Monday, March 8, 1965 - 9:10pm
Lyndon Johnson, Edward Kennedy

Edward Kennedy: Sorry to call you at this hour. This afternoon, I am speaking for the first time up in the state to the legislature tomorrow. And I’ve been working on a speech for the legislature, and I haven’t been completely satisfied with the way that this has sort of developed. And one of the things, that of course, that I have been thinking about for some time, that I've spoken to you about, was our—was our regional development program up here. And I was wondering whether it would be appropriate at all to mention anything about that tomorrow to the legislature. Now, I realize that some of the problems that you have with this and—but if I could give some kind of indication of the, sort of the kind of a commission that might be forthcoming, I think there would be a great deal of interest in it and—

President Johnson: Well, I think I’d say that President [John F.] Kennedy went in for a unique experiment in area and regional rehabilitation-development, and that one of the most difficult sections of the country was the Appalachian area because coal had been king and other fuels had replaced it and come in.1 And that he tried to bring some twentieth century insight into that area. And that President Johnson, along with the Congress, picked up the torch. And that we’re signing the bill tomorrow that will launch that experiment.

We have every reason to believe that it is a good approach and a proper approach and a successful approach. That there are other regional areas in America that want to follow and improve their lot. Now, one of them is New England, and as a son of New England and—that you have tried to watch this yardstick as it has developed in the hope that you can apply whatever learning and whatever we gain from it to your own region, and that you’ve talked to the President about it. You talked to him last night about it, and that he realizes that in this modern day, there are shifts that have taken places, and there are dislocations and there are moves here and there brought about by foreign trade and by imports and by a lot of other problems, but that our people come first. And that you hope, when he gets through signing this bill tomorrow, that you can sit down and try to evolve some kind of a practical, reasonable, far-sighted, modern approach to the problems of your area. And that you’re not just concerned with Massachusetts, although that’s an important thing. But you’re concerned with all of New England and that you know that he is. That it’s . . . as a matter of fact, he cared more of New England than he did of his South, his native South. And he feels very close to them, and he’s told you that he would just sit with you any time and try to evolve a program. We’ve got the first one out of the way as soon as we sign it, and we’ve got to set it up and start administering it. And if any success flows from it that we can learn from, we will learn and adapt it to our own area.

Kennedy: Now, would it be appropriate to suggest that a commission might be forthcoming, which would at least consider the problems of New England, similar to the commission that was [unclear]?

President Johnson: Yeah, sure. Sure. Sure. I’d just say I’m introducing one, or have, or would, or propose it, or anything. Yes, I think so. I think that we’ll probably be run over with Mid-Western and New England and Southern and all of them. In the area of redevelopment, we’re going to try to include a lot of aid along that line.

Kennedy: Right.

President Johnson: But if you want to, and if you think we can justify it in the hearings, well, I’m prepared to take a good long look and try to find justification for it in New England, just like we did in Appalachia. I inherited Appalachia.2 I’m taking it just as it was. All I’ve tried to do was carry it along. Now, as far as New England is concerned . . .

Kennedy: Well, I think it’s—

President Johnson: They are my babies. You have no idea. You just don’t understand it. You don’t know how much I love them because when the chips were down, when I came to Boston, and when I went to New Hampshire, and I went into Maine, and I went into Vermont, by God, they were not found wanting. And I’m a sentimental fellow that believes in the doctrine of reciprocity.

Kennedy: Well, now, would it be—I realize that you have all these other parts of the country that are going to be interested. And they see you—I mean, I realize the great, you know, the feeling you have for New England and the feeling that New England has for you, and I know that it’s awfully difficult to just say, “Well, for this part we'll do something special.” What I'd hope--and if we can’t measure up, I fully realize that we can’t justify it and it doesn’t make a great deal of sense--but what I would like to see if it would be possible to mention tomorrow is the possibility of . . . can we say that the President has told me that legislation would be forthcoming under which regional development approach and programs would be considered?

President Johnson: No, I wouldn’t want to say that I am inaugurating them, although I wouldn’t hesitate to say that, “I have talked to the President, and I am going to introduce legislation, which will . . . upon which he and the administration will look with favor that would follow this approach.”

Kennedy: Mm-hmm.

President Johnson: In other words, I don’t want the responsibility for initiating it and inaugurating it placed on me for New England. Otherwise, they’ll have me in the Iron Range and they’ll have me in the South and they’ll have me out there, and so on and so forth.3

Kennedy: Sure.

President Johnson: But I wouldn't hesitate a bit to say, "President Kennedy started for Appalachia and Ted Kennedy says New England is equal in its need and he can establish it. And if can and does then I'll support it, period."

Kennedy: The--

President Johnson: And I think it would be better for you. Just say that--

Kennedy: Sure. Well, I don't--I understand, Mr. President, you can't possibly say at this time, until we get the facts out, you know, that there is a need up here. And this I respect completely and I mean, and I can understand it. And--

President Johnson: I rather think there is. And that textiles and the problems that they've had, the watches and the textiles and the shoes and everything else. I think there is, and I want to be helpful.

Kennedy: That's why--

President Johnson: [with Kennedy acknowledging] I just don't want to promise more than I can deliver. And then, besides, I'd just as soon you inaugurate it. I think that you could say that, "I have talked to the President and the leaders of this administration, and I'm going to ask that we make a thorough, modern-day study that will, I believe, result in the same action as taken place on Appalachia."

Kennedy: Well, I--that's--and as far as obtaining those facts, now they're already in existence of funds that are in ARA, for example, with technical [unclear] of study, that type of thing. Would the sequence to that be proposing maybe the states could put up some funds? That we could have [unclear]--

President Johnson: [with Kennedy acknowledging] I really don't know the technicalities, but I know this: that there's not a member of the Senate that I'd go as far to meet as I will you, because I just think that you've been fair and decent and fine as anybody, and I think your area has. And you can just count me in. And if you quote me a little bit too far, I'll stand up and say, "Yes, sir."

Kennedy: Well, I won't do that. [Unclear.]

President Johnson: Well, fine. I just--I want to make clear my position to you.

Kennedy: I understand. OK. Well, that's awfully kind, and I--listen, I'm sorry to bother you--

President Johnson: This business about my being at crossways with the Kennedys is just a pure lot of crap.

Kennedy: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I--

President Johnson: The--I started out here to keep faith, and I'm going to do it. And I think that New England is next in line, and I want to do anything that I can for it. And I think you know something about how I feel about you. And I have no antagonisms and no antipathy and no wars to settle with anybody else.4

Kennedy: Well, I--

President Johnson: And I just don't want you to let the damn press do that.

Kennedy: Yeah.

President Johnson: And there's not anything else I want. I've got everything, more than I can take care of right now. All I want to do is do what's right. And I think that--

Kennedy: Well, I--

President Johnson: --we can do it here. And I think we can do it through you. And you just go on and make your speech and write your ticket, and I'll do my damndest to make good on it.

Kennedy: Well, I appreciate it, Mr. President. I want to thank you. I--sorry to bother you [unclear]--

President Johnson: No, you don't bother--don't you ever--I've told you [to] call me anytime you want to, because I want to be true to the trust that's placed in me.

Kennedy: We've had some good hearings on the immigration.5 They're going--

President Johnson: Yes, you have. And I heard Bobby [Kennedy] made a hell of a good statement the other day, and that it looks like it might be a possibility to get it out of both houses.6 Do you think so?

Kennedy: It's--Well, I think in the Senate we're in better shape over, than that House. That [Michael] Feighan is-7

President Johnson: Well, we've got to work on him a little bit.

Kennedy: Yeah. Yeah. He's a tough cookie.

President Johnson: But you've troub[le]--

Kennedy: I think it's coming along. And we've had some good hearings over there.

President Johnson: How's my girlfriend, my blonde? Is she still living with you?8

Kennedy: Yeah, she sure is.

President Johnson: Give her my love.

Kennedy: We're keeping her out of trouble. We've brought her on up here. We--

President Johnson: Well, give her my love.

Kennedy: I certainly shall.

President Johnson: Tell her I'm sorry I wasn't looking at you in the picture when I went to visit you in the hospital as I had my eyes--[both laugh]

Kennedy: Well, she's forgiven. But I shall do. Well, you're awfully kind, Mr. President. And I won't--I really appreciate you [unclear].

President Johnson: Don't you ever feel the slightest reluctance, my friend, to call me, and I'll try to do whatever I can that'll be helpful.

Kennedy: Thank you very much.

President Johnson: Good night. Give your mom and daddy my love.

Kennedy: I certainly shall.

President Johnson: Please do, because I don't see them or call them more, but I don't.

Kennedy: Well, you've been very kind, and I certainly shall.

President Johnson: Good night. Thank you.

Kennedy: [Unclear]--

  • 1. The Congress had recently passed legislation authorizing the spending $1.1 billion for highway construction, vocational education, conservation, mining rehabilitation, and water resource planning for the Appalachia region.
  • 2. Johnson is referring to the administration's Appalachia program.
  • 3. The Iron Range is an iron mining region in Minnesota.
  • 4. By "anybody else," Johnson is obliquely referring to Edward's brother, Robert. The topic had been a staple of press reports since John Kennedy's assassination and had reached a crescendo the previous year during the election campaign, especially with Johnson's decision not to choose Robert Kennedy as his vice presidential running mate.
  • 5. The Immigration and Naturalization Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee was holding hearings into administration proposals to modify immigration laws, particularly by revising the national quota system of awarding visas. Kennedy was serving as acting chairman of the subcommittee.
  • 6. On 4 March, Senator Robert Kennedy had testified before the Immigration and Naturalization Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by his brother Edward, and urged that the Senate pass the administration's proposals to revise the immigration laws. He said that the existing quota system, adopted in 1924, was rife with "follies and random cruelties" and that the administration's proposals "will eliminate from the statue books a form of discrimination totally alien to the spirit of the Constitution." "Immigration Changed Urged by Kennedy," Washington Post, 5 March 1965, p.A5.
  • 7. Representative Michael Feighan, Democratic of Ohio and chairman of the House subcommitttee on immigration and nationality, was critical of the administration's immigration proposals and had made his own counter-proposal. Mary Pakenham, "Feighan Urges Immigration Law's Repeal," Chicago Tribune, 5 February 1965, p.A13.
  • 8. Kennedy's wife, Joan, was a former model. They had been married since 1958.

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