Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

March 03, 1954

THE PRESIDENT. Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, the Governor of Puerto Rico made a visit to the capital yesterday, to join with all of us here in an expression of his sentiments of regret at the tragic events on Capitol Hill 2 days ago.

I was, of course, pleased to welcome him for that purpose, because while we all knew what the sentiments of the mass of Puerto Rico were, it was, I thought, a very splendid gesture on his part to come up and state them, you might say, officially.

We start out--I have got one statement that I want to make as my complete and full expression on one incident of recent weeks.

[Reading] I want to make a few comments about the Peress case.

The Department of the Army made serious errors in handling the Peress case and the Secretary of the Army so stated publicly, almost a month ago. The Army is correcting its procedures to avoid such mistakes in the future. I am completely confident that Secretary Stevens will be successful in this effort.

Neither in this case, nor in any other, has any person in the executive branch been authorized to suggest that any subordinate, for any reason whatsoever, violate his convictions or principles or submit to any kind of personal humiliation when testifying before congressional committees or elsewhere. [Discontinues reading]

For the benefit of those of you who are making statements, Mr. Hagerty has insisted on duplicating this, and you will probably get a copy of it.

[Resumes reading] In a more general sense, I have certain observations to make. They are:

1. We must be unceasingly vigilant in every phase of governmental activity to make certain that there is no subversive penetration.

2. In opposing communism, we are defeating ourselves if either by design or through carelessness we use methods that do not conform to the American sense of justice and fair play.

3. The conscience of America will dearly discern when we are exercising proper vigilance without being unfair. That conscience is reflected in the body of the United States Congress. We can be certain that its members will respond to America's convictions and beliefs in this regard.

Here I must repeat something that I have often stated before. The ultimate responsibility for the conduct of all parts of the executive branch of the Government rests with the President of the United States. That responsibility cannot be delegated to another branch of Government. It is, of course, likewise the responsibility of the President and his associates to account for their stewardship of public affairs. All of us recognize the right of the people to know how we are meeting this responsibility and the congressional right to inquire and investigate into every phase of our public operations.

Manifestly, in a government such as ours, successful service to 160 million people demands a true spirit of cooperation among the several branches of Government, especially between the executive and the legislative branches. Real cooperation is possible only in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

I spent many years in the Army, during the course of which I sometimes appeared before committees of the Congress. Sometimes I was a direct witness; more often, in my early years, at least, I was merely a so-called technical assistant to the man testifying.

In all that time, I never saw any individual of the Army fail to render due and complete respect to every member of Congress with whom duty brought him in contact. In all that time, I never saw any member of the Congress guilty of disrespect toward the public servants who were appearing before him. In the tradition of such mutual respect I grew up in the governmental service. It is that tradition that I intend that the executive branch will observe and apply as long as I hold my present office.

Now, I have only a few additional comments.

First, all of us know that our military services and their leaders have always been completely loyal and dedicated public servants, singularly free of suspicion of disloyalty. Their courage and their devotion have been proved in peace as well as on the battlefields of war. America is proud of them. I am certain that no one in any governmental position wants to have his own utterances interpreted as questioning the lasting debt that all of us as Americans owe to the officers and enlisted men and women of the armed services. In this tribute to the services, I mean to include General Zwicker, who was decorated for gallantry in the field.

Second, except where the interests of the Nation demand otherwise, every governmental employee in the executive branch, whether civilian or in the Armed Forces, is expected to respond cheerfully and completely to the requests of the Congress and its several committees. In doing so it is, of course, assumed that they will be accorded the same respect and courtesy that I require that they show to the members of the legislative body. Officials in the executive branch of the Government will have my unqualified support in insisting that employees in the executive branch who appear before any type of executive or congressional investigating body be treated fairly.

Third, obviously, it is the responsibility of the Congress to see to it that its procedures are proper and fair. Of course, I expect the Republican membership of the Congress to assume the primary responsibility in this respect, since they are the majority party and, therefore, control the committees. I am glad to state that Senator Knowland has reported to me that effective steps are already being taken by the Republican leadership to set up codes of fair procedure.

Fourth, there are problems facing this Nation of vital importance. They are both foreign and domestic in character. They affect the individual and collective future of all of us. The views of myself and my associates on these matters have been outlined in the proposals for legislation we have submitted to the Congress. They deserve the undivided and incessant attention of the Congress, of the executive branch, of the public information media of our Nation, of our schools, and even of our churches. I regard it as unfortunate when we are diverted from these grave problems--of which one is vigilance against any kind of internal subversion--through disregard of the standards of fair play recognized by the American people. These incidents are all the more useless and unfortunate in view of the basic dedication of every loyal American to the preservation and advancement of America's safety, prosperity, and well-being. [Ends reading]

And that is my last word on any subject even closely related to that particular matter.

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press: Mr. President, this is not closely related, but Senator McCarthy yesterday questioned the wisdom of Secretary Dulles having removed from Mr. McLeod the authority over personnel problems in the State Department. I wonder if you could tell us your feeling on that.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the assignment to duty of any administrative officer in any department of Government is the responsibility of the head of that department, and no one else's whatsoever. I hold the head of department responsible to me for proper operation of that department. He is, in turn, responsible for everything that goes on within it.

Q. Donald Shannon, Salt Lake City Deseret News: I think this is quite far removed from anything you were talking about. The term of Interstate Commerce Commissioner James K. Knudson expired in December. Why hasn't the renomination gone up, and will it eventually be sent to the Senate?

THE PRESIDENT. It has not been submitted to me yet. I haven't had anything on that brought to my desk.

Q. Richard Harkhess, National Broadcasting Company: Would you comment, sir, on suggestions that special labor camps be formed to contain alleged and suspected subversives in the Armed Forces?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't believe I will comment on this at the moment. Renewed attention has been given to this whole problem within the Armed Forces, they are coming up with a plan, and I will be perfectly ready to comment on their whole plan after it is once submitted. But I don't believe that I want to comment on a suggestion of that kind which I never before heard.

Q. Mr. Harkness: Mr. President, if I may continue, sir.


Q. Mr. Harkness: This is not part of the Army's plan, as I understand it. It is, to the contrary, a suggestion of Senator McCarthy.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as I say, I don't care to comment on it at the moment because I don't know how it would work out.

Q. Sarah McClendon, El Paso Times: Sir, totally aside from that, but somewhat related to what you said about humiliation before committees and fair play--totally aside from the merits or demerits of Chief Justice Warren or his accuser--don't you think it smacks of totalitarianism for a witness before a congressional committee on a confirmation case to be harassed by the Justice Department and the Metropolitan Police and the Capitol Police when he is there to testify, in a free country?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, you are asking a question based on a premise that I do not know to be true. I know about this only what I have read in the papers, and that said that there was a man who was a fugitive from justice, and the legal authorities of our country were taking care of their own responsibilities.

I should say this: if they did have responsibility and didn't discharge it, we would have cause to worry. I don't know anything about the merits of the case.

Q. Mrs. McClendon: Sir, if I may continue, I believe later they decided that they didn't have enough to arrest the man there--of course, that would be a question of fact--but what I am getting at is arresting a man through efforts of the Department of Justice in the Halls of Congress when he comes before a congressional committee to say, as an American, he wants to testify.

THE PRESIDENT. I believe that that is something that will have to be tested by the good sense of the enforcement officers, and the decisions of courts.

I haven't heard the particular circumstances that you describe. I just knew from the papers that a man, appearing to testify, was wanted somewhere else, and officers were called upon to do something about it.

Q. Alice Dunnigan, Associated Negro Press: Mr. President, the question has been under discussion on Capitol Hill as to whether Labor Secretary Mitchell's letter sent to the chairman of the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare last week endorsing the Ives equal employment opportunity bill, with enforcement powers, expresses the position of the administration on this measure. Would you like to clarify your position on that?

THE PRESIDENT. I have made my position clear many dozens of times. I believe there are certain things that are not best handled by punitive or compulsory Federal law.

Now, not only is Secretary Mitchell allowed in his own person to have views different from me on certain particular details of governmental activity, but any other Cabinet officer is so allowed and so authorized, and I don't consider it any matter of disloyalty to me.

He expressed his own personal views, and I respect his personal views, but I don't want around me a bunch of yes-men.

Q. McClellan Smith, Radio Television Daily: Mr. President, Chairman Reed of the House Ways and Means Committee has said that a 10 percent ceiling should be the maximum on excise taxes. If such a bill goes through, will you veto it?

THE PRESIDENT. I know of no question that is more impossible of answer than what an Executive will do about a future bill with respect to vetoes, because no one knows what is all going to be in that bill; and sometimes, I suppose, you have to swallow a deal of castor oil along with the sweet coating.

Now, as far as that measure is concerned, Secretary Humphrey issued a statement last evening that represents views that he and I had previously discussed; and if you want to know the details of the views, I suggest you take a look at that statement and discuss it down at the Treasury Department.

Q. Edward Folliard, Washington Post: Mr. President, how does the truce in Korea affect the Red Cross, that is, in Red Cross services to the Armed Forces there and elsewhere?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't want to be interpreted here as knowing anything about the law, if there is a law that applies.

So far as I am concerned, every place that I have ever seen troops in the field, we have had the Red Cross; even in this country you have local voluntary groups. I can't see how it would affect it whatsoever.

I had the Red Cross in Germany, after we had an armistice over there, and so I think that the Red Cross goes right ahead performing its many functions, in spite of the fact that shooting has stopped there.

Q. Mr. Folliard: What I had in mind is, is there still the need?

THE PRESIDENT. Oh, indeed. You know, I can't imagine anything more difficult for a very great body of young, impatient, virile Americans than to be cooped up in occupational or other sorts of inactive duties. One of the reasons that the Army has tackled with such enthusiasm and such success the rebuilding of South Korea is because it gives them something constructive to do, and they are doing it.

Now, in that kind of a situation, I think there are many instances where you need the Red Cross far more than you do when the actual fighting is going on, because the fighting and the getting ready for it so absorbs the attention of people.

Q. Anthony Leviero, New York Times: Mr. President, I wonder if you would listen to a question on the Peress case, and if it has been covered I would gladly scotch it. The public has been given two views of that, and one emanating from the Pentagon is that the handling of the case was essentially a red tape and paperwork muddle. I believe you have covered that in your statement.

On the other hand, from the Hill, we get the contention that there was a deliberate covering up and coddling of a Communist. I wonder if you would comment on that point?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, you know, I don't mind. As a matter of fact, I had it in my statement once, because I did want to make some general observations expressing my views in unequivocal terms, and it got so long that I just dropped it out.

Actually, of course, I think that all of the detailed facts that have occurred over these last 10 months are not yet completely known.

I don't for one minute believe that senior officers of the Army or the armed services have been trying to cover up anything of communism.

You do have an unfortunate law--I say "unfortunate"--you do have a law that requires this: if you draft a doctor you are compelled to give him a commission. Well, that puts a great dilemma in front of an administrator in the Army.

Actually there is a case now decided by the appellate courts, I am told, that requires the Army now to pay back pay to a man that they refused to commission; they have to pay back pay as a captain or a major for the past x months, I don't know exactly what it is.

So, I would say it was partly confusion--knowing how to handle such cases.

You people might be amused a little bit to know that when I was in Europe a few years back, the French had to come up with this problem; after all, when you have got 25 or 30 percent of your people registered or voting in the Communist Party, and then you have a universal military service law bringing them in, think of their problem.

Well, I used to discuss with them how they handled it. They did, of course, try to keep these people out of sensitive positions. And they had this one remarkable and very encouraging result: that the people who came into the Army as Communists, less than a quarter of them went out as such. They learned some things in the Army, apparently, they hadn't known before.

Q. Mrs. May Craig, New England Papers: Mr. President, last year Senator Margaret Smith of Maine introduced a bill to outlaw the Communist Party or any similar organization under another name. Would you favor that?

THE PRESIDENT. I can't tell you for sure, Mrs. Craig, for this reason: when I came down here, one of the first things I asked was for a study on that, and lawyers have been fighting over it ever since.

There seems to be a constitutional bar in just outlawing a particular political party in this country, and I believe that all convictions that have been secured against these leaders have been not on the word "Communist" but on their being a part of a conspiracy to destroy the American form of government by force. So I don't know whether it can be done, and there certainly I wouldn't want to commit myself on something that was constitutionally so abstruse.

Q. Lloyd Schwartz, Fairchild Publications: Mr. President, I would like to ask whether you have decided to reject a Tariff Commission proposal for special fees on imports of wool, now before you.

THE PRESIDENT. There is going to be an announcement a little later in the week, a public announcement; I could possibly just tie the thing up a little, but I have already approved certain actions, and for certain reasons, and they will be explained in a public statement. It will be out, I think, in 2 or 3 days.

Q. Robert Spivack, New York Post: Mr. President, as you know, before the Army and General Zwicker were involved, witnesses had been abused also on the Hill, and one of the ideas that has been kicking around, which I don't think we have ever asked for your comment on, is the idea of combining these investigations under more responsible leadership. Would you tell us how you feel about that?

THE PRESIDENT. I have constantly stated that I recognize and respect the right of Congress to investigate into anything that it finds it necessary to investigate. Manifestly also, the business of determining their own rules, their own procedures, is a matter for the conscience of the Congress, and I have tried to point out that in the long run, certainly they are going to be responsive to the general will of the United States. I can state nothing more definite on that.

Q. Nat Finney, Buffalo Evening News: Are you satisfied with the outcome of the debate on the Bricker amendment on Capitol Hill?

THE PRESIDENT. The only thing I can say is that I am very pleased that we can devote our efforts to concrete and specific parts of a program that I believe to be absolutely essential for building a stronger and better America; that is all I can say on it.

Q. Robert Richards, Copley Press: How do you think the Republicans are coming along with your advice to be kinder to Democrats? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. I got a letter on it within 5 minutes before I came over here. I got a letter on it from a man in Maine who, at least, cheered my words, and maybe I will pass his letter around.

Q. Marietta Dake, Niagara Falls Gazette: Mr. President, I was wondering whether you instructed the Republican leadership to see to it that each committee has at least one Republican and one Democrat in attendance at all times?

THE PRESIDENT. I can't possibly instruct the Senate as to its procedures. They have reported to me as to what they are planning to do, and I will wait until their program comes out, which certainly should be shortly.

Q. Anthony Leviero, New York Times: Mr. President, Chairman Young of the Civil Service Commission reported yesterday to a committee on the subversive cases, the security risk cases. I wonder if you have any comment on that report?

THE PRESIDENT. Only one thing, and that is to emphasize to you ladies and gentlemen once more, I never used the word "subversives" in connection with the program that this administration designed to get rid of undesirables of any kind in this administration. I simply stated we are going to get rid of security risks.

Now, Mr. Young is attempting to give you such information as is available and is proper to give out, and your problems will have to be with him.

My own opinion is that they were bad security risks, and that is all.

Q. Mr. Leviero: Well, Mr. President, following that up, long before this administration came into office, people were claiming they were treated unfairly, both under the loyalty and security programs. Has any thought been given to making characterizations of "unsuitable" instead of "security risks" where it relates to people who are not disloyal?

THE PRESIDENT. You bring up a word I had not thought of, but it might be, it might be that they could find--I think they did it, though, on this basis: if you find these people you call unsuitable by reason of personal habits or anything else, they become risks. I had this problem in the war. I had men when we were planning secret operations, if it was brought to me and proved that they were men that drank and, therefore, were a little bit indiscreet in their social contacts, they were removed and in some cases reduced. The same principle, I think, applies; but you may have an idea that our people can look at.

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

Note: President Eisenhower's twenty-ninth news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 10:32 to 10:58 o'clock on Wednesday morning, March 3, 1954. In attendance: 256.

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/233562

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