April 10, 1967. Sen. Mike Mansfield (Democratic Majority Leader) and Sen. Everett Dirksen (Republican Minority Leader) attend LBJ’s bipartisan Congressional leadership meeting in the Cabinet Room.
March 22, 1967. LBJ has an off-the-record visit with Henry Hall Wilson, his liaison with House of Representatives, and a Congresswoman from Michigan named Martha W. Griffiths.
Wilson’s memo describes their 20-minute meeting:
“Mrs. Griffiths urged that the President take steps in various directions to provide for equality of the sexes in federal statute and departmental regulations.”
Griffiths was already a well-known advocate for women’s rights. Her most famous work is still to come, however: in 1970 she will lead the fight in the House for the Equal Rights Amendment.
March 1, 1967. LBJ attends a Cabinet Meeting. According to the Daily Diary:
“The President followed the agenda including a report by Secy Rusk on foreign affairs and by Secy McNamara on the military situation in VietNam. The President reviewed with each Cabinet Member, except for Secy Rusk who had left to meet the press, the status of the legislation before the Congress. He asked for reports by Friday of authorizations, appropriations and the status of Bills so that he might study them at the ranch this weekend.”
LBJ Presidential Library photo #C4652-13, public domain.
November 8, 1966. The election returns are in. Republicans have captured three seats in the Senate and 47 seats in the House of Representatives: it is now 248/187 in the House and 64/36 in the Senate, with the Democrats still in the majority in both. One of the new Republican Senators is former Massachusetts Attorney General Edward Brooke, who becomes the first African American elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction.
The Republican resurgence bodes ill for LBJ in 1968, although in his conversation with the Vice President on Nov. 9, he puts a positive spin on the results. LBJ blames the loss on “fool liberals,” labor—especially the fight over Taft-Hartley 14(b), a right-to-work law—and even Martin Luther King.
November 8, 1966. Election Day. As the results roll in, it is not a surprise that Democratic Congressman Jeffrey Cohelan wins his left-leaning California district, which includes Berkeley and northern Oakland. The real fight for the seat occurred five months ago, during the Democratic primary.
Robert Scheer, an editor of the leftist Ramparts magazine, had challenged Cohelan with an explicitly anti-Vietnam War platform. Their battle for the Democratic nomination was widely perceived as a referendum on the war, and Scheer came closer than expected to beating Cohelan in the primary when he garnered 45% of the vote. It is an early sign of the anti-war movement’s gathering momentum.
November 8, 1966. Election Day. LBJ casts his vote at the Pedernales Electric Coop, Johnson City, Texas.
The campaigning in these midterm elections has been fierce: after the 1964 Demoratic sweep, the Republicans have rebounded and are focused on issues of inflation; the costs of the Great Society programs, and those programs’ failures and disappointments; crime; racial strife and riots; a stalled Vietnam War effort, as well as its rising toll in money and lives; and the perceived ”credibility gap” of the Johnson administration on many of these issues.
Democrats had enjoyed two years of a 295/140 majority in the House, and 67/33 majority in the Senate, and have controlled the majority of state governors and legislatures. Few Democrats expect to keep all of their contested seats: the question is how many they will lose. LBJ, for his part, was too good a student of politics to not expect a backlash against his policies—as early as February 1965 he warned his staff that their days of effective leadership were numbered.
LBJ Presidential Library photo #3849-30a. Public domain.
October 10, 1966. Home rule for Washington, D.C. fails for the final time in the 89th Congress, when a cloture motion to forestall a Southern filibuster falls short by 11 votes. The nation’s capital city will continue to have no local representative government and no representation in Congress. While home rule bills passed both the House and Senate in 1965, the differences between the bills proved irreconcilable both in 1965 and in 1966. LBJ considered home rule in majority-black DC to be a civil rights issue, and he had urged the adoption of the Senate bill in his 1966 State of the Union.
The battle for home rule had launched a new activist group headed by Marion Barry, the Free D.C. Movement. Some other civil rights groups, though strong supporters of home rule, were put off by the new Movement’s aggressive tactics. Staunchly aligned against home rule were Southern Senators like LBJ’s old friend Richard Russell and some powerful local organizations like the Board of Trade. LBJ’s ardent supporter—and sometime critic —Senator Wayne Morse had attached the home rule bill to a college aid bill in a last-ditch attempt at passage, but despite the support of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, among others, home rule proponents will have to wait until the next Congress to try again.
Photo by Rob Shenk via Flickr Creative Commons.
June 9, 1966. An irritated LBJ takes Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, R-Illinois, to task for speaking to the press about Vietnam. LBJ has heard that Dirksen wants to have a bipartisan conference on the war: LBJ tells Dirksen to “put on your hat and come down here” if he wants to talk rather than going to the media.
Once more this year I am asking the Congress to join in an attack on the discrimination that still afflicts our land.
Four times in nine years the representatives of the people have labored through days and nights—through weeks and months-toward the passage of civil rights legislation.
I was part of each of those efforts. I know the fatigue and the triumph that accompanied them. Thus I do not ask for new laws lightly.
Yet discriminatory racial practices still exist in many American communities. They deny the Negro his rights as a citizen. They must be ended. I ask the Congress:
First, to reform our federal criminal statutes to provide Negroes and all who labor or speak for racial justice the protection of stronger and more effective criminal laws against interference with the exercise of long established rights.
Second, to establish detailed procedures of jury selection in federal courts so that discrimination may be banished—and to create forceful guarantees that state court juries also will be selected without discrimination of any kind.
Third, to broaden the Attorney General’s authority to bring suit for the desegregation of schools and public facilities—enabling him to commit the government’s legal resources where they are most critically needed.
Fourth, to declare a national policy against racial discrimination in the sale or rental of housing, and to create effective remedies against that discrimination in every part of America.
March 2, 1966. An amendment to repeal the Gulf of Tonkin resolution is defeated in the Senate, 95-5. The amendment had been submitted by Wayne Morse, a Democrat from Oregon who (along with Alaska senator Ernest Gruening) had been one of two No votes on the Resolution in 1964. According to Vice President Humphrey, LBJ didn’t hold his Vietnam position against Morse:
“…But every Thursday Morse would get up in the Senate and say he was going to impeach Johnson over the weekend. And Johnson would still call him up and ask him to come over to the White House. he never mentioned his attacks.
“Because he knew that after Wayne’s attack on Thursdays, and this went on for months, years, Wayne would be back the next Monday and give a rip-roaring speech on the Senate floor about Johnson’s great domestic programs.
“Then it would come Thursday again, and Wayne would want to impeach him again. “
February 1966. Senator J. William Fulbright, a Democrat from Arkansas, begins hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which he is Chairman. Fulbright had voted in favor of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, as had all but two Senators, but he has since declared doubts. Listen here to LBJ speaking to Larry O’Brien about Fulbright on February 5.
Above: Fulbright and LBJ look at art together in happier times, at the White House Arts Festival in 1965. They are looking at (Squaring the Circle) by Richard Anuszkiewicz.
January 1966. Bobby Baker is indicted by a federal grand jury on nine felony counts, including theft, misappropriation of campaign funds, and income tax evasion. Baker had been Secretary to the Senate Majority Leader from 1955-1963, and had worked closely with LBJ from 1955-1961 when LBJ held that position. Despite his youth—he was only 26 when he rose to the Secretary position—he knew almost as much about Senators and the Senate as LBJ did himself, and he had been very valuable to Johnson in shepherding legislation and in keeping Democratic Senators in line. His nickname was ”the 101st Senator.”
However, in October 1963 Baker resigned to thwart (he hoped) a civil suit that alleged he had was part owner of a vending machine company and was using his influence to his company’s advantage. Baker’s resignation notwithstanding, the Senate Rules Committee learned on November 22, 1963—before they knew of President Kennedy’s assassination—that a local insurance salesman had apparently provided an expensive Magnavox hi-fi to the Johnsons via Bobby Baker. Despite Senator Goldwater’s attempt to use Baker as a campaign issue, it barely dented support for LBJ in the 1964 election—which he won 61% to 38%.
Baker’s alleged criminal activities went far beyond stereos, however, and two of the most damning included other Democratic Senators from Johnson’s Majority Leader days: Senator Kerr of Oklahoma, with whom Baker was said to have made shady bank deals; and Senator Smathers of Florida, with whom Baker was said to have invested in a suspect land venture.
In this telephone conversation, in which LBJ’s friend (and Supreme Court Justice) Abe Fortas calls him the day before Baker’s indictment, the two men speak obliquely about a matter which certainly sounds like Baker and his troubles; we leave it to you to make your own determination.
Above: Baker and Senators at a luncheon in happier days (7/27/1959). Baker is standing, fourth from left, behind LBJ. To LBJ’s immediate right is Sen. Kerr. LBJ Library image #59-7-56. We have no information about the original source of this item. Copyright restriction warnings may apply. At table: Sen. Frank Church, Sen. Philip Hart, Sen. Jennings Randolph, Sen. Robert Kerr, Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, Sen. Allen Frear, Sen. Herman Talmadge, unidentified, Sen. E.L. Bartlett; standing: Sen. Vance Hartke, unidentified, Sen. Stephen Young, Bobby Baker, Sen. Mike Mansfield, Sen. Clinton Anderson, Sen. Clair Engle.
January 1966. As Congress reconvenes for the second half of its session, most Americans have a favorable view of their legislators and of the federal government in general. According to a Harris poll, the approval rating for Congress is at 71 percent:
“‘It is evident that many of last year’s most controversial measures [including laws on immigration, voting rights, higher education, elementary and secondary education, and Medicare] have been accepted and even become popular….In fact, Congress has impressed the people so much that it is more popular than the president—four points higher than the chief executive’s last recorded positive rating of 67 percent.’
Lyndon frequently read that poll aloud to anyone who could not escape, leaving out the paragraph comparing his popularity and that of Congress, unless, of course, he was reading the poll to a member of Congress.”
—Merle Miller, Lyndon: An Oral Biography. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1980, p. 453
December 20, 1965. LBJ speaks with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara about the 1967 budget, and how to estimate the costs of a war that may (they hope) end at any moment. At around 9:45 McNamara explains that “it would be a serious error” for LBJ to ask for a tax increase, when they may not need more money for defense. LBJ asks about possible Congressional reactions to this strategy, and McNamara enumerates the likely Republican accusations (at about 10:40):
“Fictitious reporting, misleading the American people, seeking to finance the Great Society by deficit spending, hiding from the public the true facts relating to war, you know….”
If the objectives of our policy remain the same, the war in Viet Nam is just beginning for the United States.