Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

May 11, 1955

[This is a complete transcript of the news conference of this date. Those portions of the President's replies which were not released for broadcasting or direct quotation at that time are enclosed in brackets.]

THE PRESIDENT. Please sit down.

Only one short announcement this morning, ladies and gentlemen.

This morning I am going to have the opportunity to see Mr. McElroy, who is chairman of the White House Conference on Education that will meet this year. It is a conference to which I attach the greatest hopes.

For the first time in history, as preliminary to that conference, every one of the 48 States and our Territories are having State or Territorial conferences on education. We will bring together their experiences, their ideas, and plans; and certainly the whole field of education should get a tremendous boost from the work of these people. The reason I mention it is because a little later in the morning I may have a formal statement to make after I meet with him. All right.

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press: Mr. President, could you tell us, sir, your preferences for time and place for a Big Four meeting? I ask this question against the background of rumors,


Q. Mr. Smith:--or reports from Europe that this country favors a meeting in July in Switzerland.

THE PRESIDENT. Actually I have no preference except to the extent that I should like to see the meeting held, if held at all, in one of the so-called neutral countries.

You must understand this whole idea is still in the exploratory stage. We have issued an invitation because of reasons that finally seemed to us to be cogent, and such a meeting would probably result in at least some clarification of the air.

But our foreign ministers will now meet in Vienna in connection with the Austrian Treaty, presumably. They will decide whether the invitation is acceptable in its terms, its ideas, and then they will discuss such things as place and timing.

As I have said often, I will go anywhere anytime if any good is to be done, and this earlier meeting ought to determine whether it seems useful.

Q. William H. Lawrence, New York Times: Could you tell us, sir, some of the reasons why you did change your mind about the feasibility and desirability of a summit conference now and in advance, so to speak, of a protracted foreign ministers' meeting?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course, this business of foreign affairs, things change from day to day.

The mere fact that it appeared that the Austrian Treaty was to be signed did not in itself seem to me, as I think I told you in April some time, a reason for a meeting at the summit. But I said of course that situation can change rapidly.

Now, there has been a growing sentiment discernible throughout the world that from a meeting like this something might come. There has been clear evidence presented through the press, through correspondence, through our contacts through diplomatic sources, that there is a vague feeling some good might come out of such a conference.

When, then, to hold such a conference: just to put a stamp of approval on something that may have been done by foreign ministers? Or to try to stimulate thought, and possibly even to define the areas in which you would expect your foreign ministers to work so that something might be accomplished?

Finally, I felt this: this business of trying to reach a clarification of issues, if such a thing is possible, is so important that you can't stand on any other principle except do your utmost as you preserve your own strength of position, as long as you are not sacrificing it, as long as you are not expecting too much. Don't be just. stubborn in your refusal to expect anything, but go ahead and see what you can find about it.

Now, it does also do this: it gives a personal opportunity to sense an atmosphere in that circle. However, I think those vague, rather generalized reasons are really lying behind this.

There is no expectation on my part that in a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks this world is going to be turned around. By no means, and I am not going, if I do go, under any such thought.

But I would hope that my own mind will be clarified a little bit. Maybe the platform from which we may later work will be a little clearer even to ourselves.

Q. Charles E. Shutt, Telenews: There has been much speculation, sir, as to what might be discussed at this meeting. Would it be proper for you to tell us what you feel would be the most important topic that could be discussed?

THE PRESIDENT. I would think the most important thing that could possibly be done at such a meeting would be to define the lines or directions in which we commonly would want our foreign ministers to work to see whether there is any opportunity to relieve the tensions in the world. Beyond that, I don't even possibly say what the subject would be. Certainly there would be no agenda except in the most generalized form, to talk about a general group of subjects; no agenda in the sense that foreign ministers would normally meet.

Q. Chalmers M. Roberts, Washington Post and Times Herald: Mr. President, to follow that question, do you have in mind the idea of working on specific matters, such as the German unification problem, or are you thinking now that it may be possible to have a larger framework of discussion, such as some general East-West settlement in Europe?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think that either of your assumptions is quite correct as I now visualize it. I think that we merely, I repeat, could define the areas in which people would start to work.

Now, when they start to work in any area, you find it affects every other area. I think there could be no limitation, and at the same time you couldn't possibly give an exact description of what you are going to do. You are going to meet, try to discover whether you believe the other people are sincerely hoping to relieve tensions. If so, what are the areas of greatest tension and what can these people do?

Q. Mr. Roberts: Sir, may I ask a further point. You spoke yesterday to the Republican Women about disarmament, for example.


Q. Mr. Roberts: Would that be included in this type of discussion?

THE PRESIDENT. I wouldn't see any possibility, if you are going to relieve tensions, that you didn't have to discuss disarmament. But what I say is you would neither limit it, you wouldn't exclude it, nor would you necessarily put it down as a particular agenda.

I don't believe that such a conference could design a specific agenda for your foreign ministers. You could only describe lines that they would take, the attitudes we have, and the general areas they would explore.

Q. Raymond P. Brandt, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Mr. President, can you give us any idea of how long the meeting at the summit would take?

THE PRESIDENT. I can only tell you what it is I've been guessing. I would think that, oh, if you met a matter of 3 days, I think it would completely cover the issues, as far as I am concerned. All the issues could be raised.

Q. Mr. Brandt: How long would the foreign ministers meet, can you guess on that?

THE PRESIDENT. Oh, I wouldn't guess--I wouldn't guess.

Q. Mr. Brandt: Would that be a matter of weeks or months?

THE PRESIDENT. Could be; I wouldn't guess. And of course, after the foreign ministers meet, then you can establish if any progress was made at all. What you would probably establish would be numbers of meetings of experts in particular fields. There is no use really of speculating as to what the outcome of a chain of events can be. This is certainly experimental.

Q. Mr. Brandt: Would you go back to your old plan after the foreign ministers had come to some agreement, the Big Four would then meet again to formalize it?

THE PRESIDENT. I wouldn't know, I wouldn't know. It would certainly in that case have to be a--we would have to have developed sufficient confidence in what had been done, and it would have to have sufficient significance to us and to the world that it would be worthwhile to make a formal signing to be--something, let us say, historical.

Q. John Herling, Editors Syndicate: Down from the summit for a moment, sir, this has to do with a domestic problem. As you predicted last week, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad strike was settled through the appointment of an arbitrator, and I wonder whether you would care to comment on the role of arbitration in labor-management disputes generally, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. Oh, I don't think it would be profitable to launch into a discussion of my ideas about it, except I would express the greatest gratification that both sides here finally accepted arbitration, that the Mediation and Conciliation Board was successful in bringing them together, and the strike has been settled. It is a very great boon to the South, and I am very gratified.

Q. Mr. Herling: Sir, there is a strike still going on, the telephone strike.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I will be just as happy when that is settled.

Q. Mr. Herling: Through arbitration, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, they are working, the Mediation Service is still in contact.

Q. Mr. Herling: And therefore the pattern of arbitration will be just as useful?

THE PRESIDENT. In my opinion, yes.

Q. Elie Abel, New York Times: Sir, could you give us your views on whether you would favor a congressional delegation or a small group of congressional leaders going to this meeting at the summit with your party?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I wouldn't know yet. You must remember that there was an invitation issued, and we sort of described in our note what we thought would be a good procedure. We don't know whether that is going to be accepted.

I would say this: when it comes down to anything definitive that is going, possibly, to result in any kind of formal agreement or treaty, then I would say it is always profitable to have a congressional committee with them.

Q. Mrs. May Craig, Maine Papers: Mr. President, I had understood you to say that you would require deeds from the Communists before you would meet with them, to show their specific attitude. Have you had any deeds of that description?

THE PRESIDENT. One of them I described was the signing of the Austrian Treaty. Now, it is true I talked about others, but if this one indicates what they are apparently trying to make it appear to indicate, well, then, I am going to try to find out whether it is absolutely sincere.

Q. Laurence H. Burd, Chicago Tribune: Mr. President, would you regard it as possible or likely that the Far Eastern situation might come up at such a conference, that is, that there wouldn't be any geographic limits?

THE PRESIDENT. It might be an agreement to limit it, in order to look for success, to limit it to certain areas. I would say at this top one, if you had the heads of government at the one conference, I would think the general conversations would tend to go around the world, be global in character.

Q. Lucian C. Warren, Buffalo Courier-Express: Speaker Rayburn on Monday raised the question about the way you make appointments, and it was in connection with your nomination of William Kern, an Indiana Democrat, to replace Jim Mead, a New York State Democrat, on the Federal Trade Commission; and Speaker Rayburn said on Monday that he thought it was cruelly handled, and a cruel thing to do. He also said he had not been consulted about any appointments for minority jobs, that is Democrats in Government, and also Majority Leader McCormack said that he had not been consulted. I wonder if you have any comment on that?

THE PRESIDENT. [NO, I have no comment on that.]

Q. Andrew F. Tully, Jr., Scripps-Howard: Mr. President, the Hoover Commission has reported a number of wasteful shopping practices on the part of the military; for instance, the 60-year supply of hamburger, and up on the Hill they are complaining that they can't seem to find anybody in the military to take responsibility for these things. I was wondering, sir, if you have any plans to hold anybody's feet to the fire about this? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. All I getting a bad reputation around here?

Q. Mr. Tulley: As commander in chief.

THE PRESIDENT. I do know that Secretary Wilson and Mr. Hoover themselves have been in conference. I believe they exchanged letters and are getting together so that they can together study these things in detail, and see where difficulties are.

I think there can be a lot of misunderstanding arise about just a bare fact. You may have a lot of hamburger. I understand this is for emergency purposes, used by the Navy and the Marines. I am told that if you actually fed it out to all the messes, that you could consume it in 5 days. But you don't do that. It is held for emergency purposes; and therefore, at the amount that you consume it, I don't know how many years it would last.

Q. Mr. Tully: Do you think that is not too much, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I haven't examined what they have, but I will tell you this: if you kept in your emergency ammunition supplies only the amounts that you use yearly for practice, you would be in an awful defensive fix. Now I don't know, I haven't looked up the details. I don't intend to, because Secretary Wilson ought to be capable of doing that, and I think you can get an answer from him.

Q. Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, Senator Margaret Chase Smith is telling the Republican Women's Conference today that she hopes with all her heart that you will run again, but that her present impression is that you will not do so. Do you have any idea where she got such an impression?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course I would like to thank her for her complimentary opinion of me; but as for the rest of it, I haven't the slightest idea where she got that impression.

Q. James B. Reston, New York Times: Mr. President, in view of the confusion over the polio vaccine, sir


Q. Mr. Reston:--would you give us your view as to where the responsibility lies in this situation? Is there a Government responsibility here?

THE. PRESIDENT. There is certainly a Government responsibility to take leadership in this thing and see the thing goes ahead as fast as it possibly can. Now, every conference I have had has been that the firms have cooperated perfectly--the firms making this. They have no complaint whatsoever.

The entire amount of this product is contracted for by the Foundation. There will be no other orders filled of any kind until that contract is completely fulfilled. I believe it is either until all children from 5 to 9 are vaccinated, or until a given date some time in the future, whichever is earlier, I think.

I would say this: during the week, I will have the final report of all the agreements, all the recommendations of the advisory board and the Secretary of HEW. By Monday or Tuesday I ought to be in shape to determine if there is any more action of any kind that I am expected to take.

Q. Mr. Reston: The question that is being asked, certainly the question that our mail reflects, is why many of these things that are now being done were not done before all the hoop-la about the original announcements in April.

THE PRESIDENT. I think it was merely because of two things: the great pressure to bring this out as quickly as they had any reason to believe it was a useful and effective product; and therefore, some of the exhaustive tests through which such a product normally goes, probably they tried to shortcut a little bit. I don't know; the report will have to show. I am not a scientist, as you well know.

Q. Edward P. Morgan, American Broadcasting Company: On that same subject, sir, during the last week of June 1949 the Cutter Laboratories of Berkeley, California, was convicted in Federal court in San Francisco on a 12-count indictment, alleging violation of the pure food and drug laws.

In your opinion, sir--two questions--in your opinion, is that a matter that should have been taken into consideration by the Government in licensing Cutter for the production of Salk vaccine; and if so, would a situation of this kind be more easily handled by a situation such as Canada seems to be doing so successfully with government controls?

THE PRESIDENT. [Well, I never heard of the incident that you bring up, and certainly I wouldn't be in position at this moment to comment as to whether that has any possible effect on the current situation.

[It would seem to me that the people in it, the experts and doctors in HEW and the advisory commission brought in, would certainly be aware of all pertinent facts that you bring up; and if that had any influence, they would have taken it into consideration. I don't know.]

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press: Mr. President, you used a phrase two questions back on that, "they probably tried to shortcut a little bit." To whom are you referring, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. I meant that the scientists in putting this out

probably thought that they had used all of the regular methods, but probably didn't use some of the more exhaustive ones that they may think now should be double-checked.

Look, I am speculating on that particular point. I say I haven't got my report, and I am not making any statement that is to be taken as authoritative on that point, but they have stopped the vaccinations while they take a double-check on something. Now, what that is, I am not sure.

Q. Sarah McClendon, El Paso Times: Sir, I believe you received a letter from Congressman Bell the other day, setting forth the great social as well as economic effects of the drought on people in small towns, as well as farms and ranches. The Agriculture Department has set June 15th, I believe, as the end of much of the temporary relief to people in the drought area--in the hay program and other forms.

I wonder if you had given any thought to a long-range program that would take into consideration the economic and social effects of the drought in the Southwest?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know of any time that the matter isn't

under discussion. Certainly for the 2 years and more that I have been here there has always been some area that is in drought. We have taken up this matter with Congress. We have done what we can, and I don't know how you can take up really long-range plans of such kinds, because you hope that the drought doesn't last forever. A drought is supposed to be an emergency.

Q. Mrs. McClendon: Sir, I believe Mr. Bell set forth that these people are going to need some works projects plans in a long-range way as well as temporary relief.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I am not prepared to talk about it this morning.

Q. Martin Agronsky, American Broadcasting Company: Mr. President, considerable misgivings seem to have arisen as to the efficacy of the Salk polio vaccine in a medical sense. Could you, from your knowledge and your conversations with the experts on this, tell us whether the U.S. Government still regards the Salk polio vaccine as able to do what everyone originally thought it would do; that is, prevent polio with 80 to 90 percent of those who are injected with the vaccine?

THE PRESIDENT. I believe it absolutely. I can't say what the Government--that's a lot of people. I know what I believe, I believe these experts. They are very competent and I believe it can do it.

Now there have been, I think, something like 52 cases of polio out of more than five million injections. Now, they want to find out merely whether these 52 cases had any relationship at all to the fact that they were injected. They are trying to be doubly safe, and I applaud their caution in this matter. But I believe it just implicitly that this will, within a measurable time, really eliminate polio in this country.

Q. Mr. Agronsky: Mr. President, it is not the medical theory that is in question here at all, it is merely the manner that the vaccine is being manufactured.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that is what I think.

Q. James A. Reynolds, Congressional Quarterly: Mr. President, what kind of progress would you say your legislative program has been making in Congress so far this year, and what kind of support would you say Republican Congressmen have been giving this program?

THE PRESIDENT. The question is too generic, too broad, for me to discuss this morning.

I'd say this: anyone that would attempt to predict or to comment very much on progress of Congress at this time has forgotten the Congress is capable of doing an awful lot, sometimes in a week, and then seems to have a period of inaction almost for a month. It is rather erratic in its output. [Laughter] I mean, erratic in the rate of output. I would say this: as far as I am concerned, things are coming along pretty well.

Q. Richard L. Wilson, Cowles Publications: Mr. President, has a decision been reached to allow Russian agricultural specialists to come to this country and study agriculture here?

THE PRESIDENT. I would like to answer definitively, but I am not certain. We have discussed it, and, generally speaking, I think it has. But I am a little bit uncertain whether I am talking about something that has yet been finally crystallized; that is my difficulty. Actually, I think it has been straightened out.

Q. Mr. Wilson: Do you still favor it?


Q. Matthew Warren, DuMont Television: Mr. President, yesterday the House apparently killed the hopes for Hawaii and Alaska for statehood, for some time to come. I wonder if you would comment on that, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. I have always favored, as you know, the separation of these two bills and handling each one on its merits.

Now, if you put them together you instantly accumulate for your bill the opposition that applies to either one and to both. You take the aggregate and apply it to each one.

I would like to see the bills separated, and always have stood for that. And I would still like to see it.

Q. Clark R. Mollenhoff, Des Moines Register: Mr. President, I wonder if you would have any comment on Zhukov's statement over the last weekend, in the light of your letters to him.

THE PRESIDENT. No, none. They have no connection whatsoever, the two incidents.

Q. Waiter Kerr, New York Herald Tribune: Mr. President, I wonder if you have had an opportunity to see a report on the latest Soviet disarmament plan.


Q. Mr. Kerr: On what has been described as the recent Soviet disarmament plan submitted to the summit.

THE PRESIDENT. You mean the one submitted through the Disarmament Commission in London?

Q. Mr. Kerr: Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have just had a chance to glance at it.

Q. Mr. Kerr: Do you care to comment on it, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. No, not at the moment. The whole question is so confused. It has still some of the elements they have always had in it. They want to get rid of one kind; we would like to get rid of everything. It is something that has to be studied before you can really comment on it.

Q. Charles S. von Fremd, CBS News: Over the weekend, sir, photographs of the May Day celebrations in Moscow indicated that ex-Premier Malenkov has now risen somewhat within his party again, and now ranks third, directly behind Bulganin and Khrushchev. I wonder, sir, on whatever indications you may have received through our intelligence people, whether this does indicate that there is still an unsettled thing going along in Moscow as to who actually is the supreme ruler.

THE. PRESIDENT. Well, I don't know whether this has any significance about it, but it certainly seems to be the case that the situation is not what it was when Stalin was alive. He seemed to have the situation in personal control every minute of the day. In other words, he was a true dictator. This is a somewhat different system.

Q. Ray L. Scherer, National Broadcasting Company: Have you had a chance to examine General Samoff's recommendations on cold war strategy?

THE PRESIDENT. He came to see me about it. We had a long talk.

Q. Mr. Scherer: I was wondering if you looked at the report.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, he discussed some of the things that he was going to put in it, and he went around and talked to various members of the Government.

I believe thoroughly in General Sarnoff's general proposition, that when you are spending all the money we are for direct defense through security establishments, it is just unthinkable to limit ourselves too much in this whole field of information service that is necessary to a cold war.

Q. Mrs. May Craig, Maine Papers: Mr. President, I didn't know I could ask two questions. In reference to your reply on Austria, do you regard that as a satisfactory treaty or are we agreeing to it because we cannot get better?

THE PRESIDENT. Oh, we agreed to this treaty way back in 1949. Section 16 has been eliminated completely, which had to do with repatriation, and there are still some details to be ironed out. But as far as we are concerned, this Government has agreed to that treaty for many, many months.

Q. Robert G. Spivack, New York Post: Last week you told us that no child would be denied the vaccine because of inability to pay, and afterwards there seemed to be a little confusion about just what sort of plan of operation you had in mind.

As I understood, the Federal Government, if necessary, would buy up all the Salk vaccine, but could you tell us how indigence would be determined, and also whether it would be administered free of charge.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course I can't tell you all the details of how we would do it, but I will tell you this: the second I find out that any child in the United States is denied this by reason of lack of money to pay for it, I am going to move as hard as I can, and I will certainly make someone listen to me very earnestly before there is any defeat on that one.

Q. William M. Blair, New York Times: Mr. President, over the weekend the Surgeon General of the United States changed his position on going ahead with the Salk vaccine. Was that purely a medical decision, or was that a decision of policy within the administration?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't understand any such question. I have discussed that two or three times this morning.

That was the doctor's opinion and his decision. The Government would know no more about the factors in this than this body would. What would you know what to do with such technical things? I wouldn't.

The doctors have to decide what to do in such a case. They decided it wasn't fair to go ahead until they checked more. That's all there was to it.

Merriman Smith, United Press: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Eisenhower's sixty-eighth news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 10:33 to 11:02 o'clock on Wednesday morning, May 11, 1955. In attendance: 211.

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/234329

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