Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

January 21, 1959

THE PRESIDENT. Good morning, please sit down.

The United States has the opportunity and the privilege now for a few days of acting host to President Frondizi of the Argentine Republic and to his wife and party. The United States is very delighted to have the opportunity and hopes that out of this visit will grow even a better relation between the two countries. Incidentally, I am told that in the group here today are some 20 Argentinean press representatives, and it is a privilege to welcome them here at this press conference. Any questions?

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press International: In Virginia, the State and Federal courts have ruled against laws that would have preserved school segregation. Yet the Governor of Virginia calls on his people to stand firm against integration. He says he has only begun to fight. Well, involved in this situation, sir, particularly in Norfolk, are the children of military personnel.

Now, if these schools remain closed, are you going to do anything to assure a public school education in Virginia and elsewhere for children of Federal personnel so situated?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it's a very difficult question, and I have been going into it for a considerable time. There are something on the order of 15,000 students of this age in the city of Norfolk, and I think of this number about 5,500 are of military personnel, the sons and daughters of enlisted men and officers largely in the Navy.

Now, of this number of 5,500, something on the order of 500 are children of people that actually live on the post, that is, on the Federal reservation.

I have been informed that HEW and the Navy are now authorized by law to conduct educational operations that would be legal on the post. But I think the position with respect to the other 4,500 is not so clear. Of course, these folks all pay their taxes indirectly through the rents they pay, and also on the things they buy, sales taxes and all that sort of thing. So they are entitled to education, just like any other youngster of the city.

More than that, I should point this out--and many people do not know it--the Federal Government, over the past something like 8 or 9 years, has put in $900 million in building about 40,000 public schoolrooms and in this coming year has got something like 50 or 51 million in the budget for building schoolrooms, and something in the order of $135 million for conducting educational operations, all of this on the basis of these federally impacted areas, Norfolk being one.

Now, the only thing I can say with respect to that problem, which I think critical, is that both HEW and the Defense Department are working on it very hard to see whether at least that part of it, that responsibility, cannot be carried out.

Q. Ray L. Scherer, National Broadcasting Company: Mr. President, about the Mikoyan visit--first, what kind of a man did you find him to be; and second, what do you think that your talks with him might have accomplished?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it would be pretty hard to give a real worthwhile opinion of an individual based on one fairly long conversation and one brief meeting with him, I think, back in 1945, probably on top of Lenin's Tomb in Moscow.

There is no question he is able, clever, and quick; and he is consistently, I might say, emphatic in his argument for and in favor of the Marxist doctrine as interpreted by Lenin and later other authorities of the Soviets. He is extremely intelligent.

Now, as to what might have been accomplished, as all of you know, there was no attempt at any negotiation. It was a statement of problems on both sides, trying to show some of the reasons why the positions in these issues were taken, as they are taken, by each side, and in an effort, therefore, to get a clearer understanding of the problems now existing. There were no new proposals of which I am aware at all.

With respect to his visit around the United States, I think that was somewhat more important; and for that reason, actually, I sent him a message, because I was very hopeful that he would carry back information that is accurate. No matter what or how much of it could be used for propaganda purposes, I would think for his own people he would be indeed accurate in his reporting. And I think there, one thing he must be sure of is that America wants peace, is ready to conciliate, is ready to match reasonableness with reasonableness, but it simply won't be pushed around. I believe he will understand that the American people believe that, just as much as does any official of the Government.

Q. William McGaffin, Chicago Daily News: Mr. President, you have always appealed for implementation of school desegregation on the grounds that Supreme Court orders must be obeyed. But many persons feel you could exert a strong moral backing for desegregation if you said that you personally favored it. If you favor it, sir, why have you not said so; if you are opposed to it, could you tell us why?

THE PRESIDENT. Because, I'll tell you why, I do not believe it is the function or indeed it is desirable for a President to express his approval or disapproval of any Supreme Court decision. His job, for which he takes an oath, is to execute the laws.

If he, in advance of such execution, says "I don't like it but I will do it," and in the other cases "I do like it, I will do it," he is constantly laying the whole law enforcement processes of the Federal Government open to the suspicion that he is doing his duty one time well and the other time not well.

I don't object to anyone else in the whole world disagreeing publicly with opinions or decisions of the Court, or agreeing with them. I say I have got a particular function and I think it would make it more difficult to carry out that function if I indulged in that kind of, let's say, personal action with respect to Court decisions.

Q. Lloyd M. Schwartz, Fairchild Publications: Mr. President, your Economic Report to Congress yesterday omits any proposal to raise the Federal minimum wage. I wonder whether this signifies that you feel any increase would not be justified and might be inflationary.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I am not prepared to discuss all the details that are still under argument within my own administration in certain stances. I am soon to send down my recommendations with respect to the whole labor field.

But take the other part of your question. Anything, in my mind, now that is inflationary can almost be classed as bad. I think that the soundness of our economy, the stability of our dollar, in order that our economy can grow and expand, are some of the most important issues we have to meet now and solve them correctly.

Q. Edward P. Morgan, American Broadcasting Company: In that same economic message yesterday, Mr. President, you clearly underlined your feeling that unions had, as you put it, a particular critical role to play against inflation. Does this mean that you have become convinced that wages are more dangerous as an inflationary factor than prices, or does it mean that you think that labor and labor leaders have been less responsible than business in dealing with the problem?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that's a rather long and involved question, and you make me go into motives of people. I can take the facts. Now, the facts are these, and I have said this long ago: any wage increase that is justified by increased productivity from any reasonable standard that wanted to be taken, that is not inflationary, it ought to be not only approved but we ought to make certain that it takes place.

When you do go, with wage rises, beyond increased productivity--and we always have to assume that you have gone from a reasonable base-now you do have something that is inflationary.

Now, in the same way, any manufacturer that says, "Because of this, I am just simply passing this on and adding a few more percentage points," I think he is guilty of something against the American people.

We have got a problem here that goes right across the board. You cannot excuse anybody in Government from responsibility, you cannot excuse the business leader, the labor leader, indeed, scarcely can you excuse any citizen. All of us have a problem to meet and to help solve.

Q. Mrs. May Craig, Portland (Maine) Press Herald: Mr. President, now that the Mikoyan visit has gone off without serious unpleasantness, may we expect visits perhaps from such persons as President Tito and President Nasser of Egypt?

THE PRESIDENT. [laughing]. Well, maybe you better ask them, because I haven't had it suggested to me at the moment.

Q. Edward H. Sims, Columbia (S.C.) State and Record: Is Cape Canaveral in Florida going to continue to play an increasingly important part in the missiles program, or is emphasis going to be shifted gradually to the west coast?

THE PRESIDENT. I know of no plans for diminishing the importance of Canaveral whatsoever.

Q. Chalmers M. Roberts, Washington Post: Mr. President, in answering Mr. Smith's question, you mentioned the Federal aid to the so-called impacted areas. Was there an implication there, sir, that you are studying the possibility of asking Congress to deny that aid to areas under Court order to desegregate?

THE PRESIDENT. I didn't make any such implication whatsoever. do believe this: that when you finally catch up with this problem, certain phases of it, I think the constructional part of it, might some day diminish. But I made no implication whatsoever.

Q. Robert C. Pierpoint, CBS News: Mr. President, some people have said that you seem to worry a little too much about inflation, sir, and perhaps not enough about the slow rate of growth of our economy. would like to know how you feel about that.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I can only say this: I've got a big Cabinet committee that has been appointed to study the subject, price stability for economic growth; and that takes the whole field, as far as I can see. The expanding economy is a thing that I believe I have talked more about than almost any individual that I know of, publicly. And the kind of concern that you speak of is really not two different problems--inflation or economic growth. I believe that economic growth in the long run cannot be soundly brought about except with stability in your price structure.

Q. John Scali, Associated Press: Mr. President, during the conferences which you had with Mr. Mikoyan, did he at any time give any hint or suggestion that the Soviet Union would be prepared to make the kind of concessions that would be necessary to settle such troublesome problems as Berlin and the future of Germany?

THE PRESIDENT. As I understood his conversations, this was their purport. He claims that every single proposition that the Kremlin has advanced has as its purpose peace, and it is truly a peace gesture, and therefore when we do not agree, we are negative, rigid, and are unready to meet these peaceful gestures.

I certainly, on my part, tried to make it clear that we are ready to explore anything, any time, any place, as long as there was reasonable chance, opportunity for advancing the peace. But merely to sit and to argue rigidly that any particular proposal that they make is certainly a step toward peace is a little bit hard to swallow.

Q. Garnett D. Homer, Washington Star: Mr. President, aside from the particular impact of the closed schools in Norfolk on the children of Federal workers, military personnel, could you comment on the situation posed by the Virginia Governor's call on his people to strengthen their defiance of the court decision?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Homer, I don't know exactly what he means. Their own laws--allowing them to discriminate in giving aid to one particular district and not to another--have apparently been declared invalid by their Supreme Court. You know about the decisions of the United States Supreme Court.

It would appear that the laws in this matter, then, are clear as interpreted by the courts. If that is true--and let's remember again that I am not a lawyer, and I don't know that the court battle is finished--but if that is true, it would seem to me the question comes down: is the United States citizen, be he an official or be he a man that is working in civil life and outside of Government, ready to obey the laws of his State and of his Nation? I think that is the real question that we have all got to meet.

Q. Carleton Kent, Chicago Sun-Times: Mr. President, what do you think of the proposal in the Senate to create a Federal conciliation service on civil rights matters?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it's one I haven't studied particularly. Of course, in the Civil Rights Commission, in establishing it, recommending it--and certainly I am going to, as I have indicated before, recommend that it be continued--that was one of the things that we hoped would come about as a part of its duty of making certain that the voting rights of citizens were not interfered with by reason of race and color and so on.

Now, I don't believe that to put up an organizational part of Government with the function of conciliating these things would at the moment be fruitful, but I certainly could be convinced. My mind is not closed. I just haven't had the idea before.

Q. Rowland Evans, Jr., New York Herald Tribune: Mr. President, substantial figures in Congress have raised questions about the validity of your balanced budget. One yesterday said that it was a propaganda budget.

Against that backdrop, could you assess the state of your relations with the Democratic Congress--

THE PRESIDENT. Assess what?

Q. Mr. Evans: The state of your relations with the new and strongly Democratic Congress for the coming session, particularly with respect to welfare programs, such as housing and depressed areas.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I thought I had made myself pretty clear in my State of the Union Message, my Budget Message, and the Economic Report. But with respect to the criticism of the budget, it is rather interesting to note that some say that the estimates of revenue are completely out of reason, although the range of estimates made by the greatest experts I know of hover somewhere between 75 billion and 78, and some a little bit higher than 78. Others complain bitterly because we are not spending enough money. One man even went to the extent of saying there ought to be $6 billion more at least, and $6 billion more of revenue to meet that particular increase. Others say costs ought to be brought down, we haven't done a good enough job in this. Others complain because we are putting some revenue legislation in the budget, although that is not only authorized but directed by the Budget Act of, I think, 1921--'20 or '21, something of that kind--which says that any time the expected revenues are not deemed by the President to be sufficient to cover the expenditures he thinks are necessary, he must propose measures for getting them.

But in any event, it seems like there is something that might be called budgetary schizophrenia that is affecting the critics of the budget, because they are on all sides of it.

I want to point out one thing: the budget has been called political, it has been called political propaganda. Now, I am not running for anything. I am just trying to do my best--what I believe, with all of the sound advice I can get, advice in Government and out of Government-to do my best for America.

If we get down to this business of who is using the budget as a political football, I assure you it is not I.

Q. Sarah McClendon, El Paso Times: Sir, in view of the rising demand for oil, and in view of the fact that we have greater danger than ever of submarines keeping our oil supply from overseas getting here, what made you all change your minds about selling the Navy petroleum reserves?

THE PRESIDENT. [laughing]. I didn't change my mind. I will tell you who changed their mind. It started from a study from the end of the worthwhileness of these reserves, what to do with them; moreover, there have been so much exploration and production around them that many of these reserves were getting drained. And we had to begin to produce more oil than we wanted to merely because we couldn't now protect ourselves.

The whole problem of the naval reserves really belongs a long time back, about into the Teapot Dome thing. It is really not an important matter today, as I see it.

Q. Rod MacLeish, Westinghouse Broadcasting Company: Sir, on the Mikoyan visit, what do you think were Mr. Mikoyan's basic motives in coming here, and doing what he did?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course there has been so much speculation on that, that I doubt that it would do any good to expand it. But I think that he wanted to see two or three things done. One is that he probably could get a better opinion in the official circles, in Congress, and the executive department, as to whether or not we were talking the same language in the foreign field. And I was just assured last night, by one of the most important of our Democratic Senators, that he had got that understanding very clear, in his head. I think he possibly thought that he could create, possibly even in our own country, the theory that the business circles and professional and other circles--the whole civilian population--were completely unhappy with the policies the basis of which was founded in recent times, that those policies were wrong, and that they wanted them changed. I think he probably had a combination of motives. But I would certainly hesitate to give any emphasis to any one of them.

Q. Raymond P. Brandt, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: In your economic message, you said the alternative to inflation was Government controls. Can you tell us what controls you have in mind?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't have controls in mind, Mr. Brandt, because I despise them. I believe it is not truly a free economy if we are going to have federally imposed controls, and I want to try every single thing that is possible. But I do say if you get mounting inflation and we will not discipline ourselves, then something will have to be done, because otherwise our whole scheme of economy would just go out the window.

In an emergency, in a great emergency, our people will take these controls; and while we have a bit of black market, public opinion condemns it and the thing works fairly well for that period. But I really believe if you go that far in controls, you will find yourself having to control further. It is just like using morphine or something like that--you finally get to the point of too much, and then you certainly don't have any free economy, and that is what I am trying to preserve.

Q. Richard L. Wilson, Cowles Publications: Mr. President, in view of the attitude of the Democratic Congress, there has been considerable speculation that you might be required to use your power of veto to a greater extent than before. I would like to ask if you have considered that, and if you are prepared to use the power of veto on measures which you think are either borderline cases or not useful at all.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, now, to say when you will veto something and when you will not is a very difficult thing to decide in advance of the event, because you know this: we do not have the item veto where you could be quite specific about such things. Also, we have a habit of taking a bill that is a very necessary one, a good one, and by some maneuvering get into it various types of what I would call undesirable legislation. Now, the problem is very difficult for the Executive--what are you vetoing and what do you do when you do take this action?

After all, the Constitution puts the President right square into the legislative business by saying he must approve legislation after it is enacted; and then there is, of course, a method for the overriding. So he can't escape his responsibility.

I'd say this: if I thought that on balance a bill was bad for the Nation, I am going to veto it. If I do not believe that, then I will do my best to execute it as written.

Q. Pat Munroe, Chicago American: Mr. President, we know the anti-third term amendment can't be repealed in time to change your plans for retiring next year, but you have described it as being perhaps not wholly wise.

I wonder if you favor current efforts in Congress to repeal this amendment.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have made no effort in this line to find out the general thinking of the public or even of advisers, because it hasn't come up in that way as a specific question to be answered.

As I have said before, I do not believe it was a particularly wise decision. If the United States wants to take Mr. Smith--not specifying, but any other individual and wants by its elective processes to make him the President in our system as it now is practiced, I see no objection to it, personally. And so, if I were asked to give an opinion officially on this now I would say I would rather see it repealed than be kept.

Q. Ruth S. Montgomery, Hearst Newspapers: Mr. President, do you think it would be a good idea this year for Mr. Nixon to make a trip to Russia?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't know. But I think this: the visit of any individual that more or less publicizes a sort of, not routine, but sort of a normal exchange of visits, to my mind is all to the good. I am convinced from reports of people that have over the past year, year and a half, come back--these committees of the steel industry and professors and psychologists and numbers of people, committees like that--they come back and everyone reports this: the Russian people, as such, want peace just as earnestly, as seriously, as we do. And that, to my mind, is the great fact that has for all of us great hope. Because the more, therefore, we have people meeting people, I am certain the better is our situation.

Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Eisenhower's one hundred and forty-seventh news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 10:30 to 11:00 o'clock on Wednesday morning, January 21, 1959. In attendance: 245.

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/235182

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