LBJ Goes for Broke- page 4 | History | Smithsonian

LBJ Goes for Broke

LBJ Goes for Broke

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(Continued from page 3)

Frank Church had had six months now to learn the cost of crossing Lyndon Johnson. Young as he was, the tall, slender senator looked even younger with his big, toothy grin, shiny black hair, and cheeks so pink that he seemed to be perpetually blushing. Wags in the Press Gallery, amused by Church’s naïveté as much as by his youthfulness, mockingly called him Senator Sunday School. But he was already making a mark in Washington.

Although Church was in favor of civil rights legislation, his interest in the subject was, according to his legislative aide, Ward Hower, “only intellectual,” not “a visceral thing.” The plight of black Americans “was not a big issue to Frank Church,” perhaps because out of the six hundred thousand persons who lived in Idaho in 1957, only about one thousand were black. In 1957, Idaho had only two representatives in the House, “so,” Hower explains, “the Senate was the key for Idaho, like it was for the southerners. In the Senate, Idaho is equal to New York. For all the western senators, the Senate is their states’ protection. The right to filibuster is important to them.” He felt an identity with the southern senators’ need to preserve the Senate’s rules. But, Hower says, Church also knew that a reconciliation with Johnson was essential for his career, and “he was looking for a way to do something major for Johnson”—and “he understood that the civil rights bill was a key to Johnson’s strong ambition to be President.” And it was this understanding that, in mid-July, first got Church involved more deeply in the civil rights fight. In January, on the vote that had angered Johnson, Church had voted against the South; on July 24, Church voted with it. Johnson’s attitude toward him became noticeably warmer.

Johnson had appealed to Church partly on pragmatic grounds; Hower, for one, believes that Church’s desire for a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee was the key: “I don’t think anything explicit was ever said—you didn’t deal with Lyndon Johnson that way. But you knew that if you did him a favor, when the time came, if he could do you a favor. . . . This w as the w ay Lyndon Johnson operated. There was a tacit quid pro quo.” But Johnson had also appealed to elements in the young senator’s character that were not pragmatic. “You’re a senator of the United States,” he told Church. “You have to function as a senator of the United States. This is your national duty.” Says Frank Church’s wife, BethineChurch: “He made Frank realize that they needed him. Lyndon said: ‘If you don’t help with this, there’s not going to be a civil rights bill.’ It was a tremendous challenge, and Frank never loved anything as much as a challenge.”

Knowing that Johnson needed “something more” to attract new liberal and Republican votes for the jury trial amendment while not making it totally unacceptable to the South, Church, “being a lawyer,” tried to “think about the amendment” as a lawyer. Liberal antipathy to the amendment centered on the impossibility of getting a just verdict from the South’s all-white juries. “All right,” Bethine recalls Frank saying, “how about this?”—What if the juries weren’t all-white? “If the juries couldn’t be segregated, we could get the jury trial amendment through.”

Church’s addendum said that with the exception of illiterates, mental incompetents and convicted criminals, “any citizen” twenty-one years old “is competent to serve as a juror.” With the new paragraph added, the civil rights bill would not only reinforce an existing civil right, the right to vote, but would also confer on southern Negroes “a new civil right”: the right to sit on juries.

Church wanted to introduce his addendum immediately, but Johnson told him to wait. To minimize scrutiny of this proposed change, Johnson wanted it introduced only at the last possible moment, so that, as George Reedy explains, “there would be no chance for opposition to be mobilized.” Lyndon Johnson, master of so many aspects of the legislative art, was about to demonstrate his mastery of one final aspect: the floor debate. If Frank Church’s addendum was introduced at the right moment, and if the debate on the addendum was properly orchestrated for maximum effect, it might change a few votes—and a few was all Lyndon Johnson needed.

On the morning of Wednesday, July 31, Johnson still had only about forty-three votes. Knowland had about fifty-one. That morning, the Republican Leader repeated his earlier flat refusals to compromise—to accept a jury trial amendment in any form whatsoever. With the amendment included, he said, the bill simply “would not be a workable piece of legislation.” And he sent to the desk three unanimous consent agreements to set a definite hour for a vote on the complete bill. Each would allow six hours for debate prior to the vote. It quickly became apparent, however, that to the South the details of such agreements were irrelevant; no agreement was going to pass. The South was not going to be forced. Russell rose to speak, and senators waited to hear what the South was going to do. “I have no desire to unduly prolong the debate but I shall insist that it be carried on so long as the representative of a single sovereign state . . . desires to address himself to it,” he said. The escalation of debate into open filibuster was very near. it was almost time for the curtain to rise—for the drama that Lyndon Johnson was staging for the Church Addendum to begin. Johnson had assembled an all-star cast of orators—fiery old Wyoming Senator Joseph O’Mahoney, fiery young Church, fiery little Rhode Island Senator John Pastore— and even the minor roles had been filled with care: a slow-talking, fastthinking southerner with great presence, Georgia Senator Herman Talmadge, was playing “the presiding officer.” Johnson had given all of them their cues, and Church could hardly wait for his moment, but it was dinnertime, and many senators had left the floor to eat. Johnson told him to wait a little longer. He wanted a full house, and at about eight o’clock, when most senators had finished dinner, he asked for a quorum call. And when the floor was again full of senators—almost every desk occupied—the curtain went up.

O’Mahoney had the opening lines: “Mr. President, it is my purpose tonight . . . to explain to the Senate, and to those who may be listening in the galleries, the reasons why I believe, from the depth of my soul, that the trial-byjury amendment” should pass. Defeating it won’t help Negroes to vote, O’Mahoney said. “Denial of trial by jury will not hasten a wise and permanent solution of the grave social problem of racial discrimination that is before us. . . . It w ill only make matters worse than they are, for trial by jury for criminal offenses is itself a civil right guaranteed to every citizen.”

Standing up at his desk in the back row, Church shouted, “Mr. President, will the Senator yield?” and O’Mahoney acted surprised at the interruption, and pretended reluctance. “I yield only with the understanding that I shall not lose the right to the floor,” he said. Johnson, playing himself as Majority Leader, delivered his line in the charade. “Mr. President,” he said, “I ask unanimous consent that the Senator from Wyoming may yield for not to exceed two minutes, with the understanding that he shall not lose the floor.” Presiding Officer Talmadge intoned, “Without objection, so ordered,” and Church introduced his addendum, saying it “is designed to eliminate whatever basis there may be for the charge that the efficacy of trial by jury in the Federal courts is weakened by the fact that, in some areas, colored citizens, because of the operation of State laws, are prevented from serving as jurors.” Standing tall and straight among the freshmen in the back row, he said, “We believe the amendment constitutes a great step forward in the field of civil rights. We believe also that it can contribute significantly in forwarding the cause to which most of us are dedicated— the cause of enacting a civil rights bill in this session of the Congress.” Then, as if he was unsure of the answer, he asked if O’Mahoney “would be agreeable to modifying [his] amendment to include the addendum I have before me.” It turned out that O’Mahoney was indeed agreeable. “It was perfectly appropriate for the Senator from Idaho to offer this amendment, which I [am] so happy to accept,” O’Mahoney assured him with a straight face. Ardent Johnson supporter that he was, Oregon Senator Richard Neuberger could barely contain himself. In a reference to a hokey stage melodrama of the nineteenth century, he muttered: “What’s next week? East Lynne?”

Stilted though it may have been, the opening scene captured the critics. Daughter of a governor, niece of a senator, born to politics, BethineClarkChurch glanced over at the Press Gallery when O’Mahoney agreed to accept the addendum, and what she saw was rows of reporters jumping up “like a wave” and running up the stairs to the telephones in the Press Room.

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