Harry S. Truman photo

The President's News Conference

February 08, 1951

THE PRESIDENT. Please be seated. I have had some of you gentlemen suggest that I sit down--[laughter]--that maybe I could do a better job sitting down. I feel better on my feet, but I will sit down if that is what you want, if you can get along better.

[1.] I wanted to read you a statement about the railroad situation before I start. 1

1 On February 2, 1951, the White House released a statement by Joseph Short, Secretary to the President, in response to inquiries regarding the railroad strike which climaxed a 2-year dispute over wages and working conditions. In 1950, the release noted, railroad unions had rejected the recommendations of an emergency mediation board, and the Government took control of the railroads in August of that year (see 1950 volume, this series, Item 221). The leaders of the unions stated that the employees would remain at work during Government operation. Union representatives then met in the White House with representatives of railroad management, and both groups signed an agreement on December 21, 1950. Work stoppages continued, however, and the February statement described the union representatives as "now attempting to escape responsibility for this agreement," on the grounds that their union committees had not ratified it.

[Reading] "I have been gravely concerned about the interference with essential military and civilian railroad transportation. It is bad enough in other times; it is intolerable in an emergency.

"On the other hand, I have been proud of the vast majority of railroad workers who have stuck to their jobs in spite of their grievances. Consideration is also due the strikers who returned to work when advised of the dangers of the tie-up.

"However, there are still some ill-advised or irresponsible men who are disregarding the emergency needs of their country.

"It is essential that precautions be taken against recurrences of such threats to our national security.

"Accordingly, I have directed the Secretary of the Army to take appropriate action immediately."

And that announcement will come out sometime later today, which will explain the whole situation.

Q. Mr. President, would you mind reading that last sentence a little slowly for us? I have directed--

THE PRESIDENT. "Accordingly, I have directed the Secretary of the Army to take appropriate action immediately."

Q. Mr. President, how about the sentence before that, please, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, all right.

Q. Is that mimeographed ?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, it is mimeographed, and it will be available for you at the door. "It is essential that precautions be taken against recurrences of such threats to our national security." That is the sentence you asked for?

Q. Thank you.

Q. Mr. President, does that mean the Army is going to take over the railroads?

THE PRESIDENT. That will be explained in the order which will come out later in the day.

Q. They are running it now?

THE PRESIDENT. The Army is operating the railroads now. But I have directed the Army to issue an order, which will explain fully what is to be done.

Q. It will be out later in the day?

THE PRESIDENT. This statement is all I care--

Q. Could you give us a hint, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT. No, you had better wait. You had better wait until it comes out.

Q. Mr. President, will that order come from the White House or the Pentagon ?

THE PRESIDENT. It is--the Secretary of the Army is issuing the order at my direction.

I am not shirking my responsibility.

Q. What time will that be out?

THE PRESIDENT. Later in the day. I can't tell you the exact hour. I hope by noon.

Q. Mr. President, I take it that this order will more effectively prevent any such walkouts in the future?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, you wait and read the order; it will explain itself. 2

2 Department of the Army General Order 2, February 8, 1951, ordered the dismissal with loss of seniority rights for all employees of the Army operated railroads who failed to continue work, unless physically unable to do so. It also provided wage increases for operating employees pending settlement of the dispute, and back pay at the increased rate. In the event no settlement was reached within a reasonable time, the order stated, the Army would recommend enactment by the Congress of appropriate legislation to assure normal rail service and a settlement.

Q. Mr. President, could you tell us, sir, about any progress being made, or not being made, toward a settlement of the basic controversy in this walkout?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, they are still talking with each other. As you know, an agreement was signed and they acted like a bunch of Russians. They went back on their signatures.

[2.] Q. Mr. President, I would like to ask three questions if I may. The day before yesterday the White House sent to the Capitol for 10 copies of the Fulbright report on the RFC.3 I would like to ask first, sir, have you found in that report any basis for criticism on your part of the activities of either Mr. Dawson4 or your RFC directors?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I haven't.

3"Study of Reconstruction Finance Corporation: Favoritism and Influence," interim report of the Committee on Banking and Currency (Senate Report 76, Bad Cong., 1st sess., February 5, 1951). Senator J. W. Fulbright of Arkansas, chairman of the Subcommittee on Reconstruction Finance Corporation, submitted the report.

4 Donald S, Dawson, Administrative Assistant to the President, formerly personnel director of the RFC.

Q. And second, do you feel that Mr. Dawson should ask for a public hearing before the committee, in view of what has been said about him?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, let me see, I brought that along with me, because I thought maybe you might ask that question. [Laughter] You know, I spent 10 years in the Senate, and I wrote a lot of reports--[more laughter]--but I am happy to say I never wrote one like this.

They make a recommendation to begin with, that the Federal Loan Administrator period was the one in which the RFC functioned best. The Federal Loan Administrators were, to begin with, Jesse Jones and Fred Vinson, and then John Snyder. 5

5 Jesse H. Jones was Secretary of Commerce, as well as Federal Loan Administrator, until his resignation in 1945. At the time of the news conference, Fred M. Vinson was Chief Justice of the United States and John W. Snyder was Secretary of the Treasury.

And as soon as the war was over, everybody wanted to return to the situations as they existed previous to 1940. So the RFC was set up with its board of directors, as any other great financial institution is operated. Then there were some difficulties, in fact I had almost as much difficulty getting people to act as directors of the RFC as I have had with all these emergency agencies which we have been trying to set up.

And then along in the fall of 1949, I sent down a reorganization plan which transferred the RFC to the Department of Commerce, and set up the Secretary of Commerce in the same sort of situation as was the Federal Loan Administrator. And that reorganization plan was rejected at the behest of this committee that has written this asinine report. And now they are recommending just such a setup as I sent them back in 1949.

And what puzzles me--and I am going to ask some of these gentlemen to come up and explain it to me, because I don't think I am fundamentally dumb in most things, especially where it affects administration in Government--one sentence here is most important.

[Reading] "In presenting this report"--I still don't understand what they mean--"the subcommittee wishes to distinguish between improper influence as such and the improper use of the Corporation's authority in response to influences which in themselves may be perfectly proper. This report deals primarily with the latter. The subcommittee expresses no opinion as to the propriety of the activities of other individuals named in the report, and it makes no charges against those individuals."

Well now, when I made a report to the Congress, I made specific charges if I thought they were necessary.

Then it says [reading]: "The subcommittee believes no one will be injured unfairly by its report. However, it will accord the opportunity for a public hearing to those who feel that unfair injury has been given."

Well now, I went through and read the report. I couldn't find where there was any fault with any loans that had been made. They charged some attorneys here in town had been too active in presenting cases before the RFC, and I found an immense number of letters on most of those loans from Senators and Representatives--a big pile of them here--most interesting.6 But nothing is said in this report about undue influence, outside the President.

6In a statement made public by the White House on February 23, 1951, Joseph Short, Press Secretary to the President, pointed out that earlier the President had requested and received from the RFC copies of numerous letters written by Senators and Congressmen to the RFC in connection with loans. The material was considered by the President in connection with his plan for reorganization of the RFC. The statement continued: "Since the President knows of no evidence of illegal influence on the RFC by any member of the executive branch or the legislative branch, he sees no useful purpose in making public the Congressional correspondence. If, however, the subcommittee feels otherwise the material will be sent to the subcommittee of the Senate Banking and Currency Committee at its request."

The objective of this report seems to have been a reflection on the President himself. And I am sorry for that, because I have never in my life brought pressure on the RFC or any other agency of the Government to do anything except in the public interest. And all these RFC loans are supposed to be made in the public interest. And it is my opinion that they have been made in the public interest.

There may have been mistakes. There is no organization in Government, or in private business, or anywhere else, that can get through life without making mistakes. A man who makes no mistakes is a man who never does anything.

But as far as this report is concerned, I can't find out what the committee is driving at. I am going to have them come up, as soon as the chairman gets back to town-he left town when he found out I wanted to see him7--[laughter]--and maybe I can find out exactly what they are driving at. If I can, I, as President of the United States, will try to straighten out any difficulties with which the committee thinks they are faced-

7Subcommittee Chairman J. William Fulbright was in Miami Beach, Fla.

Q. Mr. President, my recollection of the Truman committee 8 was that those reports were submitted to the agency concerned some days ahead, for their criticism or correction?

THE PRESIDENT. That's right, and for their right to be heard, if there was anything that was not properly stated.

8The Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, chaired by Mr. Truman while in the Senate.

Q. Was that done--

THE PRESIDENT. It was not done.

Q.--in connection with this report?

THE PRESIDENT. It was not done.

Q. Mr. President, will you tell us whether you will renominate the five members of the RFC Board, or--

THE PRESIDENT. I have that matter under consideration, and when I get ready to make the announcement I will let you know.

Q. Are you considering also a possible change in the organization of the RFC-going back--

THE PRESIDENT. I shall expect to send down a reorganization plan substantially the same as I sent down in 1949.

Q. Mr. President, is this one of the matters that you intend to discuss with Chairman Maybank?9

THE PRESIDENT. That is one of the matters, yes. There are several others that I want to discuss with him.

9Senator Burner R. Maybank of South Carolina, chairman of the Committee on Banking and Currency.

Q. Could you tell us anything about the other matters ?

THE PRESIDENT. No, no. I don't want to discuss them publicly. I want to discuss them with the chairman first. I always give them that courtesy.

Q. Mr. President, this reorganization plan, the plan you will submit again, do you mean by that, sir, that you again will recommend that the RFC be put in the Commerce Department?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I haven't come to a definite conclusion on that, but I am working on a reorganization plan. You see, a number of the Senators on this committee came down to see me some time ago, and talked about a reorganization plan for the RFC, and I told them that I would go to work on one. We are working on it. We can't do these things in 2 days. It takes a little while.

Q. Mr. President, is there a possibility you might recommend it be put under Treasury, not Commerce ?

THE PRESIDENT. There is a possibility, but Commerce is where it belongs because it is a business proposition.10

10 For the special message to the Congress transmitting the reorganization plan relating to the RFC, see Item 39.

[3.] Q. Mr. President, out of Tokyo and through the General MacArthur censorship, the heads of the UP and AP bureaus wrote stories saying, without any qualification, that General MacArthur had recommended to you that Chiang Kai-shek's troops be released for use in Korea and on the mainland. Would you give us any comment on that, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Such a communication has not reached me.

Q. Does General MacArthur usually advise in the field of foreign policy decisions, or--

THE PRESIDENT. I have no comment. The President is responsible for foreign policy, however. I thought you knew that, if you would read the Constitution.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, as a result of your meeting with the Cotton State Senators, do you now feel that raw cotton should be free from price controls ?

THE PRESIDENT. That matter is under consideration by the proper authorities. I had a very pleasant meeting with those Senators, and the matter was referred for consideration to the Secretary of Agriculture and to the Production Control Administration.

[5.] Q. Could you discuss, sir, food prices generally, with specific reference to the executive branch's attitude toward the parity formula ?

THE PRESIDENT. I have no comment.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, about this time of year we always ask you this question. A number of Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have been saying that they are going to squeeze water out of the budget?

THE PRESIDENT. They are welcome to try. You know, they tried to squeeze water out of the budget the year before, and instead of squeezing it out they put about a billion and-a-half on to it, and then asked me to do the cutting, after the budget came to me. I am not going to do it this year for them. We will see how much water they can squeeze out of it. It is a good budget--a tight budget. I dare them to do anything to it.

[7.] Q. Senator Williams introduced a resolution calling upon you for the removal

of the collector of internal revenue for the third district of New York. Have you any comment?

THE PRESIDENT. I cannot understand what it is I am called upon to do?

Q. Remove the collector of internal revenue in the third New York collection district?

THE PRESIDENT. I know nothing about it. I can't comment on it, because I don't know both sides of the question, and I don't usually make moves of that sort unless I know the facts. 11

11 Senate Resolution 63, submitted by Senator John J. Williams of Delaware, called for the removal from office of James W. Johnson, because of lack of administrative ability. It was referred to the Committee on Finance.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, have you any comment on the clemency order by Mr. McCloy on the Nazi war criminals?12

THE PRESIDENT. No comment.

12On January 31, 1951, John J. McCloy, U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, and Gen. Thomas T. Handy, U.S. Commander in Chief, European Command, announced their decisions in a review of 101 war crimes sentences.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, can you give us any more details on your meeting yesterday with Mr. Hoover on the Indian famine situation ?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Hoover made all the announcement that is necessary. 13

13 Former President Herbert Hoover spoke to members of the press after his meeting with President Truman and administration officials to discuss the possibility of U.S. aid to India to relieve the famine caused by crop failures.

[10.] Q. Do you have any comment on the House action yesterday on reciprocal trade with the limiting amendments?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I have no comment on that, because legislation is not for my consideration until it reaches me. You never can tell what it is going to be until I get it. I will comment on it when it reaches me.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, do you feel that you have a full understanding with the Federal Reserve Board over interest rates ?

THE PRESIDENT. I have always felt that I had a full understanding with the Federal Reserve Board. I made that very plain in the letter which I wrote to them. 14

14 See Item 29.

Q. Mr. President, have you any comment on the memorandum prepared by Mr. Eccles15 afterwards--

THE PRESIDENT. No comment--

Q.--implying a disagreement?

THE PRESIDENT. No comment.

15Marriner S. Eccles, member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. On February 4, the Washington Sunday Star carried an article entitled "Eccles Astonished by Truman Stand on Interest Rate Policy--Disputes Assumption that Board Supports Treasury Position." The article is reprinted in the Congressional Record, vol. 97, p. 1005.

Q. Mr. President, I was writing sort of fast and getting writer's cramp

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Tony,16 we'll back up. [Laughter]

16Ernest B. Vaccaro of the Associated Press.

[12.] Q. I wonder if we could appeal to Mr. Romagna17 on that first reference to the RFC report, the first question and your answer about Mr. Dawson?

[The President gave this permission but while the reporter was looking for the notes, questions continued to be asked, as follows:]

17Jack Romagna, White House Official Reporter.

[13.] Q. Could you comment on the possible effect on the Federal budget if Government interest rates were to be--

THE PRESIDENT. Well, anybody that understands figures knows what that would do to the budget. All you have got to do is figure it. You are a budget expert, you ought to know. [Laughter]

Q. Thank you very much. I didn't know that.

THE PRESIDENT. I have always thought you were one.

Q. Mr. President, is it your understanding that the majority of the Federal Reserve Board agree with you ?


Q. I didn't get the question?

THE PRESIDENT. He said did I understand that a majority of the Federal Reserve Board agreed with me, and I said yes I did understand that. In fact, I thought all of them did, because I was not present at their private meeting behind closed doors. All know is what they said to me in the meeting with me.

[At the President's direction, the question and answer referred to heretofore was read back]

[14.] Q. Mr. President, now that that has been read back, you didn't answer--do you think Mr. Dawson ought to ask for a public hearing?

THE PRESIDENT. I do not. They ought to have asked Mr. Dawson to come down and be heard before they made this asinine report. That would have been fair. It is up to them. I have got confidence in Mr. Dawson. That is up to the committee, not me.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, as long as we are going back--[Laughter]--is the railroad recommendation going to be like the one you sent up once before ?

THE PRESIDENT. It will speak for itself, when it comes out. You will have to wait a little while.

Q. I thought--later you said that the railroad unions were like Russians ?

THE PRESIDENT. AS to agreement.

Q. You said they signed an agreement, then backed out on it. You didn't say which side was acting like Russians ?

THE PRESIDENT. Which side ran out on the agreement? That's all you need to do. Smitty,18 use your head! [Laughter]

Q. Mr. President, in accepting the agreement, whatever action you direct the Army to take, the railroads are going to be operated

THE PRESIDENT. That's the idea, exactly. The railroads are going to run no matter what it takes to run them.

Q. You will ask the Army to use its own railroad personnel?

THE PRESIDENT. Now wait until you read the order. I appreciate that you would like to know, but I am not going to give it to you until it comes out.

Merriman Smith (United Press Associations): Mr. President, have you got anything else to say? [Much laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. No, I haven't.

Note: President Truman's two hundred and fifty-fourth news conference was held in the Indian Treaty Room (Room 474) in the Executive Office Building at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, February 8, 1951.

Harry S. Truman, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231365

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