Between The Branches

Between The Branches: The White House Office of Legislative Affairs

Kenneth E. Collier
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 330
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Between The Branches
    Book Description:

    Because of the power-fearing drafters of the U.S. Constitution, the president's tools for influencing Congress are quite limited. Presidents have had to look beyond the formal powers of the office to push a legislative agenda. InBetween the Branches,a book of unprecedented depth, Kenneth Collier traces the evolution of White House influence in Congress over nine adminstrations, from Eisenhower to Clinton. It will enlighten students of the presidency, Congress, and all those interested in American politics.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7181-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-28)

    OVER FIFTY YEARS AGO, PENDLETON HERRING¹ OBSERVED that presidents must exercise leadership in the policy process through others and that this leadership must come in spite of the separation of powers specified in the Constitution. Richard Neustadt suggested that the Constitution created a government of “separated institutionssharingpowers,”² yethowthe two great branches of American government share power may be one of the most misunderstood issues in politics—ironically, because it seems to be one of the most visible. One prevalent image is that of President Johnson, physically towering over a smaller member of Congress, prodding him with...

    (pp. 29-56)

    DWIGHT EISENHOWER ENTERED THE PRESIDENCY WITH a reputation as an outsider to Washington politics. Although his admirers are anxious to point out that he had worked with Congress while in the army and counted members of Congress among his friends in Washington, this reputation predominated. Eisenhower’s limited Washington experience appeared even more limited when he was compared to the congressional leaders of the time. Sam Rayburn, Lyndon Johnson, and Robert Taft represented some of the most savvy and powerful men ever to lead Congress, and congressional committees were controlled by senior southern Democrats. Next to the decades of experience he...

    (pp. 57-78)

    THE ELECTION OF 1960 GAVE JOHN KENNEDY THE NARROWEST of victories, and according to Arthur Schlesinger, “he could never escape the political arithmetic.”¹ The Democrats lost 21 seats in the House and although they still held a 263-174 majority on paper, serious divisions between southern and northern Democrats made coalition-building problematic, especially on civil rights. Along with 174 House Republicans, Kennedy faced 99 southern Democrats who opposed much of his legislative agenda. In the Senate, the Democrats held a more comfortable 64 to 36 margin, with fewer southern Democrats dividing the party’s coalition.

    Kennedy had spent fourteen years in Congress,...

    (pp. 79-108)

    LYNDON JOHNSON INHERITED MANY ADVANTAGES AS HE entered the White House. He inherited a Congress controlled by his party and, after the 1964 election, he saw Democratic control grow. He inherited the political legacy of John Kennedy and the wave of sympathy following his death. Along with Kennedy’s political legacy, Johnson inherited an experienced congressional relations staff. While much of the Kennedy White House staff would leave, Larry O’Brien and his congressional relations operation stayed on. This brought together the unusual combination of an experienced legislative team and a fresh political mandate without the lameduck status of beginning a second...

    (pp. 109-137)

    RICHARD NIXON RECOGNIZED TWO FACTS AS HE ENTERED office. First, he faced a Congress controlled by the opposition party. In 1968 the Republicans became the first party since 1848 to win the White House without winning control of at least one house of Congress. Despite Nixon’s personal victory at the polls, Democrats outnumbered Republicans 245 to 189 in the House and 57 to 43 in the Senate. Second, he was not warmly regarded by the public. With just 43.4 percent of the vote in 1968, Nixon could not claim the same kind of mandate that Johnson had enjoyed after the...

    (pp. 138-162)

    WHILE SCHOLARS HAVE DEBATED WHETHER AN ELECTION can produce a mandate for a president, it was clear that Gerald Ford could not claim one.¹ Ford’s path to the presidency began when he was nominated by Richard Nixon to replace Spiro Agnew and it was completed when Nixon himself resigned. Ford had never been elected by a constituency larger than the Fifth Congressional District of Michigan. He had been chosen as vice president based on his reputation within the Congress, but outside of Congress Gerald Ford was far from a household name. The White House staff noted that Eisenhower had been...

    (pp. 163-196)

    LIKE GERALD FORD, JIMMY CARTER NEVER HAD MUCH OF a “honeymoon” with Congress. ANational Journalheadline from just one week after the election asked, “Carter’s Honeymoon on the Hill—How Long Can It Last?”¹ The tension between Carter and the Ninety-fifth Congress revealed that the struggle between recent presidents and Congress went beyond partisanship. Carter’s mandate as he perceived it conflicted directly with the goals of some individual lawmakers. Carter’s campaign against Washington politics and pork-barrel spending had clearly implicated Congress and contributed to the atmosphere of mutual suspicion that would continue throughout his presidency. While the idea of...

    (pp. 197-230)

    BY 1980 MANY OBSERVERS WORRIED THAT THE PRESIDENCY was too feeble to sway Congress.¹ Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon had begun their presidencies on optimistic notes, but each left under a cloud, while Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter had been battered throughout their presidencies. Ex-president Gerald Ford described the presidency as “imperiled” rather than “imperial,” and outgoing vice president Walter Mondale described the American presidency as “the fire hydrant of the nation.”²

    Ronald Reagan campaigned against Washington with the same fervor as Jimmy Carter and seemed headed for a similar showdown with Congress. Reagan faced a Democratic House that had...

    (pp. 231-259)

    WHILE BUSH OFFERED THE ELECTORATE THE PROMISE TO stay the course and continue the Reagan revolution, his approach to Congress would differ significantly from Reagan’s. Bush was the first president since Gerald Ford to have close friends in Congress and to possess an understanding of how Washington works. He was comfortable working within the system and was not comfortable campaigning against Congress or going over the heads of Congress as Reagan had. He had campaigned using what one journalist described as “only moderate Congress-bashing.”¹ According to one senior Republican, “Bush knows the system and knows the players and has been...

    (pp. 260-278)

    BILL CLINTON’S ARRIVAL IN WASHINGTON SEEMED TO hold out the promise of the end of gridlock. Clinton brought an activist’s agenda to a Congress controlled by fellow Democrats, and the new president seemed to possess the kind of rhetorical skills that could provide enough public leadership to prod the process along. However, Clinton had won the White House with less than 43 percent of the popular vote (roughly the share that Richard Nixon had in 1968). The three-way race cut into Clinton’s share of the vote and he ran behind the winning House candidate in all but five districts,¹ insuring...

    (pp. 279-288)

    PRESIDENTIAL LEADERSHIP OF CONGRESS IS HARD AND getting harder. Successful cases like Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson represent exceptions, when unusually large electoral majorities and the perception of a clear mandate overwhelmed the separation of powers and created the appearance of presidential dominance of the legislative branch. However, even Roosevelt and Johnson experienced setbacks. One senior member of the House noted both the decline in presidential power and the limit on even great presidents like Franklin Roosevelt.

    There has been overall a gradual erosion of presidential impact on policy versus that of Congress. Congress has become more and more jealous...

  16. APPENDIX A Interview Information
    (pp. 289-289)
  17. APPENDIX B Partisan Breakdown of Congress
    (pp. 290-290)
  18. NOTES
    (pp. 291-324)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 325-330)