A Senator’s View
On January 1, 1975, at the age of eighty-two, George D. Aiken of Vermont retired after thirty-four years in the United States Senate. A moderate Republican, he was known for his Yankee wit, crustiness, and independence (he traditionally breakfasted with the Senate majority leader, Mike Mansfield of Montana, a Democrat). For the last three years of his career in the Senate, Aiken—a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and the Agriculture and Forestry committees, as well as of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy—kept a diary, dictating his entries at the end of each week. They were dramatic years of change and tragedy that encompassed the bombing of Cambodia, the end of the war in Vietnam, new relationships with Russia and China, Watergate, and increasing economic difficulties. Here are excerpts from that diary, which has just been published by the Stephen Greene Press under the title Aiken: Senate Diary, January 1972-January 1975 . We begin the senator’s remarks with his entry for January 22, 1972.
COPYRIGHT © 1976 BY GEORGE D. AIKEN
I have never seen so many incompetent persons aspiring to high office and apparently well financed in their efforts to achieve it. Some of the subcommittees of important congressional committees appear to be used largely for the promotion of the aspirations of this or that member of Congress. These subcommittees are granted large appropriations which will be used to a great extent to promote the political aspirations of the subcommittee chairman. I would be inclined to oppose these appropriations in the Senate were it not for the fact that in the executive branch of government there are many agencies and subagencies which can legally use appropriated funds to ensure the re-election of the President.
Congress has passed a Fair Election law which the President will probably sign, but it will not be very effective in making candidates honest.
Undersecretary of Agriculture Phil Campbell and other officials from the department met with the Republican members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture to explain the President’s agriculture message. … None of us like it, since it appeared to be an effort to downgrade or even eliminate the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Just who thought up this proposal is a mystery. …
We are told that one of the slogans of the Defense Department is “If it works, it’s obsolete.” I am afraid that someone has told the President that this same slogan or formula should apply to the Department of Agriculture, because as I understand the President’s proposal, the programs that have worked best for a long time are due for a downgrading. Congress will not agree. Someone has persuaded the President to make a political error. Agriculture is still by far our most important industry.
Politics have prevailed almost to the point of hypocrisy. As an example, one prominent Democrat is loud in his advocacy of getting food to the refugees in East Pakistan, now called Bangladesh, while at the same time expressing great sympathy for the dock workers, who are preventing the shipment of such food. Although it is assumed that the dock strike is causing the greatest loss to American agriculture, it is my opinion that labor itself may be a greater loser than the farmer.
The sixth week of this session has now passed, and we are finally getting down to work. On Tuesday the Senate by a large majority, 73 to 21, applied cloture to the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] bill, which had been dragging since our return to the new session in January. Surprisingly enough, the bill passed the Senate that very afternoon. … Actually the EEOC bill was largely a political gesture and will doubtless be as difficult to enforce if it becomes law as the Honest Election bill, which the President has signed. Human nature being what it is, we can’t make people honest and good simply by passing a law. …
Monday night about a dozen members of the Senate went out to Andrews Air Force Base to meet President Nixon, who was returning from his trip to China. …
On the next day … twelve members of the Senate and nine from the House went to the White House to listen to further discussions by the President, Secretary [William P.] Rogers, and Henry Kissinger. … The President was obviously tired, as testified by the fact that he started to speak to us at 10 A.M. and kept talking for about one and a quarter hours, a rather unusual length of time for President Nixon to speak. As a matter of fact, when one is very tired and starts to speak, one finds it difficult to reach a stopping point. …
The President reported to us that Chou En-lai was apparently the keenest and ablest head of state he had ever met, that discipline among the Chinese people was meticulous, that crime seemed to be under control. Since the United States and China are fairly comparable in the matters of geography and resources, I have often wondered what type of government we might be functioning under here if we found ourselves with their population of eight hundred million people. I hope we do not have to face that situation for a long time to come.
The conference report on foreign-aid appropriations, which was previously passed by the House, was approved by the Senate, 45 to 36. However, opposition to foreign aid seems to be growing. There appears to be a lot of dead wood in the personnel that administers this program, and it is a general feeling that much of the money appropriated is a subsidy to American industries to help them get business in other countries.
Much of the opposition to the conference report was due to the fact that military assistance to other countries was considered excessive. The answer to this, of course, is that if they don’t get military equipment from us they will get it from somewhere else. …
The Friday session of the Senate was not a happy one. There were difficulties in getting a quorum of the Senate at all. Forty-two members were absent. Except for two or three cases of illness the members were out on the road playing politics, many campaigning for their own reelection and others taking part in the campaign for the nomination and election of a President. Most of the congressional candidates for the Presidency have, in my opinion, eliminated any possible excuse for voting for them next fall. I still can’t see what there is about neglecting their duties that qualifies them for higher office.
The Foreign Relations Committee met … Friday morning, and political insinuations again saturated the committee room. Senator Church was insistent that the Foreign Relations Committee investigate the reported efforts of the ITT [International Telephone & Telegraph Corporation] to influence the last Chilean election. He studiously avoided any reference to our big copper companies, who, through excessive depletion of Chilean ore and tremendous profits on the same, were largely responsible for the people of Chile resorting to a socialist government.
This week … saw the return of several members of the Senate Judiciary Committee from Denver, where they had gone to interview Mrs. Dita Beard, a lobbyist for the ITT . …
Certainly many of our larger corporations with international holdings have become more powerful than the governments of the countries in which their investments have been made. It is safe to say that an American national corporation, having invested heavily in a developing country, will do all within its power to protect such investment, even to influencing or overthrowing governments and inciting civil war. There isn’t much the United States could do to stop such behavior, but we can try to keep it humane and beneficial not only to the investors in the company but also to the people where an investment is made.
Last year the Congress enacted two pieces of legislation which I am not proud to have voted for. One was a new tax law ostensibly to help low-income people, but which at present seems to be having the opposite effect. The other bit of legislation enacted last year was supposed to ensure clean elections. I almost voted against it because I knew on the face of it that it wouldn’t work, but finally went along with the rest of the Senate and voted for it. I would feel better today had I voted against this so-called Clean Elections bill and the new tax law. The national election due next November promises to be anything but clean, and the loopholes in the tax bill and benefits to big business are enabling the corporations to go a long way in their efforts to influence or purchase the election outright.
… it is an old practice among politicians, particularly among those seeking re-election or election to a higher office, to vote for something they don’t believe in and then trust a smaller group of House and Senate conferees to kill such proposals. In that way they can always tell the proponents of a particular idea: “I did what I could for you but that miserable House (or conference) committee just wouldn’t accept it.” Maybe such action isn’t entirely honorable, but it may go a long way toward ensuring re-election for a member of Congress.
And another reason why members of Congress sometimes vote for proposals in which they do not believe is to help a colleague in his quest for re-election. If he proposes something which is very popular in his own district, he can then tell his constituents: “I did the best I could for you but it just wasn’t enough to get your proposals enacted into law.”
… there was a meeting of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy relative to power-plant licensing. These hearings and meetings concerning power-plant licensing are rather disgusting and also ineffective.
The utility companies are constantly making efforts to work into any bill proposed a proviso which would exempt them from provisions of antitrust laws. So far I have been able to block such exemption, but no one knows when they may be able to sneak something in.
The week started off with a political bang, with Secretary of State Rogers appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and being promptly attacked over the war situation by Chairman Fulbright. Following Fulbright, Senator Church continued the attack, likening the North Vietnamese all-out invasion of South Vietnam to the northern invasion of the southern states during the Civil War. I felt impelled to remark that the northern states had not killed off two hundred thousand Southerners previous to their invasion of the Confederacy, as the North Vietnamese had done in 1954.
On the whole, the newspapers and the columnists were much fairer than the television industry in presenting the arguments on both sides. Unfortunately, however, some local papers even in Vermont carried as headlines that “Aiken Supports the Bombing.” This of course is false, since I strongly opposed, bombing by the Johnson administration in 1966 and do not favor it at this time. I do, however, hold North Vietnam and their Russian backers fully responsible for the latest build-up in the war. Whether they think they can overwhelm the South Vietnamese military or whether they are undertaking to extend the war until after President Nixon’s visit to Moscow in late May is the question.
Lots of rain, causing severe floods in several states; and lots of nonsense politically, causing a good deal of depression on my part.
With the Democratic National Convention due to start in Miami in a couple of weeks, the political situation is increasingly worse, with candidates making promises they never could keep and which, if kept, would be destructive or at least very harmful to the nation. The capital is almost besieged by lobbyists, all seeking special advantages for members of their organizations, and the mail has picked up accordingly, many letters purportedly from different people but in the same handwriting. …
We will continue working … next week, after which the Congress will have a two-week recess. …
A lot can happen during those two weeks either in the Democratic convention in Miami or in the foolish facesaving war which we are waging in Vietnam.
Saturday night, and L.P.A. [Lola Pierotti Aiken, the senator’s wife] and I are back on the mountain in Putney. …
It was high time to get out of Washington. The air was sultry with what we used to call cheap politics—actually dishonest politics.
Senator Muskie came back to the Senate apparently a sadder and wiser man, and seems ready to settle down to being a senator once more.
Senator Humphrey also came back, apparently reconciled to probable defeat at the Democratic convention to be held in Miami starting July 8. Then the Democratic Credentials Committee decided that Senator McGovern was not entitled to all of California’s 271 delegates to the convention, even though it was, in effect, California’s law, and took 151 delegates away from him, giving the larger part of those left to Humphrey. This restored Hubert’s hopes and off he went again, irrepressible as ever.
What I thought was most interesting, however, was the expression on Teddy Kennedy’s face right after the news of McGovern’s setback. … Teddy was actually drooling, and not in sorrow.
At this time the Democrats do not seem to be split, they look fragmented. However, they may recover by Election Day, November 7.
I don’t believe that much headway can be made in defeating Richard Nixon for re-election, provided that his party political advocates keep their heads and don’t start condemning Democratic candidates in a ridiculous and unfair manner.
There are many sound arguments in favor of re-electing the President, but stupidity, arrogance, and unfairness on the part of his advocates could prove to be very costly.
The big news was the report that Senator Eagleton, now candidate for Vice President on the Democratic ticket, has had psychiatric treatments for depression three times during the past decade. …
… I don’t suppose there is one member of the United States Senate who has not sometime during his life suffered from nervous depression, or nervous exhaustion, as it is commonly called. Senator Margaret Smith tells me that she doesn’t recall any such instance in her life, but the fact remains that she is a most unusual person, so I have to accept her statement at face value.
For the first part of the week the Senate worked on the Military Procurement Authorization bill, with the principal activity directed toward what are called end-the-war amendments.
At the suggestion of executive-branch representatives, I offered an amendment which I felt was … practical. … It provided for an internationalized cease-fire over all Indochina and the withdrawal of all our forces within four months from the time an agreement could be reached. … It did not provide a complete cutoff of funds, for the reason that such provision would encourage North Vietnam and its allies to renew the war promptly after we had completed our withdrawal. …
… on Wednesday about one o’clock President Nixon called me to say that he very strongly supported my amendment and felt that it would help bring the end of our involvement in Indochina nearer [the amendment was later shelved by the Senate]. …
The bill now goes to conference with the House, and no one knows what will happen there, but I don’t worry about it, for no end-the-war provision approved by Congress can work without an agreement with the enemy—and with an agreement we don’t need an amendment anyway.
At the present time it looks as if the Republicans could coast to victory in the November 7 election provided the leadership can hold their overly ambitious—and, in my book, irresponsible—assistants in check. The raid on the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate a few weeks ago smells to high heaven, and the political world apparently believes, as of today, that this despicable and fruitless act was planned within the headquarters of the Committee to Re-elect the President. While complete proof has not been shown, there is a general feeling that it will be shown before election time and will be costly in terms of votes for Republican candidates.
… A small company in Bennington, Vermont, has been trying desperately to get a contract for tabulating cards and is apparently well qualified to fill such a contract, but was left completely out in the cold while a large contract of which it could have had a share was given to a Minneapolis concern. I may be hypercritical, but I think Minnesota is likely to play a key part in the coming election, and besides it is the home state of Clark MacGregor [a former Nixon counsel who was subsequently chairman of the Citizens’ Committee for the Re-election of the President]. I may be too cynical, but I don’t like what is going on in some parts of the executive branch of our government.
The Republican convention at Miami Beach came and went. Nothing exciting and nothing unexpected happened. …
As matters stand now, I fear that we are in for a bad ten weeks before the November 7 election. President Nixon ought to win in a breeze. Certainly he has made mistakes- his advocacy of the expansion of many so-called left-wing programs in education, health, and social affairs has displeased many conservative Republicans. No one can deny, however, that the world is in a more stable and peaceful condition because of his efforts. Business is much better this year, also farm prices. The fact that our national debt has soared and our balance of foreign trade has become worse will have little effect on the average voter.
On Monday night L.P.A. and I and a few other members of the Senate were permitted to view the first showing of the new movie 1776 . This documented the wrangling and difficulties which took place among the colonies during the spring previous to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. …
The significance of this historical movie … lies in the fact that human traits have not changed to any degree in the last two hundred years. While we have fifty states in the Union now, about half a dozen of them containing our largest cities feel that it should be their prerogative to decide on the rights of all fifty of them.
Had the New York and Pennsylvania colonies had their own way in 1776, the course of history would have been vastly different. Had a few of the larger states had their way in 1972, the future of our country could no doubt have been changed, too. …
We are getting bills out of committees these days that would be disastrous if passed as reported by the committees. … Some members … who are running for re-election this year or in 1974 appear to have lost their capacity for sound reasoning as they try to justify positions they never should have taken. Their great desire is apparently to please those people or groups which they feel will support them either financially or by soliciting votes at election time.
Much time is taken up every morning by fifteen-minute political speeches, usually four or five Democrats making charges against the Nixon administration and a couple of Republicans, led by Senator Scott, trying to counteract them. So far this has been an exercise in futility, and I doubt if any votes have been changed. The net result has been to use up to two hours a day in the Senate which should be given to necessary legislation. …
I would characterize the time taken up with campaign charges and countercharges as a costly nuisance. Although some of the members, particularly Senators Kennedy and Humphrey, seem to have their eyes and ears tuned to the 1976 Presidential campaign, they pretend to be helping Senator McGovern in his efforts to win the 1972 election. … It is a wonder this country survives as well as it does while undergoing this unholy ritual every four years. …
The Land Use bill represents a determined effort on the part of its advocates to secure power through controlling the use of all land. Of course the federal government controls a good share of our land area through the Department of the Interior, the National Parks, and the National Forests. But there are those who feel that the federal government, meaning themselves of course, should have control over the use of all privately owned land as well. If these people were all competent, such a policy might have its advantages for the future, but a great many of those who think they should direct the use of the land are terribly incompetent and couldn’t possibly make a living by themselves through their own skill and knowledge of the land. Too many of them are living on trust funds or sizable salaries as officials of government agencies, federal, state, and local. Anyway, the Senate amended the Land Use bill to eliminate much of the harm. …
I would not criticize too harshly the so-called environmentalists, who feel that the use of all land should be put under government control. Most of them do mean well, and the efforts they make go far to offset the other extreme of our society, which feels that industrialists, commercial interests, and developers should have the right to use our natural resources any way they see fit.
Efforts are being made to bring onto the Senate floor political and personal arguments which more properly should be made, if at all, out behind the barn. The situation verges on outright political dishonesty. I got mixed up in one of these occasions on Thursday when I came on the floor just in time to note that Senator Brooke and Senator Cranston were offering what is called the “end-the-war amendment” to a clean-water bill. The Senate had previously agreed that no nongermane amendments could be offered to legislation for the rest of this session. …
If I had not come on the floor just as I did, their ruse might have succeeded. Both Senator Ervin, who came on the floor about that time, and I vigorously dissented, and they were thwarted. … I admit that I had difficulty in controlling my thoughts and my language … and the language which I used in expressing my opinion was not exactly complimentary or of Sunday-school caliber.
On Friday, Senator Mansfield and I introduced a bill which we know should probably originate in the House of Representatives, providing a tax credit for human depletion. By human depletion we mean a person’s inability to work and earn at full capacity because of physical, mental, or emotional difficulties. We held that since oil wells, mines, and quarries are eligible for special tax benefits as a resource nears depletion, and inasmuch as an industrial concern gets special tax benefits as its machinery gets older, the person operating that machinery should also receive as much consideration as the machine itself. By offering this bill we intended to call attention to the fact that property values get far more attention and consideration in governmental bodies than do human values.
Monday the Defense Appropriation bill went through just about as submitted and will now be in conference with the House. Why does almost nobody vote against the Defense Appropriation bill, when they know that it could well be sheared down, saving tax money without materially injuring our defense establishment or the security of the nation? The answer is that we don’t know enough about the details of it or where it could be best reduced. Another reason is that so many of the giant corporations … look to the United States government to keep them in business and keep them employing thousands of men and women, almost all of whom are members of labor organizations. The so-called defense corporations and the labor unions exert tremendous power on the Congress. In general the corporations provide the cash contributions for political campaigns, while the principal asset of the unions is the number of votes they can deliver to successful candidates who will cooperate with them after election. It all seems like an enormous waste of money, and it savors of dishonest politics to a great degree, but, paradoxically, out of this system has been developed the greatest and most powerful nation on earth and one in which the individual and the family live at about the highest level of any people on earth.
On Friday I went on the Senate floor just as a bill had been called up which would have provided a loan of twenty million dollars to the Railway Express Agency, which is heavily in debt and to all appearances has not been too well managed. This bill … would not have required any reduction in dividends to stockholders or in salaries to company officials. … I hastily objected to action on the bill at the time and was soon supported by nearly every other member of the Senate present, probably eight or ten in all.
It is my opinion that companies like this should go through bankruptcy, just as smaller business people have to do when their debts become excessive. Further than that, I don’t believe that any corporations should be able to call upon the United States Treasury to bail them out of the abyss through the kindness of members of Congress, to whom they in turn may have been very generous during past political campaigns. …
The election proved the polls to be accurate, for this time at least. President Nixon carried forty-nine states. …
When the returns showed that the Republicans had captured four contested seats for the Senate—Virginia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and New Mexico—I began to have qualms, since I would be in line for the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and frankly I was not thirsting for the job. When later returns came in, however, and the Republicans had lost Kentucky, Delaware, Iowa, South Dakota, Colorado, and Maine, my qualms went away, and I had very sincere regrets that we had a net loss of two in the Senate.
We may call it a week of shock, dismay, and disbelief.
When it was announced on Monday that President Nixon had ordered a renewal of the bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong Harbor in the heaviest American air attacks of the war, the nation was stunned. … What has happened to the man we elected as our President on November 7? Why did he lead us to believe that a peace settlement was at most only a few weeks away? Is he now determined to win a military victory to show the world that we are the strongest nation on earth?
As one who supported Richard Nixon for a second term in the White House, and as one who had freely predicted that our military involvement in Indochina would be over before Christmas, I find these questions to be extremely embarrassing.
One reason I am not able to answer questions with any degree of certainty is that I am not informed of the plans of our government or of what is really going on in the field of military operations. Occasionally when I talk with President Nixon … he gives me information which I believe is factual. As for Mr. Kissinger and certain other aides, however, I might as well be on another planet. I have received far more information from top officials and representatives of other countries than from my own.
Tuesday morning Harry Truman died. It was not unexpected, but I hate to see him leave. … His old friends and enemies alike paid him glowing tributes. Frankly, I don’t like eulogies, especially on the Senate floor. Many are inspired by sheer hypocrisy or personal ambition. … I am more than glad that Mrs. Truman insisted on a private funeral. … A public funeral would have been attended by dozens of hypocritical publicity-seekers trying to show what friends they were of the late President and trying to get photographed in the most advantageous position.
Monday night Lyndon Johnson died. The thirty-sixth President of the United States was a powerful, although debatable, character. … Although he had his confidential advisers, I always felt that he made his own decisions. I was at the White House frequently when some of these decisions were announced. Some of them were good, and some were mistakes.
We worked together closely on all matters relating to public welfare, agriculture, and rural life in general. He was approachable; he could be called almost any time, day or night. He liked to talk over problems which concerned us all. I would describe him briefly by saying he liked to be asked but he didn’t like to be told or receive advice unless he asked for it. … In the matter of the Vietnamese war we did not agree, but he did not show signs of resentment.
It is in the field of agriculture that the first confrontation between the Congress and the executive branch of government is taking place. The House voted by somewhat less than a two-thirds vote to continue the REAP [Rural Environmental Assistance Program]. The Department of Agriculture says only 20 per cent of the country as a whole is making use of this program. I am sure that the Senate will follow the action of the House, and probably by more than a two-thirds vote. The President will undoubtedly veto the bill, and I doubt that the House will muster votes enough to override the veto.
The action on this program carries an importance which goes far beyond the proper use and improvement of agricultural land. It brings to the front the question as to whether the President can by a stroke of the pen eliminate a program which has been authorized and financed by the Congress. …
On Thursday morning I spoke for fifteen minutes on the necessity for cooperative effort in the field of foreign affairs between the executive and legislative branches of government. At present the President has the whip hand. He has made his place in history already if he doesn’t upset it within the next four years, while the Congress has made little progress in re-establishing its constitutional responsibility and authority. … The Senate now spends too much time planning for the next election, and too many of its members spend too much time and effort running for the Presidency. The result is that Congress is getting nowhere fast.
In my remarks as originally planned, I included one line which read: “The Senate should not be a prep school for the White House.” I deleted this line; nevertheless, we have possibly a half dozen members of the Senate today who slant their work in this legislative body with a view to having the positions they take, and the speeches they make, contribute to their aspirations for higher office.
In the latest Indian uprising out in the Black Hills of South Dakota two hundred militants took about a dozen hostages and insisted that the Foreign Relations Committee review their treaties with the federal government running back for a hundred and fifty years or more. … There is no doubt in my mind but what the Indians got rooked plenty in the old days, but they comprise a pretty small percentage of our total population, and the prospects for recovering all the land and property which once was theirs are pretty slim.
During 1947 and 1948 when I was chairman of what is now called the Government Operations Committee, we found that a lot was going on in the Bureau of Indian Affairs which was not very commendatory to our government. There was too much job making for not very well qualified officials and too little consideration being given to the claims of the Indians at that time.
As the war in Indochina died down close to the zero mark the war in Washington, D.C., kept merrily on, with the White House and Congress continuing to charge each other with full-scale rascality while each laid claim to holiness and credit for the improved economy and better living throughout the United States and the world.
In some respects hypocrisy was king. This was evidenced in the Senate by a proposal to open to the public the executive meetings of all committees unless the majority of the committee members (after sitting down to consider and vote on proposed legislation on which public hearings had been held) decided to throw the public audience out into the street.
I would like to see this practice tried, even though I voted against the proposal. I will guarantee that the first to squawk under such a rule would be many of those who voted to approve it. …
The whole open-sessions proposal was simply an attempt to make the public believe that its advocates were chock-full of righteousness.
I wish the President would cut out challenging the Congress and asking the public to support him and oppose the Congress. … Congress reciprocates in kind, but all this warfare going on is no substitute for attending to the business of the nation and considering proposed legislation with a maximum of concern and a minimum of partisan ambitions.
Another matter of partisan interest has been the Democrats’ continuing to make hay with the Watergate episode. …
Unless the bunch at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue shows more sense pretty soon, a lot of Republican candidates are going to be in very severe difficulties for a good many years to come. It is true the public is showing comparatively little interest in the Watergate affair at present, any more than it is in the alleged efforts of the ITT to interfere in the politics of Chile. But what the Democrats are doing is building up a record with which to tarnish the Republican Party for a generation or more to come. … The President keeps aloof, at least publicly, apparently having the idea that his own place in history has been secured by bringing peace to the world during his occupancy of the White House. Apparently he isn’t worried too much about the success of the party, or the lack of it, after he leaves office.
During the week the Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on the energy situation, since petroleum products are an important factor in foreign trade. Our witnesses have mostly been professors who know quite a lot of history but who are hardly in the same class as the hardheaded, ruthless petroleum interests when it comes to providing solutions to our energy problems. There is no question but what the major oil companies, who are still able to supply their customers, are seeking a monopoly in the field of energy; I believe, too, that they are being cooperated with by major financial institutions.
On Thursday the principal witness from the Ford Foundation told us what we needed energy for, stating that 15 per cent was for heating, so much for industrial purposes, so much for this and so much for that, until he had allowed for 100 per cent of all energy available. But unfortunately he had not allowed any energy whatsoever for agriculture.
When it came my turn to question him, I asked him how long it had been since we stopped eating, because, according to my information, American agriculture—in producing commodities, processing them, and getting them to market—is still the largest consumer of petroleum products of any sector of our national economy. The witness hesitated and then said: “You are right.” … Certainly when supposedly important witnesses can overlook the value of agriculture, it is time for the people of this country to do a little worrying.
There has been an apparent change in the attitude of the White House toward the Congress. Since the departure of such White House stalwarts as Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and several others, cooperation between the executive branch and the Congress has shown considerable improvement. …
Sam Ervin’s Watergate committee hearings continued throughout most of the week, with John Dean, who was fired by President Nixon, as a principal witness. …
… one thing really stands out, as stressed by Senator Mansfield, and this is that none of the culprits in the Watergate break-in, and hardly any of the White House suspects appointed by President Nixon, had ever run for public office or had experience in government at any level. This simply emphasizes a claim that I have made for years: namely, that good government begins at the community level. Unless a person has performed his duties honestly and conscientiously at the lower levels of government, he certainly is not qualified for promotion toward the top.
On Monday I received a letter addressed to “Jesus Christ c/o George David Aiken” and, boy, was I really set up! It was actually a pretty good letter about current affairs, but I am in no hurry to deliver it in person.
At noon on Wednesday I spoke in the Senate for fifteen minutes urging the Congress not to duck its duty relative to the repeated charges which are being made against the President by those who are asking him to resign. I reminded the Congress that only the legislative branch of government can make the final determination as to the fitness of the President to continue in office.
So far the demand for the resignation of the President is largely the result of inspired emotionalism with very little, if any, evidence being produced which would warrant removal from office. … The question as to the fitness of the President to serve out his term is a matter which only the Congress itself can judge. Some members of Congress appear to be working overtime seeking escape routes from their duty. If the President could be forced to resign his position, then the Congress would be relieved of its responsibility to proceed on the evidence and find out if impeachment charges are warranted.
On the whole, this Congress has declined to override President Nixon’s vetoes, until, on Wednesday, we had to consider his veto of what is known as the War Powers resolution. I supported the resolution as it progressed through both houses of Congress … but to tell the truth I felt very much like a hypocrite in doing so. One might say that I voted to override the veto for political reasons; and in a sense this is true, since my voting for it makes it quite likely that a few of my colleagues will vote with me on other, really worthwhile, measures.
At a quarter to two on Friday I got a call from the White House asking me to come down and meet with the President at two o’clock. … [He] came into the Cabinet Room and sat down with some of his own staff and six other Republicans from the Hill. … For two hours we all sat there talking and listening, except for a period of fifteen minutes. …
I think the President gave us a clean story on his part in the Watergate affair. …
… It becomes more apparent every day that the President has been horribly inept politically and that his bitter and ambitious opposition has taken an unscrupulous advantage of the fact.
Wednesday evening President Nixon gave his annual address to the joint session of Congress. Although I was supposed to be one of his escorts to the rostrum of the House, discretion proved the better part of valor, and I stayed in bed with a cold and listened to him on television, leaving the honor to Senator Young of North Dakota. …
The erratic methods of selling gasoline to automobile owners has made most everybody fit to be tied. Monkey business seems to be the order of the day, with everyone from the biggest wholesaler to the little retailer trying to get all the profit he tan while the getting is good, and every country that has a surplus of oil trying to gouge the consuming countries to the utmost.
Congress finally got a bill reported by the conferees of both houses which would give the President greater authority in controlling and regulating the supply and distribution of oil products. The agreement reached by the conferees calls for a cutback in the price of oil produced in the United States. Senators from the oil states heartily oppose this provision and indicated that if necessary they would filibuster on the legislation to block it. …
Members of the Congress … started out to make the most of [a] ten-day vacation, basking in the sun of warmer climates or going home to campaign for re-election. I advised the Senate that taking a ten-day vacation and making no serious legislative effort to cope with the energy situation would not set well with at least 205 million inhabitants of the U.S.A.
Just what we need a ten-day vacation for now is unclear to me, since we reconvened only on January 21 and haven’t done work enough yet to warrant any vacation at all.
On Thursday morning I gave out the only news that had come out of Washington for a long time without being leaked. I announced that I would not be a candidate for reelection next fall. …
A record number of experienced legislators are voluntarily leaving the Congress after this year, and a record number of unqualified members of the Senate seem to have the idea that each of them would make the best President that the United States ever had. Their desire is one of the reasons why [a] poll shows that only 21 per cent of the people think Congress is doing its work properly. Too many candidates for promotion simply constitute a costly nuisance and impede the work of those who want to serve their state and country well.
A committee of the House of Representatives is preparing a report on the advisability of impeaching President Nixon. Their chief of staff seems to feel that if a President becomes so unpopular that the public wants him ousted, he could be impeached without having committed a crime or having violated his oath of office. If the House does vote to impeach President Nixon, the vote will be almost fully drawn along party lines. If such proves to be the case, it could be a severe blow to the structure of our government itself, in that a President elected by the overwhelming vote of the people could be removed from office, or at least brought to trial, by the party which lost the Presidential election but which controls the Congress.
The situation doesn’t look very good, but I have to say that the President and his White House associates have not contributed very much to restoring a lot of lost confidence on the part of the people. “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Perhaps the President feels that if a general era of peace in the world can be restored this year, he can recover the good will of many people disillusioned over the last two years of his second term of office. I hope this turns out to be the case, but I am very doubtful.
The proposal to raise [congressional] salaries again at this time was soundly defeated. … With an election coming up next fall, however, it appears that every member of the Senate who is a candidate for re-election (except one) voted against the pay raise. I voted against it because I felt that, with the strong inflationary trend under way, any action by the Congress relating to those who are already getting salaries of $36,000 a year and up would only encourage more inflation.
One of my wisecracking colleagues stated that the reason this proposal was defeated was because one third of the members of the Senate are millionaires, one third of them statesmen, and one third cowards. This was indeed a dirty crack, and on the whole it was not true, although there may have been an occasional instance where it could be applied.
The attacks on the President still continue vigorously and viciously. His critics are getting so vehement that they are probably helping him more than they are hurting him. …
Of course resigning from the Presidency would be the worst thing that Mr. Nixon could do, because it would mean that we had abandoned government by law and were resorting to government by demonstration. Time will tell what comes out of this battle, but I still am not willing to abandon government by law or discard the United States Constitution.
Somebody made a suggestion this week that persons making large political contributions should be prohibited from receiving federal appointments. This suggestion represents almost the ultimate in public stupidity, for persons elected to high positions in government have always favored those who made their election possible, and, regardless of party, this political trait isn’t going to change. The old saying that “to the victor belongs the spoils” still stands.
… The salary of a senator is $42,500 a year, but some of my distinguished colleagues have made considerably more than that amount by giving speeches probably worth about $5o to groups and organizations that are willing to pay up to $10,000 a speech. These high amounts paid for speeches simply represent a desire on the part of some to repay political officeholders for services rendered, or to contribute to the next campaign for re-election, and still keep within the law.
Tuesday forenoon a political bombshell exploded with the report of a press conference which Secretary Kissinger had held in Austria. … One reporter … made an inquiry concerning tapping the telephones of people working in the National Security Council, of which Dr. Kissinger was formerly the head. With this questioning our good Secretary of State apparently lost his cool and did not get over it even after he landed with the President in Austria. After the conferences here last week, Secretary Kissinger had breakfast with Senator Mansfield and suggested he thought he should resign if he is to be criticized by the news media. …
… I do believe that as head of the National Security Council Dr. Kissinger did what any responsible person would have done when he found that confidential material was being leaked to the news media and indirectly to the rest of the world: that was to try to find the culprits and get rid of them.
… But Secretary Kissinger’s … threat to resign unless given complete exoneration [was] a bit too much for me, and I suppose I was somewhat sarcastic in commenting on the situation; at least the press said I was. I probably agree too much with President Truman’s saying that if you can’t stand the heat you’d better get out of the kitchen.
The impeachment fever has been rising again and assuming a more partisan appearance every day. The House Judiciary Committee has completed its hearings and indicates its intention to start acting officially next week on the evidence of wrongdoing on the part of President Nixon. My personal opinion is that 90 per cent of the members of the House would rather not vote on impeachment findings. … The fact remains that the House has to get rid of this matter some way, and right now I have a rather strong feeling that the majority of the members will vote for impeachment in order to get the issue off their backs and unload the responsibility onto the backs of one hundred senators. …
… Thursday night President Nixon authorized two of his top aides, Tom Korologos and Pat O’Donnell, to take the President’s yacht, the Sequoia , for the evening. L.P.A. and I were invited to go on this boat trip. … White House and other government officials and members of the Senate, eighteen in all, enjoyed a welcome change from the smelly messes we have to contend with on Capitol Hill.
Somebody will probably get the bright idea that the President permitted his aides to take us on this trip and give us dinner in order to influence our votes. I can truthfully say that no votes were influenced, but I would have enjoyed the dinner more had my dentist not operated on six of my teeth earlier in the day.
Of course the big news of the week—the big sensation—was the resignation of Richard M. Nixon. … Although I had constantly opposed resignation on the President’s part, preferring the impeachment process if he were found guilty of the charges made against him, my position collapsed on Monday when it came out that the statements he had been making for the last two years were not true, and that he was aware of the Watergate break-in scanjdal soon after it occurred. It was then obvious to me that he had tried to protect the guilty parties. When he made this admission, his support in the Congress rapidly dissolved, until by Thursday he had decided that it would be best for the country if he resigned.
Thursday night the President called about fifteen members from each house of Congress, including myself, down to the White House to state his position. The President told us that personally he would prefer to fight the charges made against him to the end, that he did not like to be a quitter, but in view of the many domestic and international situations that require full-time Presidential attention, he had decided that this country could not properly meet its problems with a part-time President. If he were required to spend some months in defending himself against impeachment charges, rather than devoting his time to the critical issues which lie before us, the effect could be very hard on our nation. …
It was an extremely sorry and emotional occasion, with many tears being shed, including those of the President himself, who had difficulty in starting his story to us and finally left the Cabinet Room in a highly emotional and tearful condition.
Congress is getting nervous. The change in the occupancy of the White House has brought about a change in the plans of the Democratic leadership. Business has speeded up. The Congress is showing a greater desire to cooperate with the new President. Conference reports are being hustled through for final action by both houses, and the last of the regular appropriations will soon be before both houses for action.
… Jerry Ford has gotten off to a pretty good start. …
One of the most unhappy weeks of the year, with the honeymoon between President Ford and the Congress and the public getting rather badly damaged.
After I had been given about an hour’s notice on Sunday, President Ford announced a complete pardon for exPresident Nixon covering any sentence which Mr. Nixon might receive later on if found guilty of participating in the Watergate mess through illegal action. Since the ex-President had not been found guilty of any charges which had been made against him, I was naturally somewhat surprised, as were a lot of other people in Congress and throughout the country. There is no question but what the President had the constitutional authority to grant such complete pardon, but whether such granting was premature or not is a matter for individual opinion.
… However, there is no question that if the ex-President is guilty of any of the charges made against him, he has already received a suffer punishment than any of the participants in the Watergate break-in who have already served time or are serving time in prison.
A new trade bill has been held up for almost two years because Senator Jackson, whose heart is set on being President of the United States, has so far insisted on attaching to it an amendment which would mortally offend Russia. Russia seems anxious to comply with his demands that Jewish people be given full freedom to leave the country, but cannot get down on its knees before us and beg for mercy. Scoop never got over the fact that we left Indochina without winning a military victory over the North Vietnamese, nor can he forget that he was virtually ignored at the Miami Democratic Convention in 1972.
The Senate Rules Committee has had Nelson Rockefeller back for further inquisition relative to his fitness to be approved as Vice President. I never was a particular admirer of Rockefeller when he was governor of New York, but I will say now that he has made Senator Cannon’s committee look rather inept and so politically biased that some of the members seem unable to recognize how necessary it is to fill the office of the Vice President of the United States, which has been vacant for three months. As has been pointed out by a prominent columnist, none of the members of this committee would be willing to answer the questions which they put to Rockefeller if these questions were directed at themselves. After the new Congress convenes on January 3, we will find out how many of the new members of the Congress are willing to put the need of the country ahead of their own desires for personal publicity.
… Much of the discussion on Friday was devoted to a bill relating to criminal proceedings that was considerably out of my line of work. …
This was one occasion where I had to rely upon the advice of some of my colleagues who are versed in the law. Our constituency at home would probably be amazed to learn how little we members of the Senate know about the fine points of some highly specialized legislation which we pass upon. It has always been like this. And so we simply have to depend on the expertise of someone well versed in the proposals that come before us.
Congress is still working to get back all the excess authority which has been given to the executive branch over the last forty years. I am virtually certain that if the Congress has its way, it will not only recover all of the powers which have been so recklessly handed over to the Executive, but will also insist on authority which never belonged to it in the first place. The changes in our government likely to take place over the next few years are hardly predictable at this time, but I am certain that they will be far-reaching.
Freshman Democrats in the House, apparently feeling their oats, have decided to take over and run things their way. Of course they have an exceptionally large freshman class and, like other newcomers, seem to feel that seniority is wrong. Sometimes they are right, but when they have been re-elected a few times they will find the seniority system is fine. Personally I have never found experience to be a handicap in my work.
Early Friday evening the Senate adjourned sine die. When the Ninety-fourth Congress convenes on January 14, there will be eleven new members of the Senate and some ninetytwo new members of the House. A lot of folks seem to think that they will be pretty wild-eyed and radical and [will] insist upon removing the senior members of the Congress from important positions. I have seen this happen so many times that I am not particularly worried.
I am very glad to be winding up my own senatorial career with the successful completion of nearly every project with which I have been substantially involved. There have been a lot of eulogies for departing members of the Senate spoken on the floor. Perhaps I should not call them eulogies, for I hope that leaving the Senate will not mean the end of my career. About seventy members of the Senate took time to speak of the work I have done and the position which L.P. A. and I hold with the people of Washington, particularly those with whom we have worked.
Going back to Vermont will not be as difficult as they seem to think it ought to be.