President Kennedy – giving the 20th of his 64 news conferences during his time in office. This one, from January 24, 1962. Below is a text excerpt of the complete news conference:
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon.
QUESTION:Mr. President, the House Rules Committee, I understand, has just voted down your Urban Affairs bill. I wonder, in that view, if you plan to submit it again?
THE PRESIDENT:Well, I will say this, that it’s my understanding that the House Rules Committee rejected by a vote of 9 to 6 the proposal which had come out, which we had sent up, and which had come out of the House Committee on Government Operations.
I am somewhat astonished at the Republican leadership, which opposed this bill. It is my understanding that all of the Republican Members of the Rules Committee opposed the bill. I had gotten the impression two weeks ago, after reading the reports of the meeting in Oklahoma, that they shared our concern for more effective management and responsibility of the problems of two-thirds of our population who live in the cities. These cities are expanding, they face many problems, housing, transportation, and all the rest, which vitally affect our people.
This is a most valuable and important proposal. For that reason, therefore, I am going to send it to the Congress as a reorganization plan, and give every Member of the House and Senate an opportunity to give their views and work their will on this, and we are going to send it up right away.
QUESTION:Mr. President, could you discuss for us your general feelings about the limits which you feel should or should not be imposed on the public statements of military figures? Do you think — what degree of review should be exercised over their public utterances?
THE PRESIDENT:I must say I don’t think that we could do better than to read the remarks of three distinguished military officers. General White, an article in this week’s Newsweek — Admiral Burke, a distinguished officer who is now retired — General Lemnitzer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — all men of long experience, all men who understand the importance of the proper relationship between the military and the civilian.
I must say that after reading those three statements, I am strengthened in my conviction of the good judgment of Mr. Lovetts’s words, when he said that this flag looks redder to the bulls outside than it does inside. I think that I commend those three statements to the military and to the civilians, and I think they set the very proper guidance.
I am glad that this matter is being looked into particularly by a committee headed by Senator Stennis, who is an outstanding Senator. I am sure that it will be useful. But I do think that the relationship which has existed for so many years, which provides for civilian control and responsibility, and the coordination of speeches which interpret government policy, so that the United States speaks with force and strength — I believe that we should continue this very valuable policy which has been carried out in my predecessor’s administration, and the predecessor before, of giving guidance on speeches, so that particularly when they are given by high governmental officials — I understand over 1200 speeches were submitted and given by the Defense Department. I think over 600 of them involving foreign policy matters were submitted to the State Department. When I gave my State of the Union Address, I submitted that part dealing with foreign policy to the State Department for any comment, so that — the part dealing with the Defense Department, and national defense, to the Secretary of Defense for his comments. This is the way a government of ours, which is large and which deals with problems which are extremely important and sensitive, and which involve our relations around the world, this is the way we can coordinate and make effective, expressions of our views. So that I am confident this hearing will be useful and it got off to a very good start with those three statements. In fact, the military seemed to me to appreciate the problem better than some civilians.
QUESTION:Mr. President, there are persistent reports, sir, that you have proposed that Eugene Black of the World Bank lend his good offices to India and Pakistan to settle the Kashmir dispute. Could you say if this is correct, sir, and what your hopes for success might be, if so?
THE PRESIDENT:Well, I asked Mr. Black if he would undertake to see if a solution was possible in this most difficult and delicate problem. It creates international tensions, of course. We are assisting both of the countries. We want our assistance to be used in a way which is most effective to the people.
Obviously, peaceful relations between Pakistan and India are in the interests of world peace and the interests that we seek to promote. Mr. Black is widely regarded. He had a very successful period as a negotiator on the Indus River matter, and therefore he has generously consented, if it was decided by the parties involved, that he could be helpful, to use his good offices, and I have suggested that they could consider this matter.
QUESTION:Mr. President, I wonder if you could tell us what considerations, other than a tight schedule, went into your brother’s decision not to visit Moscow on his trip?
THE PRESIDENT:I thought his statement was as he described it.
QUESTION:Was there any feeling, Mr. President, that a high level talk would not be useful until they had made some more conciliatory move on Berlin?
THE PRESIDENT:No. I think the statement he gave was the reason.
QUESTION:Mr. President, there seems to be a feeling that you are in for a fight on your Trade program. Could you say how you think this will develop, mostly along economic lines, or sectional lines or political lines, or perhaps all three?
THE PRESIDENT:It might be all three. I am hopeful that it will be certainly a bipartisan fight. I believe it will be. This matter received its first impetus from the report of Secretary Herter and Mr. Clayton. The general principals have been supported by people like Henry Cabot Lodge, his work with NATO and the Atlantic Council. It has been given a general support by President Eisenhower. So that I am hopeful that it will be a matter of bipartisan concern.
There will, of course, be sectional interests involved, and there will be industrial interests involved, but I am hopeful about this because I think the facts, the necessities, and our interests are so much on the side of our program that I believe that the Congress will respond.
QUESTION:Mr. President, are you and your military advisers completely satisfied with the make-up and strength of NATO at the present time?
THE PRESIDENT:I think we can improve NATO. I think that it is important that we add to the conventional strength of NATO. We have been emphasizing that. We ourselves have increased our contribution. I am hopeful that we can meet the targets which General Norstad has stated a minimal if Western Europe is to be successfully defended, and also if we are to have, as I have said, an alternative between nuclear holocaust and a retreat. So that I think it could be strengthened.
QUESTION:Mr. President, in connection with the House Rules Committee vote, I wanted to ask you about an article that appeared this morning, and it was described as being based on an authorized interview with you. It included this sentence: “The President sees at the end of a year how nearly impossible it is to govern under the system of divided powers.”
Would you care to expand on that view?
THE PRESIDENT:Yes. I haven’t given any authorized interview. But if you want to know my views, of course there is a difficulty between a Congress and a President, an executive. We are coordinate Branches. There are different views, different interests, the perspectives are different from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other. I have been fourteen times longer in one end of it than I have been on the other, so I appreciate Congress’s responsibilities.
I believe that on the particular issue that the Congress should speak its will, because I believe it vitally important, particularly as these cities expand, they cross State lines. The mayors come to see us, and they have strongly supported this legislation. They moved from department to department where their interests are assigned to different agencies under different conditions. This would be a very important step forward, and that’s why I am going to follow a procedure of sending it to the Congress, so that in this way we are bound to get a vote on it by the House and the Senate.
Here is that complete news conference, as a reminder of Presidents being Presidential in times of stress and tumult.