tv Former Senate Majority Leaders Donald Ritchie Interview CSPAN January 4, 2015 8:00am-8:20am EST
parties. parties. we had no majority leader in the history of the senate from 1839 to 1914. there were chairman of committees who would take care of things and the chairman of the party conferences that open up and close things the way they do today. but nobody sitting down there trying to organize what happened on the floor on a daily basis. that changed in 1913 when woodrow wilson was elected president. former president to prince ton university. a phd. in history and political science. he had written his doctoral information about congress. he had strong ideas about how congress was to operate and the vicious legislative agenda. he prevailed on the democrat kraatzes. he had come in the majority to
pick one of their senators to be a leader, the person who could take charge of things on the floor. instead of going to a senior center as we say for the president pro tem, they went through a junior senator by the name of john wilkes kern. he was well known because he had run for vice president on the democratic ticket in 1908. this is now 1913. senator kern became the first majority leader of the senate. the republicans came in to the majority in 1919 they decided this is a good idea. so they picked one of their senior senators to help carry on those functions. now, they didn't actually officially have the title majority leader. they had all sorts of other stuff -- conference chairman and things like that. not until 1925 that charles curtis of kansas is officially
designated a majority leader. the fact of the matter is that both john wilkes kern and henry cab bought lodge functioned the way a majority leader would today. every since then, the majority leadership has grown considerably in power. although if you read the rules of the senate, you will see a lot of mention of the majority leader. a lot of it has evolved over time. lyndon johnson, the most powerful used to say the single greatest power is the power of persuasion. and howard baker used to chuckle and say the power to call bills off of the calendar is also significant. in 1937, there was the vice president of the united states john nance garner who had previously served as the speaker
of the house. oh he gave the majority leader not by rule but by precedent. he said i will grant the majority leader the right of first recognition. when all the senators are seeking recognition, i will always call on the majority leader first. after that i'll call on the minority leader. that means the majority leader can get the floor when he wants it. that's a huge influence. it has a lot to do with the way things happen in the senate today. that's also a reason you won't see minority leaders presiding in the senate. there was a time when majority and minority freshmen would preside. one day a member of the minority party was presiding and the majority leader sought recognition and that senator called on someone else.
it was like a huge eruption in the senate. and the majority said from now on we will never be a minority senator in the chair. except the snow days when no one else is available, you won't see a minority senator in the chair because it's essential to the power of the majority leader. >> where on the senate floor do we find majority and minority leaders. >> they're front and center. they both occupied the two front row center seats since 1937. the democrats are early. the republicans have had to wait for one of their senior senators to retire. but now, whoever becomes leader takes that seat. and, again, around them are all of the senators by seniority. so the freshman who just got el elected will be way in the back in the corner. and the senior senators are down on the center aisle or more towards the middle. that's again if the presiding officer is looking over the body and a number of senators are
seeking recognition, the people front and center, of course, are the ones who catch the presiding officers' eye. people in the back have to shout and wave their arms to get that kind of attention. that's one reason people tend to move to the front. they have been there. they signed their names to show they sat there. all of the leaders of the republican party and democratic party, their names are in front row center seats. behind them, the party whip and then the most senior people in the party. the difference in the senate and the house. the house is ruled from the chair. the presiding officer, the chairperson makes the rule. the speaker is a very powerful figure. the senate is ruled from the floor. the presiding officer, vice president, president pro temporary, a junior senator is a neutral presiding officer.
the real influence is on the floor. all senators are equal. what's the impact when there is a change in leadership? >> 100 senator personalities are a huge influence. a small change in membership has an impact. large changes have very large impactsf -- impacts. especially the leadership. there's a rhythm established by the leaders. talk about quality of life, decide if you work on mondays and fridays, how late at night, they decide the tempo of the senate. so a lot of it has to do with their own personalities. mike mansfield is very different from robert byrd. even though they're built in the same party, much more laid back, byrd is much more hands on aggressive type of leadership. you can see that in the republican party as well. the leadership of bob dole or
trent lott or a bill frist will have a different style, different advisors, getting a different tactics. mcconnell and reid had images of what they wanted the body to do. it will be interesting to see now with the switch of leadership if there is much of a change of the style of the senate operations. senator mcconnell gave a speech at the beginning of the last session in which he talked about what he would like to see in the senate. more regular order or more monday and friday sessions a variety of proposals. and i think he will act to carry out that in the coming congress. >> going to hear from leaders bob dole, bob mitchell and robert byrd.
>> after 1980 there was a big shock when the republicans took the majority and the senate for the first time in 26 years. it was only one senator who had been around the last time the republicans had been in the majority. they were everyone was stunned. no one anticipated a change in that magnitude. senator dole was in line to become chairman of the finance committee. he said the long-time chairman of that committee. and one of the things that made that transition so much easier in the senate than in the similar transition that happens in the house in 1994 was that howard baker was the majority leader. the incoming majority leader. he was what i called an institutionalist. he was the son-in-law of a former republican leader. he was the husband of a dirksen daughter joy. he eventually married the second
wife. so he's very much an institutionalist. he loved the senate. he loved the traditions of the senate. he understood it. he worked closely with the democratic leaders when he was the minority leader. and so there was almost a seamless transition to it. and i think everyone who worked here at the time breathed a great sigh of relief knowing that howard baker was coming in as the majority leader. he had a great sense of humor. he was a problem solver. when the white house got in trouble at the time of the iran continue are a they brought in the chief of staff for ronald reagan. he also had a great sense of real estate. and traditionally the democrats had a nice big office and the republicans had a slower office down the hall.
senator baker said i will not change with the democrat eck leader, but i would like to add to my suite. so he took over quite a bit of territory, rooms immediately around him. so the republican leader now had a very large coherent section of rooms on the west bank of the capitol thanks to howard baker. the main room is now known as the howard baker room. >> bob dole was a fighting partisan. he was the person who could debate ferociously. and in the senate, that's really fighting partisan turned into a wisecracking thing. the man who realized things didn't happen often in the senate because they were ramrodded through, they happened because they were negotiated through. and you had to find co-sponsors and colleagues on both sides of the aisle. senator dole was the kind of person who could sit in a chair
with a yellow legal pad and with a bunch of senators standing around it working out the effects of the amendments, of the unanimous consent agreement that we get them through the hurdles that's going on. and i think he was leader on two occasions, first in 1985, and sixth in the majority leader for a number of years and he came back as a majority leader in 1995 and 1996. all of those occasions, he was the person to work out difficult situations. he had a great sense of humor. he liked the history of the senate. he would give the minutes and by the by centennial, he published senator dole's historical almanac and he got a great chuckle out of doing that. always wanted more. so the office is always working
closely with him on that. >> george mitchell? >> george mitchell you know, if you watched him, he looked very prof sorry y'all. he looked very benign, very calm and very mild mannered. but if you talk to the senators, they said this is a tough politician. this is a person who knows what's going on. who is really scheduling and planning things and he was a very effective leader. but he was just -- so the opposite of what he appeared to be, this detached person. he was not detached at all. he was very much focussed on what was going on. it was a time when the parties were changing, when the structure of the senate was changing. when senator mitchell is majority leader who began to complain the most about how many blocked cloture motions there were. there were more filibusters coming along. he tried to get around that. politics were becoming more polarized even then.
but he was a shrewd leader. he fig yoo you ared a way around all of them. it's not surprising he would go on the diplomacy after all that. brokering deals in northern ireland. he had the traditional temperament that people trusted him on both sides. he had a way of deciding there were solutions to his problems that you could find. >> finally robert byrd. >> i worked with robert byrd more than any of the others. senator byrd was unique in the senate. he never got a college degree. he went to law school as a senator at night. and american university law school recognized the service in
the senate as an equivalent of a college degree. he went to get the law degree and president kennedy come to present his diploma at his graduation. but i thought here he was in a body full of rhodes scholars and yale and stanford and harvard graduates and all of the ivy leaguers with terrific education. he never felt inferior about that. he was always studying. i looked at the back of his car and it was the count of month cristo and i was surprised and he said i never got to read it. irma byrd complained she could never dust her table because she was bringing books home from the library of congress always stacked up and he was working on them. in 1980 he gave an impromptu
speech bhaz grand daughter's school class was in the gallery. he gave a speech about the historical chamber of the senate. several senators came up after and said i didn't know that. that's interesting. so he began to give more impromptu speeches on everything that the senate did, the parliamentarian, the chaplain, the rules. he came for the bicentennial of the congress, going to be in 1989, i want to give a series of speeches that could be published as a book on the history of the speeches. we worked very closely with him for about ten years. usually quiet friday afternoons when no one else had business, he would go on the floor and deliver the speeches. he would memorize them. he finished that. he went on to study the romans and the british parliament. just constantly studying things. that gave him a huge advantage
on the floor of the senate. he used to read through the precedents book, which is about 1,000 pages. every congress with the yellow marker going over it looking for things. so if you were on the floor and you were arguing with senator byrd on an issue, he knew the rules and he also knew the history. it was a very hard combination do get around. very few wanted to challenge him on the floor. but senator byrd hired lyndon johnson. much more hands on. senator byrd hired richard drexel. he knew the rules inside out. and byrd spent a long time studying the rules of the senate, studying the procedures.
and he was determined when he became leader he was going to make the rules, make the senate work more efficiently. he cracked the whip a lot more than his predecessor had as leader. a very tough maneuver and negotiator. and he also worked closely with the republican counterparts. senator baker was the -- became the republican leader when senator byrd became the democratic leader. they worked together. the panama canal together. it was only that partnership of what happened. had to face senator byrd. he knew so much about the rules. senator baker tells a story he went up to senator byrd the other day and said i'm going to make a deal. i won't surprise you if you don't surprise me. byrd said let me think about that. at the end of the day, byrd came back and said, i agree. that was the working