Brian Lamb: ”Today, the U.S. Senate continues as the most powerful upper house of any legislative body in the world.” What does that mean? Senate historian Richard Baker: It means that most legislative bodies have upper houses that are only rubber stamps. So the lower house passes the substance of legislation, goes onto the upper house, and the upper house kind of reviews it, and maybe they do not like it and they send it back to the lower house. And the lower house said, ”We respect your opinion, but we are going to pass it again” and then it becomes the law of the land. And I think it is only the Italian Senate and the United States Senate for sure that have absolute veto over the work of the lower body. A fundamental issue at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Major concern, you are going to have the House elected by the same people who are eligible to vote in state legislative elections. And those people can be a little impetuous in their decisions. So, we need a cooling body to review and to stop and absolutely slow down and ask. As one senator said in the 19th Century, the Senate is the place of sober second thought. And that is what the framers of the constitution had in mind.






LAMB:  What would he – I mean, he was on television a lot, Meet the Press and things like that, but what would he been like do you think?  The difference between him and Lyndon Johnson as a majority leader?

BAKER:  Well, the difference is between 1 and 100.  He was famous when he appeared on Meet the Press for going through many questions in the time available to him with his one-word answers whereas Lyndon Johnson would take a question and he would, you know, embellish it and really go in and maybe go off on a tangent here or there.  So, profoundly different styles.  But Mike Mansfield really was the product of Lyndon Johnson.  Senators when they were electing a successor to Lyndon Johnson in 1960 and 1961 did not want another Lyndon Johnson.  They wanted somebody who would make the trains run on time and kind of keep quiet, so Mansfield went about.  His philosophy was we let 100 candles flicker.  That was not really the way Lyndon Johnson approached, his concept of leadership in the Senate.  And before too long, about a year or two into his leadership, he began to get a lot of criticism from some of Johnson’s friends in the Senate.  Thomas Dodd of Connecticut, the father of Chris Dodd really blasted Mansfield one day, which caused Everett Dirksen talk about bi-partisan comedy.  Everett Dirksen became the Republican leader to come to the defense of the democratic leader saying, ”You should not talk about our leader this way.  This is sacrilegious to do that.”  And it was Mike Mansfield who then had his speech prepared that said, ”This is the way I am as a leader.  You know, you basically can take it or leave it,” and he was going to give that speech on November 22, 1963.  And of course, that was the date that John F. Kennedy was assassinated so he never gave the speech.  So when 1998 came along and it was time for this speech, part of a series of speeches by former leaders of the Senate that the Senate majority leader Trent Lott organized.  My phone rang in the Senate Historical office and it was Mike Mansfield, the guy who was also responsible for the creation of the Senate Historical office in the mid-1970s, and he said ”I’ve been asked to give a speech for this series.  What should I talk about?”  Well, I knew about the famous 1963 speech on the nature of leadership that he never gave; he did stick it in the record at that time, so I said, ”Senator, why don’t you give that.  You know, shape it a little bit” and ”Well, maybe I’ll do that.”  And he did.  And it was the first in a series of speeches on leadership that are all, by golly, the Senate website, and it was a blockbuster.  It was just magnificent.

LAMB:  We hear a lot today about how this is the meanest time in the history of the United States Senate and House of Representatives.  I want to read back to you what is in this book.  It is not something that you put in.  It has a footnote.  I think maybe Merrill Petersen wrote this.  ”Clay hated Jackson and Calhoun.  Benton hated Calhoun.  Calhoun hated Clay and Jackson.  And John Quincy Adams hated Webster.  And to complete the circle of animosity, Jackson hated Calhoun and Clay.  At times, only the dignified and artificial politeness required in Senate speech making allowed them to converse with one another at all.”

BAKER:  I looked into that.  I had not really – that was a very powerful statement, and I had not realized the hatred, just for one example, of John Quincy Adams and Daniel Webster.  John Quincy Adams called Daniel Webster a man with a rotten heart in his diary.  It was Daniel Webster who blocked John Quincy Adam’s one major aspiration in political life to be a United States senator.  And Daniel Webster did not want his other delegate – his other co-senator from Massachusetts to be John Quincy Adams, a former president who he could not manipulate and so he wanted somebody less threatening and got somebody less threatening.  For the rest of his life, John Quincy Adams resented Webster for that particular action.  They hated each other, but they also loved each other.  And it was Daniel Webster who wrote the inscription that is on John Quincy Adam’s coffin about his accomplishments.

LAMB:  They hated and loved each other?

BAKER:  It was a love and hate relationship.  It’s just spectacular.

LAMB:  Later on in the book, the next page, ”Clay himself could be savage, so could many others.  In 1832, Clay and Benton engaged in a shouting match so ugly that senators feared a fist fight on the Senate floor.”  Who was Benton?

BAKER:  Thomas Hart Benton, a democrat from Missouri.  And of course, Henry Clay was a Whig and so they were the opposing parties.  Benton was a large kind of a bullying type of man who was remembered for pulling a – for moving down the Senate aisle in 1850 against a senator from Mississippi named foot, Henry Foote.  And Foote was so intimated by the presence of Thomas Hart Benton that he pulled a silver-plated pistol out of his inner coat pocket and pointed it at Benton.  This was 1850.

LAMB:  Where?

BAKER:  On the floor of the Senate.  Currently, the old Senate chamber.  And it was Benton at that point who very theatrically opened his jacket and told other senators that were trying to put this to an end, ”Stand out of the way, stand out of the way.  Let the assassin fire.”  And fortunately, the assassin did not become an assassin and cooler heads prevailed.  But that was 1850, and members you know carried pistols and…

LAMB:  Were they ever fired in either chamber?

BAKER:  Not in the Senate and I do not think in the House.  I mean, everything short of that.

LAMB:  Do you have any idea how many senators and Congress people – they were all men at that time – carried pistols?

BAKER:  In that particular time period, maybe – you know, I do not have any hard evidence but it would not be surprising to say 20 percent or more.

LAMB:  Let me read some more.  ”Clay in debate denounced Alabama’s William King for making false and cowardly remarks to the Senate.  King promptly sent Clay a challenge and only extensive negotiation averted the demanded duel.  Clay disparaged Jackson in language so offensive that the president, in a fury, likened Clay to a drunk in a whorehouse.”

BAKER:  Those are pretty tough times.

LAMB:  But I mean, why do the people today keep saying this is the meanest Congress they have ever seen?

BAKER:  Because they have not read this book.

LAMB:  I mean, does it come close to being the meanest time?

BAKER:  It is certainly bad, no question, but it is not unusual.  It is not the first ever.  You start at the very beginning of Congress and certainly 1798, 1799, the Federals versus the Democratic Republicans, they hated each other.  You know, Thomas Jefferson said ”If we saw a member of the opposition party, we can cross the street to avoid having to tip our hat to that person and say hello to him.”

LAMB:  Do you have any idea when the duels stopped?

BAKER:  In the 1830s through the 1850s.  I mean, there was a famous dueling ground, just not far from Capitol Hill out in Bladensburg, Maryland.  And many invitations to meet me out there, you know, from one member to another.

LAMB:  A couple of lines from your book, ”Senate debates were often violent and sometimes ugly.  Clay’s mastery of vote hustling prompted Senate opponents to call him a dictator.  Benton a formidable parliamentarian despite his unmatched egotism and New York – I mean, it is amazing in the language that was used in here to describe them.  A question to you about this though.  Neil MacNeil was a journalist, you were employed in the United States Senate for 35 years.  Did you have any trouble with the adverbs, the adjectives, and all that define people in this book?


LAMB:  Why not?

BAKER:  No.  Neil MacNeil was a very good journalist with a vast command of the English language and sitting there and reading his drafts and say ”Yes, that’s right, that really gets to the heart of the matter.”  And so, I did nothing to sensor it or cool it down, I just welcomed it.

LAMB:  I gather that you wrote the story in here about the current Senate minority leader, Mr. McConnell fron Kentucky.

BAKER:  I did.

LAMB:  There is a story there about his background and how he got there and why he wanted to – can you tell us that?

BAKER:  Well, I have never known that he had a polio as a young man, young boy.  And it took a lot of courage and tenacity on his part and some help from a very determined mother to get over that and, you know, to move on and to – at one point, he was interested in becoming a historian and even today, very well read in American political history, but he had that tough decision, does he want to become an academic or does he want to become a practicing politician.

LAMB:  You say that he had a goal of becoming the majority leader of the United States Senate way back when?  What encouraged him to do that?

BAKER:  Well, he had a very fortunate summer internship with Senator John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky.

LAMB:  A liberal republican?

BAKER:  A liberal republican.  There were some, yes.  And he, you know, just soaked that up.  I mean, all the more power to internship program.  That is such a crucial time in people’s lives.

LAMB:  And then what was next for him?

BAKER:  And then he went to work for – when he graduated, went to work for another senator for Kentucky.

LAMB:  Marlow Cook.

BAKER:  Marlow Cook, right.  A republican senator from – a very telegenic, interesting gentleman and got involved in the Civil Rights Act, I believe in 1964 when he was with John Sherman Cooper.

LAMB:  How often in your experience did the senators that ended up in leadership come from staff?

BAKER:  Fairly often.  It was one of the major reasons why senators did not want to have professional staffs.  And it really was not until after World War II that they decided they absolutely needed them; they could not operate without them.  But, you know, you hire these staff and pretty soon you are going to have somebody smarter than you are, and that person will be smart enough to know that he can probably beat you in a primary. And in some cases that has happened and other cases they just succeeded their mentors.  But yes, it happens.

LAMB:  Last time we talked when you were retiring in 2009, Senator Robert Byrd was alive and he also was awaiting the opportunity to claim the longest serving member of the Congress ever, but that has already been retired.  I mean it is John Dingell.

BAKER:  Well, it depends on how you define it.  If you just say Senate, probably he will hold the Senate record.  The longest serving senator in history.  And I think that would satisfy him.  It was sort of the frosting on the cake to be able to say the whole Congress, but I think today he would smile to say ”I’ll hold on to that Senate record.”

LAMB:  Now , you write a lot about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and I do not know if you have ever seen this.  This was an interview that we did with him near the end of his life where he was asked the question about why he changed his mind on civil rights because he was very much against the bill at one point.

BAKER:  Yes.

LAMB:  I want you to react to this.



ROBERT BYRD:  Anyhow, it came to my mind at that time how I love this grandson.  And it also came to my mind that black people love their grandsons too. And I — the more I thought about it, now, suppose I were black.  And my grandson and I were out on the highways in the mid hour, the wee hours of the morning or midnight, and I stopped at a place to get that little grandson a glass of water or have it go to the restroom, and there is a sign, ”Whites Only.”  Black people love their grandsons as much as I love mine and that is just not right.  And so we, who, like myself are born in a Southern environment, grew up with Southern people, and knew their feelings and knew how they — about the Civil War and all these things.  I thought my goodness, we ought to get ahead of the curve, really.  Not have a law force us to do it, we ought to take down those signs. That is what made me come to the conclusion that if I had it to do it over again, I would vote against that — I would vote against that law.


LAMB:  You have done some work with the Richard – I mean, the Robert Byrd Center?

BAKER:  Yes, I am on the Board of Directors of the Byrd Center.

LAMB:  Up in Sheperdstown?

BAKER:  That is right.  Run by Raymond Smock who used to be historian of the House of Representatives.

LAMB:  So what do you think of that answer?

BAKER:  You know, in 1982, Senator Byrd lost his grandson, 16-year-old Jon Michael Moore in an automobile accident.  He was delivering papers early in the morning, and probably the most devastating without question, the most devastating event in Senator Byrd’s life.  That is just it.  You know, and of course he just got into the minority as minority leader.  It was a very unhappy period, but it caused him to sort of rethink his life, his contributions and where he wanted to go.

LAMB:  What will be his legacy?

BAKER:  I think it will be a significant legacy when I – you know, this book is still with Robert Byrd.  It starts with Robert Byrd and it ends with Robert Byrd.  And I did not see any other way to do that because he really brings a focus to the Senate as an institution in the 1980s.  He was interested in the majority leaders’ power to arrest senators, you know, during where they were hiding, they did not want to make a quorum during a filibuster.  And he called me in one day in 1980 and he said ”I supposed you can give me a little piece on the history of arresting senators who are hiding from filibusters,” and so I did.  And he liked it, and so he gave it as a floor speech.  And then he had some other questions on other matters of the Senate as procedure.  And before the 1980s were out, he had delivered 100 speeches like that and then they were published during the bicentennial of the Senate as a very large history of the Senate, encyclopedic history.  So, he will be remembered for that for sure.  But I think also for the conscience of the Senate, he developed, he evolved over the course of his career and to a remarkable Senate career.

LAMB:  Did he ever get mad at you?

BAKER:  One time I went into him with a great idea for, you know, a book, that he might want to work on.  And he looked at me, and ”Dr. Baker, that could be your book, but that’s not going to be my book.”  So, that was probably as close as he came.

LAMB:  Because he did get mad, I mean we saw it often in hearings.

BAKER:  Oh, absolutely.  Not at me though.

LAMB:  No.

BAKER:  We had a very cordial relationship.

LAMB:  Here is another famous name.  The building is named after him, the old Senate office building is named after him, and this is from 1952, the longines hour, that was early television and thing called chronoscope, let us watch Richard Russell.



MALE:  Do you think that it is now possible for a southerner to receive the Democratic nomination for the president?

RUSSELL:  Mr. Huey, I don’t like to think that after 90 years have intervened, and the Democratic Party has loyally supported the — been loyally supported by the south over that period that a man will be discriminated against because he happened to have been born on the wrong side of the tracks, the wrong side of the mason Dixon line.


LAMB:  Did you ever know him?

BAKER:  No.  He died in 1971.

LAMB:  And what impact did he have on the Senate?

BAKER:  Well, he had a huge impact on it while he was a member.  His lasting impact is hard to assess for sure, but there was a table, a very large table that was in office suite and the table is significant because around that table would sit members of the southern caucuses.  They ran the Senate throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and on into the 1950s.  And he presided during the end of that period over the southern caucuses.  Certainly, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he was having no part of that and it took a lot to work around his opposition, but he was certainly from Lyndon Johnson’s point of view, he was a great mentor.  Lyndon Johnson learned a lot about the Senate when he came over from the House from Richard Russell.

LAMB:  Here is another famous southerner.  This is from 1987.  He is on the floor of the Senate.  He is in a wheelchair and he has had a leg amputated, John Stennis.


JOHN STENNIS:  Thank you, Senator.  I want to highly compliment the senator from New Jersey, and the senator from New York.  It was important and rather difficult work, two at times, that they did in preparing this bill and holding the hearings and going to a good, solid, amount of difficult work at times.  It is something that we take for granted and don’t get into the facts enough as to what has been done but I want to call attention to the brothers and people at the Andersen — the work that they have done.


LAMB:  Anybody like him around anymore?

BAKER:  I do not know.  He was revered by his colleagues irrespective of their political points of view.  John Stennis, a man of great propriety.  Whenever there was an issue of ethics to be looked into, they would turn to him.  One of a kind for sure.

LAMB:  This is the second the last sentence that you wrote.  And I wonder, you did write this second to the last.  Would you write that last chapter?

BAKER:  Yes, I did.

LAMB:  Because it is called To The Future.

BAKER:  Yes, I wrote the whole chapter.

LAMB:  All right.  You said this, ”Scanning the two-plus century landscape, one will note significant change, coming in episodic and unplanned bursts, and one will note dire frustration.”  What are you saying?

BAKER:  Amen to that.  I am saying that analysts who say that the Senate is on its last days are too close to right now, and what they need to do is back up and take the longer view.  My wife read this book shortly before I sent it off to the publisher, and she looked at it and she said, ”Now, I get it.  Now I understand.  I hope everybody else thinks the same thing.” You’ve got – the Senate is profoundly a conservative, slow-moving history, tradition-based institution, and if you do not remember that, do not take that into consideration, the Senate makes no sense whatsoever.  If the Senate moves to change its rules for majority culture, huge problem – you know, it would not be the Senate anymore.   When you consider – if you rank all the states in terms of population and take the top 26 in smallest populated states, those amount to 16 percent of the population, the smallest 26 states.  They would have 52 votes in the Senate and, therefore, you know the majority.  Now, that was a great concern that the framers of the Constitution.  It has not really broken down that way.  They do not vote by states, but they could.

LAMB:  A couple of weeks ago, we were running a hearing with Barbara McCloskey from Maryland in the chair and she read a tweet.  She had gotten to saying that somebody had accused something on CSPAN as they were watching the hearing and not letting somebody talk.  And she answered it right there.  is that good or bad for the Senate?

BAKER:  You know, for many years, from the time television came to the Senate in 1986, there was a prohibition against laptops and BlackBerry’s in the Senate chamber just for that reason.  People are going to be responding and any constituent can, you know, immediately have contact with the floor of the Senate.  I do not think it is a very good thing.

LAMB:  But is it good for the citizen to be able to get that far or that close to the senator?

BAKER:  No, I do not think so.  I think that citizenry nowadays gets very close to the senator through his or her office.  A senator voted recently for cloture on the immigration legislation and then ultimately voted against it.  The senator from a southern state – the senator within a matter of minutes was deluged with death threats, with the worst possible kinds of message.  They are getting very close to that senator just through that senator’s office.

LAMB:  You said the last time you were here that you wanted to write a book about the communication between the constituent and the senators.  I wondered if you have gotten any closer to that idea?

BAKER:  It’s a – No, I have not.  I have not.  It would be a very hard book to write.  It would require a lot of, you know, research in a lot of senatorial papers.

LAMB:  What else do you have to do?

BAKER:  I have another book I want to write.  I am not quite sure what is it going to be, but it is probably not going to be that one.

LAMB:  What do you think it would be now?  Just right now, what do you think?

BAKER:  Oh, I would like to do a book about the relationship of maybe two senators, two very powerful senators, probably sometime in the past.  Where there are good documentary records and just get a sense of how that went and how that relationship had an impact on the making of the laws that people on this station…

LAMB:  And I bet you have already picked those two out, have you?

BAKER:  Well, I have some thoughts, I do, but I need to run it up the flagpole.

LAMB:  We will leave it to next time.

BAKER:  All right.

LAMB:  Retired since 2009 but not without busy days.  Richard Baker, our guest co-author with Neil MacNeil, now deceased since 2008, a book called The American Senate:  An Insider Story.  We thank you for joining us.

BAKER:  Thank you, Brian, very much.


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