Lyndon B. Johnson photo

The President's News Conference at the National Press Club

January 17, 1969

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. President, Mr. Ex-President,1 my fellow clubmates and my fellow travelers:

1John W. (Pat) Heffernan, incoming President of the National Press Club, and Allan W. Cromley, outgoing President.


[1.] Thank you very much for this introduction and this welcome. I felt that it would not be right for me to leave Washington without coming here to my old club that I have been visiting since the days of George Stimson's and Bascom Timmons' presidency.2

2 Presidents of the National Press Club during the 1930's.

As I went to the Congress for two reasons, to tell them how I felt and for sentimental reasons, I come to the Press Club today largely for the identical reasons.

I also wanted to be sure that I acknowledged the close and the frank relationship that we have always enjoyed. You were always frank and I was close. [Laughter]

I am told that Pat Heffernan will soon be taking the oath of office. I have had some experience in that field myself, as you may know. And I want to say, Pat, that I hope you will believe me, since I was sworn in I have been known to utter a few oaths myself. Many of them were at times directed at members of the press.

But today all is forgotten. I have never, I must say, doubted your energy or your courage or, for that matter, your patriotism. That is why I asked General Hershey3 to get in touch immediately with each of you. [Laughter]

You may wonder, really, why I am here today, and I guess you are wondering that now, and I will be wondering that when I leave.

3 Lt. Gen. Lewis B. Hershey, Director of the Selective Service System.

Actually I have been out with Mrs. Johnson inspecting the new route for Pennsylvania Avenue. A lot of people have been asking us what we are going to do with our spare time. She can and she does always speak for herself. But I will tell you what I am going to do. I am going down to the ranch Monday afternoon, and I am going to sit on that front porch in a rocking chair for about 10 minutes. And then I am going to read a little and write a little. Then I am going to put on my hat and go out and find Walter Lippmann.4 [Laughter]

4Syndicated columnist who opposed President Johnson's position on the Vietnam conflict.

Someone told me the other day that the press had had a few complaints about the treatment that you had received during this administration. Well this is a fine time to be telling me now. Why didn't you mention it sooner?

Well, I have got some complaints of my own. Maybe I should have mentioned them sooner to you. Getting misquoted, for instance, is one thing I have got to complain about.

I remember that Peter Hurd painting.5 Do you all remember that? I never said it was ugly. Actually, I thought it was a pretty good likeness, except for one little detail: It left off the halo.

5A portrait of the President painted by New Mexico artist Peter Hurd in 1965.

Again, someone on our Korean trip quoted me as saying that an ancestor of mine was in a fight at the Alamo and lived. Now that is true, but I had no opportunity to answer it, and the correction never catches up with the story. You didn't ever give me a chance to explain it.

What I was trying to say was that my ancestor was in a fight at the Alamo--that is the Alamo Hotel in Eagle Pass, Texas.

And on another occasion I remember where, I guess, you were more accurate. I did show my scar, but I think in explanation you ought to know that it was only after a question from Sarah McClendon.6 She jumped up behind the weeds out there on the golf course--maybe it wasn't the golf course, but it was a grassy area, I remember, near the Bethesda Hospital--and she said: "Mr. President, you have been in office almost 2 years and what do you have to show for it?" And I get blamed for giving her the truth.

6A reporter representing several Texas newspapers, who questioned the President following his gall bladder operation.

One of the things we have to show for it, though, is another chapter, and it is almost closed, in the long story of the relationship between the President of the country and the press of the Nation. That relationship began when the country was founded, and now for nearly two centuries the press has held the President and his family and his administration in the fixed and the constant light of publicity. And through nearly two centuries the Presidents have felt, in one degree or another, uncomfortable in that steady glare.

That relationship between the President and the press has always had the nature though, I think, of a lovers' quarrel. And I am not sure it is ever going to be much different. That doesn't bother me as long as both sides concern themselves with the basic fundamentals, and as long as Presidents and each member of the press base their acts upon the respect for the other's purposes. I think most of the time that has been true.

I would be less than candid if I failed to say that I am troubled by the difficulties of communicating with and through the press. I think it might be interesting if at a future gathering of the National Press Club you focused on this problem, if you think it is a problem. Instead of the President, your guest might well be a famous member of the press, itself, who has known both the difficulties of reporting and of dealing with reporters--a few such men as Russell Wiggins, Arthur Sylvester, Douglass Cater.7 I would be very much interested in their views of what could be done there.

7J. Russell Wiggins, former editor of the Washington Post, who served as United States Representative to the United Nations from October 4, 1968, to January 20, 1969; Arthur Sylvester, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs; and S. Douglass Cater, Jr., Special Assistant to the President.

But despite all the problems we have heard and read about, and despite all the complaints, I am very much an optimist. I have faith in the power of our institutions to solve their problems. And of course that applies to our Government and to our press.

The secret, as the poet put it a long time ago, is to see ourselves, if we can, as others see us. I think that is very good advice for Presidents, and I also think it is good advice for the press and for the people.

So now our chapter is almost closed and I want to say to Allan and Pat, to the ladies and gentlemen, my parting words are taken from a great statesman of the press whom I have an appointment with when I finish this meeting, Mr. Merriman Smith,8 "Thank you, Mr. President."

8A reporter with United Press International.

I will be glad to take any questions that you may have if you care to give them.



[2.] Q. I have several, Mr. President, bearing on your relations with the press, some of which you have already answered. But there is one here that maybe I could ask.

Will you miss the press corps as much as it will miss you?

THE PRESIDENT. I will miss the press corps very much. I can't speak for them. I came to this town, as most of you know, 38 years ago. And I have always found in my personal relationship that I very much enjoyed the members of your profession.

Most of the time the people who have worked with me in the press have been among my best friends. And while that has not been always true of other members, I know one of the things that I will miss most when I leave is not just my friends, but my critics, too.

Q. Sir, another question along that line: Do you expect that Mr. Nixon will be accused of creating a credibility gap?

THE PRESIDENT. I doubt that they would use the same words, but I have no doubt that from time to time there will be differences in the opinion of the people who observe the events and the people who have principals in it.


[3.] Q. Sir, if you had any major decision to make again--Vietnam, whether to run again--would you make it differently?

THE PRESIDENT. I am sure I would make a number of decisions differently in the light of 5 years' experience, although I would not change either of those.


[4.] Q. Would you be willing to undertake special assignments from time to time for President Nixon?

THE PRESIDENT. I cannot see any assignment at this time that I could make a contribution to, although as long as I live I want to be at the service of whoever happens to be President and to do anything l can to help him be a good President and to serve this country that has been so good to me.


[5.] Q. Why do you think the Democratic Party lost the election?

THE PRESIDENT. They didn't get enough votes. [Laughter]


[6.] Q. Did you seriously consider naming Arthur Goldberg as Chief Justice after the Fortas nomination was withdrawn? 9

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. And before, too.

9Arthur J. Goldberg, former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and Associate Justice Abe Fortas, whose nomination as Chief Justice was withdrawn on October 2, 1968 (see Item 509).



[7.] Q. Do you contemplate ever running for public office again, possibly as United States Senator?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't want to withdraw any of my options. I try to always keep them. I didn't leave public life with any intention of entering again.


[8.] Q. Concerning student unrest, what advice can you give in encouraging constructive protests within the system and opposing the violent campus destructive protests?

THE PRESIDENT. I can't give much. I am not as close to it as I want to be. I don't think that I understand the students, or I don't think that my generation understands the students as we should. I have had some very new experiences opened to me, new situations that I have faced.

I don't have the answers for them. Most of the young people whom I have dealt with, and we have two young daughters and their friends--a good many of the young people have come our way socially and officially. I have been on many campuses. I have always felt that I had a good understanding and rapport with the students but I think I will be better able to enlighten you and give you a better answer to that question a year from now.

It is a problem that is not just for us. It is a problem for the world. I was reading a report the other day, and I believe the summary showed that in some 25 or 30 countries the students had taken over the schools and also have taken over government buildings and things of that nature.

So, obviously, we don't understand. And we have not concerned ourselves enough with the problems or with the answers.


[9.] Q. What, sir, did you regard as your greatest accomplishment as President, and what do you regard as your happiest moment while President?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, actually, most of my moments have been happy ones. We have had critical decisions to make and we have had troubles, but the American people do very well by their President.

I think generally speaking, the Congress, the business community, the labor community, even the press, have treated me better than I have a right to expect. It looks to you today that maybe this is a little off-balance one way or the other, but when I review the entire 5 years and I look back at other Presidencies that I am going to try to become a little more familiar with before I start talking to these youngsters at the campuses, I find that we have had very good experiences and many, many happy moments.

I expect the thing that has pleased me as much as any other thing that has come to me is the response that the Congress made to my Voting Rights Act. I have felt very deeply most of my adult life, that this was a problem in America that we had not really faced up to and that we did not have a real democracy as long as a substantial percentage of our population was disenfranchised.

And I felt that if we could pass a voting rights bill back in the fifties that we could solve a lot of our problems between the races. I think if we addressed ourselves to those problems in the fifties, as we did in the sixties, we could have avoided some of the conflict and the tragedy that followed.

We had the problem of the cities. The people were leaving the farm and migrating to the cities in the fifties, but we did not do anything about it. We had the problem of disenfranchising a large percentage of our population, but we did not do anything about it.

When we had the Selma situation and the leadership talked to me about it and I asked for the privilege of going before the Congress in March of 1965 and recommend the Voting Rights Act,10 to me it was almost like Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, except it did not just extend to the States in rebellion; it extended it to everyone in the United States and said to them that the Federal Government would see that they had a right to vote.

10For the President's special message to the Congress on "The American Promise" delivered in person before a joint session on March 15, 1965, following civil rights demonstrations in Selma, Ala., for his statement of April 20, 1965, on the eve of Senate consideration of the voting rights bill, and for his remarks of August 6, 1965, in the Capitol Rotunda upon signing the measure, see 1965 volume, this series, Book I, Items 107 and 201, and Book II, Item 409.

And I believe if everyone has the right to vote that they can take care of their own problems pretty well. As you see, when they are electing southern sheriffs, southern mayors, and southern judges, the Negroes have been emancipated a good deal.

It is going to take time for you to understand that and for you to feel it. But it is really going to make democracy real. It is going to correct an injustice of decades and centuries. I think it is going to make it possible for this Government to endure, not half slave and half free, but united.

While there are many things we have done to help poor people--to help educate them, to provide better health for them, to conserve our resources, all of those things we have taken great pride in--I expect the greatest single individual act that meant the most to me that I wrote and authored was the Space Act. That was back in 1958. But in 1968 we saw its results--some 10 years later.

I think you will be seeing the results of the Voting Rights Act in this country and throughout the world. At least I have felt that way for a good many years.

It finally came to pass after a tragedy at Selma. And I think it really may mean that our Government will endure--can endure.


[10.] Q. If I might ask just another couple of questions, Mr. President:

Do you plan to travel abroad soon, namely to see the Pope?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I have no plans to travel abroad at all, except to my neighbor across the border, Mexico. Mrs. Johnson and I hope to go there fairly soon.

I always enjoy my visits to the Vatican. I have made many. I would certainly like to return there sometime when I don't have to get home for Christmas, and if Hugh Sidey11 with his new affluence as chief of a bureau can afford it, I want to take him back sometime when he can enjoy coming back to the United States via the Vatican.

11Hugh S. Sidey became chief of the Washington bureau of Time magazine early in January 1969. He was a member of the press corps which accompanied the President on his round-the-world trip of December 19-24, 1967, during which the President met with Pope Paul VI at the Vatican.


[11.] Q. One pertaining to Latin America, sir: Why in your administration, was the Pan American Highway not finished, considering that this would be the highest achievement in the linking of the three Americas and considering that only a gap of 300 miles is not finished?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, there are a good many things that should have been done in this administration that have not been done. We are leaving a great deal unfinished. We are leaving a great many other problems in Latin America that are unfinished.

We just have not been able to do the things that we should do in the time we had. Some said that we did too much too fast. I have never agreed with that. But I can agree that we have left much undone and this is one of the unfinished items on the agenda that I hope will be dealt with soon.


[12.] Q. Many experts foresee famine and chaos for the world in the year 2000. What is your view? Can we avoid world famine? Do you think your administration was able to do enough to forestall catastrophe?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think my administration has done enough in hardly any field. I tell this story every day, but it is very true. Some of you have heard it two or three times already today.

It is reputed that Prime Minister Churchill, at the end of World War II, was called upon by a group of temperance ladies, and a little lady in tennis shoes, the chairman of the group, said: "Mr. Prime Minister, we want to tell you "They had come to complain about his drinking habits and said: "We want to tell you that we are reliably informed that if all of the alcohol you have consumed during World War II, if it were emptied in this room, it would come up to about here."

And the Prime Minister looked at the floor and then at the ceiling and he said: "Well my dear little lady, so little have I done, so much I have yet to do."

So I don't agree generally, with the evaluation that a good many people have made about what has been done, for instance, in 1968. I have not been deliberately taking the time that I want to be positive about this, but I doubt that we have had many better years with the Congress than in 1968, although I think everybody felt since 1966 we haven't done anything because they elected some Republicans and increased their membership, and because we were defeated on some things.

Now, a President is always going to be defeated on some things, and some very important things. Sometimes it is going to be justice speaking. Sometimes it may be a little injustice. The President always thinks it's injustice, but if they just passed everything the President sent up there, we would not need the Congress. It is basically a system of checks and balances.

In 1968, we saved the dollar, stabilized it, and left ourselves in a wonderful economic situation, perhaps the strongest situation, relatively speaking, balance of payments or otherwise, that we have been in in many years.

But who can say that tax bill wasn't one of the most important measures we ever passed in history in an election year. I am sure those who wanted to defeat me were very happy that it at least contributed to my withdrawing, because it was very obvious to all that the Republicans were not about to make the Democratic President look good by taking the responsibility of passing his tax bill and giving him a surplus. Yet, after we withdrew, in a matter of weeks, we passed the tax bill.

The housing bill, I think, will be remembered as one of the 10 landmark pieces of legislation of the 188 years of this Government. This was passed in 1968. This was passed by the Congress in an election year.12

12The President's decision not to seek reelection was announced on March 31, 1968, the tax bill was approved on June 28, and the Housing and Urban Development Act on August 1 (see Items 170, 343, 426).

So I think that we will have to take time to look at these things. I went over them last night, just the year 1968--some of the outstanding measures. I think that as time goes along we will appreciate it.

I don't think anyone in this country understands the far-reaching revolutionary effects that this housing measure is going to have. We have not pulled the bark off it yet.

I met with 35 civil rights leaders, all of whom were advocating open housing by Executive order. I told them we could not do it that way; we don't make laws by Executive order in this country. And as a product of the Hill, one who had spent 12 years in the House and 12 years in the Senate, I didn't think we could make an act stand up and be effective over the long pull of history if we did not have the Congress embrace it.

There was only one of those leaders that stood up at that meeting and said: "Mr. President, you are right." His name is Clarence Mitchell.13 He lives here. He is the NAACP representative. I was thinking then in terms of several years. I don't know, but I thought perhaps it would take 10 years to get an open housing bill in this country.

13 Director of the Washington, D.C., office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

It had taken that long to get a voting rights bill since it was first seriously sent up. It had taken that long to get Medicare, and so forth. But in 2 years we had open housing legislation on the statute books. And I think the Congress will be remembered for that.


[13.] Q. Mr. President, are you sorry that more countries did not take a more active part in the effort to help South Vietnam?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. We need all the help we can get. I wish that every country that did participate could have participated more. I wish all of the signatories to the SEATO Treaty could have actively helped more.


[14.] Part of the question of yours I don't think I answered a moment ago. I do think we have got serious problems of world population. When I came into office we were spending about $6 million a year on the population question. This year it is about $166 million. It is not a question though of the dollars you spend; it is attitudes, policies of government, and opinions and so on and so forth.

I do think that we must do something about the population problem as well as the food problem. I am very proud that the basic industry of agriculture has been able, up to now, to produce much more food than we can consume in this country and do it at a much lower percentage of the total dollar that is spent for food than we have ever done before. I think it is a great tribute to agriculture.

I was pointing that out to Secretary Hardin, who is a scientist and who comes from the University of Nebraska, a very able man who is going to be Secretary of Agriculture.14 That is one of the problems he is going to deal with.

14 Clifford M. Hardin, Secretary of Agriculture designate.

We have not learned yet how to master the distribution system. I think it is a tragedy that here we live in the midst of plenty, with more than we can eat and a great deal more, as you can observe, than we should eat, and so many of our fellow human beings are starving throughout the world.

I had great doubts about making $1 billion worth of wheat available to India, almost $1 billion. I had an extended discussion with the Cabinet. I finally appointed George Ball15 to come and make an argument against it so I could hear all the reasons why it shouldn't be done, and he did.

15George W. Ball, former Under Secretary of State. For the President's special message to the Congress on food for India and for his statement upon signing a joint resolution providing additional emergency food aid for India, see 1967 volume, this series. Book I, Items 33 and 153.

While I was considering it he called me the next day and said: "I made that argument against it because you asked me to. But the more I have thought about it the more I think you ought to go ahead with your original inclination." So we did.

It has been one of the decisions that I have been very proud of. I wish that we could feel that we could do more in the way of using our surplus capacity to produce food and to distribute it where it is needed. I think it is tragic that we live in a world where every person doesn't have all the food they need. And there are many people in this country who don't have it. We are trying to face up to it some.

We have greatly extended it through the Food Stamp plan, through Public Law 480,16 but we have not scratched the surface. We have not done near enough. We are still in the horse and buggy days. And it is not Christian. It is almost criminal to have the capacity to produce what we have and not know any more about how to distribute it and get it to the people who need it.

16For remarks and a statement by the President upon signing the extension of Public Law 480 (the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act of 1954) and the 1968 amendments to the Food Stamp Act of 1964, see Items 417, 519.

I think that we are going to be held accountable and we ought to face up to that problem. It is one of the big problems for this administration. It is a problem I did not solve. I think we have made some progress, some headway, but we have not found the answers.


[15.] Q. How, sir, did you make the deficit in the balance of payments disappear in the last 2 weeks of your administration? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. I think sometimes you are lucky and sometimes you are unlucky. I think it is a combination of very long and hard work, primarily on the part of Secretary Fowler,17 who is one of the most tenacious men I have ever known and who tried to be the guardian of the country and the trustee, and never let a dollar go out that he did not personally approve. He spent his last few months going around the world trying to bring as many dollars in as he could.

17Henry H. Fowler, former Secretary of the Treasury.

I think that he recommended to the President and the President adopted a balance of payments policy that encouraged our business institutions to do some of their financing abroad.

The interest rate question, of course, helped. A good many people were attracted to this country by what they could earn on their money and also they are very interested in America's industrial system and our stocks. I don't think I did it all. I think we got some good breaks.

I think Secretary Fowler's vision and tenacity paid off and I think we had a good many friends in the world who helped us in circumstances that bounced our way.


[16.] Q. The administration's gun registration bill would use wildlife funds to pay the cost. Has it become anticonservation in its old age?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think so. One of the great disappointments that I have had as President was--notwithstanding the tragedies that we have had to live through these last few years--our people are apparently unwilling to face up to what I believe is a necessity, and ultimately the Congress will recognize it as such, of a gun registration law. And I said so in my meeting the other night.

Of course, the hunters and the sportsmen are very interested in being able to pursue their desires and we have no desire to interfere with that. There is not anything in the law--because you have to register a car is no reason why you can't use that car; because you have to get a driver's license is no reason you can't drive. There may be some legitimate criticism about the conservationists and how that legislation was drawn. I don't know. I have not gone through the hearings of it, but I would not fight about the financing.

What I am concerned about is having adequate authority to see that demented people, children, crazy folks, and criminals don't have guns that are not registered, that we cannot find and don't know where they are, and have them prey upon the country and kill our leading citizens.

I think this would at least deter crime and improve our record. I think ultimately we will come to it. I may be wrong, but I don't think so.


[17.] Q. Mr. President, quite a number of the questions which have come up to me have concerned that grand little boy, your grandson, Lyn.18 One asks, is it true that Lyn is being left behind to help in the transition?

THE PRESIDENT. No. The fact of the matter is that I urged Luci, who is always receptive to her father's suggestions, to let Lyn accompany us to our last State of the Union. I thought it would be an experience that I would like for him to have--at age 19 months. He might not remember it, but I would.

18Patrick Lyndon Nugent, son of AIC. Patrick J. Nugent and Luci Johnson Nugent.

Mrs. Johnson violently objected, just as she objected--as you see from the truth that the photographers revealed--when Lyn volunteered to be an astronaut the other day and when he protested that the Air Force, to which his daddy belongs, to being called up last. But Mrs. Johnson's picture gave you her opinion of children in public places and so forth.

But, anyway, Luci and I outvoted her and Lyn went to the State of the Union. A little later that evening I heard a television commentator say that Mrs. Johnson was in tears. I said: "Well now you are the architect of this decision. And this is just a part of the Lady Bird plan of beautification. You are moving me out of town. Why would you be crying about it?" She said: "I wasn't crying. I was just laughing with fear." I said: "How do you laugh with fear?" She said, "Well, you could understand if you had been there in that balcony with me, with Lyn wildly throwing a glass bottle of milk around through his hands, with my fear that it was going to slip and hit H. R. Gross19 right on the top of the head."

19Representative H. R. Gross of Iowa.

I guess she felt by that--I don't think that she was favoring re-election of the Republicans, but she felt that every Congress ought to have one H. R. Gross. I don't know. I guess she wanted to preserve him.

In any event, you know, Pat, Lyn's father, lives in Waukegan, Illinois. And they had a friendship with the Dirksens20 before they did with the Johnsons. It seems that Waukegan is a Republican territory. Senator Dirksen was at Luci and Pat's wedding and they are very close. So he insisted that we come to the Hill for the State of the Union and come back to the Senate yesterday. And who am I to turn down Senator Dirksen, even when I am leaving town? So when the leadership asks me to go, I go, and he said, "Bring Lyn."

20 Senate Minority Leader Everett McKinley Dirksen of Illinois and Mrs. Dirksen.

I took Lyn. Lyn didn't understand everything, but he does like Senator Dirksen like his father does and his grandfather. Senator Dirksen kept calling for Lyn and he was in the back of the room playing with the telephone. And when he finally got Lyn up there, Lyn was somewhat irritated by having been taken away from his telephone and he reached over and got Senator Dirksen's glasses. That is a very inconsiderate thing. It was displeasing to Mrs. Johnson. It made the photographers all happy. And in any event Lyn is not with us today. For that reason he has been confined to quarters by his grandmother. But that does not mean that he is going to be confined to the White House after we leave. He is going with us Monday.

Q. In that connection, sir, would you let Lyn become a newspaper man?

THE PRESIDENT. I would like very much for him to be a newspaper man or whatever he wants to be. I don't think I will have much to do with that. I have not been able to influence my own children on what they do, and I doubt that I will influence my grandchildren very much.

But my wife wanted most of her life to be a newspaper person. And I am afraid the rest of the time she is going to be. She tells me she is going to travel and write about it so that is why I was so indefinite about my plans for travel in the future. I expect I will grab my cane and just kind of trot and follow along.


[18.] Q. There are a number of people here, sir, who would like to get you involved in press club politics. We did discuss before you came two vital issues. One was credit and the other was the position of the ladies in respect to this club. I will not ask you the questions here because I am sure you wouldn't want to get into press club politics.

THE PRESIDENT. I believe in both of them, I might say. The more troubles I have and the more burdens I carry, the more I need both of them.

Q. May I ask the last question on a personal note? Would you care to comment on the likelihood that fish and chips will replace Texas-style chili on the National Press Club menu?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I am not very much of an expert on menus since Mrs. Johnson had that early experience with a French cook.

But I do appreciate so much your asking me to come by here. Frankly, this is the first club I came to when I came to town. Mr. Kleberg,21 for whom I worked, was a member of the National Press Club. You were not so profitable then. You didn't have as many members. And you had a heavy debt. You were in depression times. There were not so many happy faces here as I see now.

21Richard M. Kleberg, Sr., Representative from Texas 1931-1945.

But the Press Club has always been a most interesting spot and I have come here to your annual parties and I am very glad that in my retirement, as I turn over the Office of the Presidency, that you would be generous and kind enough to ask us to come back.


[19.] Today and yesterday have been memorable days in our life. The things we have looked for and prayed for all along have not yet been realized, but it has moved a step forward.

I almost hate to say this, but this is true: Mrs. Johnson doesn't stay in my room all evening, every evening, because she does require some sleep, and I have been able to get through the years with a minimum of sleep. So sometimes she gets up and puts on a robe and leaves kind of haughty, with expressions about the telephone ringing in the middle of the night.

But in the very blackest part of the morning the telephone rang and I leaned over and turned on the light and saw the time and I said: "This is nothing but another catastrophe."

That phone doesn't ring at 3 o'clock or 4 o'clock in the morning unless there is trouble. They just don't wake up a President practicing.

She is over on the other side of the bed-far over on the other side of the bed and she is reaching for her robe, and getting ready to make her exit, and it's Mr. Rostow.22 He said: "Pardon me, Mr. President. I regret very much--." And I said: "Come on, hurry, what is it, Walt?" And he said, "I just want to tell you that things have gone very well and we have agreement and we will move to substantive talks at a specific time. And he outlined it.

22 Walt Whitman Rostow, Special Assistant to the President.

I said: "Fine, Walt, wait just a minute. I want to hear the details." Then I said: "Lady Bird, pull off your robe and stay here. It is not trouble."

It is the only call I remember receiving in the early hours of the morning that had some hope of being good news. So our hopes and our prayers are on what happens in Paris, not just today but in the days ahead.

We think that we have had a move forward. We have got a breakthrough now with what kind of a table we will have and perhaps we can get on with the substantive talks that we envisioned back in March when we took what we thought were rather far-reaching and dramatic steps in that direction, and certainly what we anticipated in October when we made those decisions.

If I could have one thing presented to me today that I would rather have than anything else in the world, it would be that I could bring back from Vietnam all the men I sent out there and that we could have peace in the world so that those men could come and enjoy being with their families again and enjoy the benefits of our affluence in this great society that we have.

I received a letter from Pat 23 last night and he said: "It will be the last letter that I write you as Commander in Chief. I want to thank you." And so on and so forth, as if he had something to thank me for for sending him there. But he said, "A GI's expression out here is 'I got it short.' So that means I have only 88 more days to stay here." He said: "That means a lot to me because this is the first Christmas I ever spent away from my family, my father and mother."

23The President's son-in-law Alc Patrick J. Nugent.

I thought about the half million others-perhaps it was their first Christmas away. This morning I got one from Major Robb.24 He is not quite so sentimental. He is a Marine. He was telling me about the situation there. But he did wind up asking me a question or two about his three-month-old baby girl whom he had not seen. As hard, and tough, and Dean Ruskish, indifferent, and General Marshall as Chuck Robb is, I still perceived from that letter that he wanted to be back, too, even a hardened Marine.

24 The President's son-in-law, Maj- Charles S. Robb, husband of Lynda Bird Johnson Robb.


[20.] So the thing I would like to do most is to find some way, somehow, soon to bring peace to the world. It has eluded me. I don't want to appear paternalistic or even charitable or even nonpolitical, but I was a Democratic leader of a Republican administration for most of the Republican administration that we have had in recent years-the only one we have had since I came to Washington. It came and went and the country was preserved, even though we had a Democratic Congress and a Republican President, because we tried to understand each other, and we tried to give each other credit for being motivated properly.

So I hope that the members of my party will try to treat President Nixon as I tried to treat President Eisenhower. If they do, I believe that they will find that it will be the best investment they ever made, not only for their country but for themselves.

President Eisenhower returned that investment to me in my 5 years of the Presidency with interest, in wise counsel and great help. We are not wise enough to solve these problems if just half of us are aboard.

The President has got to have the country's support. It doesn't make any difference how much he wants peace--unless the country has respect for him and confidence in him and support for him, he can't have it. President Nixon is going to be in this job not just working for President Nixon. He is going to get $200,000 a year. I think some of you ought to feel a little bit sorry for me that I am going to take a $175,000 cut. But he is going to be there working for all of us.

I said to him one time: "Hubert25 and I have brought the plane in from the Pacific and we have crossed it and we have been in a lot of thunderheads and electrical storms. It has been very dangerous, and our radar has been out. By luck we are here and now we are going to take our grandchildren and get back here in the tourist section. You and Mr. Agnew26 are going to have to take the controls. But we are going to be on this plane, and you are going to head it across the Atlantic. The squalls will jeopardize you more in the Atlantic than they did us in the Pacific.

25Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.

26 Vice President-elect Spiro T. Agnew.

"But I sure do want that plane to land, and I want it to land safely. For that reason I am going to try to keep my trips up to the cabin to the very minimum. I am not going to knock down any doors or wave any revolvers or put any at your temple or pull your hair or scratch you or try to attract your attention away from the big job you have got of carrying all of us safely through these treacherous clouds."

So I would say to all of you that I appreciate your asking me here. I have had a wonderful 5 years. I don't hold a thing in the world against anyone in this town that I know, or anywhere else.

If you can just indulge in a little objectivity and I can indulge in a little introspection, I just can't think of a country that could have been better to me and, generally speaking, I don't think that there are any segments of that country that haven't been good to me.

I am leaving this town with nothing but gratitude and love in my heart. There is not a Republican in the House or Senate mean enough for me to dislike or hate--or a Democrat either.

Note: President Johnson's one hundred and thirty-fifth news conference was held at the National Press Club in Washington at 1:46 p.m. on Friday, January 17, 1969. The President met with reporters at the Press Club's business meeting.

Lyndon B. Johnson, The President's News Conference at the National Press Club Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives