KC Johnson

Congress in the Classroom 2011

Section One: Bringing Procedure to Life

In this clip from Dec. 1963, Johnson complained about being outmaneuvered by Louisiana congressman Otto Passman on the level of foreign aid appropriations. A Passman amendment to cut foreign aid spending by almost 33 percent passed, thanks to votes from five conservative Texas congressman. The President made clear to Austin representative Jack Brooks that he would remember who stood with him.

          President Johnson: You want to know honestly how I feel?

         Jack Brooks: Yeah.

         President Johnson: I’m really humiliated that I’m President, and I’ve got a friendly Speaker, and I’ve got a friendly Majority Leader, and I’ve got a friendly Albert Thomas, I’ve got a friendly Jack Brooks, and Otto Passman is king. I think that’s disgraceful in this country.

Because I want to tell you when I see you the next time—confidentially—

         Brooks: Mm-hmm.

         President Johnson: —what we’re looking at in the world. And it’s a hell of a lot worse than it was last year. And you’re giving us 3 billion [dollars] to deal with, and you gave Kennedy 3.9 [billion dollars].

And I don’t think that’s fair, and I don’t think it’s right. I think it’s awful that a goddamned Cajun from the hills of Louisiana has got more power—

       Brooks: He’s no Frenchman, though!

       President Johnson: —has got more power than all of us. I just think that’s awful.

       Brooks: Yes.

       President Johnson: But that’s what you’ve got to do. And some day we’ll get our way, and if I ever walk up in the cold of night and a rattlesnake’s out there and about ready to get him, I ain’t going to pull him off—I’ll tell you that.

      Brooks: No, I understand.

      President Johnson: Now, you remember that.

      Brooks: I want you to remember it. We’ve got some people from—

      President Johnson: I remember it. Now, you just go and tell all these Texans that want to hit Russia that I want to put those sons of bitches in uniform.

      Brooks: They ought to be.

      President Johnson: Let ’em go fight the Communists for a while. They like to talk a big game—

      Brooks: Yeah.

      President Johnson: —but they don’t want to do a damn thing about it.

     Brooks: I’m with you.

     President Johnson: OK.

     Brooks: Good night. Bless your heart.


The President struggled with both ideological wings of the party in the run-up to his nomination at the Atlantic City convention. From Senate liberals,, the main problem came from Illinois senator Paul Douglas (a former economics professor at the University of Chicago) and Pennsylvania senator Joe Clark, who wanted a platform plank denouncing the Tuck bill, which sought to invalidate the Supreme Court’s one-man/one-vote ruling. Johnson fumed about the duo’s efforts in this August 21, 1964 call with Bill Moyers.

       President Johnson: Why in the living hell they want to put it [a plank supporting the reapportionment decisions] in the platform, notify every little state. [Majority Leader] Carl Albert’s district [in Oklahoma] is put together and he’s abolished from Congress. Now who wants to do that to Carl Albert, when he’s the best instrument the liberals have for achievement in this town, since [former House Speaker] Sam Rayburn? Now, why would they want to abolish his district?

It’s not so bad if the Senate abolishes it, or the Court abolishes it. But it’s awful if he is asked—the [Democratic National] Platform Committee of which he heads—to abolish himself. That’s just cruel, inhuman punishment. Now, it looks like even a goddamned college professor could understand that.

      Bill Moyers: All right.

      President Johnson: Paul Douglas has got less sense than any man I know when judgment’s required. He’s always off chasing some damn balloon in the air.

      Moyers: That’s right.

     President Johnson: So . . .

     Moyers: All right.

     President Johnson: Bill, the pitch is this: they’re coming—the Congress hasn’t adjourned. It was due to adjourn; it didn’t adjourn. Does Dr. Douglas know that?

     Moyers: I hope he does.

     President Johnson: All right. Now, why didn’t they adjourn? What are they coming back for? They’re coming back to consider the Tuck bill, and the Dirksen bill, and the Mansfield bill.

Now, what they ought to do—if the liberals want a real plan of attack, [if New York Times reporter] Tony Lewis wants something to do, is get ten of them out here at a Georgetown house some night with [historian and former Kennedy aide] Arthur Schlesinger, and let ’em all agree that one of ’em will talk four hours and the other one will talk four hours. And that’s what they [the liberals] do best: is talk.

[Senate Majority Leader Mike] Mansfield won’t run after 6.00. They’ll do that for two weeks, and the show will be over. The Tuck bill will be dead. The Supreme Court will be riding high. That’ll be it—period. That’s simple. You don’t have to be smart to know that. Hell, I knew that before I left Johnson City. [Snorts.]


Section 2–LBJ and Congress: The “Johnson Treatment

In this clip from January 1964, the President lobbied Finance Committee member and Indiana senator Vance Hartke, who wanted a tax break for a musical instruments plant in Elkhart, Indiana.

President Johnson: Vance?

Vance Hartke: Yes, sir.

President Johnson: Can’t you help me on this excise tax thing? You’re going to wreck this damn bill. We’re not going to have any. They’re going to get together this afternoon and try to make a motion to keep all excise taxes in there, and we need your help.

Hartke: [searching for words] Well, I mean, I suppose that way started out—

President Johnson: I know it. And [New Mexico senator] Clint Anderson, though, they all got mad yesterday because you-all screwed up that oil vote. And they’re after the oil companies, and [Delaware senator John] Williams and everything else. Those big oil companies oughtn’t to be raising hell [for] 40 million. They got off with 400 million, and they ought to let you-all off the hook.

But now we’ve got it in a big screwed-up mess, and we—all of us are going down in defeat if we can’t operate any better than that. There’s no leadership in the committee.

So for God’s sake, get in there. [New Mexico senator] Clint Anderson says he’ll change, and you change, and get two or three more and let’s . . .

Hartke: The one big thing in there, the one thing I wanted, was [to cut the tax on] musical instruments.

President Johnson: Oh, well—

Hartke: This is—

President Johnson: What’s important is the big credit to the Democratic Party, and let’s go on. The goddamned band and musical instruments—they won’t be talking about it next November.

Hartke: They will in Elkhart—

President Johnson: What they’re going to be judging us by is: they’re going to be judging us whether we passed the tax bill or not and whether we’ve got prosperity.


Sometimes the “Johnson treatment” became more forceful, as in this March 1965 clip between Johnson and Harlem congressman Adam Clayton Powell, who chaired the House Education and Labor Committee.

President Johnson: Hello?

Congressman Adam Clayton Powell: How’s my friend?

President Johnson: [stonily] Fine, Adam.

What the hell’s been happening to your [Education and Labor] Committee? I thought you told me two months ago that you were going to pass a [education] bill for me.

Powell: That’s right. Well, what happened: all hell’s broken loose, because—

President Johnson: Well, now, what the hell are you blackmailing me on a—

Powell: That’s not—

President Johnson: —four hundred . . . Well, hell, you didn’t—[because] you want a $400,000 appropriation for you, we couldn’t pass a billion, two hundred million [dollar funding bill] for the schoolkids.

Now, you know I’m for you, and you know that I’m going to help you any way I can. I’ve got nothing to do with what you’re doing in the House investigation [of Powell’s personal finances]. But you damn near defeated the best education bill I’ve got. And I hope you’re going to be proud of it.

Powell: No. Now, you know your Appalachia bill, that there is—

President Johnson: Well, now, Appalachia ain’t got a damn thing to do with you. If you handle your committee and let us handle the other one!

Powell: Yeah, but there’s a clause in there, Mr. President—

President Johnson: There’s a clause that’s been in there for a long time.

And if you’re going to let [Ohio congressman William] Ayres [the committee’s ranking Republican] and [Oregon congresswoman] Edith Green [a conservative Democrat] lead you off the reservation, well, then I ran for nothing last year—

Powell: No—

President Johnson: [continuing] With 15 million votes. If you’re going to tie up this Congress, and screw it up—which you’ve done for three weeks, by running off [to Bimini, in the Bahamas] till you got a 400,000 [dollar] appropriation—why, we never can get anywhere.

And you defeat this [bill], and you hold it up, and you delay it, and you get us in this kind of shape, why, we can’t pass anything.

And that’s all right. But I think you’ll beat a hell of a bunch of your liberal Democrats [in the 1966 midterm elections]. I’m going to be here—it’s not going to bother me. But I just sure thought I had better leadership on that committee than what I’ve got without even talking.

Powell: Well—

President Johnson: And I’m awfully disappointed. Just very disappointed.

Powell: Now, Mr. President, don’t you think I have an entitlement to—

President Johnson: [forcefully] No, I don’t think you’re entitled to a damn thing that you did.

I think you told me, and looked me straight in the eye—

Powell: Mm-hmm.

President Johnson: [continuing] And said, “I’ll report this bill, and I’ll get it on the floor.” And you didn’t do it.

Powell: [By] March 1st.

President Johnson: And you did not do it.

Powell: It was [by] March 1st, because—

President Johnson: Well, Adam—

Powell: It was March—

President Johnson: [voice rising] No. Oh, hell no, you didn’t say till March 1st. you told me you were going to do it. And then you ran off for three weeks and they couldn’t even locate you . . . And your people [African-Americans] are being damn well taken care of in it [the bill].


President Johnson: Hey, listen: if you can’t trust me on Appalachia, you damn sure can’t trust an amendment, or the Secretary of Commerce, or anybody else.

Powell: Mm-hmm. Yeah—

President Johnson: If there’s anything that’s going to happen in Appalachia that’s anti-Negro, I won’t let it happen. Period.


Section Three: Congress & Foreign Policy

This clip between LBJ and Minnesota senator Eugene McCarthy (then a Johnson ally) occurred during the Fulbright hearings of 1966, and showed LBJ expressing frustration at the nature of his congressional opposition on Vietnam.

           President Johnson: What they [adherents to the Bull Fulbright line on Vietnam] really think is that we oughtn’t to be there, and we ought to get out.

Well, I know we oughtn’t to be there, but I can’t get out. I just can’t be the architect of surrender. And don’t see—I’m trying every way in the world I can to find a way to . . . thing.

But they [the North Vietnamese] don’t have the pressure to bring them to the table as of yet. We don’t know whether they ever will.

I’m willing to do damn near anything. If I told you what I was willing to do, I wouldn’t have any program. [Senate Minority Leader Everett] Dirksen wouldn’t give me a dollar to operate the war. I just can’t operate in a glass bowl with all these things. But I’m willing to do nearly anything a human can do, if I can do it with any honor at all. But . . .

They started with me on Diem, you remember?

          Eugene McCarthy: Yeah.

          President Johnson: That he was corrupt and he ought to be killed. So we killed him. We all got together and got a goddamned bunch of thugs and we went in and assassinated him. Now, we’ve really had no political stability since then.

          McCarthy: Yeah.


LBJ sympathized with Israel’s position after the Six-Day War. But in this conversation with Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, the President expressed frustration with Jewish Members of Congress taking an excessively high-profile pro-Israel stance.

         Everett Dirksen: They read me a long cable tonight, that covered that Faisal meeting.

         President Johnson: Well, I have that. We got that in our intelligence. It was very good. His people told it to us, too. And the Kuwaits [sic] have been pretty good.

         Dirksen: Yeah. So they have.

         President Johnson: The Arabs cannot unify behind anything ever except the Jews.

         Dirksen: Well, now—

         President Johnson: And if the goddamn Jews would behave, and be quiet, and let you talk for them or let [Majority Leader Mike] Mansfield talk for them, or let somebody else—instead of [UN ambassador Arthur] Goldberg and [New York senator Jacob] Javits and all them . . .

That just sets ’em afire when they get up—

        Dirksen: Yeah.

        President Johnson: They just get afire.

       Dirksen: By the way, you didn’t forget to tell Nick [Katzenbach] to get on Jack [unclear], did you?

       President Johnson: I told Nick to come talk to you, and get your judgments on it. He’s not for the resolution.

       Dirksen: No.

       President Johnson: He thinks we oughtn’t to have any resolution.

       Dirksen: Yeah. Well, Jack [Javits] was working like a goddamn eager beaver, you know.

       President Johnson: Well, he wants to, and I can understand his concern. I’d be worried if it was Texans. But he just—it’s not wise. That’s not the best thing.

       Dirksen: Yeah.

       President Johnson: Because somebody else . . . You know, it’s a man that’s a fool that is his own lawyer.

       Dirksen: Yeah. But the hell of it is you can’t talk him out of it when he gets these ideas. And then he just scours that goddamn [Senate] floor.

       President Johnson: Yeah.

       Dirksen: Saying, “Will you join with me in this resolution?”


Section IV. Humanizing Politicians

Lady Bird critiques an LBJ press conference in this 1964 call.

         Lady Bird Johnson: You want to listen for about one minute to—

         President Johnson: Yes, ma’am.

         Lady Bird Johnson: —my critique, or would you rather wait till tonight?

President Johnson: Yes, ma’am. I’m willing now.

       Lady Bird Johnson: I thought that you looked strong, firm, and like a reliable guy. Your looks were splendid. The close-ups were much better than the distance ones.

        President Johnson: Well, you can’t get ‘em [the TV producers] to do it  . . . the distance ones.

       Lady Bird Johnson: Well, I would say this: there were more close-ups than there were distance ones.

During the statement, you were a little breathless and there was too much looking down and I think it was a little too fast. Not enough change of pace, a drop in voice at the end of sentence.

There was a considerable pick-up in drama and interest when the questioning began. Your voice was noticeably better, and your facial expressions noticeably better.


       Lady Bird Johnson: When you’re going to have a prepared text, you need to have the opportunity to study it a little bit more, and to read it with a little more conviction, and interest, and change of pace. Because—

        President Johnson: Well, the trouble is they [the White House media] criticize you for taking so much time. They want to use it all for questions. Then their questions don’t produce any news, and if you don’t give ‘em news, you catch hell.

So my problem was trying to get through before 10 minutes, and I still ran 10 minutes today.


       Lady Bird Johnson: I believe if I’d had that choice, I would have said use 13 minutes, or 14, for the statement.

In general, I’d say it was a good “B+.” How do you feel about it?

      President Johnson: [quickly] I thought it was much better than last week.

      Lady Bird Johnson: [unconvinced] Well, I heard last week, [you] see, and didn’t see it. And didn’t hear all of it.


On Election Night 1964, Johnson reached out to Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, hoping for bipartisan cooperation—while Dirksen teased the President about Delaware senator John Williams’ victory.

           President Johnson: I want to work awfully close with you, and I think you got a wonderful chance now to make a great contribution to your party, and to the country, too. And I just hope that you take the leadership on it, because we got awful nasty down here. It just got awful nasty.

           Everett Dirksen: I understand so.

           President Johnson: Billy Sol Estes and they threatened all the Negroes and they passed out this stuff saying, “We’re going to arrest you if you go vote.” It was the worst thing that you’ve ever seen in your lifetime.

We’ve got to keep our underlings, now, from going hog wild and becoming bitter. We’ve got to try to unite the country, and do like we did under Eisenhower, and at least present a united front if we can. Then we’ll slug it out again in ’68.

          Dirksen: Yeah.

Well, I’ve only two comments to make. I did get a good exchange. I got a Hollywood actor [George Murphy, who upset Pierre Salinger] for our friend from New York [Kenneth Keating]. [Both laugh heartily.] So . . . that’s on the plus side.

And you almost licked my friend in Delaware.

          President Johnson: [feigning surprise] I don’t know. What happened up there—did he have a close race?

          Dirksen: He finally came through.

          President Johnson: They told me that he just had—that our man . . . I dropped off there on the way to New York, but they told me that the governor just had 31 percent on the polls, and [John] Williams had 60-something. [In fact, just before he arrived in Delaware, LBJ had seen a private poll showing Carvel down by only four points.]

          Dirksen: Yeah, but it turned out awfully close.

         President Johnson: It did?

         Dirksen: Yeah.

        President Johnson: Well . . .

        Dirksen: I thought [Elbert] Carvel had a very interesting slogan: “What Delaware wants in the Senate is not a policeman but a statesman.” [Both laugh.] Do you think that’s cute?

        President Johnson: Yeah. Yeah. John’s been a little rough on us. A little rough on us. And he and his secretary are going to have to quieten down some. They oughtn’t to be so mean to us, now.

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