Tag Archives: LBJ

POTUS uses executive authority … but wait!

I normally wouldn’t complain about Donald Trump’s use of executive authority, given that he’s doing what the Constitution allows him to do.

But you see, the president has been a royal pain in the posterior over his gripes about the executive orders signed by the man he succeeded, Barack H. Obama.

Now he has set a sort of dubious record. Trump has just signed his 49th executive order, the most orders signed at this stage of the presidency since President Lyndon Baines Johnson. The LBJ standard stood for the past 50 years.

CNN reports: Why does it matter? Because Trump was a vociferous critic of then-President Barack Obama’s use of executive orders — casting them as a purposeful end-run of the legislative branch.

I happen to believe strongly in presidential prerogative. Trump is using the authority granted to him by the U.S. Constitution.

But the president doesn’t respect that the same authority also has been bestowed on others who came before him. President Obama’s use of that authority often came amid strong criticism by those who were hell bent on opposing everything he sought to do.

Trump was among those critics.

Trump signs ’em quickly

Given that the president has been unable to push any significant legislation through Congress in the nine months he’s been in office, it stands to reason he would rely on the executive authority he has been handed.

Except that he launched a ridiculous tirade against Barack Obama for doing the very thing that he, too, had the power to do.

Oh, by the way, President Obama signed 26 executive orders at the same point in his presidency … a little more than half of what Trump has signed. I won’t say that Trump is abusing his authority.

But still …

Is the party over for ACA repeal? Let’s hope so

On the day earlier this summer when he voted “no” on a plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., made an impassioned plea for the body where he has served for three decades to return to “regular order.”

Meaning that both parties, Democrats and Republicans, need to work for common ground, to seek compromise, to actually get things done for the good of the citizens they all serve.

The Vietnam War hero’s plea fell on deaf ears. Senate Republicans decided — against logic and good judgment — to proceed yet again with a GOP-only repeal of the ACA.

Sen. McCain has stuck the shiv into the GOP’s efforts by announcing he plans to vote “no” once again on this ACA repeal effort. It likely blows the effort to smithereens. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., will vote against it because it doesn’t go far enough in getting rid of the vestiges of the ACA; Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is a likely “no” vote, as is Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Senate Republicans — who have hardly any room for defections given their slim Senate majority — face a Sept. 30 deadline to get this deal done with a 50-vote plus one (Vice President Mike Pence) majority; after that, Senate rules return to a 60-vote supermajority requirement.

So, what about that “regular order” thing that McCain sought earlier this year?

The ACA isn’t perfect. It likely isn’t even a good piece of legislation. Barack Obama’s signature bill needs work. It needs to be amended, nipped and tucked. To do that, though, requires that “regular order” that McCain wants to see restored. That would mean bipartisan cooperation, the search for commonality.

That’s how legislation gets done.

President Lyndon Johnson knew how to legislate. He employed his overpowering persuasive skills to bring Republicans along. President Richard Nixon was no slouch, either, at working with Democrats. Nor were Presidents Ford, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton or Bush 43.

President Obama needed to work better at developing that skill. Then again, the Republican intransigence was too big a hurdle for him to overcome.

Sen. McCain has called repeatedly for a return to the old way of legislating. His decision today only drives home that call even more deeply.

The question now becomes: Is anyone in a leadership position going to heed those calls ever again on Capitol Hill?

Recalling a chance meeting with an architect of tragedy

Watching the PBS documentary series “The Vietnam War” brings to mind a chance meeting I had in late 1995 with one of the villains of that national tragedy … Robert McNamara.

I like telling the story, so I’ll provide it here knowing, of course, that it involves only two people — and one of them is dead.

Morris Communications Corp. had convened a meeting of newspaper editors and publishers in Washington, D.C., to discuss how the group had planned to cover the upcoming 1996 presidential election. I was editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, so I got to attend the meeting.

One Sunday morning right after we arrived, we had a day off. I took the time to walk from the hotel to Arlington National Cemetery. The morning was quiet. Traffic was light. Streets had few pedestrians.

I waited at a corner for the light to turn green so I could cross. I noticed an elderly gentleman walking toward me from another corner. He was carrying a shopping bag full of groceries.

I looked and then looked more intently at the gentleman. It was Robert McNamara, secretary of defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He had just published a book, “In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam.”

In the book, McNamara acknowledged that he knew as early as 1963 that the Vietnam War was a lost cause. He also admitted that he kept quiet about what he believed at the time. He continued to advise Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to keep sending young men to die in Vietnam.

I was one of the young men he allowed to go to Vietnam; I got my orders in the spring of 1969 and reported for duty at Marble Mountain, Da Nang, to work on Army surveillance aircraft.

I was filled at the time of the book’s publication with anger that McNamara would have kept those thoughts so damn private, that he wouldn’t have spoken out in real time about what he believed about the future of that tragic conflict.

He approached me on that quite D.C. street that Sunday morning. “Mr. Secretary,” I said, “I want to introduce myself. My name is John Kanelis. I live in Amarillo,Texas and I just want to tell you how pissed off I am at you after learning about what you wrote in that book you just published. I was one of those men you sent to Vietnam.”

McNamara smiled and said, simply, “You are a very observant young man.” I smiled back at him and offered a conciliatory follow-up. “I am glad that you finally came clean,” I said.

He thanked me. We shook hands and he walked away.

I continued on to Arlington National Cemetery and paid my respects to President Kennedy and his brother, Robert Kennedy.

And I felt better for getting those thoughts off my chest.

ACA is actually doing what it’s supposed to do

Let’s talk about health insurance, OK?

The highly partisan agency, the U.S. Census Bureau, has come up with some data that illustrate the difficulty the Republicans in Congress — and the pseudo-Republican in the White House — have had difficulty in repealing the Affordable Care Act.

The Census Bureau reports that the rolls of uninsured Americans has continued to decline since the enactment of the ACA. It’s now down to 8.8 percent this past year, down 0.3 percent from 2015.

Prior to implementation of the ACA, the uninsured rate stood at 13.3 percent, according to the Census Bureau.

Oh, by the way, I’m joking about the Census Bureau being full of partisan hacks.

The news isn’t all good for the ACA. A Gallup Poll indicates an increase in uninsured Americans stemming largely from the uncertainty over the ACA’s future.

Mend it, don’t end it.

I remain committed to the notion, though, that the ACA can be fine-tuned, improved, tweaked and tinkered with. It need not be scrapped, tossed onto the scrap heap, which is what congressional Republicans and Donald J. Trump want to do.

Need I remind readers of this blog that Medicare’s enactment in 1965 was followed by the a round of tinkering? President Lyndon Johnson managed to persuade his fellow Democrats and his many Republican allies on Capitol Hill to improve the landmark health insurance program. The program works well for elderly Americans.

Why in the name of compromise and cooperation can’t we find that formula today? What is stopping congressional Republicans who control Capitol Hill from working hand-in-glove with Democrats to improve the ACA? President Barack Obama implored both sides on Capitol Hill to improve it if they were so inclined; he said he was all in on any effort to make the ACA work better for more Americans.

Republicans were having none of it. “We gotta repeal it!” they bellowed. Well, they had their chance after Trump got elected president. The president failed to deliver the goods. GOP leaders in Congress failed as well. The ACA remains the law. It figures to stay that way for the foreseeable future — if not longer.

Republicans say they intend to keep yapping about repealing the ACA and replacing it with something else. The voices are growing a bit more muted in sticking to that mantra.

That’s fine with me. Repeal isn’t the only answer. Surely there’s a way to make the ACA work for even more Americans.

Anger will get POTUS nowhere — in a hurry

Presidents of the United States usually manage to cultivate friendships in the least-expected places.

Democrat Lyndon Johnson had strong alliances with Republican Sen. Everett Dirksen; Republican Ronald Reagan had a marvelous after-hours social friendship with Democratic House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill; Democrat Bill Clinton worked with Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich to produce a balanced federal budget; Republican George W. Bush and Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy worked hand-in-glove to craft education reform legislation.

They all sought each other out in the search for common ground. It worked. The government found a way to get things done. The outreach extends in both directions.

That’s how good government works.

Donald Trump’s approach? Bash ’em all. Democrats and Republicans alike all feel the sting of Trump’s Twitter tirade. Criticize the president on policy differences? You’d better don your hard hat to avoid getting your bell rung by rhetorical abuse delivered — of course! — via Twitter.

Trump is at it again. He calls for “national unity.” Then unleashes yet another Twitter broadside.

The president is an angry man. His anger is threatening to stall everything in Congress. He has impugned the very people he needs: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain … and on and on it goes.

Everyone has his or her limits to their level of anger. How far is Donald Trump going to take his myriad feuds with members of both parties in Congress?

I’m going to presume we’ll know when it occurs when Trump’s anger hits the proverbial wall.

Primary challenge awaits POTUS?

A version of the term “primary” has become a verb, in addition to it being an adjective and a noun.

Its verb form is used in a political contest, as in so-and-so is going to get “primaried.” Donald J. Trump, for the purposes of this blog post, is the “so-and-so” under discussion for a moment or two.

The president of the United States has managed to p** off damn near the entire Republican Party establishment with his hideous behavior and his tirade of insults against leading GOP politicians, namely those on Capitol Hill.

It’s tough, naturally, to predict any outcome as it regards this individual. He wasn’t even supposed to get elected in 2016 after a string of ghastly comments, campaign deeds and his generally acceptance ignorance of anything having to do with the federal government.

But … there he is. Sitting in the Oval Office and making an utter ass of himself, not to mention disgracing the presidency.

If this clown faces a primary challenge in 2019 and 2020 — presuming he’s still in office — how does that bode for his re-election? Recent political history doesn’t look kindly on these things.

* In 1968, U.S. Sen. Eugene McCarthy challenged President Lyndon Johnson in the Democratic primary in New Hampshire. LBJ won, but Clean Gene got a substantial vote. Then U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy entered the primary race — and LBJ bowed out. The party’s eventual nominee, Hubert Humphrey, lost the presidency to Richard Nixon later that year.

* Former California Gov. Ronald Reagan decided to run against President Gerald Ford for the GOP nomination in 1976. Ford was running for election after taking over from President Nixon in 1974. Reagan didn’t think Ford was conservative enough. The men fought for the nomination until the convention. Ford was nominated, but then lost to Jimmy Carter.

* President Carter got a challenge of his own in 1980 from U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, who thought Carter wasn’t liberal enough. Carter fought back that challenge, but then got trampled by Reagan in that year’s general election.

What lies ahead for the current president?

One of the men he beat on his way to the White House, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, was utterly appalled at the president’s remarks in the aftermath of Charlottesville. He sounds like someone who’s going to “primary” the president. He was asked directly the other day whether he intends to run for the GOP nomination in 2020. Kasich gave that classic non-answer: “Look, I have no plans to run … ”

“I have no plans” is code for: I am thinking reeealll hard about running. Actually, given that Gov. Kasich was my favorite Republican in the 2016 primary campaign, I hope he does take the leap one more time.

Trump’s poll numbers keep plummeting. He keeps stuffing both feet in his mouth. He continues to embarrass the nation that managed to elect him. And, oh yes, we have that Russia investigation proceeding with all deliberate speed.

Indeed, history is unkind to presidents who face challenges from within their partisan ranks. Will this president defy conventional wisdom yet again? 

And then there’s the 25th Amendment

The United States of America functioned for nearly two centuries before it ratified a constitutional amendment dealing with presidential succession and the appointment of a vice president.

The 25th Amendment was ratified in February 1967. It came in reaction to the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. The new president, Lyndon Johnson, served the remainder of JFK’s term without a vice president. LBJ got elected in 1964 and Hubert Humphrey joined the administration as vice president. President Truman took office in April 1945 after Franklin Roosevelt died just a month into his fourth term; Truman served nearly a full term, therefore, without a vice president.

The amendment has been used exactly once. Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973 and President Nixon appointed House Minority Leader Gerald Ford to become vice president. The new VP then settled into the Oval Office Big Chair when Nixon resigned in August 1974.

I mention this today because the 25th Amendment is getting some attention these days. It allows for a temporary replacement of the president if a majority of the Cabinet determines he is unable to continue doing his presidential duties.

Donald John Trump is in trouble. A special counsel is examining whether his campaign colluded with Russian hackers seeking to meddle in our 2016 election. There might be some issues relating to Trump’s myriad business holdings, too. Oh, and then the president declares that “both sides” were at fault in the Charlottesville riot, causing a serious rift between the White House and members of Congress of both political parties.

There have been some questions about the president state of mind, his ability to actually govern and, yes, his mental competence.

I’m not qualified to offer a psychological diagnosis, let alone from half a continent away. So I won’t go there.

The 25th Amendment is meant to ensure the executive branch continues to function even in these difficult times. Just how difficult will they become? I guess that depends on how the president responds to the mounting pressure.

I keep hearing about how angry he is getting. He’s been cutting people loose all over the place: national security adviser, gone; press secretary, gone; communications director, gone; chief of staff, gone; FBI director, gone; senior strategist, gone.

Trump popped off about neo-Nazis and Klansmen. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have effectively rebuked the commander in chief, although not by name. Congressional leaders are starting to weigh in. There might be some diehard Trumpkins among them, but the vast majority of public response has been highly critical.

Republican leaders are aghast. Never mind what Democrats think; it’s a given that they detest the president already.

In the meantime, the 25th Amendment looms as a serious talking point among the chattering class in Washington, D.C. Don’t for a single moment believe that the president is ignoring the chatter.

LBJ must be laughing loudly

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.

Bipartisan era gone forever? Looks like it

I am thinking at this moment of an earlier era when presidents and members of Congress reached across the great partisan divide to ponder their joint legislative agendas.

The thought came to me when I heard that Donald J. Trump is going to meet this week with Republican congressional leaders to talk about upcoming projects.

No Democrats need not attend. Nope! Stay away, you folks. We don’t need you.

I’ll go back a few decades for a moment.

* Lyndon Johnson needed Republicans to help him enact landmark civil-rights legislation.

* Richard Nixon needed Democrats to run interference for his environmental agenda.

* Ronald Reagan developed a great personal and professional relationship with congressional Democrats, such as House Speaker Tip O’Neill.

* Bill Clinton relied on congressional Republicans to assist in producing a balanced federal budget.

* George W. Bush sought Democratic help in crafting education-overhaul legislation. I should add that President Bush had plenty of practice working with Democrats, as he did quite well in that regard while he governed Texas and became partners with Democrats who controlled the Legislature.

That’s when it seemed to end. Barack Obama didn’t develop many relationships with key Republicans, who — lest we forget — made clear their intention to block damn near everything the president intended to accomplish. And now we have Donald Trump seeking to push through a legislative agenda with zero Democrats in his corner.

I also recall those photo ops when presidents would sign bills in front of large bipartisan gatherings of lawmakers. He’d hand out ceremonial pens left and right. They’d all clap and slap each other on the back while extolling the virtues of working together for the common good.

Do you expect to see anything like that with the current president occupying that office in the White House?

Me neither.

JFK’s life will be forever unfinished

It sounds strange to consider that John F. Kennedy would turn 100 years of age today.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the 35th president of the United States remember him as a young man who, even stranger as it seems, seemingly gets younger the older we all become.

JFK was the youngest man ever elected president in 1960. He was 43; the youngest ever to become president was Theodore Roosevelt, who ascended in 1901 to the highest office at 42 upon the death of President William McKinley.

Less than three years after taking the oath of office, President Kennedy’s life ended as he took a rifle shot on that street in downtown Dallas.

I have resisted the temptation to rank President Kennedy among the greatest who ever held that office. I consider his life to be an unfinished work. I bristle a bit at those surveys that place JFK at or near the top of such lists. How can we measure what he actually accomplished? The truth is we cannot.

I prefer to think of the president in terms of what he might have done. Even that is an exercise in futility because we cannot know with absolute certainty how history would have played out had he served the entire length of his presidency. I’ll presume he would have been re-elected in 1964. Then what? How would the Vietnam War have gone? What would he have done, say, by the end of his second term?

His life is frozen in time. For the president, it ended after just 46 years on Earth.

Still, the man’s legacy remains in large part due to the work done by those who came after him. President Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty,” his landmark civil rights legislation and, yes, the tragedy that continued to unfold in Vietnam all are part of JFK’s historical record.

I have trouble even grasping the notion of John F. Kennedy becoming an old man, let alone one who might have lived long enough to celebrate his centennial birthday.

If only he could have finished his marvelous life. JFK will remain, as the song suggests, “forever young.”