Jimmy Carter photo

The President's News Conference

October 09, 1979

THE PRESIDENT. Good afternoon.

Ms. Thomas [Helen Thomas, United Press International].



Q. Mr. President, do you think that you have diffused the problem or issue of the Soviet brigade in Cuba and satisfied those who seek a bigger defense budget enough now to win SALT ratification this year, and if so, how?

THE PRESIDENT. I believe SALT will be ratified this year basically on its own merits. It's obvious to me that the SALT treaty is in the best interest of our country. It enhances the security of the United States; it contributes to world peace; it will strengthen our own alliances; it will preserve our place as a leader of the Western World; it will let it be more easy for us to control the spread of nuclear explosives all over the world.

In my opinion, we have answered the question of the Soviet combat unit in Cuba adequately. I think we've isolated any threat from that unit. We'll increase our surveillance there, and I believe that this obviously has been an important issue for us to address. I believe it's been addressed adequately.

As far as the defense budget is concerned, that still must be resolved. I'm committed to a 3-percent real growth in our defense. I've maintained that position for the last 3 years. It's important to us, to our allies, to American strength. If I see a need for increased defense programs, I would not hesitate to recommend them to the Congress.


Q. Mr. President, are you prepared to persevere in your support of tight money policies even if it begins to hurt you politically during the primaries?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. It's obvious that there are three entities in our Government which have been meticulously isolated either under the Constitution or the law and made independent. One is the Federal Reserve Board, which has a right, through various means, to determine the supply of money by changing interest rates, the reserve moneys that have to be retained by banks that cannot be lent, and so forth. The Congress has the ultimate responsibility on taxation, and the President has the best responsibility on preparing and submitting the budget to the Congress.

There's no doubt in my mind—and this is corroborated by my long discussions the last few weeks with labor, in reaching a labor accord—that I and labor and business and all those who are interested, including the Congress, agree that the number one threat to our national economy is inflation. And I intend to maintain it as a top priority and continue to work against inflation. So, whatever it takes to control inflation, that's what I will do.

I recognize that the inflationary impact falls much more heavily on those who are least able to afford the basic necessities of life. And I also recognize that there are some elements of inflation over which I have no control. The price of energy levied on the world by OPEC in the last 10 months has been an increase of 60 percent. Had it not been for energy price increases, for instance, the inflation rate during this summer would have been the same as it was in 1978 and 1977. So, I can't control energy prices levied on the world by OPEC.

But we'll continue to fight against inflation as a top economic priority.


Q. Mr. President, what is your reaction to Dr. Kissinger's statement that the Soviet troops in Cuba are the first organized hostile force in this hemisphere since the Monroe Doctrine that we've accepted? And also, Mr. President, do you feel that the Soviet troops in Cuba symbolize the growing expansionism of the Russians, the Soviet Union?

THE PRESIDENT. The troops in Cuba have been there for a long time. I've not read Secretary Kissinger's speech; I've read news reports of it. Its basic premises are compatible with my own: that the presence of a Soviet combat unit there is a serious matter, which I think we have addressed as best we could; secondly, that this is not the most important matter of all, that above and beyond that, it's important to recognize and to do what we can to contain Cuban interventionism or adventurism around the world. As you know, this began primarily with the entrance of more than a 10,000 body of troops from Cuba into Angola in 1975, before I was President.

We do look upon this as a major threat. I have not seen any reports that Secretary Kissinger recommended different moves from the ones that I outlined to the Nation on the evening of October 1. So, we do share a common concern. I think that our response was measured and appropriate. I do not favor the Soviets extending their arm of influence to the Cubans or anyone else around the world.

This has been part of the history of the Soviet Union. We attempt to meet them and compete with them adequately, in my opinion, on a peaceful basis. And in my judgment, if we can control the military expenditures and have equality, have arms control, in my judgment, we can compete with the Soviets on a peaceful basis with an excellent prospect for victory.

The Soviets represent a totalitarian nation; we are committed to peace and freedom and democracy. The Soviets subjugate the rights of an individual human being to the rights of the state; we do just the opposite. The Soviets are an atheistic nation; we have deep and fundamental religious beliefs. The Soviets have a primary emphasis on the military aspect of their economy; ours is much more broadly based to give the benefits of economic growth to individual human beings. So, I believe that in addition to that, our raising a standard of human rights and the honoring of national aspirations, not trying to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, gives us an additional advantage in a peaceful competition with the Soviets.

So, I don't have any fear of or any: trepidation about that intense competition with the Soviets on a peaceful basis. I obviously want the same thing that President Brezhnev wants, that is, the avoidance of a nuclear war. So, we have some things in common, the avoidance of war. We have other things in common, a willingness to compete.

We've got advantages over them that I hope to utilize in the future as we have in the past.


Q. Mr. President, how do you think you'll fare in Florida? And also a second question—

THE PRESIDENT. I didn't hear the first one.

Q. How do you think you will fare in Florida for the Florida caucus poll? And also, will you plan on talking to Reverend Jesse Jackson in response to his meetings with Yasser Arafat?

THE PRESIDENT. Do I have my choice between those two questions? [Laughter]

Q. I'd like you to answer both, if you would, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. I have no plans to talk to Reverend Jackson—I presume you mean about his recent trips to the Middle East. He has, or will make a report to Ambassador Strauss, who is our Mideast negotiator.

In Florida, I don't know how the caucus results will come out. This is one of the evidences of an increasingly early attention focused on a Presidential race. I don't think it is in the best interests of our country to start so early. The importance of the Florida caucuses, I think, will be assigned by the press, not by anything that I do. I don't intend to go down there to campaign. We do have people working for me in Florida, which I appreciate. And I think that since this is a first test between myself and other candidates who also are mounting an effort among their supporters, it will be significant.

But I cannot predict the outcome of the caucuses. I've seen no polls, have no indication about what the outcome might be.


Q. Mr. President, clearly the Pope on his visit to the United States and in Washington left an extraordinary impression beyond simply the religious.


Q. Have you reflected on the meaning of the Pope's visit to the United States?


Q. Could you discuss that?

THE PRESIDENT. In addition to being with him in public and when we met with the members of my family in the White House, I had an extensive private conversation with the Pope, and we discussed this particular question. We were both surprised at the degree of warmth and enthusiasm among American people in welcoming the Pope. I expected the welcome to be warm and friendly, but I had no idea that it would be that enthusiastic and that large a number of people, and neither did he.

I think there's an innate hunger in our country for moral and ethical and religious principles, things that do not change during a time of rapid change brought about by a technological revolution throughout the world. I believe there's a hunger for things that are decent and honest, for principles of which we can be proud. I think the Pope as a religious leader accurately mirrors for many people those aspirations and hopes.

I think it shows that this hemisphere is the most deeply religious, perhaps, in the world, certainly the most deeply religious Christian population in the world. We had long discussions about what this meant in other nations, the threat of atheism as espoused and enforced by the state against the inherent desire of people for religious belief.

But I believe this was one of the most dramatic and, I think, potentially the most beneficial visits we've ever had from a leader in the world. I was very thrilled to meet him and believe that his visit will have benefits for our country.


Q. Mr. President, in your speech on Cuba the other night, you spoke about wanting to increase the capabilities of our rapid deployment force.


Q. Forces. I wondered if you could say under what circumstances you would be willing to intervene militarily in the Middle East.

THE PRESIDENT. I see no prospect at this point for our intervention militarily in any place in the world. That would be a judgment that I would only make if I thought the security of our country was directly threatened.


Q. Mr. President, the other night in Queens, in the context of answering the question about your leadership and Senator Kennedy, you said you had never panicked in a crisis. Now, there was some interpretation that this was a reference to Senator Kennedy's behavior at Chappaquiddick. And you subsequently, or Jody subsequently denied it.

Let me ask you specifically, do you think Chappaquiddick indicates that President Kennedy's character is somewhat flawed, and will this be a continued issue in the primaries if he enters?

THE PRESIDENT. I think it was Senator Kennedy to whom you refer. [Laughter]

I did not refer to Senator Kennedy's experience at Chappaquiddick in Queens, and I have no desire to comment on it now.


Q. Mr. President, further on the Fed tight money policy, figures such as the West German Finance Minister Emminget 1 and Democratic Party Presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche have charged that this is leading us rapidly towards the Crash of '79. Will you move to stabilize the dollar in the economy by collaborating with Europe on their moves to demonetize gold as LaRouche and others have suggested?

1 Otmar Emminger is president of the Deutsche Bundesbank, the Federal Republic of Germany's equivalent of the U.S. Federal Reserve System.

THE PRESIDENT. I doubt that that's in prospect, certainly not for this year. We do cooperate with our allies and friends and trade partners in order to stabilize the worldwide monetary system, including at times the interrelationship between currencies from one country and another and sometimes the basic metals. I don't see any threat to the well-being of any American because of a rapidly increasing price of gold, except those who have sold early or bought late. But as far as the average citizen's concerned, the price of gold, whether it's $200 an ounce or $400, has very little impact.

Recently, the Federal Reserve Board has decided to raise interest rates and take other steps concerning the reserve supply of money to be kept on hand by banks. This has resulted in a strengthening of the dollar, which had already begun to strengthen. And I believe that it's well within the bounds of management; it's stable. I noticed an analysis that showed that in the last year the price of the dollar, the value of the dollar, as compared to currencies of all our trade partners, has increased substantially. Among the OPEC nations and their trade partners the value of the dollar, even 'before we made this recent move, had increased 8 percent over the last year.

So, I believe the dollar is stable, I believe the world economy is stable, and I see no prospect of shifting to a rigid price of gold and a gold standard.


Q. Sir, two more political questions in light of Senator Kennedy's prospective challenge of you. One, as you did in 1976, would you be willing to debate the Senator and other candidates in the primaries? And two, if you lost, would you support the Democratic nominee actively? And if you won, would you expect your opponents to do the same for you?

THE. PRESIDENT. That's a lot of conjecture. We don't have any candidates yet who have declared. I look forward to the campaign with a great deal of anticipation and confidence. And I think the normal routine interrelationships among candidates would probably prevail in 1980, as they did in 1976.

There were no official debates, as such, until the general election in 1976, when president Ford and I, as a nominee, were given that opportunity. But I feel at ease about it. I will protect my record, which I think is a good one. And as I say, I look forward to the campaign with anticipation and confidence.

Q. Mr. President, may I follow up? Will you support the winner of the convention?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. My presumption is—

Q. And second, your opponents support you if you win?

THE PRESIDENT. My presumption is that I would support whatever Democrat gets the nomination. I have always voted Democratic.


Q. Mr. President, wholesale prices continue to increase, indicating that there will be further inflation at the retail level throughout the rest of this year and perhaps longer. Most of the predictions that you've made and your economic advisers have made about the economy have proved to be on the low side and are constantly being revised upward, especially with regard to inflation.

Don't you think it's about time for some kind of reevaluation of your economic programs and policies? Are you going to just continue to go along on the same course, or do you think any kind of reexamination of your policy is indicated?

THE PRESIDENT. I think so far the program has been well conceived, and I think it has some very beneficial results. We are all surprised at the rate of inflation, brought about primarily, as I said, by an annual rate of increase of energy prices the last few months of more than 100 percent per year. Also, as I said earlier, if you could discount those energy increases, the rate of inflation would be the same this year as it was the preceding 2 years.

We have cut the budget deficit by $36 billion since I've been elected. We have reduced the total number of employees in the Federal Government. We've reduced the percentage of the gross national product being spent by the Government by 2 full percent, from 23 1/2 down to 21 1/2. We've cut paperwork by 15 percent. We've begun a strong move to deregulate, that is, to get the Government's nose out of the private business sector and the lives of private people. We've had a very stringent effort made to eliminate unwarranted spending, and we've moved when necessary to stabilize the value of the dollar.

We've also proposed to the Congress for the first time a means by which we could reduce the inflationary impact of importing 50 percent of our oil. This has been a long, slow, tedious process, but I think when the Congress does complete its work this year on an energy package, this will remove the single major factor that has been causing excessive inflation.

I don't intend to change our basic policy, and I believe that we've had maybe inadequately assessed results even from the wage-price guidelines.

The wage increases, for instance, this year, the first 9 months of this year, have been lower than they were in 1978. We've had more than a million union workers who have signed contracts within the wage guidelines. And the price standards have also been very effective. For instance, the items that come under price standards have been increasing at only one-half the rate of those that cannot be controlled, like OPEC oil prices.

So, I think in general our policy is an adequate and a good one, and I intend to maintain the thrust of it.


Q. Mr. President, I think earlier this year, you had a memo to the agencies and departments which discussed black institutions and contracts and awards. It seems as though that memo has lost some of its teeth in the process. Is there any way that that could be regenerated so that the employment of minorities in the country and through the colleges can increase?

THE PRESIDENT. We've had some success with the unemployment rate among minorities. Even this past month, as you know, the unemployment rate among women, teenagers, and minorities dropped. And we've been pleased at the average rate of unemployment throughout the country. It's still extremely high, however, comparatively speaking, among, say, black teenagers or other minority teenagers.

In addition to that, we have helped the Congress write a law so that public works projects, when assigned to individual communities, would include at least 10 percent of the total money going into contracts with minority-owned businesses. I set as a goal for our administration a tripling in 1 year of the portion of Federal purchases from minority businesses. It was a billion dollars. I set as a goal for the end of this year $3 billion. I think we'll hit a little below my goal, about $2 1/2 billion.

Also, I think in other ways, like the hiring of black employees or the minority employees, we've done a good job. I think I've appointed more judges, for instance, who are black than all the other Presidents in the history of our country combined. It's not been adequate, but we've made a major step forward. And we are assessing any failures that we've experienced—for instance, in purchasing, where I wanted to reach $3 billion, and we will only reach $2 1/2 billion. I have gotten identified now those agencies that did not meet the tripling goal that I set for them, and they are being especially encouraged by me to meet their goals next year.

We are making progress—not enough.

Judy [Judy Woodruff, NBC News].


Q. Mr. President, Senator Kennedy has suggested that instead of complaining about, I believe, what you call the malaise that the country is experiencing, that what the President should do now is ask the people to roll up their sleeves to try to pull the country out of its problem. And in effect, he spoke of a can-do spirit that harkens back to the 1960's.

THE PRESIDENT. Is this a campaign speech for him or— [laughter] .

Q. No, sir.


Q. What merit, if any, do you see in that suggestion that he made, and also, how vulnerable do you think you are on the issue of leadership.?

THE PRESIDENT. Obviously there is a degree of malaise in the country. People are discouraged about the current situation. They are doubtful about the future; they are saving less than they ever have been in the past; and they have a serious concern about confidence in one another and sometimes about the Government itself.

When I made my speech to the Nation, I think, on July 15, on a Sunday evening, I pointed this out. But I said that our country is inherently strong, capable, and able, that there is no need for us to be discouraged or disillusioned or divided or doubtful about one another or about our Government processes. We're the strongest nation on Earth—economically, politically, and militarily. We're going to stay that way.

And what I prescribed as a major test of American will and confidence was the evolution of and the passage of an energy program, which had never been done in the history of our country, that would be adequate to meet the challenge before us. I think the Congress has made good progress so far. I predict that before they adjourn this year, that we will have this test of our Nation's will successfully achieved.

So, I believe that through the process of helping one another, having confidence, working on major projects, and letting the Government show that it can be competent to deal with a major problem like this, we can resolve the malaise that has existed in our country. I'm not discouraged. I believe that we can succeed.


Q. Mr. Carter, a few moments ago you said that you thought you probably would like to be the Democratic nominee, in reference to the question on debating. Why are you waiting until December to announce, in view of the fact that Senator Kennedy is probably about to run? Why don't you tell us now that you're going to run?

THE PRESIDENT. I said I was going to make an announcement December 4. I didn't say what it would be yet.

I think that that's not too late. I want to do all I can without being an announced candidate to work with the Congress to get controversial issues decided and also to make plans for the initiation of a campaign year.

There's a tendency in our country to want to move that campaign date earlier and earlier. I believe that what I have decided on a date is compatible with past history. Also, of course, there is a limit to how late one can wait. There are some States that require filing, I believe, around the middle of December.

And so, I think that's late enough to give me a chance to do what I can with this year's Congress; not too late to miss any filing dates if I decide to meet them.


Q. Mr. President, fairly or unfairly, the polls suggest that one of your major political problems is a perceived lack of leadership. At the same time, Mrs. Carter is very visible these days. She's traveling and speaking on your behalf. She's almost on television as much as you are these days.

Do you think it's possible that her high profile in some strange way might ironically exacerbate your political problem? And secondly, is it true that some of your advisers believe that she has too high a public profile and would like her to be a little less visible?

THE PRESIDENT. I believe that if you would compare my wife's schedule now with what it was, say, a year ago, it wouldn't be materially different. The difference is that now the press is paying attention to where my wife goes and what she says.

Rosalynn has always been very close to me personally as well as to consult with me on matters of interest to me and to her. In some areas of public life, she plays a very strong role. She's interested in mental health, which he has been since even before I became Governor of Georgia. She's always been extremely interested in the problems of older Americans, and this has been a historic interest for her. And I think since this last year, perhaps, she's especially been encouraging people within communities to act on their own initiative to work together to correct local problems, not to wait for the Federal Government or the State or local government to do everything for them. And those things are not incompatible.

In addition, she is a very effective political campaigner. In 1976 and also in 1970, 1966, 1962, when I've had my other campaigns, Rosalynn has always played a substantial role. And I would imagine that she would continue that as long as she and I share a partnership and I'm in politics.

But I don't think her profile is too high. She's very knowledgeable; she is sensitive about American people's beliefs and feelings. She would never abuse her role as a wife or even the wife of a President. I have confidence that she will do the right thing.


Q. Mr. President, by all accounts, it appears that in the coming months, a million or more people could die in Cambodia of starvation. I know that you talked about this with the Pope the other day. What, if anything, can this Government do in combination with other groups?

THE PRESIDENT. We've been encouraging the humanitarian granting of aid, particularly food aid, to the people of Cambodia, hundreds of thousands of whom, maybe millions of whom are starving. We are trying to work out with the uncertain leaders of that country—uncertain because it's contested through war—a mechanism by which the United Nations primarily, the Red Cross, and UNICEF could get food into those people who are within Cambodia.

There's also a legal problem in refugee funds, because it hasn't yet been determined legally if a person who hasn't left the country is still identifiable as a refugee. The fact that the country's divided by war creates a complication.

But we are ready and eager to join in with other countries to provide humanitarian aid to all the people of Cambodia who are starving, and we will move on that without any further delay as soon as it's possible to join other countries in this effort.


Q. Mr. President, have you had any second thoughts as to who your running mate would be? Will it definitely be Walter Mondale?

THE PRESIDENT. Fritz Mondale and I have a very good partnership, and I have no plans whatsoever to change it.


Q. Mr. President, going back to your comments about competition with the Soviet Union with regard to arms, would you support NATO deployment of the Pershing missile to counter the SS-20? And if I could add another question there, do you have any reaction to President Brezhnev's conditional offer, too, on arms reduction in Central Europe?

THE PRESIDENT. Our allies and we are carefully assessing the significance of President Brezhnev's statement. However, I'd like to point out that what he's offering in effect is to continue their own rate of modernization as it has been, provided we don't modernize at all.

They have had an actual reduction in launchers the last few years. They've been replacing the old SS-4's and SS-5's with the SS-20, not on a one-for-one basis, but the SS-20 has three warheads, the old missiles only had one warhead. The SS-20 has a much greater range. It can reach our Western Allies' countries as a target even if it's located in the central part of Russia. It's three to six times as accurate as the old missiles which it replaced. And in addition to that, it's mobile; that is, it can't be located specifically and destroyed with a preemptive strike if that should become a desire on the part of allies. They also have replaced older airplanes with the Backfire bomber.

So, it's not quite as constructive a proposal as at first blush it seems to be. I think it's an effort designed to disarm the willingness or eagerness of our allies adequately to defend themselves.

In my judgment, the decision ought to be made to modernize the Western Allies' military strength and then negotiate with full commitment and determination mutually to lower armaments on both sides—the Warsaw Pact and the NATO countries—so that we can retain equivalency of military strength, equity of military strength, and have a lower overall level of armaments. This is what we hope to achieve.

I might point out that Chancellor Schmidt said, I believe yesterday or day before, that a prerequisite to a decision by our NATO Allies to take these steps, which he considers to be vital for the security of NATO, is the passage of SALT II.

So, if we can be successful in controlling existing strategic Soviet and United States atomic weapons through SALT II, then we'll move in the next step to reducing the nuclear weapons which don't have intercontinental range. And along with that, we'll continue with our mutual and balanced force reduction effort to reduce conventional arms.

It's an interesting proposal; it's one that might show promise. We're assessing it carefully, but it's not as great a step as would ordinarily be judged at first.


Q. Mr. President, do you have any intention at all of asking Hamilton Jordan to step down as Chief of Staff if a special prosecutor is named? And secondly, is there any thought in your mind, sir, that his departure might at all benefit your Presidency and your chances for reelection, or would they hurt them?

THE PRESIDENT. I'd like to remind you, first of all, that the President is the chief law enforcement officer of the land. And I don't think it would be appropriate for me to comment on guilt or innocence of anyone. Secondly, I'd like to point out that the appointment of a special prosecutor has no insinuation in it at all that the person investigated is guilty.

I believe it would be better for me not to go further than that, because I would ordinarily wait until the Attorney General made a report to me and then seek his advice on what the proprieties would be about my own public statements. I think, though, I've described my position adequately to answer your question.


Q. Mr. President, a question on the Middle East. Do you agree with those such as former Ambassador Andrew Young and George Ball and others who say that it is now time to do away with the restrictions put on our foreign policy by Henry Kissinger and open up a dialog with the Palestinians and the PLO?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I do not. We will not negotiate with the PLO. We will not recognize the PLO until after the PLO recognizes Israel's right to exist and endorses United Nations Resolution 242 as a basis for Middle East peace.

FRANK CORMIER [Associated Press]. Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Carter's fifty-second news conference began at 3:30 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. It was broadcast live on radio and television.

Jimmy Carter, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/248809

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