Within a few months of the inauguration next January, the new president will face the inevitable chasm between White House and Capitol Hill, with most of his promises still to be redeemed. What then?
All presidents, even [Warren G.] Harding, have encountered this problem in one form or another. Some of them have seen their differences with Congress as simply a matter of poor communication; if only they could explain the problem to some balky committee chairman, they seem to have felt, the misunderstanding would disappear. So they have breakfasted with congressmen, held weekly meetings with Senate and House leaders, delivered speeches to joint sessions, sent up bulky recommendations and even drafts of bills. Rarely have such methods won over the president’s real opponents. For the real problem is that congressional leaders, whether conservative or liberal, hold office on different assumptions, different mandates, different expectations from the president’s.
Inevitably the strong presidents have used the routine weapons of presidential power—patronage, deals, personal pressure, even the pardoning power—vigorously and even cynically. But the routine weapons have not been enough, and beleaguered presidents have tried to mobilize popular support behind their programs, particularly when congressmen came up for reelection. From Andrew Johnson’s effort in 1866 to defend his Reconstruction program against the Radicals to Eisenhower and Nixon’s attempt in 1958 to win back a Republican Congress, presidents have made the long whistle-stop trips across the nation in order to force Congress into line.