President Carter declared yesterday that he and Congress are "the last hope" of the poor, and denounced critics who make "erroneous and demagogic statements" suggesting neither he nor the legislators care about "those poor people."
He made the remarks when asked how he felt about comments earlier this week by Vernon Jordan, executive director of the National Urban League, who accused Carter of having ignored the disadvantaged in his months in office.
"Accurate criticisms, fine." Carter said at his news conference. "But I think to prey upon those who are poor or deprived or who are alienated from society and erroneously report that neither I nor my Cabinet members nor Congress cares about them, does hurt the poor."
Asked if he meant to imply that Jordan had been demagogic, Carter answered, "No . . . But I will say this: to the extent that he alleged that neither I nor my administration nor the Congress was concerned . . . those statements were erroneous."
Jordan had no immediate response. But in a Wednesday night speech at the Urban League's convention here, the new head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Benjamin Hooks, said he stands "four-square and forthrightly" behind Jordan's criticism.
Hooks told a crowd which kept interrupting him with shouts of "Amen" that Carter should remember that when he meets his Maker, he'll be judged on whether "he fed the hungry."
". . . He will not be judged on the fact that he was an atomic engineer, nor will Peter be concerned about the fact that he was a successful peanut farmer, or a governor of Georgia, or even a President," Hooks said. "But they will ask him, Brother Jimmy: "I was hungry, did you feed me?
"I was naked, did you clothe me?
"I was in jail, did you come and see about me? . . .
Carter also said in response to another question at his news conference that he opposes racial and other hiring and admissions quotas, but nevertheless believes there should be some way for public and private institutions to make up for past discrimination against minorities and women.
"I hate to endorse the proposition of quotas for minority groups, for women or for anyone else that contravene the concept of merit selection," Carter said.
"However, I think it is appropriate for both private employers, the public governments, and also institutions of education, health and so forth to try to compensate as well as possible for past discrimination . . . "
The President touched on a number of other domestic issues in yesterday's 35-minute question and answer session.
Americans are still "by leaps and bounds" using too much imported oil. If it were not for the projected $45 billion worth of oil to be imported this year, the nation would have a $20 billion trade surplus instead of a $25 billion trade deficit.
He hopes the Senate will approve a bill for the public financing of Senate campaigns . . . a bill Republicans are resisting.
He feels no time pressure in his search for a new FBI director, and reserves the right to interview more than the six candidates he has talked to.
His commitment to a welfare revision plan that costs no more at the outset than present welfare systems is proving "very difficult." By the end of next week, he expects to have ready for public release "my best assessment of what ought to be done."
The major thing he has learned in his first six months towards making him a better President is to work much more harmoniously with Congress.
Three news conference questions dealt with Carter's policies toward minorities and redress of past discrimination. His answers were not much more specific than many of his campaign statements on the subject.
The President was asked his position on a case the U.S. Supreme Court will decide next term involving a white medical school applicant, Alan Bakke, who was turned down when he applied for admission to the University of California at Davis. Bakke claims he was turned down because minorities were being given preference in admission.
The President replied that he hated to endorse quotas, but nevertheless thinks it appropriate to "take into consideration tha fact that many tests that are used to screen applicants quite often are inadvertantly biased against those whose environment and whose training might be different from white majority representatives of our society . . . "
A number of civil rights leaders believe the Bakke case to be the most important Supreme Court case for minorities since the 1954 Brown V. Board of Education desegregation decision.
They have argued that the case raises questions not about quotas, but about affirmative action plans generally. These may or may not include quotas, but do involve the other issues the President mentioned.
Carter's answer did not go into the question of the affirmative action plans, which have been put forth by some of his Cabinet members as one way of taking into consideration the biased environment and training factors the President mentioned.
"It is not an easy question for me as President to answer either," Carter said. "I just want to be sure that if we do make a mistake in this carefully balance approach that the mistake might be to end discrimination and not the other way around."
Health Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr., among others, has urged Attorney General Griffin B. Bell in a letter to file an amicus Curiae brief with the Supreme Court in the Bakke case supporting affirmative action plans. Califano said in an interview several ago he thought administration support was crucial.
A Justice Department spokesman said Wednesday night that the department favors "affirmative action programs in areas where minorities are substantially under-represented in the professions.
Solicitor General Wade McCree is considering whether the Bakke case "offers an appropriate vehicle to present the views of the department . . . ", the spokesman said. "That determination will probably require another week or two, possibly more."
Carter said he, Califano and Bell will be involved in that decision. Bell has said several times, and he repeated yesterday, that affirmative action goals are needed, and that those are different from quotas.
On other issues, Carter said the projected $25 billion trade deficit "is a vivid demonstration of the need for very tight conservation measures on the use of oil and natural gas . . . "
Except for continuing to push for passage of his national energy policy, "I don't know what other actions we will take at this point," the President said. "I think that we will continue to assess additional means by which we can constrain oil imports . . . Whether or not the government would become the sole importer is a question that has not yet been considered."
Public financing of Senate campaigns would, Carter said help remove the public perception ". . . that the actions of their elected officials have been unduly influenced by special interest groups."
The "major way" people get that feeling, he said, is looking at "the large and single source campaign contribution received by those officials."