expenditures in your State of the Union Message may force us to "kick the bottom out of the money barrel." Could you give us an idea, sir, of how your proposed increased programs would be furnished and in connection with the previous question could it possibly mean an increase in income taxes?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that we can spell out our proposed proposals in the series of messages that we're going to send in the next 14 days. And as I have said, the proposals that we will make will not of themselves unbalance the budget.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, your State of the Union Message was both praised and criticized. Some of the critics said that you painted the picture in dark colors so that should there be any improvement you would get the credit. Would you want to comment on that, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I would--I painted the picture as I saw it. I also stated that in my judgment, in some areas involving the national interest the news would be worse before it gets better. And I think that the American people might just as well realize that. So that my statement stands as my view of the problems facing the United States at home and abroad at this time. To the best of my ability, it is an accurate presentation. I'm not a candidate for office for at least 4 years, so that there will be many ups and downs I suppose during that period, so that anybody who thinks that if things get better in the spring that we'll be able to say that they're the result of the administration policy and that's the reason that I painted them unnecessarily dark, misunderstands completely. They are painted accurately as I understand them to be, and anyone who makes the judgment that it was laid on thick for political reasons, I think is making a serious mistake and I hope would give us the benefit of the doubt of an honest view.

Now, other people may look at the same facts and come to a different conclusion. Obviously they have--before my speech and since my speech. But that represents my view as President.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, in the spirit of your Los Angeles campaign speech, are you prepared to move soon by Executive action in the field of civil rights, and if so, in what fields would you make your first step?

THE PRESIDENT. We have been considering what steps could be taken in the field of expanding civil rights by Executive action, and I'm hopeful that we will shortly conclude that analysis and have some statement to make on it. It's not completed as yet.

[13.] Q. In connection with a couple of previous questions, .you have stated several times since your election that the country was in for some substantial sacrifices, or that the year 1961 might be a difficult year to live in, and yet some of the measures you have announced seem to be intended to improve the lot of, let's say, more unfortunate sections of the population. Could you be more explicit on what you mean by sacrifices and the difficulties of living in 1961?

THE PRESIDENT Well, I would hope that a country as powerful as ours--I said it was the most resourceful industrialized country in the world--would not oppose efforts which we would take to make the life of people who live in these chronic depressed areas--to make it easier. I do not feel that all the burdens of hardship should be placed on them. In addition, I do believe that we are heavily involved in critical areas of the world and I cannot today predict what the results will be of events in those areas of the world. I merely state that the tide has not been running with us, that we are heavily involved--heavily committed--by public statements of the former administration as well as by this administration, and therefore I felt that we should inform the people that there are hazards which lurk around us and which may place heavy burdens on us.

I will whenever I think that sacrifices of a particular nature are required, I will go to the people. At the present time, I merely suggest that the times are difficult.

Now, when we talk about five and a half million people unemployed there are still over 60 million people employed. And I think that may be one of the reasons why there is some feeling that I overstressed the dark instead of the bright in my State of the Union Address. But it is the function, it seems to me, of the President to concern himself with that five and a half million unemployed particularly when so many have been unemployed for such a long period of time.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, some people have interpreted your address to the Congress as indicating that you found conditions very much worse upon taking office than you had anticipated. Is this interpretation correct? And, if so, can you give us some specifics?

THE PRESIDENT. I think the situation is less satisfactory than it was last fall. And I don't--and I'm not convinced as yet that the tide in some of the critical areas in which the United States is involved has turned in our favor.

I think that anyone who reads the daily papers knows of the critical events in Laos, the Communist intervention in that area. I think they're aware of the fact that the situation in the Congo has deteriorated sharply recently, with a steady withdrawal of troops taking place by United Nations countries.

They're also aware of the steps which have been taken in recent months to increase the iron control of Mr. Castro on Cuba; the shipments of thousands of tons of arms to that country; the expansion of the militia.. Those are all factors which affect the security of the United States.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, what proposals might the United States make in regard to the Congo now that you mentioned the situation there is deteriorating because of the pullout of troops?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Timberlake is here for consultation in Washington now, Ambassador Brown from Laos is here, General Norstad, who's our NATO commander, is here in Washington, and Ambassador Thompson will be coming back next week, so that we are considering carefully what policies we should follow in all those areas of crisis. Particularly we are considering the matter of the Congo carefully and what useful steps might be taken which would prevent a further deterioration. I do not have anything further to say just at this time.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, do you plan any recommendations on the labor-management relations field in your future messages to Congress since you have not covered this subject in your addresses to date?

THE PRESIDENT. I'd have to wait on that. We have no--it's not within the next 14 days.

[17.] Q. Sir, would you clarify your intentions in the field of unemployment compensation? Do you plan now to propose to Congress the establishment of Federal standards, wider-coverage, higher benefits, and for their greater duration?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the first matter which we will address to the Congress will be the question of emergency payments to those unemployed who've exhausted their benefits.

Later in March, we will send to the Congress--or in April--proposals dealing with a more permanent improvement in unemployment compensation standards, duration, and benefits, because there isn't any doubt that, based on our experience in '58, in our experience this year, the unemployment compensation system has not met the needs of the country satisfactorily.

So we will be sending a second message dealing with the subjects which you discussed in your question.

[18.] Q. In connection, Mr. President, with your statement on the military dependents, is this to be a complete repeal of the existing directive?


[19.] Q. Do you agree with the general assessment that the narrowness of the House vote yesterday on enlarging the Rules Committee means rough going ahead for your legislative program?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the Speaker was successful yesterday and that does mean that the House will have an opportunity to vote on all these bills.

I do think that the House is closely divided on a good many matters which involve legislative proposals, and perhaps the country may be divided, too, but at least we will have a chance to have a vote. And I consider that the most important thing. If the House then doesn't want to support our proposals then at least I feel that the country has indicated its judgment and not the judgment of only a small number of Representatives.

But I would say that we're going to have a close debate in both the House and the Senate on a good many matters and which has always been true if the matters do anything; if they provide for any action, there is bound to be controversy about them. The only way we can get general agreement is when you confine yourself to general statements.

[20.] Q. Mr. President, will you ask for the same new revenues that Mr. Eisenhower asked for in his Budget Message?

THE. PRESIDENT. I will. It is a fact, as I suggested in the State of the Union Address, that some of those proposals are generously estimated. For example, I believe that the President's budget calls for a--was it--$900 million deficit in the Post Office; I think the President's budget called for revenue action by the Congress of $843 million. In view of the fact that the Congress has been reluctant in the past I think we have to consider carefully whether we could expect the Congress to ever vote $843 million new revenue on mail and postage.

But nevertheless, we are going to go ahead in general with perhaps--there may be one or two changes but they'll be relatively minor--we are going ahead with the revenue requests of the previous administration.

Q. Have you thought of any new sources of revenue?

THE PRESIDENT. We will be discussing the sources of revenue for any additional programs we suggest, because we will with every program we send suggest a source of revenue for it.

[21.] Q. Mr. President, your predecessor in office called himself a political moderate-said he believed in a middle-of-the-road approach. What do you call yourself politically and how do you define your political philosophy?

THE PRESIDENT. Well I don't call myself anything except a Democrat who's been elected President of the United States and I hope I am a responsible President. That's my intention.

[22] Q. Mr. President, are there plans afoot now for Prime Minister Macmillan or President de Gaulle or any of the others to meet with you personally in the next few months?

THE PRESIDENT. I would not be able to answer that because any announcement on proposed visits should be timed with the countries that are involved and we have-we're not able to make that timing at this time.

[23.] Q. Mr. President, in connection with your references to a sound dollar, will you give us your ideas as to whether there is any danger of inflation?

THE PRESIDENT. There has been a steady inflationary rise in--throughout the history of the United States. I'm not able to make any judgment as to what would happen to the cost of living in the next 12 months.

We do have the problem--which is before us--of whether the only way we can prevent any increase in the cost of living is to have five and a half million people unemployed, and have only a limited--and have a substantial percentage of our capacity unused.

The question is whether we can maintain a reasonable balance between increase in purchasing power and the cost of doing business with full employment. That is the basic problem. I'm not satisfied to have the cost of living remain constant only by having the economy restrained.

What I was referring to is that we have no intention--two things: first, we have no intention of devaluing the dollar; secondly, we are concerned with price stability. And in all of the programs that we will put forward we will pay due care to the problem of preventing any stimulation of the economy resulting in an excessive increase in the cost of living.

[24.] Q. Mr. President, your budget your State of the Union Message to Congress was taken by some to mean a rather sharp criticism of President Eisenhower's military policy and judgment. Would you care to comment on that?

THE PRESIDENT. We are making an assessment of whether the plans we now have for the defense of the United States are matched by the military strength to implement those plans. That preliminary judgment will be finished by the end of February. It may result in some different bridged requests and some different command decisions. But until the Secretary of Defense completes that analysis I would not attempt to make any criticisms or suggest that we are going to have to change the plans made by President Eisenhower.

But I do think that the situation grows more serious. The Chinese Communist strength increases. The intervention by the Communists in these critical areas which I mentioned has grown greater and therefore we have to consider whether in the light of this additional threat the strength we now have, not only our nuclear deterrent but also our capacity for limited war, is sufficient. It's not intended as a criticism of any previous action by any previous administration. It merely is an attempt to meet our own responsibilities at this time.

[25.] Q. Mr. President, when you say that your spending proposals by themselves do not unbalance the budget, can you tell us whether you plan to spend more than Mr. Eisenhower proposed spending in fiscal 1962, and if so, how much more?

THE PRESIDENT. I will send to the Congress when the Budget Bureau has completed its analysis our proposals, but they have not been completed as yet.

[26.] Q. Mr. President, Senator Pastore during hearings held yesterday and today on amending section 315 of the Communications Act, raised the question of whether an incoming presidential candidate would agree to debate a so-called outsider on television. And the present Attorney General in postelection remarks expressed some doubt that one who is already President would agree to debate with one who wants to be President. Could you help us clear the air on this, sir, and tell us whether if you're a candidate in 1964 you would agree to debate?

THE PRESIDENT. I would, yes.

[27.] Q. Mr. President, you described the agricultural problem as one of the most serious in our economy. And yet you didn't speak of it at any length in the State of the Union Message. Could you tell us what your present plans are for a new farm program?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we are going to send to the Congress within the next 7 days, I believe, legislation on feed grains and we're going to send to the Congress within the month of February legislation on wheat. And we are also--we had, of course, the meeting in New York; we had the meeting organized by the Secretary of Agriculture of various farm groups and we had our task force report yesterday on cotton, feed grains, and wheat and I must say that the Secretary of Agriculture is working overtime.

These two matters--feed grains and wheat--we are going to move ahead right away. The situation in cotton is different.

[28.] Q. Mr. President, will you increase price supports?

THE PRESIDENT. I think we--I'd better wait until the Secretary of Agriculture sends the bill and we will then at that time announce what our decision will be on controls and also on what the dollar value will be of the price supports.

[29.] Q. Mr. President, can you explain what our policy and purpose is in connection with the Portuguese liner Santa Maria and whether it goes beyond the safety of the passengers and whether you've had any notes from the Portuguese Government in connection with this?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the Portuguese Government and the Ambassador, of course, have expressed their great interest in securing the control of the ship again. We've been concerned about the lives of the American passengers aboard. There are also other passengers aboard. We're concerned about their lives. We're also well aware of the interests of the Portuguese Government in securing control again of the ship and I'm hopeful that all these interests can be protected.

Now we have no information that the Portuguese Government has-protested or threatened us with a withdrawal of our air rights in the Azores. I believe the Portuguese Government also has denied that, but they are most concerned about it and they've made their concern known to us.

[30.] Q. Mr. President, have you encountered any one particular problem in being the President that you had not anticipated?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, yes, I've--I think the problem of course is the difficulty in securing the clear response between decisions that we might make here which affect the security of the United States and having them effectively instrumented in the field under varying circumstances. It's easier to sit with a map and talk about what ought to be done than to see it done. But that's perhaps inevitable.

[31.] Q. The Germans are reported to be somewhat unhappy because in your State of the Union Message, in speaking of critical areas, you did not mention Berlin or Germany, and this afternoon when you were talking of critical areas you did not mention Berlin and Germany. Is there any significance to your omission? In other words, last fall you anticipated the possibility of some new crisis in Berlin and Germany in the spring. I'm wondering if there has been some change in the situation that has altered your assessment of it?

THE PRESIDENT. No, my view, and I think the United States Government's view, which is the same as the view expressed by the previous administration, remains constant. And it is very difficult to name every area. There is no change in our view on Berlin.

[32.] Q Mr. President, there are six Americans who have been convicted to 30 years' imprisonment in Cuba, and there are five Americans who have been jailed for more than 6 years in China. Could you say what efforts the United States might possibly make on behalf--what new efforts the United States might make on behalf of the six in Cuba and the five in Communist China?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we have asked--the Swiss Minister is representing our interest in regard to this trial. We've asked for complete information and we are going to attempt to, within the limits imposed by the nature of the regime in Cuba, to protect the interest of American citizens who are there.

Now, the previous administration on many occasions brought before the Chinese representative--in fact, there were many conversations in Geneva as well as in Warsaw, on the problem of the Americans who have been detained, some of them way back since 1951. This is a matter of continuing concern. And as long as those men are held, it will be extremely difficult to have any kind of normal relations with the Chinese Communists.

There are other matters which affect those relations too. But this is certainly a point of the greatest possible concern.

Now, we have asked for a delay in the meetings which take place in Warsaw, between the United States representative and that of the Chinese Communists, from February to March, because they have become merely a matter of form and nothing of substance happened.

But I'm going to make it very clear that we are concerned about those men in China. The Americans who have been detained in Cuba, and all the circumstances around their arrest, that is a matter which the Swiss Minister is continuing to keep us informed.

[33.] Q. Mr. President, does your statement about the Warsaw talks mean that you propose to have some matters of substance taken up there in March when the talks are resumed, and can you tell us in general what sort of matters you would deal with?

THE PRESIDENT. No, it just meant that we had no business to discuss in the February meeting that made the talk at this time worthwhile.

[34.] Q. Mr. President, what sort of reaction have you had from the Latin American countries to the five-point program that you proposed, that you outlined in your State of the Union Message to help the Latin American countries, and could you be a little bit more specific about when you expect your food-for-peace mission to sort of go into action in Latin America?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the food-for-peace mission will be leaving very--in the next few days. We have announced the appointment of Mr. Berle who's had long experience as head of that interdepartmental task force as an assistant to the Secretary. Mr. Berle headed the task force of ours during--between the election and January 20, and I'm very hopeful that under his leadership, of course with the Secretary and the Assistant Secretary, Mr. Mann, that we will be able to implement our commitments to Latin America.1

1 A White House release of February 8 announced the departure of George McGovern, Director, Food for Peace, accompanied by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., for Argentina and Brazil on February 13. The release also stated that another mission headed by James Symington, Deputy Director, Food for Peace, and Stephen Raushenbush, a staff member, would leave at the same time for discussions in most of the Latin American countries.

[35.] Q. You said in your State of the Union Message, sir, that you planned to accelerate the missile program. I wonder within that framework if you could say whether that includes the possibility of providing funds in fiscal 1962 to start production on the Nike-Zeus antimissile missile?

THE PRESIDENT. Well the Nike Zeus-there are, of course, funds which have been spent in research on the general area of antimissile missile--that is a matter which is now being considered by the Department of Defense and also by the President's Science Advisory Committee--as to whether the amount of money which we are devoting, which is considerable. Unfortunately, in all of these weapons systems the amounts of money that become involved get into the hundreds of millions and then billions, so very careful judgments have to be made. And the--as a matter of fact, I discussed that particular matter with Mr. Wiesner yesterday, so I can't give you a more precise answer than to say that we are considering it.

[36.] Q. Mr. President, in your State of the Union Message, you spoke of juvenile delinquency. There is growing concern expressed by parents, clergy, and J. Edgar Hoover about the effect on young people of crime and violence in movies and on the air, and the Senate committee is investigating this. Is there anything you can do about it, or may you ask for legislation?

THE PRESIDENT. I will have to wait, Mrs. Craig. We--as I said at the time in the State of the Union that we are considering what legislation could be enacted. Now when you get into movies, it's very limited-the amount of influence which the Federal Government can exert is quite limited, as you know--quite properly limited. But at least we are concerned with the general problem.

All the steps we take in urban renewal and housing also affect, of course, the kind of atmosphere, the kind of schools we have, the kind of housing we have, the kind of health conditions we have--all affect the atmosphere in which younger people grow up.

We are very much concerned with that area and we also have--are informed about what the Congress is doing. But this is a matter which goes to the responsibility of the private citizen. The Federal Government cannot protect the standards of young boys or girls--the parents have to do it, in the first place.

We can only play a very supplemental role and a marginal role. So that we can't put that problem on the--Mr. Hoover or on the White House or on the Congress. It rests with the families involved--with the parents involved. But we can do something about the living conditions and the atmosphere in which these children grow up, and we are going to do something about it.

[37.] Q. Mr. President, in your State of the Union Address you said, "I shall withhold from neither the Congress nor the people any fact or report past, present, or future which is necessary for a free and informed judgment of our conduct and hazards." Does this apply, sir, to the Gaither report and will you make that available amongst other studies of a critical nature?

THE PRESIDENT. I've been reading the Gaither report. I think there are two matters involved. First, some of its provisions are quite dated and rest on assumptions which are no longer valid. Secondly, some portions of it do involve security information. So that we will make a judgment, I hope, shortly, whether overall it would be possible to release those parts of it which would not adversely affect the security of the United States and which would assist us at our present time.

That is really the question. Does the release of this and the material in it, of a report 3 years old, benefit our security position today and help the people make a judgment on it? And I would have to finish the study of the Gaither report before we give you an answer on that.

[38.] Q. Mr. President, how soon do you expect to submit to Congress your slate of new ambassadors? I'm thinking of posts like London or Paris.

THE PRESIDENT. We are--have of course informed the countries involved and asked for their agreement, which is customary, and as soon as those agreements come back to us we will send the names to the Senate.

Q. Do you plan to do that singly or in a bloc?

THE PRESIDENT. As quickly as possible and if we can get the agreements back en bloc we'll send them en bloc.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Kennedy's second news conference, broadcast over radio and television, was held in the State Department Auditorium at 4 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, February 1, 1961.

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

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