Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

January 18, 1961

THE PRESIDENT. Good morning. Please sit down.

I came this morning not with any particularly brilliant ideas about the future, but I did want the opportunity to say goodbye to people that I have been associated with now for 8 years, mostly I think on a friendly basis--[laughter]--and at least it certainly has always been interesting.

There is one man here who has attended every press conference that I have had, at home and abroad, and who has been of inestimable service to the Government and to all of you, and I think most of you have never seen him. It's Jack Romagna, and I am going to ask him to stand up. [Shouting and applause]

Now, if we have any questions, past, present, or future, why

Q. William J. Eaton, United Press International: Mr. President, more than 2 months have elapsed since Senator Kennedy's election and the problem of transition began. Do you feel this transition period should be shortened or changed in any way?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, my ideas are more radical than that. I think that we ought to get a constitutional amendment to change the time of the inauguration and to give dates for election and assumption of office in such fashion that a new President ought to have at least 80 days or something of that kind before he meets his first Congress.

Q. Thomas N. Schroth, Congressional Quarterly: Mr. President, in the 8 years of your Presidency you have had a Congress of the other party for 6 years. How do you, would you describe that experience? Has the loyal opposition been pretty loyal or have you been frustrated by Congress?

THE PRESIDENT. I think I said, I made a little talk last evening you may have heard--[laughter]--and I said on vital issues I thought that the record of the Congress was really cooperative and no one could fault upon that.

Q. Ray L. Scherer, National Broadcasting Company: Mr. President, you had one talk with Mr. Kennedy; you are about to have another. I wonder if you could give us your personal impression of the man.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, now you know that's the last thing I would do. After all, this is a new President coming in and I don't think it's up to me to talk about personalities. As I said last evening, I wish him Godspeed in his work because I'll tell you--

Q. Mr. Scherer: I mean, what I mean more specifically, how do you think the transition is going?

THE PRESIDENT. Oh! The transition.

Q. Mr. Scherer: Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. I think it's going splendidly, splendidly. As a matter of fact there are no complaints on our part.

Q. William McGaffin, Chicago Daily News: Mr. President, you sounded a warning last night of the dangers to our democratic processes implicit in unparalleled peacetime military establishment. But some of your critics contend that one liberty, the people's right to know, has suffered under your administration because you have tolerated the abuse of Executive privilege in the Defense Department and other departments and agencies and because you did not hold frequent enough press conferences.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, they are critics and they have the right to criticize.

Q. Robert G. Spivack, New York Post: Mr. President, at your first press conference you came into the room here and you said there had been some speculation in the press that there would be a great deal of antagonism develop between you and the reporters over the years. You said that "through the war years and ever since, I have found nothing but a desire to dig at the truth, so far as I was concerned, and be openhanded and forthright about it. That is the kind of relationship I hope we can continue."

Do you think during these 8 years we have continued it?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I will say this: so far as I have known the facts I have given them responsively to every question, and where I thought the national security was involved, I was honest enough to say so.

Q. Mr. Spivack: I meant, did you feel that reporters had been fair to you, too, in their questions?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, when you come down to it, I don't see what a reporter could do much to a President, do you? [Laughter]

Q. Robert J. Donovan, New York Herald Tribune: Could you expand a little more on your ideas about a constitutional amendment on the reelection of the President? Do you have any particular dates in mind when the election should be held or--

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I am going to be talking, as I warned someone the other day, much more in the future than I thought I would; so, I am going to put these ideas out. I don't mind giving the general idea that I just did, but I wouldn't want to put the details and dates right down until I had studied them completely through in this way. But I do think that a President ought to have the task of completing and finishing his Budget Message, his Economic Reports, and recommendations, and his State of the Union Message during a period while he is still responsible.

Q. Mr. Donovan: The new President?

THE PRESIDENT. The new President. That's right. So we can give him a period in which he is responsible for that, before you go before the Congress. Because now the old President has got to put these things in and the new President has different ideas, he just has to start changing them right away. It seems a little bit silly to me.

Q. Mr. Donovan: I wonder if you could tell us for the historical record, this has come up a number of times, could you say whether at any time you advised or counseled Vice President Nixon against engaging in televised debates, and whether you felt that you, your participating in the campaign began as early as it should have?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, you have a lot of questions this morning. [Laughter]

First, I was not asked for any advice on debates. Secondly, I carried out exactly the schedule that the headquarters of the Campaign Committee asked me to do.

Q. Mrs. May Craig, Portland (Maine) Press Herald: Mr. President, can you tell us yet what you think has been your most satisfying achievement and the most heartbreaking failure in your 8 years? You came into the office, I know, with many desires of what you could do.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think possibly, Mrs. Craig, that there will have to be more reflection on my part to give you truly a definitive answer.

The big disappointment I felt is one not of a mere incident, it was the fact that we could not in these 8 years get to the place where we could say it now looks as if permanent peace with justice is really in sight. But, on the other hand, if you take achievement over the long run, let us remember what has happened in these 8 years. Our opponents achieved the nitrogen--hydrogen bomb. They began to build up an arsenal which, of course, we know is many thousands of megatons in expressed power, in its power; and at the same time during those days we were already fighting one war, there was danger that there was going to be a spread of those hostilities. During the entire first 4 years, I think, the Red Chinese were constantly threatening war, saying they were and they were not only threatening, but often making moves in that direction and at the same time the Russians were saying, "We are going to support our Red China allies."

Now, there was I believe in this--in the governmental actions of the 8 years, the kind of understanding and firmness and readiness to take the risk that prevented those things from happening because I am perfectly sure that weakness would have allowed them to, and a display of weakness, and I mean either moral or physical would have allowed them to spread this war to the great and disastrous consequences of all the earth. So, the achievement I think, one of the achievements has been that we actually have stopped many of these risks from becoming realities, and on the other hand the disappointment is that we haven't done better in getting a more constructive and positive indication that real disarmament is around the corner.

Now if you want, if you want a very particular incident, I'd say November 8th was one of another bad disappointments. [Laughter]

Q. Robert C. Pierpoint, CBS News: Mr. President, I wonder if you could tell us in some detail your work and travel plans for the near future, and also whether you want to do this, or prefer to do this work and travel as a civilian, an ex-President, or would you like to have Congress restore your five-star military rank?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, let's start, so I may not remember all your questions, I will start with the end of it.

By Democratic friends of mine in the Congress it has been proposed to give me back my rank that I resigned in July of 1952 and that, of course, would be a satisfying thing to me simply because it was the 40 years that I put in the military service that would give me a title of my own rather than--how do you say "Mr. ex-President"? I don't know. [Laughter]

But anyway, I understand that that is to be merely a title and no additional pay so that there is no conflict there.

Now, as to what I want to do, I do want to explore my own mind and have a bit of perspective in looking at these 8 years rather than being in the midst of them and seeing whether I have anything that I think is worthwhile to providing for the public; and in doing that, I will possibly do some traveling.

I have, as I think some of you know, I have tentatively agreed to go to Japan in--some time later, I don't know just when, but later and as a matter of fact it has been very gratifying to know of the extraordinary numbers of groups and the really, literally the millions of people that have expressed a desire for me to come back. But that is not as gratifying as the fact that every single election held in that country. since last June has been very, very favorable to the United States and to the treaty that was really at the heart of the whole affair.

Q. William H. Y. Knighton, Jr., Baltimore Sun: Mr. President, have you come to a firm decision on the value of the third-term amendment-no third-term amendment?

THE PRESIDENT. A funny thing, ever since this election the Republicans have been asking me this. [Laughter]

No, I think I told you that I had come or, I think at first way back even when I had no intention of ever going more than once that I was sort of against the third-term amendment because I thought the American people had the right to choose who they wanted. But we do know there are possibilities of building up great machines in a democracy and so on, and finally I came, on balance, and I think I so said to this body, on balance to decide that I believe the two-term amendment was probably a pretty good thing.

Q. Edward P. Morgan, American Broadcasting Company: Mr. President, this is a question about the past and the future.

Could you tell us what you personally think were the major points which lost the Republicans the election; and do you have any counsel for the Republicans in '62 and '64 to avoid a repetition of November 8th?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I would think this: yes, of course I have ideas but here is one case that I think it would be better for me to keep still for the moment. I have to meet with these Republican leaders of the future and talk to them and give them the lessons I think I have learned, and where together we can point out what we believe are mistakes, and where together we can say what we believe is the best method to make sure that this country will have balanced government.

Q. Lillian Levy, Science Service: Mr. President, last night you called attention to the danger that public policy could become the captive of a scientific technological elite. What specific steps would you recommend to prevent this?

THE PRESIDENT. I know nothing here that is possible, or useful, except the performance of the duties of responsible citizenship. It is only a citizenry, an alert and informed citizenry which can keep these abuses from coming about. And I did point out last evening that some of this misuse of influence and power could come about unwittingly but just by the very nature of the thing. When you see almost every one of your magazines, no matter what they are advertising, has a picture of the Titan missile or the Atlas or solid fuel or other things, there is becoming a great influence, almost an insidious penetration of our own minds that the only thing this country is engaged in is weaponry and missiles. And, I'll tell you we just can't afford to do that. The reason we have them is to protect the great values in which we believe, and they are far deeper even than our own lives and our own property, as I see it.

Q. Edward V. Koterba, United Features Syndicate: Mr. President, in line with your opening statement and a question earlier, it is agreed that at times over the last 8 years we at the press conferences may not have been too charitable in our questioning of you. Now could you elaborate, sir, and relate to us your feeling about your relations with the press and these press conferences in particular?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't know that I can elaborate very much. I'll say this, the other evening I asked the people that they call the regulars around the White House, and you people know them as well as I do, and I guess there was, what, seventy? Seventy people. Now I didn't ask them whether they were critics or particular friends of mine, some of them are, they've been warm personal friends, whether they were Democrats or Republicans or Socialists--but we had a good time I think, everybody seemed to, and I think on a personal basis it was a friendly thing. So I have never objected to penetrating and searching questions. The only thing I object to is something that tries to--it's like the beating of your wife question, I don't like that, and--[laughter]--but I have no one that I could single out and say that they have been annoying nor have I anyone to argue with.

Q. Sarah McClendon, El Paso Times: Mr. President, this question concerns your budget, this proposal on the Office of Executive Management. Would you discuss that for us some and tell us, does this not mean that there will be more centralized control over our public works projects, as to whether or not they would be started or they would be stopped?

THE PRESIDENT. Oh, no, not at all. There, you can have supervision not only subjectively, like the Secretary of the Interior over the Interior subjects, but you can have it functionally because you have two great areas that cause a President work and study every single day of his life. One is everything that touches foreign relations. This is his constitutional duty, and here where we used to think of it, those things falling only within the Department of State, we have now--we have representatives of the Labor Department, of the Commerce Department, of the Agriculture Department, we have ICA, we have USIA, and then the Defense Department which now obviously with the stationing of troops abroad everywhere, has a great effect on foreign policy.

Now, it is therefore a very tough problem to keep all of these things always on the same road going the same way. This would be the job of the First Secretary, as I see it, not that he takes the place of the President at all, in the foreign field, but to day by day watch what is going on in the world--keep everybody in all the several departments aware of what they must do so as to have a completely coordinated policy.

Now, in the management field you have everything from rates of pay that are different in all sorts of different departments, you have all different kinds of accounting methods in different departments, you have got different methods of procurement and all of this sort of thing in my opinion ought to be coordinated. Now, you don't get into their business of running the Defense Department or the State Department or the USIA. You make sure that the business arrangements that they carry out are good, and this has nothing to do with the starting of a new dam or not. That is a political decision.

Q. Raymond P. Brandt, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Can you tell us, sir, what you think is the greatest problem confronting your successor?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that is answered almost by the fact that the thing that causes all our problems is the intransigent, unreasonable attitude of the Communist bloc and therefore his basic problem and as a matter of fact not just the President's, everybody else's, is what do to keep ourselves strong and firm and yet conciliatory in trying to meet this--this terrible problem that is none of our making.

Q. Richard L. Wilson, Cowles Publications: One indication of what the succeeding administration may have in mind is apparently contained in the report by Professor Samuelson in which he recommends an increase of $3 billion to $5 billion immediately in certain domestic programs. Do you take the view that the economy is moving into a dangerous period that would require this additional governmental action, or do you feel that the proposals made may be extreme and not necessary?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, put it this way: of course I'm no--while I'm one of seven sons, I'm not the seventh son of a seventh son, so I'm not a prophet.

Now, we believe, and I'm now talking not out of my guesswork, I'm talking about the economic analyses, that the economy is swinging and it will be swinging up gradually but steadily so as to provide more revenue than it currently is doing, I mean Federal revenue.

Now, this business of going into public works all of a sudden to cure what someone believes is a recession, or to stop a recession--I have had a very, very searching study made of this thing and it's not quite complete, but I am going to use it someday in trying to point out that that kind of a problem, or that kind of dependence upon stopping a recession usually gets into effect about 18 months after the recession is all over and you are in your boom period. If people exaggerate the number of men that are going to be put back to work because you appropriate 3 billion or 5 billion, in fact I believe as we go back to this last one of-'58--the biggest thing that the Federal Government did, was most helpful, was this: it picked up the tab for all of the unemployment insurance benefits that had been exhausted by people in the several States and where there was no help. So the Federal Government I think probably put, I don't remember the figures, let's say 600 or 700 million and that 600 or 700 million was far better because it alleviated suffering at the moment and restored some confidence and people naturally began to build and buy again.

I really don't go in very much for the theory that by suddenly expanding $3 or $4 or $5 billion worth of Federal programs that you get a tremendous boost. We are talking of $503 or $504 billion GNP, and this is 3 or 4 or 5 billions now that we are going to put somewhere, and it takes a long, long time to get it used. But it does mean that it stays permanently as a debt that we have to pay sometime.

Q. L. Edgar Prina, Washington Star: How active a role do you plan to play in the effort to strengthen the Republican Party; and can you tell us whether this role will be nearly as active, for example, as Mr. Truman's in his own party? You mentioned making a lot of speeches.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I won't make any comparisons--[laughter]-I'll just say this: I'm now, I think this is the fourth time that I am supposedly going to retire, and I feel this, the Republican Party is necessary to this country, I believe in its general policies and if the leaders of that party want me for any service in which I can be helpful and by that I would assume we were talking about consultation from time to time and not any truly active thing, I will be available. I won't be around trying to lecture them, but I should like to converse with them if they want me.

Q. Mr. Prina: You mentioned you were going to make a great many more speeches than you had planned. Would that be--

THE PRESIDENT. Not speeches; no, not speeches, I'll probably stop that.

Q. Spencer Davis, Associated Press: Mr. President, you mentioned a short time back the need for the United States to remain firm and strong and at the same time conciliatory. Would you relate that to our policy toward Laos, sir, particularly the reports that the United States had turned down the invitation of Cambodia to attend a 14-nation conference?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, at the moment there is no point, of course, of going into a conference unless everybody thinks this would be a good idea. You can't haul anybody into a conference.

Now, the thing that has been proposed most has been a reconvening of the ICC and if that could be done in proper auspices and where it was recognized that the government of Phoumi, which has been now approved by the Parliament, if that was recognized as the proper government I think there might be a useful purpose of reconvening this ICC to be served.

Actually what again causes the trouble is the determination of the Communist bloc, as expressed again yesterday in Mr. Khrushchev's speech to exacerbate and support what he calls wars of liberation and which are revolts of Communist elements to overturn constituted governments in authority.

Now, the United States has tried to do this within the limits of the United Nations Charter. We believe that unless there can become a greater adherence to these principles, and unless that charter can be supported by more of our nations, then the outlook for peace becomes dimmer.

On the other hand, as all of us take the United Nations Charter as our guide and as we have tried to do so earnestly, and I think most of the Western nations have tried to do also, then I think the chances of settling this as well as other problems will be greater.

Q. Frank van der Linden, Nashville Banner: Sir, the House of Representatives will vote soon on a proposal by Speaker Rayburn to add two Democrats and one Republican to the Rules Committee for the announced purpose of clearing the way for some of these welfare and spending bills that you vetoed in the past. Would you advise the Republicans in the House to vote solidly against this proposal which has been called the packing plan?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think one thing that is scarcely proper for me to comment on is how the two bodies of Congress rule themselves. This, for the reason that I believe the Constitution says that they have established their own methods of operation and I don't think the President has any real right to interfere.

Q. David P. Sentner, Hearst Newspapers: Mr. President, you referred earlier to the great values to be considered in our way of living. Would you sum up for us your idea of what kind of a United States you would like your grandchildren to live in?

THE PRESIDENT. I'd say in a peaceful world and enjoying all of the privileges and carrying forward all the responsibilities envisioned for the good citizen of the United States, and this means among other things the effort always to raise the standards of our people in their spiritual, their intellectual, their economic strength and generally and specifically and that's what I would like to see them have.

Sterling F. Green, Associated Press: Thank you, Mr. President.

[The Press Conference was concluded with a standing ovation and applause by the members present as the President left the conference room.]

Note: President Eisenhower's one hundred and ninety-third news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 10 to 10:29 o'clock on Wednesday morning, January 18, 1961. In attendance: 309.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/234857

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