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Cabinet Members From Congress
By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, January 12, 2001
Question: When was the last time a president did NOT pick a sitting senator or House member to be in his Cabinet, thus inducing special elections? Nat Atkins, Mechanicsville, Va.
Answer: You'd have to go back to Dwight D. Eisenhower's election in 1952 for the last time a newly-elected president failed to pluck a sitting member of Congress to join his administration unless you include the selection of Sen. Richard Nixon (R-Calif.) as his running mate. The fact that George W. Bush has also refused to fill a post from Capitol Hill is no surprise, given that he was not about to jeopardize his party's narrow majorities in the House and Senate. For the same reason, any attempt by Bush to name a sitting Democratic member would more than likely have been rejected as well.
The following is a list of newly-elected presidents since Ike who went to Congress for Cabinet or other administration jobs. I am excluding reelected chief executives, such as Eisenhower in '56, Nixon in '72, Ronald Reagan in '84 or Bill Clinton in '96, because for the most part members of their Cabinet simply stayed in office. I'm also excluding Lyndon Johnson, who became president under tragic circumstances and kept a large number of John Kennedy's Cabinet officials in his administration. Naming a member of the House automatically results in a special election, as vacancies there cannot be filled by appointment, unlike the Senate. As the list below shows, many of those selected from Congress saw their seats won by the opposite party:
BILL CLINTON (1992):
GEORGE BUSH (1988):
RONALD REAGAN (1980):
JIMMY CARTER (1976):
Secretary of Defense - Rep. Melvin Laird (R-Wis.). Republicans lost the seat in a special 1969 election to Democrat David Obey.
Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare - Lt. Gov. Robert Finch (R-Calif.). Rep. Ed Reinecke (R) was appointed to succeed Finch. The GOP retained Reinecke's House seat.
Director, Office of Economic Opportunity - Rep. Donald Rumsfeld (R-Ill.). Seat retained by the GOP.
U.S. District Court Judge - Rep. James Battin (R-Mont.). Republicans lost the seat in a special 1969 election to Democrat John Melcher.
JOHN KENNEDY (1960):
Question: If the D.C. elector who cast a blank ballot as a protest had voted for Al Gore as she was supposed to have done, would there have been a tie in the electoral college? Why hasn't more been made of this? Why didn't the Democrats pressure her to vote for Gore? Patti Gandolfini, Park Ridge, N.J.
Answer: Bush won the electoral college vote 271-266, one more than the required majority of 270. Barbara Lett-Simmons, the errant D.C. elector, was protesting the District's lack of a vote in Congress. Had she voted for Gore, it still would have put him three votes shy of victory, so her vote really didn't make a difference. "No way would I jeopardize Al Gore being president of these United States," she said.
Question: Can you please give a breakdown by party on how all senators and congressmen voted on the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Wayne Bennett, San Diego, Calif.
Answer: The measure passed the House on Feb. 10, 1964, by an overwhelming margin of 290-130. Democrats supported the bill 152-96, Republicans by 138-34. Filibusters in the Senate, led by Southern Democrats, kept the measure from coming to a vote in that chamber until June 19, 1964, when it finally passed by a 73-27 tally. Democrats supported it 46-21, Republicans 27-6. Democrats voting against it: Hill (Ala.), Sparkman (Ala.), Fulbright (Ark.), McClellan (Ark.), Holland (Fla.), Smathers (Fla.), Russell (Ga.), Talmadge (Ga.), Ellender (La.), Long (La.), Eastland (Miss.), Stennis (Miss.), Ervin (N.C.), Jordan (N.C.), Johnston (S.C.), Thurmond (S.C.), Gore (Tenn.), Walters (Tenn.), Byrd (Va.), Robertson (Va.), and Byrd (W.Va.). Republicans voting against it: Goldwater (Ariz.), Hickenlooper (Iowa), Cotton (N.H.), Mechem (N.M.), Tower (Texas), and Simpson (Wyo.).
Question: Whom did Nelson Rockefeller defeat in his four elections for governor of New York? Were any of those races close? Why do you think Rocky didn't get the GOP nomination for president in 1968? Had he made any statements about how he would handle the Vietnam War? Michael Pacholek, East Brunswick, N.J.
Rocky's dominance of New York politics, which began in 1958 when he rescued a party that was being decimated elsewhere in the country, was not duplicated on the national scene. Much of it had to do with the direction of the national Republican Party in the post-Eisenhower period. Conservatives, weary over what they called Ike's style of "me too" governing, decided to wrest control of the party after Richard Nixon's loss in 1960. By 1963-64 they had in effect taken over the GOP and had all but guaranteed the presidential nomination for Barry Goldwater.
Rockefeller, on the other hand, had his own problems. He raised taxes shortly after his election in '58. In 1962, he ran for reelection with a campaign promise not to raise taxes in his next term, a promise that lasted less than a year. His bid for the 1964 presidential nomination was not helped by his 1962 divorce and '63 marriage, and during the primaries he was called a "wife swapper." And his fiery speech at the '64 national convention in San Francisco, in which he attacked the GOP's "far right," was met with a chorus of boos from the delegates. When he ran for a third term in 1966, he pledged not to seek the presidential nomination in 1968.
Events have a way of changing things. In February of '68, with the collapse of the candidacy of Michigan Gov. George Romney, moderate Republicans begged Rocky to get into the race. But in a surprise announcement three weeks later, Rockefeller declared he would not seek the nomination, saying that Richard Nixon had a nearly insurmountable lead in delegate strength. He added that he was open to a draft, but would not do anything to make it happen.
Then, in a period of just five days, there were two bombshells that shook the country: President Johnson announced he would not run for reelection, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Until that time, Rockefeller sidestepped specifics on national issues, including dealing with the Vietnam War. But then he began to speak out, and finally declared his candidacy on April 30, saying he changed his mind because of "the gravity of the crisis that we face as a people." The next day he gave his first major policy speech on Vietnam, calling the effort a failure and urging a departure from the "Americanization" of the war. He later issued a peace-plan in which he said the war could end in six months. But he never made much headway with Republican delegates, who chose Nixon on the first ballot.
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