Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
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Posts tagged "Congress"

Today, Michigan’s John Dingell announced that he will not seek re-election to the United States House of Representatives. Dingell is the longest-serving member of Congress in American history and considered the Dean of the House.

The Democratic Congressman, who will celebrate his 88th birthday in July, has spent nearly six decades as a lawmaker.  Dingell’s father, John Dingell, Sr., served in the House from 1933 until his death in September 1955.  The 29-year-old John Jr. succeeded his father in December 1955 and is currently in the midst of his 30th term.  Let me repeat that: Dingell is currently serving his THIRTIETH term in Congress!  Between John Dingell, Jr., and his father, the Dingell family has represented Michigan in the U.S. House of Representatives for over 80 years.

Due to Dingell’s longevity in Washington, it is likely that no living American has met as many Presidents as the Michigan Congressman.  During his nearly 60 years in the House of Representatives, Dingell has met and worked with 11 Presidents in an official capacity: Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.  In addition to the Presidents that he has worked, Dingell also had the opportunity to meet several Presidents during his father’s two decades in the House: Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry Truman. As a page on Capitol Hill in December 1941, Dingell was in the House Chamber while President Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

While there are probably a handful of people in history who met more Presidents than Dingell — John Quincy Adams, for example, is believed to have met every President from George Washington to Andrew Johnson (17 in all) — I would venture to bet that no American alive today has met 14 Presidents like the Dean of the House of Representatives, John Dingell of Michigan, and it’s unlikely that Dingell’s record for Congressional longevity will ever be surpassed.

Imagine that you were an idiot. And then imagine that you were a member of Congress. Wait a minute…I repeated myself.
Mark Twain
Asker hewest1937 Asks:
Any thoughts about Ted Cruz?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Senator Cruz hasn’t done a single thing to impress me, and I think he is the personification of everything that is wrong with the United States Congress — an obstructionist and extremist who makes a ton of noise without saying anything of worth.

Cruz will never be elected to anything more than the Senate, and the only reason he won that election is because it took place in Texas — a state that nobody really takes seriously despite being worth a whopping 38 electoral votes.

Ted Cruz is the very worst type of politician — an overbearing impediment to progress who is full of questions yet utterly lacking in answers.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Your blog is so interesting! I learn so much. I was wondering, what would happen if no one ran for president? (I realize this would only happen in some crazy alternate universe, but let's just say for some reason there are zero candidates.)
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Oooh…interesting question!  

It is hard to visualize a situation where there are absolutely no candidates for President, so let’s look at it this way:  What would happen if nobody actually won a Presidential election?  Let’s say an election was disputed or undecided and we arrived at Inauguration Day without a President-elect or Vice President-elect.

Now, something like this has never happened, and when it comes to Constitutional crises where things aren’t clearly defined there is always some room for surprises.  For example, when President William Henry Harrison died a month into his term in 1841, most American political leaders believed that the Vice President, John Tyler, would only be “acting President”.  Tyler, however, quickly assumed the office of the Presidency in name, trappings, and all the power that came with it and set the precedent which all future Vice Presidents who assumed office would follow (and which was eventually codified in the Constitution with the 25th Amendment).

So, if no President or Vice President was been elected or qualified for office as of Inauguration Day, the 20th Amendment (ratified in 1933), states that “Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified”.  

In other words, it would be up to Congress to decide HOW the President or Vice President should be selected and WHO the President and Vice President would be.  Most likely, the House of Representatives would choose the President and the Senate would choose the Vice President.  I make that assumption because that’s what would happen if no candidate won an Electoral College majority — the Presidency would be decided by the House and the Vice Presidency would be decided by the Senate.

Good question!

Asker Anonymous Asks:
can u impeach the speaker of hte house
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

As much as I would love to, I personally cannot impeach the Speaker of the House, but I assume you’re asking if Congress can impeach the Speaker.

There’s actually some disagreement about whether or not a member of the U.S. Senate or U.S. House of Representatives can be impeached or not because the Constitution provides for the impeachment of the President, Vice President, and “civil officers” of the United States.  It can be argued that members of Congress are not civil officers of the United States because they, in fact, represent the states that they come from.

No member of the House has ever been impeached and although one Senator was impeached very early in the history of the country, the Senate never put him on trial, so there was no decision about whether or not he was a “civil officer”.  

The House and the Senate both have the act of expulsion available as a punishment against Congressmen or Senators.  Typically, when a member of the House or Senate is charged with some violation or guilty of wrongdoing, they are either censured or expelled (or the threat of censure or expulsion leads them to resign).

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Which party has held control of the House and Senate for the longest? Why were they able to retain power for so long? Thanks Anthony!
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I could be wrong because I’m doing this off-the-top of my head, but I’m almost positive that the Democrats hold the record the longest continuous majorities for both chambers of Congress.

In the Senate, the Democrats were in control for 26 years, from 1955-1981.  They held on to the upper house of the legislature for a couple years longer than the Jefferson/Madison/Monroe Democratic-Republican Party, which held the Senate for 24 years from 1801-1825.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Democrats had an even more impressive hold on the House of Representatives.  For a whopping 40 YEARS, from 1955-1995, the Dems controlled the House until Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” led to a Republican Revolution and GOP takeover of that chamber of Congress for the first time since the Eisenhower Administration.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
I say Cory Booker will run as a foil to Chris Christie. He could be a good running mate if Christie gets the GOPnom.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Let’s pump the brakes and slow down, okay?  I like Cory Booker and I think that he’s a rising star, but he hasn’t even been sworn in and taken his recently-won seat in the U.S. Senate yet.

Because of the avalanche of news coverage, the prevalence of social media, and the rapidly-shrinking attention span of the average American, many people confuse “constant coverage” for “credible contender”.

We’ve already reached the point in American political life where everything is just one continuous campaign.  It’s awful, but there’s no turning back from it now, unfortunately.  What we can do, however, is take a breath and recognize that the fact that a politician is grabbing headlines or making himself/herself the main topic of conversation during a news cycle doesn’t mean that he/she immediately becomes a serious candidate for President or Vice President in an election cycle that is still over two years away from even the party primaries.

I’m not even specifically picking on Senator-elect Booker or the person who asked this question.  It’s an issue that has come up with a number of other politicians over the past few months who happened to dominate a few news cycles because of this reason or that reason and then immediately have been spoken of as potential candidates in 2016.

Americans wonder how it ever reached the point that we’re at right now when we find ourselves locked in a constant campaign — a situation that results in problems like the government shutdown because politicians aren’t governing.  They are either running for something or running away from something.  Nobody wants to make difficult decisions or unpopular compromises during a campaign.  Now, since we’re in a constant campaign, everybody is a candidate and nobody is a political leader.

We’ve reached that point because we’ve empowered the politicians that we put in office to see themselves as potential Presidential or Vice Presidential candidates since we mention that possibility whenever one of those politicians win themselves some news coverage for whatever the reason might be.  By wild speculation over two years before primary season and three years before the general election cycle, we allow them to be candidates rather than public servants.  Instead of doing the job they have, they shape themselves for the job that they want.  And they do it because we let them.

It is one thing to look ahead to the 2016 election and think about Hillary Clinton’s possible candidacy.  She’s no longer holding office.  She doesn’t have a job to do every day on behalf of the American people.  But when we start speculating about Cory Booker who doesn’t even have the exact date scheduled yet for taking his Senate seat, or debate whether or not Ted Cruz is eligible for the Presidency even though all he has done in office is grandstand, alienate leaders from both parties, and willfully obstruct progress, we give them permission to plunge into the constant campaign rather than do their job.

It’s time to stop that.  And, just like I said during the shutdown when I pointed out that we have the power and ability to unseat every single member of the U.S. House of Representatives and 1/3rd of the U.S. Senate every two years, it is up to us, the American people, to make it clear that we are tired of the constant campaign.  It’s our responsibility to make it understood that we want our elected officials to do the jobs that they have, not the jobs that they might want, or the jobs that others speculate that they might someday get.  

Just like we — regular Americans like you and I — can change the face of Congress every two years through the ballot, we can end the constant campaign, too.  Again, it is our job to make sure that our political leaders are doing their job — as public servants, not constant candidates in a never-ending political campaign.  And, as we do that, let’s also remember that just because a politician is getting a lot of attention, it doesn’t mean that they are qualified or ready to run for President or Vice President.    

Asker Anonymous Asks:
hi anthony-i'm doing research on the history of the us congress. do you know where a good place for research information might be?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

If there is one thing that the United States Senate and House of Representatives does right, it is that they have awesome sources of historical information on their respective websites.  The Congressional Bioguide has detailed, easily-searchable biographical information on every person who has served in the Senate, House, Continental Congress, or as Vice President (because the VP is President of the Senate).  I use it frequently.

The Senate has some amazing sources about its history and the art of the Capitol.  Here’s a jump-off point for their Art & History pages.  I also find the Senate’s Statistics & Lists page useful for research and reference.

Everyone is pissed off about the government shutdown.  Everyone pretty much agrees that Congress sucks.  Some polls say that Congress has a 10% approval rating — 90% of the country is against them!

But we elected them.  In fact, we elected every single representative sitting in the House of Representatives last November, not even one year ago.  Yes, Congress is terrible.  But we put them there — IT IS OUR FAULT.  The American people are to blame.

Do a better job at choosing your representatives.  Now you know how much your vote matters.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
do you think congress should face some sort of sanction for a government shutdown
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Congress hasn’t passed a budget since 2009.  I think if Congress can’t pass an annual budget, the House and the Senate should be forced to gather for a Joint Session and then that Joint Session should be governed like a medieval Papal Conclave.  Nobody comes in, nobody leaves.  If they can’t make a decision, we start limiting their food.  If they still can’t make a decision after that, they get a small ration of bread and water.  If the budget battle continues, we start limiting the water.  Then we remove the roof and expose them to the elements.  If the budget still isn’t passed, maybe we find a hungry bear, take its baby cub away to make it angry and immediately lock the hungry, angry bear in the Joint Session of Congress.  Still no budget?  Justin Bieber’s music is blasted into the chamber 24/7.

And then after they pass the budget, we burn the goddamn place down anyway.

Asker bbkld Asks:
This isn't the first time in American history that Congress has been so dysfunctional, but it's gotta be in the top three of the worst. In your opinion, is there a person or event capable to leading them out of the darkness and back into a reasonably useful lawmaking body?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I think both parties need to dump their leadership in both chambers of Congress in order for things to have a shot at turning around.  We are in the midst of a strange situation — the Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate are abysmal, don’t have the influence or power to whip their caucuses in line, aren’t respected by junior members within their own party, can’t work together effectively with the opposition or the President, and yet they are entrenched in their respective leadership positions.  It’s as if the coach of a football team was terrible at his job, couldn’t win a game, lost the respect of his players, had no chance at out-coaching the opposition, but couldn’t be fired for some reason.

The House of Representatives isn’t a legislative body; it’s a tar pit.  The Senate is no better.  A big part of the blame belongs to us.  It is our job to toss out shitty, ineffective, inefficient members of Congress.  The Senate is tougher to do that with because they have six-year-long terms and only a third or so of the Senators are up for reelection every two years.  But we have the ability to make changes in the House of Representatives every two years.  We could fire every single member of the House and replace them with someone new in 2014.  Will we?  Of course not.  The voters are partly to blame.

The senior members of the House and Senate — on both sides of the aisle — are largely to blame for the day-to-day bullshit that has brought the government to the place that it has been in for the last six years or so.  Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Nancy Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy, and Steny Hoyer should not have jobs.  They are the party leaders of the worst Congress in American history.  I didn’t include the Senate whips — Dick Durbin and John Cornyn — because I think those two are the only party leaders in Congress who are worth a shit, but I wouldn’t put up a fight if they lost their jobs, too.

The party leaders in the House and the Senate should have control of their respective caucuses at all times.  If not, they aren’t leading.  I’m stunned at how little respect many of the junior members of Congress — even freshmen in the House of Representatives! — have for the leaders of their own party.  Raul Labrador, a Republican member of the House, was elected in 2010.  In 2011, as a freshman Congressman, Labrador stood up in a GOP conference told John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, “I didn’t come to Washington to be part of a team.”  That’s right, as the Speaker of the House of Representatives — one of the five most powerful positions in the country when there is someone useful in the job — implored his fellow Republicans to work together, a freshman Congressman from Idaho straight up told him no in front of every other House Republican.  Speaker Boehner should have remembered that disrespect and in 2012, he should have CRUSHED Labrador.  He should have withheld RNC money from Labrador.  He should have built up a primary challenger against Labrador.  He should have pulled together every powerful Republican that can breathe and walk, flown them to Idaho, and campaigned against Labrador.  Instead? Nothing.  Labrador was reelected last year.  That’s just one example.

The Democrats are just as bad.  They control the Senate and they have a Democrat in the White House.  But Harry Reid is the Senate Majority Leader and the Democrat from Nevada is, hands-down, the worst Majority Leader in American history.  Nobody is intimidated by him, nobody is influenced by him, nobody respects him.  And why should they?  Why should the White House defer to him?  In 2011, Vice President Biden met with Senator Reid to help pass the two-year extension to the Bush-era tax cuts.  The White House wasn’t ecstatic about the deal that they made with Republicans to extend the tax cuts, but politics require compromises.  Progress requires compromise. 

So, when the Democratic President sent his Vice President to settle the issue with the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, how did Harry Reid decide to help out his President and Vice President?  He said this to the President and Vice President of the United States:

"You guys went and did this deal.  You go sell it.  Not my deal, not my problem.  Not telling you I’m against it, not telling you I’m for it, not yelling at you, just saying you guys made this deal.  Hope you can line up the Senate Democrats behind you because I’m not going to."

Harry Reid wasn’t taking a stand because of a strong, ideological position that he was absolutely opposed to compromising on.  No, Harry Reid was acting like a fucking baby because the White House closed a deal that Harry Reid simply couldn’t do on his own.  If FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, or Bush 43 were President, Harry Reid would be working in a pawn shop in Las Vegas tonight.  But Harry Reid is still the Senate Majority Leader.

I know that I am ranting, but the whole subject pisses me off because the problems are so clear and the solutions are so simple.  The party leadership — Majority and Minority, Democrats and Republicans — from both chambers of Congress — House and Senate — NEED TO GO.

There is one more person who deserves some blame for how shitty the 112th Congress (9% approval rating, by the way) was and the 113th Congress has been, and he’s not a member of Congress:  President Barack Obama.  As I mentioned above, every President since Franklin D. Roosevelt, with the exception of Jimmy Carter, would have absolutely smashed individual members of the House and Senate, specific blocs of voters, and each chamber of Congress as a whole if they had been as intransigent, disrespectful, and ineffective as these last two Congresses have been.  It wouldn’t have gotten as bad with many of those Presidents because they either had a mastery of the legislative process or they used the bully pulpit of the Presidency to win the public opinion war.  President Obama has done none of these things.  Junior Senators and freshman House members from Obama’s own party have no problem openly criticizing the President or opposing Administration goals.  That should NEVER happen.  Joe Manchin should be working in a coal mine in West Virginia instead of taking shots at his own President whenever he feels like it.  Manchin’s predecessor, Robert Byrd, earned the right to be independent whenever he wanted, but even after 50 years in the Senate, Byrd knew to support his President.  What’s even worse is that Obama’s top Cabinet members are legendary Senators — Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.  Whenever a President wants something from his Democrats on the Hill, he should get it.  If not, Biden, Kerry, and Hagel should be laying the "Johnson Treatment” on anyone who needs it.  They have to because Obama obviously doesn’t have that weapon in his arsenal.  As embarrassing as Obama’s influence with his fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill has been, can you imagine how bad it would be without Joe Biden doing the dirty work with Congress over the past four years?  

There’s a lot of anger in this post and I know that it is all over the place, but I am truly angry about this subject.  As I said, the problems are clear and the solutions are obvious.  And the past 80 years of Presidential/Congressional relations are a blueprint for what works and what doesn’t.  We need new party leaders on both sides of the aisle in both chambers of Congress.  And we need a President whose approach to dealing with useless Congresses and intransigent, disrespectful Congressmen is more FDR/Eisenhower/LBJ than Carter/Obama.  

I am a loyal, lifelong Democrat and I think that Harry Reid is the absolute worst Senate Majority Leader in the history of the United States.  He has a Democratic majority in the Senate and a Democrat in the White House, yet his “leadership” has been so ineffective and inefficient that Obama might as well have a Republican-controlled Senate.  I think Senator Reid is a petty, petulant man who can barely control his own caucus let alone set the agenda for the Senate, help his own President realize the goals of the Administration, and that he is a complete push-over who is easily steamrolled by anybody who opposes him.  Because of the traditional civility and decorum of the Senate nobody will say it, but I don’t think anybody respects him and I have no idea why he is still the Majority Leader.  Instead of using the Senate’s arcane rules and parliamentary tricks to get things done and actually accomplish things for the nation, he uses them to delay, divide, and obstruct.

The past few Congresses have been among the worst in American history and have received the highest disapproval ratings since polling began.  That’s one thing that Harry Reid can take credit for.  In my opinion, Senator Reid is one of the worst things about the Democratic Party and the only thing on Capitol Hill more terrible than Harry Reid is the House of Representatives.  And Ted Cruz.

I am not asking for conformity. I am dedicated to the two-party system, and you know which party I belong to. I do not want a honeymoon with you. I want a good marriage. I want progress, and I want problem-solving which requires my best efforts and also your best efforts. I have no need to learn how Congress speaks for the people. As President, I intend to listen. But I also intend to listen to the people themselves — all of the people — I want to be sure that we are all tuned in to the real voice of America.
Gerald Ford, Address to a Joint Session of Congress after becoming President, August 12, 1974