Proof that President Carter has not quite mastered the art of Congress-taming came when his lobbying efforts for unobstructed foreign aid resulted in failure, ending in a presidential exit from a meeting with more than 60 congressmen.
Whether Carter was wise to summon House members to the White House to be lobbied on a less than transcendent issue is doubted even by his own congressional supporters. That can be excused on grounds of inexperience. But his error was compounded by a blunder on the part of a vastly experienced congressman: House Majority Leader Jim Wright. During the meeting, Wright asked for a show of congressional hands supporting the President and got an embarrassing response.
At issue are amendments blocking U.S. funds to international financial institutions (such as the World Bank) for loans to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Uganda, Cuba, Angola and Mozambique. The odds are heavily against the President for the forthcoming House vote.
Some 60 House members - on both sides of the question - were surprised with invitations to meet the President Sept. 30. The obvious tactic: presidential magic to turn the situation around.
But that magic is none too potent these days. After Carter finished his speech, a sponsor of the key amendment - Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) - delivered a long rebuttal. He was followed by blunt-spoken Rep. Charles Carney (D-Ohio), who said he never liked foreign aid anyway and opposed it all the more with steelworkers being laid off in his home town of Youngstown. "I'm worried about human rights back in Youngstown," Carney said.
Rep. Silvio Conte, a liberal Republican from Massachusetts who opposes Young's amendment, rose to defend the President. "I don't know what's the matter with these Democrats who don't support you," Conte told Carter. That poisoned matters with Democrats still bristling over the President's praise of Republican congressmen a day earlier.
At that point, Wright got up - "in his best prayer-meeting style," said one Democrat - and asked for a show of hands supporting the President. Almost no hands went up. Wright then asked his colleagues to "quit fooling" and show their support. Fewer than half obeyed, and there were no converts for the President.
Carter then said, "I've got to go to another meeting," urged the congressmen to stick around to hear U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young and walked out. Some congressmen felt Carter showed irritation in leaving the meeting, but others told us he was merely keeping his schedule. At any rate, once the President was gone, the congressmen began drifting out before Young could speak.
"I would say it was at least a minidisaster," one Democratic congressman who has supported the President on the aid question told us. "But then we're getting used to those."
The hand behind Senate Democratic leader Robert Byrd's decision to put Vice President Walter Mondale in the Senate's presiding officer's chair during the Democratic civil war over ending the energy filibuster was none other than that of the Republican leader, Sen. Howard Baker.
On Sept. 29, Byrd and Baker began planning the coup to end the filibuster against natural-gas deregulation. They devised the parliamentary points of order that would kill the procedural filibuster.
On Sunday, Oct. 2, after they finished their work, Baker advised Byrd that Mondale as presiding officer should rule on the points of order the next day. "If I were you," Baker said, "I would want the Vice President here." Byrd agreed and telephoned Mondale.
The upshot: Mondale, constitutional president of the Senate, took the chair to become target for a broadside from liberals conducting the filibuster. The wounds he sustained will not heal overnight.
With one eye toward saving his old boss from humiliation, Gerald Ford's White House Chief of Staff, Richard Cheney, lobbied members of the Republican National Committee to back a moderately worded resolution opposing the Panama Canal treaties, which was adopted in New Orleans Sept. 30.
Cheney's purpose went beyond saving the pride of Jerry Ford, whose own support for the treaties has infuriated conservative Republicans. Besides helping Ford, Cheney wanted to put himself on record against the treaties. The apparent reason: a possible political future in conservative Wyoming, where Cheney now lives between trips back East as a financial adviser.
Among those lobbied was national commiteeman William Taylor of Florida, who was amazed to be called by Cheney. Cheney told Taylor that, much as he respected Ford, he was now a private citizen and wanted to register strong opposition to the treaties. He asked Taylor to vote for the moderately worded anti-treaty resolution and also protect Ford from harsher drafts rebuking the former President.