193. Notes of Meeting1
PRESIDENT JOHNSON’S NOTES ON MEETING IN CABINET ROOM ON APRIL 11, 1968 WITH WILBUR MILLS
The President said he was sorry he was late but had to try to get off a message to Hanoi.2 Congressman Mills asked what the situation looked like and the President said they were just propagandizing; that they wanted to trap us. He reported to the Congressman that we had said we would go anywhere and that we will, but that assumes they have got good drinking water and communications so they are trying to get the U.S. to go to Cambodia, which they could not do. The President then said we suggested New Delhi, also Rangoon and Burma. We also suggested Jakarta, Indonesia and later suggested Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The President reported we would be willing to go to Singapore, Japan or any place that was fair, but they came back with Warsaw. He said they want to propagandize and they get Fulbright to say why is Johnson delaying. He said he would go anywhere. He explained that if we went to Warsaw we would just be at their mercy and the President said he was trying his best to defend us. The President said the basic things necessary—communications for both sides so they can go back and let the governments know what is happening.
The President said:
“I’ve got to tell my Senate, I’ve got to tell my people what is involved. I can’t do it if we don’t have communications. I’ve got to consult with Military men about the effect of this and all that and second it is a neutral territory where they are not advocates, and the press is not Prussian and Bunker told me this morning—he is the wisest man we’ve got in our whole department and he was in helping me on it and he said now I negotiated a bunch of agreements. I negotiated three yesterday and they didn’t even know what was being negotiated. I negotiated the Panama Canal by taking the Ambassador and going off in hiding for three days. I negotiated the Dominican Republic by getting off the desk. I negotiated the Indonesia by hiding down there at Middleburg. But if [Page 568] you try to negotiate in a county fair or chautauqua—whenever you say something on one side it is just like negotiating with labor unions—they go out and put it in the paper and the other side flares back, Nixon flares back and you never negotiate anything and you just can’t budge except in a neutral atmosphere. That is what he told me yesterday and again today. So that’s our problem there.”
The President reported to Congressman Mills that he was signing the Civil Rights Bill that afternoon. He said he was doing so so he wouldn’t go off and get all blown up a little later.
The President reported he had tried to avoid a message to Congress because he could not forego riots. The President said that he had to do something because he was being accused of running out. He said he had to resolve the question—bearing in mind what was the wisest position for the country. He said his own feeling was that there is not anything more important, not even the Hanoi thing, than for us to be fiscally responsible.
He went on to say that there was much division on this subject and Congress kept switching around. He said they go one way and then another. He said that yesterday the Senate had turned down his budget by more than a two to one vote, and that it all meant nobody was taking leadership now and that is the way it is now. He said that he tried to take leadership, but that he could not deliver Mills, could not deliver Mansfield, and could not deliver Russell Long. He said it did not do any good for him to talk because he did not have the horsepower to deliver any of them. He said we have got to try to find out something we can do and all get together and study it. The President said:
“I am willing to get behind you; if I could appoint you President I would take Ways and Means and do what you think about it. I can’t do that. My God, I have given all I have got. I have given my life—my political life. I have walked out. Now I did it. I did it gladly. I don’t regret it. I am happy about it, and I don’t want to see this country go down the drain, and I am more aware about it than you are. And I think I know more about it than you do. I don’t think you see what is happening. And I don’t think the Congress sees. I don’t think the Senate sees. And I think there has got to be a position somewhere in between what you want in the way of a tax bill and what we want; what you want in the way of expenditures and what we can take in middle of the year expenditures. We have to find that. Now, I don’t know where that is. I am unable to put that together at my old age. I put together lots of things, but I thought that not as a candidate would help, but Hell, I think it is as bad now as it was before. So I don’t know what to do.”
[Omitted here is discussion of budget legislation.]
- Source: Johnson Library, Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room. No classification marking. The President met alone with Mills from 2:26 to 3:10 p.m. (Ibid., Daily Diary) These are summary notes of the meeting; a complete record of the meeting is the transcript made from its recording. (Ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room)↩
- See footnote 3, Document 190.↩