Lyndon Baines Johnson, wherever he is, must be enjoying the spectacle that’s unfolding down here, in Washington, D.C.
One of his successors as president of the United States is now trying to do something that LBJ was expert at doing: persuade U.S. senators to vote for a bill the president wants to see become law.
Donald Trump is facing a grim political reality. He is backing a Senate Republican health care overhaul bill. He says it would replace the Affordable Care Act. There’s this problem: public opinion polling suggests that it is highly unpopular with Americans; meanwhile, senators — who must answer to those Americans — are getting queasy about the bill.
Senate Republicans knew it and decided this week to postpone a vote on the bill until after the Fourth of July recess. The GOP has a slim Senate majority. Republicans can afford only two defections; any more than that then the health care overhaul effort is toast. Eight GOP senators have said they oppose the draft bill.
How does Trump persuade them to vote for the bill? This is something that Trump does not understand. Lyndon Johnson understood it better than arguably any president of the past century.
Before he became vice president in 1961 and later president in 1963, Johnson was the Senate majority leader. The Texan had vast experience as a legislator. He had many friends in the Senate; Republicans as well as Democrats were his pals. He could count on them when the going got tough. Sen. Johnson had an amazing capacity to persuade senators to vote his way. He took that skill with him to the Oval Office.
LBJ was unafraid to use the power of the presidency to, um, bully senators and House members. Somehow, though, it worked.
The current president has zero experience at governing anything. He had never sought a public office until June 2015, when he announced his presidential candidacy. Trump had no direct knowledge of Congress, or any understanding of how it works. He never developed any relationships with those who run the legislative branch of government, which is something that even relatively inexperienced presidents before him had acquired.
President Reagan was chided for being a film actor. He also served two terms as California governor. President Carter took D.C. by storm, but he, too, had governmental executive experience as a single-term governor of Georgia.
Donald Trump has none of that kind of experience. None!
President Johnson set the gold standard, though, for presidents knowing how to legislate, how to persuade lawmakers, how to push legislation through both chambers of Congress.
I suspect the former president is laughing out loud.