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Press Conference by President Kennedy on March 29, 2010
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I have several announcements to make.
It is with extreme regret that I announce the retirement of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Charles Evans Whittaker, effective April 1. Justice Whittaker, a member of the Supreme Court for nearly five years, and of the Federal Judiciary for nearly eight years, is retiring at the direction of his physician for reasons of disability. I know that the bench and the bar of the entire nation join me in commending Mr. Justice Whittaker for his devoted service to his country during a critical period in its history.
Next, I want to take this opportunity to stress again the importance of the tax bill now before the House of Representatives. An attempt is being made in that House to defeat this bill by sending it back to committee, and if it is killed, we will have lost a most valuable opportunity to find jobs for the college and high school graduates who will be seeking those jobs in June of this year. We will lose our best hope of modernizing our machiner and our equipment, and giving our industry an inducement to step up their investment so that they can compete on more equal terms with foreign investors and producers.
We will be abandoning an effort to close off foreign tax havens that drain our jobs and dollars away from our shores, and we will be permitting 630 million dollars a year in taxes due from stockholders and bondholders to go uncollected, even though these taxes are on the books, even though one third of these people are paying their taxes in good faith, and yet because of the difficulty of collecting them, nearly 630 million dollars due to the Treasury does not come in each year, which means that those wage earners, the small businessmen and others who have their taxes withheld from their salaries and their paychecks must pay more.
We need this bill, finally, to help close off our loss of gold in our balance of payments. To make that less, we must modernize our equipment and our businesses so that they can compete, and we must close the loopholes, which permit and encourage industry to invest overseas. I hope that every Member of the House of Representatives who believes in spreading the tax burden fairly, who wants to improve our balance of payments position, who wants this country to grow with new equipment and new jobs, will support this bill as the best means of achieving these goals today. And I find great difficulty in understanding the position of any political party, which makes it a matter of party objective to defeat this bill at this most important time.
Third, I have a statement, which Mr. Hatcher will have for you on the problems of nuclear test inspection.
Let me just say in summary that after hearing Mr. Rusk's report of the work that has been done in Geneva, of his excellent work, I am convinced that the problem of inspection has now emerged clearly as the central obstacle to an effective test ban treaty. We cannot accept any agreement that does not provide for an effective international process that will tell the world whether the treaty is being observed. The Soviet government so far flatly rejects any such inspection of any shape or kind. This is the issue that has been made clear in Geneva. We remain earnestly determined to work for an effective treaty, and we remain ready to conclude such a treaty at the earliest possible time.
QUESTION: Mr. President, is the situation such in regard to nuclear testing that there is no longer any doubt, there are no further reservations, and that we will resume testing at the end of this month?
THE PRESIDENT: No, we are going to continue to work -- the position remains the same as it did in our speech of March 2. We desire an effective treaty but, as I have stated, what is preventing the passage of an effective treaty, or its acceptance, is the refusal to permit any inspection on the territory of the Soviet Union, and while it's possible for us to pick up by seismic means an explosion under ground, we cannot make a distinction by seismic means between an earthquake, of which there may be three or four hundred a year, from the Soviet Union, and a nuclear explosion, without an actual inspection.
And that is the issue upon which the conference is now divided, and we are going to continue to work to see if we can get a treaty which will permit inspection.
QUESTION: Mr. President, what's your reaction to the apparent general agreement between both parties on a steel contract?
THE PRESIDENT: The steel contract, of course, has not been agreed to. It's necessary, on Saturday, for the Executive Committee, which has been called together by President McDonald to meet and consider any agreement, and that meeting must be followed by the Wage Policy Committee of the Steelworkers Union, which is composed of representatives, I think 230 of them, of the rank and file. They must consider the matter, too.
And at the end of those considerations, and after these bodies have made their judgments, we can make a determination whether an agreement will be reached.
Let me say that both the union and the company have worked long and hard. I have been most impressed by their willingness to consider this contract ahead of time, by their desire to meet their responsibilities to the country here and abroad, and I commend them both, and I am hopeful that in the next few days we will have an agreement. But the agreement must depend upon the approval of the responsible parties in the company and in the union.
QUESTION: Would you give us your assessment, sir, of the recent events in Argentina and their possible impact upon the Alliance for Progress?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the events there are still uncertain enough, and the reports are still not clear
enough and I think therefore it will be unwise, lacking that kind of precise information, for us to make comments at this time on events in another country.
QUESTION: Mr. President, have you accepted the rules on carpetbagging that were laid down last week for California?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I thought that the thing just sort of worked out. I thought it was handled very satisfactorily from my point of view -- on each side. (Laughter)
QUESTION: Mr. President, you once told us you had an opinion as to whether Mr. Nixon should enter the race for the California Governorship, but you never did tell us what that was. Could you tell us about it?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think I said at the time that I would be glad to confide it to him and he has not as yet spoken to me about it. But I'll be glad to come back to California and talk to him about it. (More laughter)
QUESTION: Mr. President, Mr. Nixon in his book has indicated that he feels he won three of the four debates. In view of this, do you think future debates are advisable?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I would think that they would be. They'll be part of the ' 64 campaign. I have already indicated I will be glad to debate, even if I did, as the Vice President suggested, lose three out of the four.
QUESTION: Mr. President, one of the several mysteries about Soviet foreign policy seems to be the fact that despite three and a half years of threats since November 1958, Mr. Khrushchev has not actually forced a complete showdown on Berlin. In the light of what information Mr. Rusk has brought to you, have you any inkling as to why he has followed this line of what might be called casual urgency, and do you feel that there is any hope involved in it?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I would not want an impression to be created that we in any way under-estimate the urgency and the immediacy of the problem. This is a matter of vital concern to both countries, and I think that both sides must realize that any effort to push this thing beyond a certain point could result in a great damage to the vital interests of both countries and would lead to all sorts of hazards. So I think that we continue to talk because we are anxious to see if it is possible to prevent a situation arising where excessive action might be taken by either side to advance its own interest which could lead to a response which, as I say, has a good deal of potential danger in it.
So in answer to your question, Mr. Morgan, I would say the situation is a very difficult one. I think that it is a matter of importance to both sides, and therefore I think both sides have proceeded with a good deal of care because they realize it is so important and therefore could bring about, we hope, a very happy solution, though none has been forthcoming, but could, if miscalculations were made or mistakes made by anyone, could bring about a very unhappy one. So that we proceed with care and we welcome the care with which others may proceed.
QUESTION: Mr. President, there appears to be a situation of deadlock in Laos, Mr. President, with the Royal Laos government not going ahead in the formation of a government of national union. Do you anticipate any review or re-evaluation of our policy towards the coalition government?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we believe strongly as the best way of protecting the interests of Laos and the interests in Southeast Asia, that we should have a neutral and independent Laos under a government led by Souvanna Phouma. That's our policy, and I think opposition to that policy is somewhat unwise. The alternatives are not very bright, and if the cease-fire should end, I think it would present the people of Laos with a good deal of danger. I think we should reach a solution based on the government, the coalition government, under Souvanna Phouma, and I hope the Royal Laotian government will support that position. It represents, it seems to me, great hazards to them not to.
QUESTION:. Mr. President, did the Secretary of State tell you anything regarding his talks with Mr. Gromyko in Geneva that would indicate that the climate for a possible Summit this year might be better than it has been in recent weeks?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think I have explained my position on the Summit, and I don't think I can add to it. The matter of a Summit has not been discussed by the Secretary, since he has been back, with me.
QUESTION: Mr. President, can you tell us any more about your talk with General Eisenhower last Saturday?
THE PRESIDENT: No. We had a very useful talk, and I think, as Mr. Salinger said, we discussed some of the problems the United States faces around the world, and also I attempted to tell him more or less what our status was in each of those particular crisis areas.
QUESTION: Mr. President, there seems to be some growing differences between Fidel Castro and leaders of the Communist Party in Cuba. Could you comment on this and what it may portent for American foreign policy towards Cuba?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I think that the situation is unclear there, and while it is true that the revolution frequently devours their children, it still is not clear enough for us to make any judgment as to the power struggles that may be going on there.
QUESTION: Mr. President, would you comment on the Supreme Court reapportionment decision, and say whether there is anything the Federal government could do to support it?
THE PRESIDENT: I think, as you know, when the matter was before the Supreme Court, the Administration made clear its endorsement of the principles implicit in the Court decision, as a friend of the court. I don't think it is probably appropriate to comment on the merits of the specific case in litigation, but I think that our position on the general principle was quite clear. Quite obviously, the right to fair representation and to have each vote count equally is, it seems to me, basic to the successful operation of a democracy.
I would hope that through the normal political processes, these changes to insure equality of voting, equality of representation, would be brought about by the responsible groups involved, in the States and in the National government.
Now in the case that was involved here, for many years it was impossible for the people involved to secure adequate relief through the normal political processes. The inequity was built in and therefore there was no chance for a political response to the inequity. The position of the Government, the Federal government, the Administration, as I say, was made clear by Solicitor Cox, and I would hope now the Court having taken a position, I would hope that those responsible in the various States -- and this is a matter not confined merely to Tennessee, but it is true of Massachusetts and other States -- I would hope that because of the change in population areas, that every State would re-examine this problem and attempt to insure equality of voting rights. There is no sense of a Senator representing five million people sitting next to a Senator representing ten thousand people, and then when no relief comes to say the Court is taking action where it should not. It is the responsibility of the political groups to respond to the need, but if no relief is forthcoming then of course it has seemed to the Administration that the Judicial Branch must meet a responsibility.
QUESTION: Mr. President, what about a successor to Justice Whittaker? This will be the first opportunity or first occasion you have had to appoint a Supreme Court Justice. Do you have any general thoughts on the process you would follow in selecting one, and is Secretary Ribicoff one of those whom you would consider?
THE PRESIDENT: We will have -- what I am announcing today is the resignation of Justice Whittaker . I think it would be appropriate to announce his successor on another occasion, and his successor will be announced shortly.
QUESTION: In that connection, would there be any general principle you would follow? Would you consult the Bar Association, or how would you go about the process of selecting a successor?
THE PRESIDENT: I would think that we could -- when the time comes that we make the selection, I think it would be appropriate to respond in any way that anyone would like to ask me as to the reasons for the selection.
QUESTION: Could you comment on the visit here of the President of Brazil next week?
THE PRESIDENT: We welcome him. Brazil is vital -- a country in Latin America, the largest, and we are therefore extremely anxious to have the President visit us.
QUESTION: Mr. President, a two-part question on steel. Although the contract is not yet buttoned up, in view of what you now know about the proposed agreement, do you see any justification for an increase in the steel industry's prices this year; and the second part, if the steel industry gets the multi-million dollar tax saving envisioned in the investment credit, and also the faster write-offs that Mr. Dillon plans to grant this spring, should the steel producers reduce their prices?
THE PRESIDENT: I think that on the question of the steel, until the contract is signed, I think it would not be appropriate to make any comment in response to your question, or in response in detail to the potential agreement itself, I think that the company and the union have carried on their negotiations. I think we should permit that process to be completed before we make any statement, and that won't be done, if it is done, until this week end.
QUESTION: Mr. President, in view of economic conditions and in view of the Message that you sent to Congress, or the request that you sent to Congress last Monday for a public works bill appropriation of 600 million dollars two things about the Budget: One, do you expect that it will balance next year, and two, do you feel that it should balance next year?
THE PRESIDENT: I think we can make a better judgment on the budget prospects after we have gone through, really, I would think, not only the March figures, but also the April buying. It has been our hope that the budget would balance. If business recovers in the way we hoped it would, the budget would be in balance.
In regard to the proposal we sent up, what we are concerned about is that even though unemployment has dropped, and even though there is a recovery, an increase of, I think, nearly 45 billion dollars in the gross national product since last year at this time, an increase in wages for our manufacturing workers of nearly 6 per cent in the last 12 months, an average of almost $4.80 a week, even though consumer resources are almost 20 billion dollars higher than they were a year ago, all these things give us hope that this recovery will be sustained. And we can get a better -- and if that is sustained, then the budget will be in balance.
The problem, of course, is that even in a period of recovery, there are these islands of unemployment which have been left behind for many years as a result of successive recessions and technological changes; and these people, some of them, the unemployment may average 10, 13, 15 per cent in places like sections of northern Minnesota, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, southern Illinois, and so on. I think we ought to help these people. In addition, this would benefit construction workers and their rate of unemployment is twice that of manufacturing. So I am hopeful the Congress will pass this bill.
QUESTION: Mr. President, this morning Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek was reported to have said that an invasion of the mainland may come at any time. Under our treaty arrangements with the Republic of Formosa, consultation is required with this government. Could you tell us whether in fact there has been such consultations under that treaty, and what the view of this Administration is towards this problem?
THE PRESIDENT: I have not seen the General's statement. There has not been consultation under the treaty of the kind envisioned in the treaty.
QUESTION: Mr. President, could you elaborate on the idea attributed to you in a magazine article, that there may be circumstances under which we would have to take the initiative in a nuclear war?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. I think Mr. Salinger's statement made it very clear that this was intended to be merely a re-statement of a traditional position where if a vital area -- and I think the area that Mr. Salinger used was Western Europe --was being overrun by conventional forces, that the United States would take the available means to defend Western Europe. It was not intended to suggest, as Mr. Salinger said, that this meant that the United States would take aggressive action on its own part, or would launch an attack, a so-called preventive (? ?) attack on its own part.
That is not our policy nor the policy of previous administrations. The article, read in context, makes it clear that we are talking about if there was an attack of overwhelming proportions by conventional forces in an area such as Europe, we would meet our treaty commitments.
QUESTION: Mr. President, your brother Ted, recently on television said that after seeing the cares of office on you, that he wasn't sure he would ever be interested in being the President. I wonder if you could tell us whether if you had it to do over again, you would work for the President and whether you can recommend the job to others?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the answer is -- the first is Yes, and the second is No, I don't recommend it to others -- at least for a while.
QUESTION: Mr. President, Secretary Freeman tomorrow is going to reduce support prices for dairy farmers. This is the same thing that Ezra Benson did eight years ago to correct a surplus situation. Does this mean that the Administration's farm program is the same as the Republican's when the going gets rough?
THE PRESIDENT: No, it isn't at all. As you know, the Administration requested agreement by the Congress to permit us to maintain support prices at the present level to next December, in the hope that in the meanwhile it would be possible for us to work out general legislation which would assist the dairy industry to meet the present problem of over-production and under-consumption. The Agricultural Committees of the House and Senate, with the Republican Members unanimously voting, and joined by some Democrats, voted against giving us this permission.
The law compels the Secretary of Agriculture, therefore, unless Agriculture is in short supply -- dairy products or milk is in short supply, to reduce the support price, so that he is compelled by statute to take this action.
Now we have, as you know, a great surplus of butter and of milk and this has been a matter of concern for some months. I think it would have been far more satisfactory, however, in fairness to the dairy farmers who will be adversely affected, if we had been given consent to carry on our present support prices to December. And I think in the meanwhile we could have taken actions, legislative and administrative, which would have given them some relief from the present burden which will be thrust upon them.
I wish the Agricultural Committee had not taken the position it did, and I wish they would reconsider it.
QUESTION: Mr. President, could you restate our policy on the Chiang Kai-shek situation? Is it merely to support the Nationalist Chinese on Taiwan, or would we help them in an effort to recapture the Communist mainland?
THE PRESIDENT: I am not aware of the statement that has been made. We have not been consulted about, as I stated, in the way that the agreements would call for, and therefore I would think that there would be no use in explorations of potential situations. Quite obviously, it is the desire of the people of Formosa that they be returned, but we have to consider all the responsibilities and problems which all of us bear, and I have not heard that any new proposal is now under consideration.
QUESTION: Mr. President, again on the Court decision, it has been suggested that it might be well for the President of the United States to provide some special leadership and direction as a follow-up to the apportionment decision. How does that strike you?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it is incumbent upon all of those of us who hold office in the States and in the national government to take every action that we can to have this matter settled by the responsible political groups; and in my earlier statement, I urged these States, and State legislatures, to carefully reconsider this problem. As I say, those who object to the Court taking the action they are taking, it seems to me, are not on very solid ground when they also do riot support actions in the States to bring redress, so that I think all of us, the States, the national government, the Congress, ought to consider the matter very carefully.
QUESTION: Mr. President, supporters of your trade expansion bill feel that you have misjudged the implications of your decision to raise one carpet and glass tariffs. Do you acknowledge the danger of common market retaliation, and renewed efforts by every protectionist industry and union to demand further restrictions on imports?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I don't see the logic of that. I have stated in our first bill, in the bill that we sent up, and I stated at the time, that we would attempt to provide protection to those companies, which might be adversely affected. In the new legislation, it gives us a number of means by which that protection can be effectively granted. There have been seven cases by the Tariff Commission which have come to my desk as President. In the case of three of them, I believe, they were by a split decision. Four of them were unanimous. Two were accepted by me, and two were rejected.
Now in this case there has been unemployment and loss of jobs. which have assumed serious proportions in the carpet industry and in the glass industry. I recognize that this places a burden on foreign producers. But in the cases, which we are now talking about, our unemployment is substantially greater than theirs. Their balance of payments situation is substantially better than ours. In the case of Belgium, they have been adding gold rather than losing it. Their unemployment rate is half of ours.
We have, therefore, with reluctance, determined that the situation in these two industries is sufficiently serious so that they must be given some protection, and of the kind, which is provided under present law.
Now I know that this will be a disappointment to those involved abroad, but we have very serious problems in the United States. We are losing gold, we have high unemployment in some industries, and therefore I consider that on balance this protection should be granted.
Now that doesn’t, in my opinion, mean that we shouldn’t have effective trade legislation. The purpose of the trade legislation is going to be to stimulate employment on both sides, but there are areas where, which I hope under the new bill, we will be able to give protection to the workers through the various provisions which are suggested, which are far broader and far more effective than the ones under the present law.
QUESTION: Mr. President, there are now a number of Midas and Samos spy satellites circling the earth. Do you think the perfection of these satellites will eventually give the United States the type of surveillance over the USSR which would make inspection effective?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I don't envision that situation.
QUESTION: Mr. President, as a general proposition, what do you think of the denial of the will of the majority as expressed in a free election, even though this majority may want to promote a non-democratic form of government?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, is this a -- have special application to a situation, or is this a - -
QUESTION: As a general proposition?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I would think that we would -- I would have to -- I have stated, in answer to your question that -- in a general way, I think in my interview with Mr. Adzhubei, where I commented on what the position of the United States is in regard to free elections and the choice of the people, and provided the free choice continues, of course then they must make their judgment. But I would prefer to keep it -- I'll be glad to talk to you about it sometime as an academic question. (laughter)
QUESTION: Mr. President, on nuclear testing, last winter from Palm Beach there was a comment that underground testing didn't particularly advance the art of weapons. Why, then, is it necessary -- this may be a naive question -- but why is it necessary, then, to insist on inspections which will detect every last underground test?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't think our inspection system says that. I think there should be, however, a potential. And I am not sure that we can't -- the view which was -- which you state that I had I think the underground tests potentially could be more rewarding than may have been in the past, number one. We don't say they should investigate every test. There is a -- I think we could -- We have said we would settle for a limited number of inspections, but I don't think that we could -- as we are an open society, obviously we could not test; they could test. Unless we have at least the right to, on occasion, to examine whether tests are being carried out, I would think that we were not being responsive to the security of the United States. They could carry on their underground tests. Then can carry them and suddenly begin, as they did, their atmospheric tests, in breach of the treaty, in breach, certainly, of the understanding of the moratorium last summer. So that I think we have to have some inspection.
QUESTION: Mr. President, there are a number of bills before Congress urging Federal aid for construction of new State hospitals for the treatment of narcotic addicts. Would you indicate your attitude toward such legislation?
THE PRESIDENT: Legislation which has been---
QUESTION: Proposes Federal aid---
THE PRESIDENT: --- for building the hospital in New York?
QUESTION: Federal aid to construction for new State hospitals for treatment of narcotic addicts?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Well, I would certainly support a sufficient number of hospital beds to provide effective treatment for addicts. And if our hospitals in Texas and Kentucky, our two hospitals are not sufficient, I will certainly support others, and I know there has been a good deal of interest in the hospital in New York which is now being examined.
(Merriman Smith, UPI): Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
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