Monday, March 1, 1965
Lyndon Johnson, Edward Kennedy
Oval Office

The recording begins while the conversation is already in progress.

President Johnson:. . .you need a rest, young fellow like you. Us old men, 56, we don’t—our backs—we can’t use them anywhere.1

Edward Kennedy: I wish I could keep that weight off. I’m going to have to find your secret sometime.

President Johnson: Yeah. I haven't got any.

[with Kennedy acknowledging throughout] Say, on this Appalachia thing, I know what your problem is and I’m sympathetic with it. I don’t know whether it will work at all. It’s not my experiment. It’s got these governors and the one representative from the federal government. It was proposed after a study, as you know. It is one of about four of the remaining Kennedy-Johnson administration proposals. The rest of them have enacted and pretty well wiped up. We’re very hopeful that we can see it through with the—the coffee agreement’s giving us some trouble, and the immigration thing is giving us some trouble. We’ve got the committees pretty well packed in the House, and I assume you all will take care of the Senate; that Senate is a lot easier. Appalachia, it looks like it’s within the dream. And I would hope that maybe by 60 days that we could get most of this thing behind us.

But I don’t know whether Appalachia is going to work or not. If it does, and if there’s any indication that it’s a good thing and if we can get any sentiment for it, and if the principal here and the formula is the answer, which a group that studied it thought so and this man [John] Sweeney over at Commerce and  Franklin Roosevelt and President Kennedy and others. I picked it up. I had nothing to do with it. I never heard of it, can’t even spell it. But if it works then I think it could very well go up your way and go any other place where it was essential. I think that he [President Kennedy] felt that maybe West Virginia and some of them were a little bit bad at the moment and maybe he had some obligations there.

I wanted you to know that I have no obligation in the nation more to any region than New England, period. And if you have any reason, just look at Maine and Vermont and New Hampshire and Massachusetts, where nobody ever got a vote like that and so forth.

But I am disturbed that a few of the boys that feel like we’re just going to deal with West Virginia and then we’ll let them go to hell and that we’ll take all their factories and all their jobs and everything else. So, I think now is the time, and particularly if we vote on it the next day or two, for you go to talking to some of your groups and say, “If a girl will go to bed with him in West Virginia tonight, well [she] may go to bed with us tomorrow night." And—or if it works there we’ve got our nose under the tent and the government has a kind of a responsibility to treat one state like another if the facts are comparable. And if this thing gets going pretty good, why then there’s no reason why, if it’s justified--it can go the same way.

I see where a Republican from New Hampshire, and that’s what caused me to call you, says, “One angry Republican”--it’s UPI 139; you may want to get it off the ticker--“lambasted the President’s Appalachia plan 'as an industrial job piracy bill.' Advocating a GOP proposal to aid pockets of poverty, Cleveland said the Appalachia program would be financed partly with New Hampshire tax money and that would be spent to lure away jobs and industries otherwise coming to New Hampshire." Well, everything you do is spending all the people’s tax money. If you’re doing it Sarge Shriver's poverty [program] or anything else. But I think that the Democrat’s in that area, it might not be a bad idea for you to get your Massachusetts delegation, if you’ve got some leadership, and say, "Now, I’ve got a deal working." And maybe other New England delegations--they are not many Congressmen from there--"but if this works out, I’m going to look after us and we’re going to come in with a proposal. And I have reasons to believe--it hasn’t been formulated and I don’t want to have any firm commitment--but I have reason to believe that [President] Johnson will be as sympathetic and considerate of New England as [President] Kennedy was of West Virginia.”

Kennedy: Well, I—

President Johnson: [Laughing] Maybe for the same reason.

Kennedy: I’d be—there’s a good of concern up there, just generally. We’ve got a—you know, you’ve got a situation where Eddie Boland, who’s your very good friend and great friend, he’s been fighting this thing. We’ve been over and had a great session with [Robert] McNamara last Saturday morning about the Springfield Armory.2 And McNamara when we finished up with him said he’s [unclear] down 659 bases and installations and this was the finest presentation he’s heard.

President Johnson: Well—

Kennedy: McNamara said that. And I mean [unclear]. But he said--

President Johnson: He told me that. He told me he'd spent two hours on it—

Kennedy: That’s right [unclear].

President Johnson: I called him; [he] stepped out of the meeting while you all were talking and that’s what he said.

Kennedy: And it’s—he has--like Eddie Boland said, "How can I, you know, vote for an Appalachia when their program and vote on that when I’m, you know, we’re going to talk about sending 2,400 people out on the streets up in here?"3 There’s just—he says, "I know, Ted, you’re interested in this New England regional thing, development. And I know that, you know, you’ve talked to the President on it." And then he says, "I wonder [unclear] help him out." And—but he said, you know, "We’ve got a lot of these—all these things that have been taking place, you know, it always seems that we’re getting the—it seems that we’ve had some of our problems up here." And he said that "I've got to—I’m dealing with a situation where the mayor up there in the newspapers making it difficult."

And I’ve—I had, you know, lunch with Eddie on Saturday, you know. Bob had called me and said you know if this thing happens that—some of the New England people are off, he said that going to affect us up there." He’s looking out after those 11 or 13 counties in New York. And he said, "That’s going to be rough on all those" and "can't you get after them." And—so I’ve been talking to some of them and I—

President Johnson: Well, I didn't know that. What I thought, I just saw this statement from this Republican. But I don’t know how in the hell Eddie is going to expect a guy from Oklahoma or Texas or somebody votes for the New England one if he’s voted against the West Virginia one.

Kennedy: Sure, I think that—

President Johnson: [with Kennedy acknowledging] —if he’s got any sense. And there everyday, I mean, John McCormick votes for a damn farm bill in Texas, but we vote for minimum wage and other things that really gut us. What we have to do is try to look at the overall picture, and this is--all I’m saying is this: "That you’ve got a little [unclear] to say to them if you want to use it that we’re not making any commitment [that] we are going to put one in the Midwest or we’re going to put one in New England. But if they can bring me the facts that are—that justify a step that President Kennedy took in West Virginia that I’d damn sure like to do it in Vermont and New Hampshire and Massachusetts, any other that part of the area, because I’m the only Democrat that ever carried all of them in one round. And I think the answer to them is, that is "Let’s see if the girl will sleep with Ted tonight and if she does starch it, maybe she will sleep with me tomorrow night!" [laughs]

Kennedy: Could we to get these—to get these facts, would we—would it be—could I say to them confidentially that at least as far as obtaining these facts in a limited kind of a study that would be made up there, that at least I have informal indications that this study would be made to ascertain whether we do have these findings? This--

President Johnson: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Who made—did Congress have a resolution or something setting up the Appalachia commission?

Kennedy: That’s right. They—they—

President Johnson Tell them that you’re going to copy what they do there, and that I will do so far as  studying it's concerned, just exactly what Kennedy did on West Virginia and Ohio and Pennsylvania and the rest of the area, because I want to keep all of our economy prosperous, I want to help them all.

Kennedy: Sure. This gets—I thought—

President Johnson: But they’re a plain damn fool if they vote against the first Appalachia and then expect to pass the second one, because they’re against the whole principle and they’re against the idea.

Kennedy: That’s right.

President Johnson: And I don’t know, Texas as far as I know is not interested in an Appalachia but—

Kennedy: [Unclear]. [Laughs]

President Johnson: I hope not. But I hope that--this guy in New Hampshire is going to be in a mighty bad spot to get me to do anything for him in New Hampshire if he said it's bad to go all along.

Kennedy: Yeah, sure.

President Johnson: You see what I mean? So what—

Kennedy: If he can—if I can say to them that we’re going to at least have the same—you see, what they need is just some--what would come up with a hundred thousand dollars for a study.

President Johnson: Well, I’m for studying them, and on waterways, on rivers, on commissions of every kind in the world that will give us a program that will help people. And I will do—I want—

Kennedy: Sure. Yeah.

President Johnson: [with Kennedy acknowledging] —you don’t have to equivocate. You can say that whatever the resolution was that established the Appalachia study, that the President will approve so far as this is concerned. I wouldn’t get it in the paper. I would do it as you say confidential, because I don’t want to [Hubert] Humphrey of the iron range and 40 more. But let’s take one of them at a time. And my second one would be yours. And I’m not doing that for Eddie Boland; I didn’t know Eddie Boland’s against it. I never heard of it. I didn’t know you talked to Bobby. I just saw this ticker that came across the desk where a man in New England is raising hell and I remembered I told you at Palm Springs to go on make your speech and make your statement and get your nose under the tent. And if it worked all right here that we would give serious consideration to it there. Because I have a—

Kennedy: That’s all that, I mean, we could hope for. That’s entirely reasonable [unclear].

President Johnson: I have a—I have a moral obligation and I have a stronger feeling for the Massachusetts and New Hampshire and Vermont crowd than I do for Ohio. [laughs] And Rhodes because Rhodes gave them hell up out there and these boys were pretty wonderful to me and old Phil [unclear name], you know, in Vermont. Nobody ever thought you would carry those—that country.

So if anybody has got any troubles I want to help them. But you just—I’d just tell them, "It’s my own idea. And I think I know what I’m talking about. And I’m going to introduce this resolution--we’re going to do it--so let’s us don’t get off of the reservation on the principle and let’s make a success of this one and then they’ll help make a success of ours."

Kennedy: That’s fine. I’ll see what we can do.

President Johnson: It’s going to be troublesome, and I don’t know how many votes--they think they’ve got the votes to carry--but nobody in Massachusetts ought to be against this or any other place if they want it.

Kennedy: Good. All right, I’ll do it.

President Johnson: OK.

Kennedy: Thanks, Mr. President.

Original tape courtesy of LBJ Library. This transcript is a working draft. Please let us know if you find important errors.