Q: Mr. President, Sen. Byrd said you overreacted on early defeats to your energy program. You said that the American public is not aroused enough against the oil and auto lobby. One, do you think you overreacted? Two, why do you think the public has not been aroused in view of your avid campaign?
A: Well, I think that my statements concerning the votes both in the Commerce Committee subcommittee under John Dingell, and the Ways and Means Committee, were moderate and accurate. I am deeply concerned about the inordinate influence of the lobbyists and representatives of the oil companies and the automobile manufacturers.
I have never criticized the Congress as a whole. As a matter of fact, I believe that Al Ullman and John Dingell did an extraordinary good job in trying to protect the recommendations that I had made to the Congress.
It is important that the American people be aroused to the fact that unless they are deeply involved in helping the Congress and me to come up with a substantive, comprehensive fair and adequate energy policy, that the special interest groups will prevail.
I have never attacked the Congress on thi matter at all. I believe that it is a good likehood that the full Commerce Committee and the members of the House of Representatives on the floor debates and vote will reverse some of the setbacks that were suffered last week.
I have confidence in the sound judgment of the Congress, and I believe that they and I are on test. And if we are not successful in coming forward with an adequate program, we will be deserving of legitimate criticism by the American people for timidity and for an absence of concerns about what I still consider to be the gravest domestic issue which I shall face during my own term as the President . . .
Q: Mr. President, during the campaign you advocated removing the regulatory agencies and departments from the control of regulators too friendly to people they regulate and you also advocate environmental protection. Your nominee for Assistant Secretary for Interior Policy and Budget Administration, Robert Mendelson of California, has consistently voted against environmental protection, in favor of the interest of large campaign contributors and members of the California Coastal Zone Conservation Commission.
However, since he began consulting for the Interior Department in February, he has accepted over $110,000 in campaign contributions, and/or forgiven loans from the same interests. In view of your statements and his record, why have you nominated him to this position of influence over the government's environmental protection efforts?
A: I am not familiar with this record that you have described. But I will immediately become more familiar with it. If there are conflicts of interest, we can always change the appointment if it is in error . . .
Q: In Wilmington, N.C., the Rev. Ben Chavis and nine others have been convicted and sentenced to prison terms totalling 282 years for what they contend are human rights activities.
The Rev. Mr. Chavis, and his supporters, including now the NAACP and several prominent business and political and elected leaders in North Carolina, have implored you for your intervention and comments in their behalf.
What comments do you have regarding the Rev. Ben Chavis and the Wilmington Ten and their charges of political imprisonment?
A: The only comment that I am free to make under our own system of government is that I hope justice will prevail; that the ones who are accused of a crime will be given a fair trial; if they are found guilty, that they will be punished in accordance with normal procedures for an equivalent crime committed . . .
I think that it would be improper for me to try to impose what I think should be a judgment in a case that I have not heard tried. I don't have any direct familiarity with the evidence. I believe that justice will prevail.
Q: Mr. President, when you unveiled this energy program to the American people you said that the alternative to your proposals might be a national catastrophe. I want to know exactly what proposals you had in mind. If you lose the standby gas tax, you lose the rebates on fuel-efficent automobiles, if you should lose the deregulation of new natural-gas - are those the ones that you had in mind. Or is it the well head tax and coal conversion that you really think are the heart of your program.
A: I don't think you could single out any one particular point and equate it with a national catastrophe. But unless we take action to meet the goals that we have established, a reduction in overall oil consumption, a reduction in the excessive consumption of natural gas, a shifting toward increased consumption of coal, and an equitable means of pricing oil and gas to encourage additional exploration on the one hand and to protect the interests of consumers on another, those cumulative effects of not meeting these goals would be catastrophic.
We now see a rapid escalation of consumption of gasoline, I think this summer we will see the highest use of gasoline in the history of our country. Imports are growing by leaps and bounds. Our trade balance, negative trade balance, is going to be very excessive this year - $25 billion. We will probably - possibly import $45 billion worth of oil. And unless we reverse these present trends by strict conservation, brought about by voluntary means, by pricing structures, by tax incentives, the cumulative effect of the absence of adequate leadership on the part of me and Congress will be catastrophic.
But each individual component part of this complete plan can't be equated with catastrophe. I might say we don't consider ourselves to be infallible. Over the three or four months that we considered this plan before it was presented to the Congress, there were a lot of differences of opinion. Some of the judgments made were quite closely called ones.
The Congress is now finding an equal difficulty in dealing with the controversial tissue. So I don't say that everything we propose has got to be passed just as though we put it forward. But I think cumulatively, if we don't take strong and active action, the economic and political consequences will be catastrophic.
Q: Mr. President, Sen. Byrd, Saturday, when he made his comments and suggested that maybe you should cool it with rhetoric, suggested that one reason that you didn't have a very good showing on Capitol Hill last week was because of the ineffectiveness of your own lobbying organization. So I would like to ask you, do you plan to beef that up or are you planning some sort of new strategy?You say the public has to be aroused. What do you plan to do from here on out about this? Perhaps you will make some compromises with Congress on other issues, for example?
A: I think that our efforts have been adequate. I noticed that one of the comments from one of the congressional leaders - I have forgotten which one it was - in response to my criticism of the oil and automobile lobbyists, was that the most effective lobby on Capitol Hill was the one from the White House. I think we are presenting our views to the members of the Congress in an adequate fashion.
The agenda for the Congress this year is extra-ordinarily complex and diverse not only in ethics legislation, reorganization, the construction of the new Department of Energy, and energy policy, Social Security, but also many things concerning air pollution standards, welfare reform to come, and I believe that our presentation of our views in a forceful and fair and objective way to the Congress through my own congressional relations group is adequate. I am proud of them. And I think the differences of opinion that arise between the Congress and myself are not caused by a failure to present ideas. It is just a result of an honest difference of opinion about what ought to be done about these controversial issues.
Q: Mr. President, you were attacked rather savagely in the Soviet Press last week as "James Carter, an enemy of detente." From your vantage point, do you feel there can be any U.S.-Soviet detente without respect for observance of human rights on their part?
A: Obviously, the differences that arise between us and the Soviet Union are the things that are highly publicized.I am grateful to know that we are beginning this week to work closely with the Soviet Union on a comprehensive test ban treaty to prohibit all testing of nuclear devices underground or in the atmosphere.
They have suggested, along with us, that Great Britain join this negotiation. That is a step in the right direction.
Paul Warnke will begin to negotiate with the Soviet Union within the next week on demilitarization of the Indian Ocean, again, a very major step forward if completed. There are continuing discussions between ourselves and the Soviet Union on details of the overall SALT agreement. And, as I have announced earlier, the Secretary of State and the Soviet foreign ministers will meet at least twice more between now and the expiration date for the present agreement.
So I think that in general we are moving in the right direction. Our statements concerning human rights, I think, have been well received around the world. We have not singled out the Soviet Union for criticism and I have never tried to inject myself into the internal affairs of the Soviet Union. I have never made the first comment that personally criticized General-Secretary Brezhnev.
But when we pursue aggresively and with determination our commitment to the principle that human beings are to be well treated by governments, that human freedom is one of the highest aspirations and committments of our country, I think this is the right thing to do. If it hits ourselves as self-criticism, so be it. If it taxes the Soviet Union and they interpret it as intrusion, so be it. But we have tried to make this a broad-based approach.
I think it is hard to assess the results of this deep committment which I think is compatible with the inclinations of the American people. But I don't believe that there is a single leader of a nation on earth today who doesn't have within his or her consciousness a concern about human rights - how do we appear to our people, how do we appear to observers from other nations? And as we approach very quickly nw the preparation for the Belgrade Conference to assess the Helsinki progress - that will take place next october - I think there is a general sense in the world we had better get our own houses in order; we had better make a good image available to the outside world and the scrutiny that is focused on this issue is constructive.
And I think that the Soviets' reaction against me personally on the human rights issue is a misplaced aim. I have not hatred for the Soviet people and I believe that the pressure of world opinion might be making itself felt on them and perhaps I am kind of a spacegoat for that adverse reaction on their part.
But I feel very deeply that we ought to pursue agreesively this commitment and I have no second thoughts or hesitation about it.
Q: Mr. President, you know Ambassador Andrew Young continues to make headlines with his comments about racism.
Q: Do you think his words have opened old wounds at home and damaged our interests abroad, or do you welcome this discussion on the nature of racism that he has touched off.
A: I think the statements that Andy Young has made are different from that I would have said, that the word "racism" has different connotations to different people, as does the phrase "human rights." I think in almost every instance when Andy has said something that was criticized, if someone read the entire text, how he defined racism, there is no criticism involved. But when you extract the one word, it implies a much heavier condemnation that Ambassador young meant. I read the transcript of his comments about Presidents Nixon and Ford. He explained that when he used the word "racism" as it applied to them that it was not a condemnation but it was an assessment that they were not familiar with the special problems of black people on minority groups who did not have an opportunity to be vivid in their own consciousness as former Presidents.
I think that in general what Ambassador Young is accomplishing for us in dealing with Third World nations, those who are struggling for recognition, those who are struggling against oppressive hunger and disease and poverty, is very good. They now look on the United States as having at least one representative, I hope more, but at least one who understands their problems, who speaks their language, who will listen to them when they put forward their woes and their hopes for the future . . .
Q: Mr. President, you have taken a pretty strong position on double-dipping. I want to ask a question about single-dipping. (Laughter)
How do you justify a system under which a million and a half government workers retire, take fulltime jobs and draw full pensions, and 30 million Social Security retirees, if they work, don't get any pension?
A: I don't try to justify it. I don't think it is right. I don't think it is fair. We have had two meetings recently concerning the retirement system and a need for it to be reassessed and perhaps changed. I think there is a wide difference in the retirement benefits that can be expected among Americans who have dome the same work as a background and who have contributed widely varying amounts of money into their own retirement system. I think it is time for a Presidential-level blue ribbon commission to look at this whole question, the single-dipping, double-dipping, triple-dipping, sometimes quadruple-dipping into retirment benefits.
There is another question that has been addressed, at least as far as private retirement systems is concerned, and that is whether or not they are financially sound.
Many government retirement programs are unsound, particularly at the local level of government; some at the state level of government. And this is a very dangerous thing for the security of many public servants in our country, presently and in the past.
So I think the entire system of retirement needs to be examined very carefully. Although I haven't announced it publicly before, I intend very quickly to appoint a commission to give me advice on what ought to be done to correct these iniquities . . .
Q: Mr. President, to follow up on your remarks about human rights, Mrs. Anatoly Schransky, the wife of the Soviet dissident who is under arest, is visiting in the United States and yesterday she expressed interest interest in seeing you to ask you to intervene in this case.
I would like to ask, do you think that this sort of thing can be useful, and do you plan to see her?
A: I don't jave any plans to meet Mrs. Scharansky, but I have inquired deeply within the State Department and within the CIA as to whether or not subversive way or otherwise with the CIA. The answer is no. We have double-checked this and I have been hesitant to make that public announcement, but now I am completely convinced that contrary to the allegations that have been reported in the press, that Mr. Scharansky has never had any sort of relationship to our knowledge with the CIA.