Just before last summer's close vote on the Panama Canal treaty, thensenator James Abourezk learned energy czar James Schlesinger was holding secret White House meetings to lobby members of the House-Senate natural gas conference committee. A foe of natural gas deregulation, Abourezk was furious that he (and the public) was excluded from the closed-door huddles. So the South Dakota Democrat announced he was rethinking his original support of the Panama Canal agreements.
When Jimmy Carter called to discuss the change of mind, Abourezk spoke to the president with some asperity:
"I'm so upset that when I woke up at 3:30 this morning to take a pee, I couldn't get back to sleep," Abourezk recalls in an article scheduled to appear in the March issue of Playboy. "And the longer I lay in bed, the madder I got about the secret meetings you and Schlesinger are sponsoring at the White House. Finally, at 5 this morning, I got up and wrote a speech denouncing the meetings and announcing my intentions to vote against the treaty."
"Now, Jim," Abourezk remembers the president saying, "if you ever have trouble sleeping at night like that again, just call me up. You can always talk to me if something like this is bothering you."
Abourezk was unable to control his laughter until he realized, he says, that the president was absolutely sincere .
He eventually agreed to support the treaty, though a White House lobbyist sat in his office the day of the vote.
At one point, Abourezk proposed that the president's man cut cards with him. If he lost the cut, Abourezk said he'd vote for ratification of the treaty; if he won, the president would "have to castrate"
Schlesinger, whom Abourezk considers "the world's most arrogant elitist." The lobbyist reportedly declined to cut the cards.
Footnote: Abourezk also tells of attending a meeting of Wyoming sheep growers shortly after the Nixon administration banned the use of coyote poison. The growers were angry, and Interior Secretary Rogers Morton attended with a government biolagist to explain why outlawing the poison was more important for the nation than protecting herds of sheep.
The biologist said a new poison had been developed that would sterilize male coyotes, thus reducing the population of the predators.
"Mr. Secretary," an angry rancher shouted, "you've got this thing all wrong. These coyotes ain't -- ing them sheep, they're eatin' 'em!"