Oral History Interview with
James H. Rowe
Technical advisor, to International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, 1945-46; consultant, on aviation, etc., to the Bureau of the Budget, 1947; member, Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Federal Government, 1948-49; member, 1948 Foreign Service Selection Board, State Department; member, special commission, U.S. "spy" inquiry, State Department, 1948; chairman, commission to reorganize government of Puerto Rico, 1949; chairman, committee on personnel to Secretary of State, 1950.
September 30, 1969 and January 15, 1970
by Jerry N. Hess
Interview Transcript . . . . . . . . . . . . . Pages 1-98
Appendix A . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . .99-126
Appendix B. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . .127-161
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
The Presidents relationships with an opposition Congress
"There are some who would be inclined to regard the servile pliancy of the Executive to a prevailing current, either in the community or in the legislature, as its best recommendation ... But however inclined we might be to insist upon an unbounded complaisance in the Executive to the inclination of the people, we can with no propriety contend for a like complaisance to the humors of the legislature .... The representatives of the people, in a popular assembly, seem sometimes to fancy that they are the people themselves, and betray strong symptoms of impatience and disgust at the least sign of opposition from any other quarter; as if the exercise of its rights by either the executive or the judiciary, were a breach of privilege and an outrage to their dignity. They often appear disposed to exert an imperious control over the other departments; and as they commonly have the people on their side, they always act with such momentum as to make it very difficult for the other members of the Government to maintain the balance of the Constitution."
The Federalist, #70
This is a study of the relationship of the American President to the Congress when the opposition party holds control of both Houses.
Since the November election, numerous statements in the press by the leaders of both parties and by private citizens, and much editorial comment indicate an expectation that the President and the Congress must "cooperate" if government-by-stalemate is to be avoided. None of this comment attempts to define that is meant by "cooperation". It is generally expected, it seems, that some kind of bipartisan mechanism should be created and that through such machinery, and a willingness to compromise opposing points of view, the nation will be governed satisfactorily by the Executive and Legislative Branches together.
The purpose of this memorandum is to examine whether such “cooperation" is feasible. And if "cooperation", as the term is used here in
the sense that it means some sort of machinery, is found to be impracticable, what course of acts on should the President pursue in his relationships with the new Congress?
The recommendations are based upon a study of similar situations in the past; on some reading in the political scientists; by discussions with disinterested students of the Federal Government such as Emmerich Merriam and Brownlow, and by a few conversations with observers of the Congress of 1931-33. Indirect (and discreet) conversations with some of President Hoover’s advisers during that period also took place. Also considered were the privately expressed views of the practical politicians.
It should be said in the beginning that the striking phenonomen is the unanimity among all these divergent groups that formal "cooperation" between the Democratic President and the Republican Congress is unworkable.
Arrayed against this unanimity, however., is the public feeling that "politics" cannot be allowed to interfere with action on the national and international problems facing the United States.. This attitude is continually reflected in the press. A recent news story, for instance, says a group of prominent citizens have formed a committee which will insist that a "mechanism must be set up which will encourage teamwork" between the Executive and Legislative Branches. And the Washington Post has several times said editorially that there had been too much talk about cooperation and the time has come to implement such talk with machinery.
The situation President Truman will face is not new -- it is not even unusual. The majority of American Presidents have been confronted sometime during their terms with control of either or both Houses vested in the opposition. Nineteen of them have had this experience. Twenty-seven times (counting such "repeaters" as Tyler, Johnson, Hayes, Cleveland and Wilson separately each time they faced a hostile Senate and House) have the Presidents been forced to govern with a minority of their own party in one or both Houses. Ten Presidents, including President Truman (but excluding Hoover, although for all practical purposes his Senate was hostile because the insurgent western Republicans coalesced with the Democrats), had both Houses against them.
(Appendix a lists the Presidents and the size of the majorities against them.) '
To generalize about the Presidents briefly (and unsafely) - Various Presidents attempted various techniques of "doing business" with opposition Congresses. The same President was often inconsistent in the
techniques he adopted toward the Congress, and usually he paid dearly for his changes in attitude. Hoover, for instance, was conciliatory in the beginning and most of the time thereafter, but too often he spoke out angrily on specific issues against the proud Congress. When they relied solely on their constitutional prerogatives, such as the veto power, and selected those issues which public opinion backed, they seem to have been fairly successful in sustaining their points of view. But when they sent their personal "lobbyists" from the Executive Branch to the Hill or appeared personally to urge specific legislation or used the telephone for votes or employed the press conference technique to excoriate the Congress, they failed more often than not.
The administration of President Johnson seems less relevant to the present situation than later administrations since he was a Democrat selected as running mate by Lincoln for wartime unity and the internal bitterness of the war's aftermath makes him sui generis.
Taft and Cleveland could be regarded as having the pleasant experience of more success with an opposition Congress than when they dealt with a Congress controlled by their own party. Rarely did these two lose their tempers despite the provocation. When they did, they, and not the Congress suffered. President Hayes carried on a long fight with an opposition Congress on questions of his constitutional prerogatives, using the veto message unsparingly, but only where public opinion was with him. He was so successful in his technique that his own party took over control of both Houses, as well as the Presidency, at the next election. He himself failed of renomination only because of a patronage struggle with the Senate leaders of his own party, an issue completely irrelevant to the main theme of opposition control.
But generalizations are unsafe here as always. History is not necessarily too relevant for us. The specific issues of the day; such as Hoover's deepening depression or Cleveland's fights with the western silver Senators and eastern tariff advocates, were undoubtedly more determinative than any technique", however highly developed.
(The experiences of past Presidents in specific situations are cited in the following discussion.)
II. Premises and assumptions about the Presidency and the Congress
"The President is expected by the nation to be the leader of his party as well as the chief executive officer of the Government and the country will take no excuses from him. He
must play the part and play it successfully or lose the country's confidence. He must be Prime Minister, as much concerned with the guidance of legislation as with just and orderly execution of law; and he is the spokesman of the nation in everything, even the most momentous and most delicate dealings of the Government in foreign affairs."
Before discussing the kinds of mechanism suggested to bring about “cooperation", and the dangers inherent in their use, it is useful to restate the premises upon which American constitutional government is based. It is equally desirable to make assumptions on how the new Congress will act add why.
There are three independent branches of the Government, the checks and balances setup by the Constitution do exist, and the President of the United States does have specific functions to perform such as the directive to him by the Constitution to execute the laws of the nation. They are restated here because much of the discussion about "cooperation" blithely ignores the historical necessity of these axioms; and also because the borderlines between the branches of Government tend to blur in times of flux. This is true at the beginning of an administration when a new President, with his own party in control of both Houses, so governs that his actions often give rise to the traditional charges of executive domination of the Congress. It is equally true when an administration in office for many years eventually loses control of the Legislative Branch and the predilection for "congressional government" comes to the fore. Historically, this pendulum has always swung and these periods of transition have been noteworthy for the bitterness they engendered. But the fact remains that the independence of the three branches continues as the political constant and the inevitable adjustment can always be counted on to be in favor of that independence.
1. The President. Examination as to the nature of presidential functioning as it has evolved over the years, particularly since the Civil War, is profitable. The President of the United States is the leader of all the people and the sole spokesman for all of the people. He is also the leader of his party -- a fact almost as important because of our two-party system, even though the two roles are often contradictory. He must perform the function of prime minister as well as the head of state and, on important issues, that of foreign minister as well. Because of these many portfolios he is exposed to a multiplicity of issues which too often reach him in the form of piecemeal presentation, and on which,
if he is wise, he will not dare commit himself until adequate study has been made of them for him and until public opinion has been so developed that he is fairly sure his people will follow him.
For presidential leadership, if it means anything, means no more than how to lead the people only as fast as they will follow. The history of every administration shows that in the final analysis a President has but one weapon -- public opinion. He may be adept, as was Franklin Roosevelt, in accurately measuring that public opinion, and in creating and manipulating it. Or he may be as inept as Hoover, who never did grasp this principle that no President can force his will upon the nation either by a executive action or legislative recommendation until informed public opinion is ready to break him.
Because he operates to control public opinion -- and also simply because he is the President, our symbol of the state -- there is a spotlight on his every action. This merciless glare while personally annoying is politically invaluable. His slightest comment on national matters affects and molds that opinion upon which he must rely if he is to function at all.
And because of this spotlight practically everything he says becomes a "matter of record". When he makes a statement he in effect makes a commitment. If he is not extremely careful he thus creates for himself a potential source of public embarrassment, if later events or a more careful study of the facts require him to reverse himself.
Insofar as it is pertinent to this study, the essential fact about presidential functioning is that its extremely public natures leaves no room whatever for the private give-and-take, the secrecy and anonymity of compromise, which is the essence of negotiation -- whether it be "bipartisan cooperation" or any other form of negotiation. The Presidency is rigid -- when its incumbent speaks the world soon knows exactly what he has said.
2. The Congress. When compared with these qualities of the Presidency, the Legislative branch is antithetical in almost every respect.
The function of the Congress is not to govern, to execute. Its major functions are few. It legislates, it appropriates, it investigates and it approves treaties. Under the Constitution it does nothing else of importance.
It is not even an entity. There is no such thing as "the Congress". There are only 531 Congressmen who form among themselves temporary and
shifting coalitions on specific issues. These groups function sectionally. FEPC allies the East and West against the South but labor reform allies the Middle West and South against the North and Far West, just as agriculture coalesces West and South against the East.
Also inherent in the nature of this Congressional functioning is the irresistible fact (when suggesting the substitution of bipartisan "cooperation" for constitutional government) that "you can't do business with Congress", or the Republican majority thereof. It has no parliamentary discipline. Senator Vandenberg, for instance, is recognized as the spokesman of his party on foreign affairs. He vigorously believes it most undesirable to investigate the American occupation of Germany. But he is unable, and admits it, to prevent Senator Brewster from investigating Germany whatever harm is done to foreign relations. In 1932 President Hoover and Speaker Garner publicly made several agreements on a legislative program for a desperate country and jointly announced this program from the White House. Once having committed himself publicly, Hoover was "on the record", had to live up to his commitments and did so. But Garner