The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington

on the World Today

IN SELECTING Hubert H. Humphrey as his running mate, President Johnson consulted every faction in the Democratic Party, while retaining the full measure of decision. He planned his every move with extraordinary care to preserve his freedom of action. Months ago he wrote a memorandum to himself saying that until he reached a final decision, he would not discuss the vice presidential choice openly.

The President has told associates that although he was given every consideration and shown every courtesy by President Kennedy, the three years in the vice presidency were the most miserable of his life. As a proud man, he suffered acutely from published reports that he was a nobody, a Throttlebottom. After he became President, he resolved that his own Vice President must have a recognized role in the Administration.

The President intends, if he is elected, to use Humphrey in a variety of assignments at home and abroad, and to make him a spokesman for the Administration. While President Johnson expects the Vice President to make formal speeches, cleared in advance, he does not wish him to hold press conferences and subject himself to questions that could expose any differences between the two men. With Humphrey, this could present problems, for he likes to define the issues clearly, and has been popular with Washington newsmen because he will debate in any forum available. The President, on the contrary, likes to blunt the issues and resolve differences behind the scenes.

At any time in the weeks before the convention, the President could have put an end to the Humphrey drive if he had chosen to do so. But he knew that Humphrey was the one man on which the majority of the delegates agreed. Humphrey has had good experience in foreign affairs and a consistent record on domestic issues. His nomination assured Johnson of the continued support of liberal, labor, and minority groups that even to this day are mildly suspicious of the President.

The presidential succession

President Johnson can take justifiable pride in the major accomplishments of Congress in 1964. But there was one outstanding omission. Out of deference to Speaker McCormack, Congress failed to do anything about the issue of presidential succession. The President supported Congress in its refusal to act because he did not wish to offend the Speaker.

Fortunately, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee performed the necessary preliminary work to set the stage for action in 1965. Under the chairmanship of Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana and with the active interest of Senator Kenneth B. Keating of New York, the subcommittee exhaustively studied and debated the problem. But the House refused even to discuss it.

With a Vice President in office after January 20, Congress should be able to consider the subject. While many persons dislike the Succession Act of 1947, which changed the order of succession after the Vice President from the Cabinet to the Speaker, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and then the Cabinet, it is unlikely that this law will be changed. That would be too much of a vote of no confidence in the two presiding officers. What is possible is a constitutional amendment to enable the President to nominate a Vice President whenever that office falls vacant.

Bayh worked much of the year in trying to persuade the Senate, at least, to approve his amendment. He wanted to keep the issue before the public “while it is close to the horrors of November 22.”But without Administration support, he was unable to go beyond his committee work. He will reintroduce his amendment in January. It provides that a President may nominate a new Vice President when that office is vacant. The nomination would be subject to confirmation by a majority of the House and Senate in joint session.

Former President Eisenhower and former Vice President Nixon recommended action along these lines. The American Bar Association has given its active support. There has been vigorous interest from a variety of other witnesses. The task now is to maintain public support after a normal situation is restored in January.

Congress against the Court

Almost every recent session of Congress has seen one or more attempts made to overturn decisions of the Supreme Court. Once when he was Majority Leader of the Senate, President Johnson successfully led a fight against a bill, which had passed the House, to limit the Court’s power. This year two major efforts were made to invalidate Supreme Court decisions through the amending process.

One involved the Court’s ruling that the First Amendment bars all levels of government from sponsoring religious activities, such as devotional Bible readings and prayers. After extensive hearings that brought both the facts and the competing arguments into clear focus, the House Judiciary Committee declined to report the proposal, submitted by Representative Frank J. Becker of New York, to amend the Constitution to permit prayers and Bible readings in public schools.

While the amendment may be offered again in the next Congress, much of the pressure for its adoption was dissipated after the committee heard scores of expert witnesses. Many congressmen originally believed that it might be expedient to support the amendment. But after the arguments were presented, they found that it would not be political suicide to support the Supreme Court’s decision.

Late in the session, Representative William M. McCulloch of Ohio, senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, offered a constitutional amendment which proved to have much more political dynamite in it than the Becker amendment. McCulloch proposed to overturn the Supreme Court decision on apportionment of state legislatures. The Court had ruled in June that districts for both houses must be “substantially equal” in population. The McCulloch amendment would make it possible for state senates to be apportioned by counties or other geographic divisions rather than by population “if the citizens of the state shall have the opportunity to vote upon the apportionment.”

In its six-to-three decision, the Court had said, through Chief Justice Warren, that where districts for either house are unequal in population, voters are denied the “equal protection of the laws” guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. “To the extent that a citizen’s right to vote is debased he is that much less a citizen,” the Chief Justice said. He was responding to demands that citizens have made for half a century for more equitable representation in state legislatures.

The decision at once provoked great praise and great criticism. Urban dwellers, who for decades have been underrepresented in state legislatures, believed that at last they had found a way to make their votes count; rural and small-town voters, who in a vast majority of states exercise veto power at all times, recognized that the Court decision, if permitted to stand, would result in destroying the ancient power structures.

Almost immediately letters and telegrams began arriving on Capitol Hill urging support of the McCulloch amendment. In some states, reapportionment was the major political issue in the summer months; many congressmen received more mail on reapportionment than on any other subject. In language broad enough to permit almost any form of malapportionment, the Republican platform called for a constitutional amendment, as well as legislation, to enable states to apportion one House “on bases of their choosing, including factors other than population.”

When Senate Republican Leader Everett M. Dirksen returned from San Francisco and proposed a bill (in the form of a rider to the foreignaid appropriation bill) to authorize a delay in enforcement of the Supreme Court ruling, he not only forced national attention on the subject but a major debate that delayed adjournment of the 88th Congress. The issue is one that will be on the doorstep of the 89th Congress when it convenes in January.

While the “revolutionary effects” claimed for reapportionment may have been exaggerated, as James Reiehley suggests in his book States in Crisis, the effect “on many state governments should certainly be considerable.”Reichley is convinced after much experience in state government that reapportionment is one of several reforms needed to end the “constitutional obsolescence” which for many years has afflicted state governments.

It is ironic that conservatives are leading the tight against reapportionment. True, there will be new centers of power in the states it voters are fairly represented in the legislatures. But if reapportionment makes it possible for legislatures to deal more effectively with local issues, the states may not turn so quickly to the federal government for help in solving every problem.

Washington’s Negro majority

As the only large city in the United States with a Negro majority, Washington has watched the spread of racial rioting with anxious concern. But out of wide experience in meeting common problems, Washington believes that it has learned valuable lessons and profited from them. The city’s three newspapers long have stressed the need for biracial cooperation. Important work has been done toward meeting, in part at least, the Negro’s needs in housing, welfare, jobs, schools, and police protection.

John B. Duncan, a Negro, is a member of the three-man Board of Commissioners which governs the District. Negroes also hold such other important positions as president of the Board of Education, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission, and executive director of the National Capital Housing Authority.

Of great importance has been the training and leadership of the police department, which for many years has had Negro officers. Although there continue to he complaints against the police, the city has long had a civilian review board, which was an issue in New York last summer. All of the Washington police receive careful instruction on the problem of race relations. Early in September, all uniformed officers with the rank of sergeant or higher were ordered to take a special eighthour course in human relations. Officers also were required to attend a panel discussion on police and community relations in which representatives of the N.A.A.C.P., the Urban League, and other citizens’ and civic groups participated.

The Governor of Puerto Rico

Since no other Latin-American statesman is held in higher esteem in Washington than Governor Luis Muñoz Marin of Puerto Rico, his refusal to accept a fifth term brought forth mixed reactions. There was sadness over the fact that he had decided to turn over the leadership to another man. But there was a realization that Muñoz Marin was serving the cause of democracy by refusing to perpetuate himself in office.

The work for which he is most famous - Operation Bootstrap was literally just that. Few countries have ever lifted themselves by the bootstraps as rapidly and as successfully as Puerto Rico has done under Muñoz Marin’s direction. President Kennedy wanted him to head the Alliance for Progress, but the Governor refused to leave his post. Now perhaps he can be persuaded to take a more active role, at least in an advisory capacity, in the larger activities of the hemisphere.

Mood of the Capital

Immediately after the Republican Convention, it seemed that civil rights and the so-called white backlash and the issue of extremism were the principal campaign issues. Now that the campaign is well under way, it is clear that there are, as always, a variety of issues that divide and perplex and fascinate the American voter. Civil rights seems less ominous as an overriding issue. There is active debate on farm problems in the Middle West. There are water problems in the Far West. Medical care for the aged and social security are major concerns.

Above all, as the President has told intimates for a long time, there are two issues which cut deeper than all the rest — peace and prosperity. Johnson believes that they will be the decisive ones in November. He has been emphasizing their importance for months, and he will continue to do so.