KC Johnson

Congress in the Classroom–2012

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.


Politics, Partisanship, and Process

In this spring 1964 clip, Pres. Johnson and House minority leader Charlie Halleck debate the political effects of the 1964 civil rights bill–the signing of which, at the urging of AG Robert Kennedy, the President had scheduled for July 4.

President Johnson: You oughtn’t to hold up my poverty bill. That’s a good bill and there’s no reason why you ought to keep the majority from [considering] it. If you can beat it, go on and beat it. But you oughtn’t to hold it up. You ought to give me a fair shake and give me a chance to vote on it. I’ve got it in my budget. I’ve cut my budget a billion under last year—

Charlie Halleck: Now, wait; let me talk to you just a minute. You want the civil rights bill through; you wanted the tax bill through. And I helped you do it. And god damn it, did I help you on civil rights?

President Johnson: Yeah, you sure did. You helped [President] Kennedy, you agreed with—

Halleck: Oh, for Christ’s sake, I helped Kennedy and I’ve helped you.

President Johnson: That’s right.

Halleck: Now wait just a minute, my friend . . .

President Johnson: And you helped yourself. Of course, y’all want civil rights as much as we do. I believe it’s a non-partisan bill. I don’t think it’s a Johnson bill.

Halleck: No, no, no. You’re going to get all the political advantage—

President Johnson: No, no—

Halleck: We aren’t going to get a goddamned thing—

President Johnson: No, no.

Halleck: Wait just a minute. Now, we got a lot of things in that bill, that I don’t know what the hell the Senate put in there. Maybe we ought to kind of take a little look at it.

President Johnson: Well, maybe you ought to, I’m not saying that you—

Halleck: Now, wait a minute, Mr. President. I’m just looking at it hard-boiled. And once in a while, I can get hard-boiled.

President Johnson: Well, you wouldn’t want to go to your convention without a civil rights bill, would you?

Halleck: You know, as a matter of fact, if you scratch me very deep, Mr. President . . .

President Johnson: I wouldn’t scratch you at all, because I want to pat you.

Halleck: Now, wait a minute. Wait just a minute. [Johnson chuckles.] If I had my way, I’d let you folks be fussing with that goddamned thing before your convention instead of ours. But I’m perfectly willing to give you the right to sign that thing on July 4.

Now, I think you’re taking advantage of an Independence Day thing that ain’t right, but that’s not for me to say.

President Johnson: I don’t know what you’re talking about.


LBJ, Dirksen, & Bipartisanship

Harking back to a bygone bipartisan era, an October 1968 clip of LBJ and Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen, discussing reports of Nixon operatives negotiating behind the scenes with the S. Vietnamese government to discourage a pre-election peace settlement.

President Johnson: Now, I’m reading their hand, Everett. I don’t want to get this in the campaign.

Everett Dirksen: That’s right.

President Johnson: And they oughtn’t to be doing this. This is treason.

Dirksen: I know.


President Johnson: [with Dirksen assenting] Now, I can identify ‘em, because I know who’s doing this. I don’t want to identify it. I think it would shock America if a principal candidate was playing with a source like this on a matter this important.

I don’t want to do that. But if they’re going to put this kind of stuff out, they ought to know that we know what they’re doing. I know who they’re talking to, and I know what they’re saying.

Well, now, what do you think we ought to do about it?

Dirksen: Well, I better get in touch with him [Nixon], I think, and tell him about it.

President Johnson: I think you better tell him that his people are saying to these folks that they oughtn’t to go through with this meeting [in Paris]. Now, if they don’t go through with the meeting, it’s not going to be me that’s hurt. I think it’s going to be whoever’s elected.

Dirksen: That’s right.

President Johnson: It’d be—my guess—him.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: And I think they’re making a very serious mistake. And I don’t want to say this.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: And you’re the only one I’m going to say it to.

Dirksen: Yeah.


President Johnson: Well, I don’t know who it is that’s with Nixon. It may be [Wisconsin congressman Mel] Laird. It may be [aide Bryce] Harlow. It may be [campaign manager John] Mitchell. I don’t know who it is.

I know this: that they’re contacting a foreign power in the middle of a war.

Dirksen: That’s a mistake!

President Johnson: And it’s a damn bad mistake.

Dirksen: Oh, it is.

President Johnson: [with Dirksen assenting] Now, I don’t want to say so, and you’re the only man that I have enough confidence in to tell ‘em. But you better tell ‘em they better quit playing with it. You just tell ‘em that their people are messing around in this thing, and if they don’t want it on the front pages, they better quit it.


The President as Prime Minister

In this brief March 1964 clip, Pres. Johnson and legislative liaison Larry O’Brien discuss the political effects of the farm bill (where the unpopular items dealt with subsidies for cotton and wheat farmers); and in the process provide a clear definition of how congressional logrolling can work.

President Johnson: And I think that we’ve just got to sit down with our Northerners and tell them, “Now, goddamnit, you’re going to have poverty [legislation], and you’ve had accelerated public works, and you’ve had slum clearance, and you’ve had urban renewal, and you’ve had these things that we’ve helped you on, and we’ve have passed all the labor things you want—manpower retraining.” [For] the Negroes—we’ve spent a lot of time on civil rights, for your area and districts.

Now, for God’s sakes, let us get some votes in the South and Midwest, so we can have the control.

Larry O’Brien: Yeah.

President Johnson: Just let us control this Congress by getting some votes in the South and Midwest. Now, we don’t want to keep on electing Republican-Democrats from Florida, from Texas, and these other states, and we don’t want to elect all-Republican delegations from the Midwest.

O’Brien: Yeah.


Famous for the “Johnson treatment” (his ability to find a way to persuade recalcitrant members of Congress to do his bidding), the President sometimes could be forceful indeed, 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 in 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.


Humanizing Politicians

In this late September 1964 clip, the President is speaking to his wife and daughter, who were campaigning in hostile Southern territory. Johnson was part-teasing, part-admonishing his nonplussed daughter, Lynda Bird, to do a better job singing on the campaign trail.

President Johnson: Let me talk to Luci.

Lynda Bird Johnson: She’s not here, Daddy.

President Johnson: You don’t mean she’s out with a man?

Lynda Bird Johnson: Well, it’s one of her friends, Daddy.

President Johnson: My goodness, why, that girl—I don’t know where she’s—

Lynda Bird Johnson: [Unclear.]

President Johnson: OK, good night. Let me talk to Mama.

Lynda Bird Johnson: OK, here she is. You know you’re loved, now, and I’ll see you tomorrow. Sleep late and take care of yourself. Here’s Mama.

Lady Bird Johnson: Darling?

President Johnson: This little Mary Pakenham writes some mean stories in the Tribune. Do you know her?

Lady Bird Johnson: Why, yes. I know her. [BreakLady Bird then moves onto another topic, before Lynda returns to the line to tell the President about an acquaintance diagnosed with high blood pressure. The President appears to ignore the story and instead returns to the Packenham article, which hadn’t even been mentioned in his conversation with his daughter.]

President Johnson: Here’s what this girl says about you: “As the 19-car lady Bird Special clips down the tracks, campaign songs blaring forth, there are, too, 30 minutes of furious speechmaking. Lynda Bird Johnson, today singing ‘Hello, Lyndon,’ in her off-key, girlish soprano.”

Lynda Bird Johnson: Well, so what, Daddy? That’ll just get me the sympathy vote of all those people who can’t sing on-key.

President Johnson: You mean, you’ll get the sympathy vote of all the people who can’t sing on-key, huh?

Lynda Bird Johnson: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t think I sing off-key. But after all, if you’d been signing for as many hours as I have, I’m sure I’ve done it quite a few times off-key, and I don’t feel worried about it a bit.

President Johnson: Why don’t you learn to sing on-key? Take some lessons.

Lynda Bird Johnson: Well, in the first place, I haven’t been signing very much. [Unclear.] It’s better for her to say that than to say I—

President Johnson: She [Pakenham] says, “Helicopters circled over the train, patrol cars following, troopers armed with rifles at each stop are a reminder that the candidate himself, the President, is not popular in the South. Goldwater boosters are everywhere.”

Lynda Bird Johnson: Oh, well, Daddy, she’s just talking. If we didn’t have anybody ever looking after us, she’d say that we were just begging to get hurt. After all, Daddy, it adds up to—

President Johnson: How many people did you have in Charleston tonight?

Lynda Bird Johnson: Uh . . . [asks in the room] Someone said about 20,000. It was a good crowd.

President Johnson: It was?

Lynda Bird Johnson: We’ve had good crowds—

President Johnson: How many hecklers? How many hecklers did you have?

Lynda Bird Johnson: Oh, I don’t know—40 or 50.


Politicians Past Their Prime

Though the Bork confirmation is often thought of as the beginning of the modern confirmation wars, the practice actually dates to the Republicans’ successful filibuster against Abe Fortas’ promotion to Chief Justice. In this June 1968 conversation, two practitioners of the fading bipartisan era–President Johnson and Minority Leader Everett Dirksen–struggle to perceive the changes in the Senate.

President Johnson: Now, you see, what I could do to show you how unfair these folks are—[Robert] Griffin and them—all I have to do is tell Warren to go on to California until August, and send in your resignation then. Then I’ll just make a recess appointment.

Everett Dirksen: I told them that.

President Johnson: And Fortas would be there. Now, Fortas is going to be on that Court. [Conservative Arkansas senator] John McClellan and them are not going to change him. Whether he sits on the right side of the table or the left, he’s going to be there. The only question we’re talking about is whether you’ve got Thornberry or Warren.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: And I don’t think I’m liberalizing the Court with Thornberry, trading him for Warren; I think I’m improving the damn Court.

Dirksen: [answering previous LBJ comment] No . . .

President Johnson: Fortas is going to be there anyway.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: Now, they tell me that they’ve canvassed this thing pretty well, that we don’t have a man that’s out of the South that’s not for us.

Dirksen: No.

President Johnson: And enthusiastically for us—

Dirksen: Right.

President Johnson: –except one or two that we haven’t been able to contact.


President Johnson: Who has signed that damn letter [of Griffin]?

Dirksen: Huh?

President Johnson: Who has signed it?

Dirksen: I don’t know who. [Unclear.]

President Johnson: Well, somebody told me [Kansas senator Frank] Carlson was on it.

Dirksen: Yeah? Well, that I don’t know. But if he was, I will certainly go and see him and take it off. After all, he’s not going to be around here [in 1969].

President Johnson: Not at all, and I have been with him on everything that, by gosh, a human ever could, from his prayer breakfasts on.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: [with Dirksen assenting] I can’t understand [Howard] Baker. That Tennesseean is strong with us, and the Commercial Appeal’s with us, and Tennessee is Fortas’ [native] state, and all of his family and folks live there, and every Jew. He’s a young man, going to be running the rest of his life, and voting against the first Jewish chief justice. I can’t understand that.

Dirksen: Yeah, that’s right. Well, [Iowa senator Bourke] Hickenlooper, of course, was much of an instigator of all this. I had a session with him yesterday afternoon. But he’s not going to be here [in 1969] either!

President Johnson: [softly] I’ll be damned.


President Johnson: Well, you see, if he [Warren] hasn’t resigned, and he resigns, and they don’t act on Fortas, I would imagine I could just name Thornberry Chief Justice.

Dirksen: You could, if you wanted to.

President Johnson: And Fortas would just stay where he is, and then where would they be?

Dirksen: Exactly.

President Johnson: I don’t think Thornberry would be as brilliant a chief justice—

Dirksen: No.

President Johnson: –but he’d be a damn good one. Now, don’t you think he’s a dumbbell.

Dirksen: He isn’t.

President Johnson: OK. Fine. Good-bye.

Dirksen: [answering earlier LBJ comment] I won’t.

President Johnson: All right. Stay with me.

Dirksen: I will.

For additional clips:

See also: Miller Center for Public Affairs, Presidential Recordings Project

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