Lyndon Johnson: President as Congressional Leader


President Johnson and Larry O’Brien, 2:21 PM

President Johnson: Mr. President, we got four Republicans—[Seymour] Halpern, Lindsay, Stafford, and Schweiker. And that’s all. We had 198 Democrats there. They didn’t get a single Democrat on their side.

President Johnson: Well, I think that’s a great tribute to you. I’m glad to have the vote. I’m not happy about it, but it’s good to lose one like that.

O'Brien: Well, you know, when you stop to think about it, we had 198 Democrats on that floor for the vote. Three more have been added—there are 201 Democrats up there now. Republicans have 105 Republicans in town. And, for God’s sake, with the percentage in the House [between] Democrats and Republicans, Christ, they’ve got 70 Republicans absent and we’ve got 56 Democrats absent.

President Johnson: That’s right. But let’s take the 56, and let’s let each one of them know that we really needed them, and we love them, and we’re sorry. Tell them when grandma died, we’re sorry they couldn’t come here to help us.

These folks that got snowbound this morning remind me of [Warren] Magnuson. One time, Mr. Rayburn asked me to pick a man that he could depend on on the FCC investigation, about 20 years ago, when Gene Cox was trying to ruin it. I told him Magnuson. He was young, and he was liberal, and he was courageous, and he had lots of guts.

But he got whored up here with a movie star out in Palm Springs. And they had a big vote, and it was a tie vote, and we had to get Magnuson. And he [Rayburn] told me to get him. And Maggie told me was snowbound.

Two or three years later, I came up and wanted Maggie to be head of a special committee. Mr. Rayburn said, "I never put a snowbound man on a committee twice.

O'Brien: Damn good.

President Johnson: [continuing] "A damn fellow that gets snowbound is just out of luck, and I don’t care—it may have been God Almighty’s fault that the snow fell . . .

O'Brien: I agree with you.

President Johnson: [continuing] "He should have been here anyway."

O'Brien: I agree with you.

President Johnson: That’s what’s happened to those 56—they ought to have been here.

O'Brien: Yes, I agree with you.

President Johnson: But let’s be over there and smile and shake hands and thank everybody . . .

O'Brien: All right.

President Johnson: [continuing] And then just cut their peter off and put it in your pocket when they do us this way.

O'Brien: OK.

President Johnson: OK.


President Johnson and John McCormack, with Carl Albert, 4:41 PM

Operator: Speaker McCormack on 2192.

President Johnson: O-O-K. This is it.

[McCormack comes to the line.]

McCormack: Hello. Mr. President?

President Johnson: Yes, sir.

McCormack: After our last talk, I talked with [Charles] Halleck, and then Ev Dirksen. And Mike Mansfield was here. [deliberately] And Halleck just simply refused to cooperate in any way. He just issued tantamount—well, it was an ultimatum that we’d adjourn sine die without any action being taken. That’s the way it is now.

As far as I’m concerned, we’re going to adjourn over to Monday, try and get eight members . . . [noticeably upset] I’ll be damned if I’m going to let Halleck be Speaker.

President Johnson: Yes, I agree with you. I agree with you.

McCormack: So I’m going to go in and adjourn over till Monday. We’re going to get Bernard Sisk back from . . .

President Johnson: California. California.

McCormack: California. Jim Trimble will be available. And Judge [Howard] Smith will cooperate, and we’ll get a rule. We may then have to—we’ll try to bring it up Monday under two-thirds, they’ll lick us, and then we’ll bring it up Tuesday under the regular rules. There’s going to be every effort made to have members here both Monday and Tuesday.

President Johnson: Mm-hmm. Well, I would sure . . . I would make every effort. I would call them myself and say your prestige is—

McCormack: And anything from your angle about? You know, I know you will. Larry [O’Brien] and them—they’re great workers. They’re always—a pleasure to work with them. They’ll do everything they can.

President Johnson: Now, how do you explain Halleck backing out? I thought he—

McCormack: [mimicking Halleck] He said there was too long a period that took place. [normal tone] In other words, between 12:00 and a little after 3:00 when you and I had two or three talks and you had a look into things . . . In other words, he says that that three-and-a-quarter hours was too long a period.

President Johnson: Hm.

McCormack: So that’s the story. In other words, the very proposition he put, I told him would be all right, and then he said, [mimicking a petulant Halleck] "Took too long!"

That’s the story. He just remained adamant and stubborn and walked out. We talked for about an hour here, and he took an hour of time up there when we could have been up getting a rule and everything. And he’s not going to cooperate.

President Johnson: Does that mean his men won’t go to the Rules Committee?

McCormack: No, they won’t.

President Johnson: Well, why don’t you call a meeting and let them boycott it, so you can say that’s what happened?

McCormack: [agitated] Judge Smith has been upstairs waiting for four hours—five hours.

President Johnson: Hm.

McCormack: [continuing] And the two Republican members of the Rules Committee in town, they wouldn’t go there.

President Johnson: Mm-hmm. Well, you ought to say that. Put it out, and let the country know it—that they’ve gone on a sit-down strike. The Republican members have gone on a sit-down strike over foreign policy, because these isolationists from the Midwest are trying to take over the party. That’s what it amounts to.

McCormack: Now, wait a minute. Here’s Carl, and then I’ll come back. Wait a minute.

[Albert comes to the line.]

President Johnson: I’d just tell them that the Republican isolationists from the Midwest have gone on a sit-down strike. They’re trying to take over the party, and I guess they’re worried about Nixon or somebody.

You don’t know why they won’t meet. They’re here in town; they’ve got business to transact.

Albert: That’s right.

President Johnson: [continuing] That you just have to call the people in, because the Republicans won’t have a single member attend the committee.

Albert: Right.

President Johnson: Then I’d point out how much time off I had for vacation at Thanksgiving. How many days you had off this year.

Albert: We’ll do it.

President Johnson: And I’d really put it on the Midwestern isolationists. I don’t think anything on foreign policy—that here’s a matter that affects the foreign policy of this country—

Albert: We’ve told them—

President Johnson: The foreign policy of this country. It ought to be bipartisan, and they’re wanting to play cheap politics even before the mourning period [for Kennedy] is over.

Albert: [taken aback] Well, I don’t think I should say that.

President Johnson: Well, that’s true.

Albert: I know it’s true, but, I mean, that part would . . . But I agree with the rest of what you say.

President Johnson: I’d just put it out to all the reporters you can. We’ll do the same thing.

Albert: I will. All right.

President Johnson: OK.

Albert: Do you want to see the Speaker again?

President Johnson: If he wants to.

[McCormack returns to the line.]

President Johnson: I’d just see that every one of them—if that’s the way you feel about it—I’d just see that every member was told that you expect him to be there come hell or high water Monday morning. And I’d just tell Sisk that they’re running off has really screwed us up, and to get back here. Then I’d tell the press that it looks like the old isolationists rearing his head. They quit bipartisanhip on foreign policy, and the gut fighter says that they won’t even let Rules Committee members meet—they’re on a sit-down strike.

McCormack: Well—

President Johnson: We’ve had enough vacations this year.

McCormack: [very upset] How would you feel, Mr. President, if an adjournment sine die went through without you being [consulted]? How would I feel?! "My God," I’d say, "what kind of men have we got up there?"

I wouldn’t do this to a President who was of the opposite party. Neither would you when you were leader.

President Johnson: Of course not. Of course not. I wouldn’t do it to anybody.

McCormack: Why, of course not.

President Johnson: And it’s not doing it to your country. There must be something wrong with the fellow. He must be . . .

McCormack: Why, hell, if we did that, why, you’d be justified in calling us back into session the day after Christmas.

President Johnson: Yes, sir.

McCormack: You might use a little compassion before Christmas. Why, the arrogance of it! Why, the most arrogant attitude that I’ve ever seen—bordering on disrespectful!

President Johnson: He must be scared that he’s lost. He must be afraid he’s whipped.

But what you better do is whip him in the papers, now. And you better call in your reporters and just tell them that the old, ugly head of isolationism in the Midwest is raising its head, and the Republican party is split, and they’re divided. They don’t know whether they want the Eastern wing to handle it or the Middle Western wing, and they won’t even consider foreign policy on a nonpartisan basis. They want to play politics with it—even before the mourning period is over.

I’d just let the newspapers have it, and we’ll give them a little touch-up down here.

McCormack: I want you to know what the situation is. I’m going to ring the bells now.

President Johnson: OK. You let them know.

McCormack: All right, Mr. President.

President Johnson: [continuing] And I’d be sure that I had enough men manning these phones talking to our people.

Now, the truth of the business is, John, we slipped up a little last night. I went to sleep. I ought to have been up at 4:00. If I had, we would have changed some of those boys from the Texas delegation. When I worked on them an hour today, we changed them. But I didn’t know it was that close. I didn’t know we had those votes.

I’d just put them on that phone now, and tell them to take the 100 men that are out—110—and come in and say . . . Put your best men talking to them, and be sure that they’re here. And if they need priorities on airplanes, or anything, just see that the airlines give them to them.

McCormack: All right.

President Johnson: OK.

McCormack: Then Jerry Ford took the floor and on a rumor said that he understood that the Defense Department, on the orders of the administration, were bringing Democrats back.

President Johnson: I would just say that you ought to say that that’s beneath Jerry Ford, that you’re surprised. You’re shocked.

McCormack: I called up Secretary McNamara. And then after that, Bill McCulloch, who’s a very honorable fellow, took the floor, and said that "I came back in an airplane. I couldn’t get commercial. I went down, and they happened to have an extra seat, and they brought me back. I took advantage of it."

I talked with McNamara and he looked into it, and called me back. He said that "our records show the only man who was transported was Congressman McCulloch of Ohio."

President Johnson: Well, I’d—

McCormack: Pardon me, Mr. President. "Congressman [Harold] Ryan," he said, "who’s a reserve officer, and is entitled to, if there’s an extra seat, asked and we declined him. Mike Mansfield called about getting Senator Jordan back, and we declined that." The only one about the rumor was one Republican who was big enough and manly enough—and I admired him—to take the floor and said, "I came back."

[Excised material.]

President Johnson: . . . And Mr. Rayburn, you know used to say, John, that the difference between a Democrat and a Republican was that the Republicans all hate our Presidents.

McCormack: Well, you heard me say that last year to the late President.

President Johnson: That’s right.

McCormack: [continuing] On more than one occasion, didn’t you?

President Johnson: That’s right. Well, let’s get our men in: that’s what we’ll do. And if you want anybody to work here, we’ll do it.

McCormack: No, we want everybody to work.

President Johnson: All right. Well, let’s just tell them—

McCormack: [to Boggs and Albert] The President said (Hale is here, and Carl) to get on the wires and get them back here for Monday. Get them right back, now. This is a test of who’s running the House—whether Charlie Halleck is Speaker or not—and President. Put it right out.

All right, Mr. President.

President Johnson: Bye.

President Johnson and George Grant, 5:50 PM

President Johnson: George, can I talk to you in confidence?

Grant: You certainly can, and I know you’re working 28 hours a day, because I read it in the papers, but I believe that you sure can.

President Johnson: I’ve got a problem with all my Southern friends that are—

Grant: I know it.

President Johnson: [continuing] Up against troubles in the Senate. They’re over there fighting for their lives—

Grant: That’s right.

Lbh [continuing] But most of them have called me and urged me to try to do something on this agriculture [matter].

I can pass this cotton/wheat bill if I can get the wheat bill reported by the full committee. They tell me I can get it reported if I can get one or two or three of you to vote to report it, even though you oppose it on the floor. It never will be taken up as a separate bill on the floor. They’re just going trying to get a rule.

I’ll save $400 million out of my budget next year, more than I’m going to have to pay if it goes like it is. I’ll have every cotton man I’ve got.

Grant: Say, is that in addition to cutting the lights out? [Chuckles.]

President Johnson: [coldly] That is in addition to cutting the lights out.

Grant: I wouldn’t be kidding you if I wasn’t going to do it. Sure, I will.

President Johnson: If you’ll just vote to report that wheat bill that old Graham Purcell [introduced], then we’ll say, "Well, the committee has reported it: let’s take it up." You reckon there’s any chance I can get Tom Abernethy to do that?

Grant: I don’t know if you ought to. I’ll talk to Tom.

President Johnson: Here’s what it does for me. It saves me $300 million on wheat—nearly $400 million—out of a budget that I’m trying to appeal to my conservative Southerners with, to show them that I’m not a spendthrift, and it permits me to give my cotton boys a little bit of help.

Grant: Yeah. Let me tell you, Mr. President, [unclear] The thing about this wheat thing, they have some basis on it, because the wheat fellows turned it down. Of course, it’s too late to argue about that.

President Johnson: Yeah, that’s right.

Grant: We’re making them take government money when they said they didn’t want it. I’m not arguing. I’m going along.

President Johnson: Well, if you’ll help me report it that will be fine. They don’t have to. Now, this has changed from one they turned down. This is voluntary. Don’t have to if you don’t want to. There’s a whole lot of differences between compulsion and voluntary, you know.

You talk to Tom for me. And lsten, let me tell you this: I want to get through with this fight, and then I’m going to help the Mississippi boys because they’re my friends—

Grant: We all realize that.

President Johnson: And they’ve been mistreated and I know how they’ve been embarrassed and mistreated. [pleading] But you tell Tom to please help me a little bit.

Grant: I will.

President Johnson: I want to get old Graham Purcell’s bill reported tomorrow if I can. That’s it.

Grant: I’ll sure do it.

President Johnson: Thank you, George.

Grant: You’re quite welcome.

President Johnson: I appreciate this—and give my love to Merilee.

President Johnson and Bill Moyers, 4:20 PM

Operator: We find that Robert Weaver is in New York. Do you want me to reach him?

President Johnson: No, I don’t want him. Get Bernie Boudin for me, and see if you can’t also get Gene Fougin, before I forget what I want to talk about. He’s the small business administrator. [They then discuss Fougin’s schedule, and Moyers comes to the line.]

President Johnson: Walter Reuther’s going to say that he’s there for Johnson because he’s for the poverty program, and he’s for education, and he’s for taking care of the sick. He wants a real strong sentence on medical care. I assume there is a sentence on medical care in here, and on education in here.

Moyers: Yes, sir. And on poverty.

President Johnson: I want one paragraph lifted—Dick Goodwin can work on it till dark, or you—along the lines of the other day that I took out of the [John] Steinbeck speech, I think it was, where we have a right to wish for what we want to, think what we want to, worship where we want to, sleep where we want to. Everything like the basic fundamentals that—the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution thing, wrapped up in one paragraph.

Do you remember the paragraph I’m talking about?

Moyers: Yes. I sure do.

President Johnson: But I want it elaborated on a little bit—"Mind to be trained, child’s mind to be trained. Church to pray in. A home to sleep in. A job to work in."

Moyers: All right.

President Johnson: Let’s get education, religion, free speech, free press—"read what he pleases." Round him out as a well-balanced, tolerant, understanding individual, instead of one of these cooks. [Chuckles.]

Moyers: OK.

President Johnson: Do you follow me there, now?

Moyers: Gotcha.

President Johnson: I want that one paragraph so that I can have all the Johnson philosophy.

He said, "Well, you’ve got to speak some on poverty. You’ve got to speak some one education. You’ve got to speak some on Medicare." Somebody’s told him it’s got to be a high level speech. He wants it a party hack speech.

I said, "I’m going to refer to all of them." I want it in one paragraph—my philosophy. So that when you quote what I had in that Southwest Quarterly—"I’m a free man, an American, and a senator, in that order." Do you remember?

Moyers: Right.

President Johnson: I want something that you can quote like this the rest of our lives. You can put it in the preface of your book. "I have a vision—a vision of a land where a child can [pauses] have a home to live in." And then repeat what I just said to you. "And read what he wants to, and can wish what he wants to, and can dream what he wants to."

And then the words, "I have a vision." Let’s get a little bit of this holy-rolly populist stuff. [voice rising] "I have a vision of a land where every child [pauses] can have training to fit his abilities, a home to protect him from the elements, a church to kneel in." Throw at least two biblical quotations in, that are very simple, that every one of them have heard—these working men, these auto mechanics.

Moyers: All right.

President Johnson: It’s what you Baptists just report to them all the time.

Moyers: [chuckling] All right.

President Johnson: Make it simple; don’t give me one of these long ones.

Moyers: All right.

President Johnson: Go back and get me one of the commandments. These Baptists preachers—don’t get on that adultery one. Get some of these, "Thou shalt not [pauses] lie on thy brother."

Moyers: [tartly] All right. OK.