Dead Presidents

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

By Anthony Bergen
Posts tagged "U.S. Senate"
How do you think The Senate Games will play out in November?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I think it is going to be close.  Very close — probably 51/49 or possibly even a tie.  But I think the Democrats will hold on.  To me, the Senate seats that are the major toss-ups which will go down to the wire are Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Alaska.  All four of those seats are held by Democratic incumbents and it’s going to take everything they have to hold on to their seats and save the Senate for the Democrats.

Of those four races, I think Senator Pryor (Arkansas) and Senator Begich (Alaska) will hold on to their seats, Senator Landrieu (Louisiana) will lose, and the North Carolina seat is almost too close to even guess at, but if forced to, I’d say that Senator Hagan barely squeaks out a victory.  Assuming everything else goes as expected, that would put the Senate at 51-49 in the favor of the Democrats (there are two independents in the Senate but they both caucus with the Dems).  Fortunately for the Democrats, even if there is a tie in the Senate, they’ll remain in control because Vice President Biden would be responsible for breaking any ties.

By the way, if the Republicans gain control of both the House and the Senate on November 4th, Barack Obama becomes a lame-duck President on November 5th. 

Asker Anonymous Asks:
If someone ran for the U.S. Senate at 29 and won the election, could that person still be sworn in? I know Biden turned 30 right before he was sworn in, but what if he would have turned 30 in February, after the official swearing in in January. Would they have let him wait to be sworn in after he turned 30 or do they check all this stuff when you apply to run?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Today they certainly check.  If someone was elected to the Senate at 29 and didn’t turn 30 until after the new Congressional session started, the Senator-elect would just have to wait until he or she turned 30 and became Constitutionally eligible before they could take their seat.  You mentioned Biden, who was 29 when he was elected, but turned 30 prior to the date he was scheduled to be sworn in.  In the 1930’s, a Senator-elect from West Virginia won his seat when he was 29 and didn’t turn 30 until after the Congressional session started, so he had to wait until his 30th birthday before he could take his seat. 

Back in the nation’s relatively early days it was a bit easier to slide into a Congressional seat before hitting the required age, but that could have just been due to the fact that it was easier to fudge the records at a time when record-keeping wasn’t as thorough.  Or it could have simply been that the rest of the Senate didn’t make a fuss about it.  Henry Clay actually took his seat in the Senate when he was still 29 years old and two other Senators in the early 19th Century — Virginia’s Armistead T. Mason and Tennessee’s John Eaton — joined the Senate when they were just 28 years old.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
How was Joe Biden able to be sworn in as a Senator at 28 if you have to be 35?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

You have to be 30, not 35, to be a Senator. Biden was 29 when he was first elected to the Senate, but his birthday was a couple of weeks after Election Day, so he became old enough prior to being sworn-in.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
I'm confused and think you can help. In House of Cards there is a scene where the VP is being referred to as Mr. President. Was that a mistake? I don't understand.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

In the scene you’re referring to, the Vice President is addressed as “Mr. President” because he is in the Senate chamber executing his only Constitutional responsibility — presiding over the Senate.  Although the Vice President is President of the Senate, he rarely presides over it unless there is some important reason or if he is needed to break a tie.

There is a president pro tempore of the Senate — generally the longest-serving Senator of the majority party — but the day-to-day duty of presiding over the Senate is usually rotated from Senator-to-Senator.  During debate, anyone who is sitting in the chair presiding over Senate activities is addressed as “Mr. President” as part of parliamentary procedure.

Imagine that you were an idiot. And then imagine that you were a member of Congress. Wait a minute…I repeated myself.
Mark Twain

I now know the difference between a cactus and a caucus — in a cactus, all the pricks are on the outside.

Lyndon B. Johnson, to reporters, after meeting with the Senate’s Democratic Caucus following LBJ’s election as Vice President, January 1961

Asker Anonymous Asks:
If two new Senators from both major political parties were to be added to the Senate Reception Room in the 'Famous Nine' series, who do you think they should be?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Damn, that’s a tough one.  There’s going to be controversy, no matter what.

First of all, LBJ would definitely belong in there because of his success as Senate Majority Leader, but he already has a Vice Presidential bust in the Capitol and a portrait in the White House, among other recognitions.  So, I’m excluding him, any other VPs (ex: Humphrey), and people who have buildings named after them (ex: Mansfield, Russell, Dirksen).

Also, I’m picking Senators from post-1945, otherwise there’s a case to be made for Thomas Hart Benton and George Norris, who JFK both thought got robbed by being left out of the Famous Five.

Okay, for the Democrats, I’m going to have to go with Ted Kennedy and George McGovern.  There are so many others that could easily fit in here (sorry, Senator Inouye, especially on Veterans’ Day, and, sorry, Robert Byrd), but I’m sticking with Kennedy and McGovern.

The first Republican is easy: Bob Dole.  That’s the first name that came to mind when I saw this question.  Wonderful leader, wonderful man.  The second Republican is tougher.  I can’t pick Strom Thurmond because of the Dixiecrat thing and for being super racist even though he fathered a child with the black maid.  Jacob Javits is a possibility, but the Republicans on the list are already leaning too liberal or progressive, so I think a conservative is the fair choice.  I’m going to go with Barry Goldwater.

This was a GREAT question.  I want to hear what you guys think.  Here are the “Famous Nine” Senators who are represented in the Senate Reception Room:

•John C. Calhoun
•Daniel Webster
•Henry Clay
•Robert La Follette
•Robert Taft
•Robert F. Wagner
•Arthur H. Vandenberg
•Oliver Ellsworth
•Roger Sherman

Here’s who I added:

•Edward M. Kennedy
•Bob Dole
•Barry Goldwater
•George McGovern

Who do you think belongs?


When Andrew Jackson died at his home, the Hermitage, in Nashville, Tennessee, on June 8, 1845, Sam Houston was rushing to Jackson’s bedside.  Houston was born in Virginia and, like Jackson, moved to Tennessee where he studied law and got his start in politics — eventually serving as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1823-1827) and Governor of Tennessee (1827-1829).  As a young man during the War of 1812, Houston had served under Jackson in the Army at the uprising of the Creek Indians (1813).  Despite their differing views over the treatment of Native Americans, Jackson and Houston were both staunch Unionists and Jackson was Houston’s political mentor.

When Jackson was President of the United States (1829-1837), Sam Houston served as President as well — the first President of the Republic of Texas (1836-1838) — after leading the Texas Army against the Mexicans at the Battle of San Jacinto.  From the beginning of the Texas Revolution, Houston dominated Texas politics — serving as the first and third President of the Republic of Texas, spending time in the Texas Congress, and working to gain the admission of Texas as a U.S. state.  When that happened, Houston was elected as one of the first U.S. Senators from Texas and served from 1846 until 1859, when he returned to Texas to serve as Governor (1859-1861).  Like Jackson, Houston was committed to the cause of the Union, and when he refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy in 1861, he was deposed as Governor.  To this day, Houston remains a giant in his adopted home state of Texas where the largest city carries his name.

In June 1845, however, that Texas giant — and Houston was a big man physically, as well, reportedly anywhere from 6’2” to 6’6” — was crying at the deathbed of Andrew Jackson.  Houston hadn’t made it to the Hermitage in time for Jackson’s final moments.  The former American President died shortly before the former Texas President arrived and “the towering Texan sank to his knees and openly wept over the body”, according to accounts.

In 1840, Houston had married Margaret Lea, his third wife, and between 1843 and Houston’s death in 1863, they had eight children.  Their second son, born on June 21, 1854, was named Andrew Jackson Houston, after Sam Houston’s late friend, former military commander, and poitical mentor.  Like his father and his namesake, Andrew Jackson Houston studied law (after dropping out of West Point), and eventually served in the Texas National Guard and as a U.S. Marshal in Texas.  His political career was less successful — losing three long-shot bids for Governor of Texas in 1892, 1910, and 1912.

But Andrew Jackson Houston’s political career had an unlikely ending.  When Senator John Morris Sheppard of Texas died in office in 1941, the Governor of Texas, W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel, saw an opportunity to clear the way for his own election to the Senate.  First, he had to appoint a Senator to replace Sheppard until a special election could be held.  Governor O’Daniel chose Andrew Jackson Houston — 86 years old at the time and with no interest of holding on to the seat himself.

On April 21, 1941, Andrew Jackson Houston became the oldest man to enter the U.S. Senate (the oldest person to enter the Senate was a woman — 87-year-old Rebecca Latimer Felton of Georgia who served in the Senate for just one day in 1922).  His father had left the Senate 82 years earlier.  For 66 days in 1941, Andrew Jackson Houston represented Texas in the United States Senate just as his father and his namesake had nearly 100 years earlier.  Not only did Senator Houston decline to seek election in his own right, but he didn’t even live until Governor O’Daniel’s special election — dying in office on June 26, 1941, five days after his 87th birthday.

Andrew Jackson Houston’s short service in the Senate also affected another American President.  Houston cleared the way for Pappy O’Daniel to seek the seat himself in 1941.  O’Daniel’s opponent in the special election was a young member of the Texas delegation in the House of Representatives named Lyndon B. Johnson.  Although the first indications seemed to point to an upset victory by Johnson, suspicious ballots were released that pushed Governor O’Daniel to a narrow victory.  It was a lesson in Texas politics that LBJ quickly learned — when he faced Texas Governor Coke Stevenson seven years later in the 1948 Democratic Senate primary, suspicious late ballots were released that pushed Johnson to victory by just 87 votes.

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:
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.

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.