tv Senate Historian Donald Ritchie on Former Senate Majority Leaders CSPAN January 10, 2015 11:15am-11:35am EST
three broadcast mixes remarks live. >> the purpose of my remarks tonight is to focus your attention on this little group of men who not only enjoy a right of instant rebuttal to every presidential address, the more important wield a free hand in selecting, presenting, and interpreting the great issues in our nation. >> leadership in the senate changed hands in next, we look january 6. at the historical role of the senate majority leader and its four former leaders, robert byrd, harold baker, and we hear from donald richie and mitch mcconnell. a republican from kentucky. >> donald richie, thank you for being with us. the senate majority leader is not a position in the constitution. how did the job evolve? >> we looked at a former speaker
of the house, who contacted us and say why is the president pro tem in the order of succession but not the majority leader? that is the functional equivalent. the speaker of the house is written into the constitution, to president pro tem is as well. no mention of a majority or minority leader. the constitution did not anticipate political parties. they thought it was going to happen, but they did not want to encourage political parties. we had no majority leader in the history of the senate from 1839 -- 1789 to 1914. for most of the history of the senate, we did not have a majority leader. there were chairmen of committees who would take care of things on the floor, and the chairman of party conferences that would open up and close things the way they do today. but nobody sitting down there
in the front row center seat trying to organize what happened on the floor on a daily basis. that changed in 1913, when woodrow wilson was elected president. he was the former president of princeton university. he had a phd. in history and political science. he had he had written his doctoral dissertation about congress. he had very strong ideas about how congress was to operate and he had an ambitious legislative agenda. he prevailed on the democrats to pick a leader. to be the person who could take charge of things on the floor. instead of going to a senior senator, they went to a junior senator by the name of john kern. he was well known because he had run for vice president on the democratic ticket in 1908. this this is now 1913. senator kern became the first majority leader of the senate. he functioned just about the way majority leader's do today.
he started by opening things up, scheduling things, closing things down at night. when 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. it was not until 1925 that charles curtis of kansas is officially designated a majority leader. the fact of the matter is that both john worth kern and henry cabot lodge functioned the way a majority leader would today. ever 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 -- you will not see a lot of mention of the majority
leader. a lot of it has evolved over time. some of it has, because of precedents rather than rules. lyndon johnson used to say the single greatest power is the power of persuasion. and howard baker, who succeeded him, 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. he gave the majority leader the greatest power of all, 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 senators presiding over 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 krakatoa, 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? and how do they work together?
>> 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 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 inside the desk drawers 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 side to
them, the party whip and behind them, the most senior members of the party. that is the seat of power in the senate. the difference between the senate and the house, the house is ruled from the chair. the presiding officer, the chairperson makes the rule and decide them. 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. the majority leader's first among equals. >> what's the impact when there is a change in leadership? >> senator personalities are a huge influence. a small change in membership has an impact. large changes have large changes have very large impacts. especially the leadership.
there is a certain rhythm established by the leaders. they talk about quality of life, they 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 are both in the same party, mansfield is 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 read -- reid are both whips of their party. they both 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 and i think he will act to carry out that in the coming congress. >> we are going to hear from the leaders of howard baker dole bob mitchell and robert byrd too. can you say a word about each man? >> 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. everyone was a little bit stunned. no one anticipated a change of that magnitude. not even the republicans thought they would take charge. senator dole was in line to become chairman of the finance
committee. he said, who was going to tell russell long, 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, who was a senator. 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 the type of person who grasps what is going on and can
figure out what to do about it. he was a problem solver. when the white house got in trouble at the time of the iran contra, 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 next to the chamber and the republicans had a smaller office down the hall. senator baker said, i will not change with the democratic 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? >> bob dole came up as a fighting partisan. he was the
he was the person who could debate ferociously. and in the senate, that's really fighting partisan turned into a wise pragmatist. he 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 him, working out the text of the amendments. 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.
in all of those occasions, he was the person to work out difficult situations. he had a terrific sense of humor. he was wonderful to listen to, he liked the history of the senate. he would give the minutes and by the by centennial, he published -- we published senator dole's historical almanac. he got a great chuckle out of that. so the office is always working closely with him on that. >> george mitchell? >> george mitchell, you know, if you watched him, he looked very professorial. he looked very benign, very calm and very mild mannered. but if you talk to the senators, they said this is a very 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, who 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 figured a way around all of them. he had great respect from all the senators. it's not surprising that he went on to a career in diplomacy. brokering deals in northern ireland. he had the traditional temperament that people trusted 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. the same is true with my predecessor, dick baker. senator byrd was unique in the in senate. he never got a college degree. he went to law school as a senator at night. the american university law school recognized the service in the senate as an equivalent of a college degree. he went on to get his law degree, and he had president kennedy come to present his diploma at his graduation. in 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 felt that he never ended his education. he was always reading, he was always studying.
i once went with him to an event, and i looked at the back of his car and there was "the count of monty 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 a in 1980 he gave an impromptu speech at his grand daughter's school class, which was in the gallery. he gave a speech about the history of the 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, and 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 senate. 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 also studied the rules and precedents, he used to read through the precedents book, which is about 1,000 pages. with a yellow marker, going over it. 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. he came into office after being with four mike mansfield.
nance field was a laid-back leader who believed all senators were equal and he was not the ringmaster in the senatorial circus. but senator byrd admired lyndon johnson. he also admired richard drexel who knew the rules inside out. 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. he was a very tough negotiator. but he also worked closely with the republican counterparts.
senator baker became the republican leader when senator byrd became the democratic leader. they worked together. they got the panama canal treaty passed together. senator baker had to face senator byrd. he said, 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 relationship. they did not blind side each other. that kind of cooperation helped make the senate work. even when they were fighting they did it i the rules and they respected each other as colleagues. >> donald richie, thank you very much. >> my pleasure. >> at about 20 minutes, we continue our look at the v