KC Johnson

Congress & Legislation Tapes

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.


Pres. Johnson and House minority leader Charlie Halleck debate the political effects of the civil rights bill.

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: Wait a minute; 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. Because 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: 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.


Pres. Johnson and legislative liaison Larry O’Brien discuss the political effects of the farm bill.

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.


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 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.


Pres. Johnson and LA senator Allen Ellender discussing the need for a farm bill.

President Johnson: Now, you go on and get me some kind of a farm bill. I don’t want to know the detail—

Allen Ellender: I’m going to get you—

President Johnson: But you and [Agriculture Secretary] Orville Freeman get together; if you and Freeman can’t . . .

You see, this is an election year, and Democrats are up. If we don’t have a farm bill, they’re going to catch hell. Now, don’t—

Ellender: I’m going to get—

President Johnson: You and Freeman get—you and Freeman get together, and you-all agree on something, because he thinks you’re a good man—

Ellender: All right.

President Johnson: And you think he’s a good man—

Ellender: All right.

President Johnson: And damn it, you can agree. Both of you give a little bit—

Ellender: All right.

President Johnson: —and go on and get something!


LBJ and Bill Moyers discuss the politics of poverty, in Dec. 1966.

President Johnson: [Anti-war protesters] said give the money to poverty, and not Vietnam. And I think that’s hurting poverty more than anything in the world, is that these Commies are parading . . . and these kids with long-hairs . . . saying, you know, that they want poverty more than Vietnam. And the Negroes. And I think that’s what people regard as the Great Society.


President Johnson: But in my judgment, the bigger request I make for poverty, the more danger it is being killed.

President Johnson: I don’t think they’re [Congress] just going to cut it; I think the same thing about [foreign] aid. I think if I ask for 2 billion or 3 billion for poverty, when I got 3 billion for jobs, and 24 billion [dollars] in other fields, I think they’d say, “Good God, it goes up: every time you get somebody a job, it costs more.”

I think if we increase it a reasonable amount, that we have a much better chance of fighting and holding it [the administration request]. But I think that those boys over there [Shriver’s aides], who don’t know anything about legislative procedure, and these kids that gives out these interviews—[Budget Director Charles] Schultze tells me that Shriver knows ‘em, but he doesn’t believe Shriver can control ‘em [his aides].

[Special Counsel] Harry [McPherson] tells me that he believes that other people in CAP [the Community Action Program] do this, and they override Shriver.


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