Water Man Spouts

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Last Caucus

In 2002, Robert Caro published the third in his wonderful series of books on Lyndon Johnson. Titled "The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate," it followed "The Path to Power" (1982) and "Means of Ascent" (1990). These are the best books on LBJ, and readers are anticipating the last book in the series, which will cover LBJ as vice president and president.
The 43rd chapter of the book on LBJ’s senate career is titled "The Last Caucus" (pages 1035 - 1040). Caro quotes Lady Bird as saying of the senate years, "Those were the happiest twelve years of our lives." Washington insiders had wondered how LBJ would adjust from being one of the most powerful men in the government, to being the vice president? LBJ told them, "Power is where power goes."

However, as Caro describes, after the 1960 election, Johnson began to understand that he was leaving the position of power he had loved. In January 1961, before he had formally resigned from the senate and been sworn in as vice president, Johnson began to come up with plans to maintain power in legislative branch, while serving in the executive branch. He describes LBJ as taking the stance "that the Constitution already assigned the Vice President functions in the Senate: to preside over it, and to vote in it in case of a tie…."

Johnson attempted to keep an office for himself in Senate Office Building, and to have democrats recognize him as still being the de facto Majority Leader. Even Evans & Novak wrote of this as being an attempt to "breach the constitutional separation of powers by making the Vice President the presiding officer of all the Senate Democrats …."

Robert Byrd commented, "Can you imagine that?" and called it "a mistake." Albert Gore stated that they might as well have President Kennedy participate in the senate. Mike Monroney, a friend of LBJ’s, stated that the senate "will lose its power by having a representative of the Executive Branch watching our private caucuses."

Hubert Humphrey would say that it "was too much for him to leave that center of power. He was just reluctant to give up those reins." Eventually, President Kennedy would send a message that he recognized "the line of demarcation between the legislative and executive branches of government." LBJ had to recognize it, as well.

The House and the Senate needs to make this crystal clear to VP Dick Cheney, too.


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