Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) stalked out of the White House yesterday after a dispute with President Carter over the Humphrey-Hawkins full-employment bill.
The confrontation occurred during a meeting of the president, Vice President Mondale and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, one of the most influential black groups in the city.
According to congressional and White House sources, Conyers walked out after Carter rejected his call for a "Camp David summit conference" on unemployment and after two particularly heated exchanges with Mondale over who should be blamed in the event the legislation, named for the late senator Hubert H. Humphrey (D-Minn.) and Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Calif.), is not enacted his year.
Rep. Parren J. Mitchell (D-Md.), head of the black caucus, quoted Conyers as saying as he left that as a "loyal Democrat" he should be able to propose a legislative strategy without "his integrity being challenged or his loyalty being questioned."
The dispute erupted during one of the series of meetings the president has held withe the black caucus, one of his key links to black voters.
The so-called Humphrey-Hawkins full-employment bill would establish as a national goal reducing the overall unemployment rate to 4 percent by 1983. The black caucus has assigned the bill top priority. The measure received the administration's support after being watered down from its original form.
White House and congressional sources gave similar, although not identical, versions of what happened during the 35-minute meeting yesterday.
According to these sources, during the discussion of legislative strategy, Mondale stressed that the key to the bill's chances of passing is held by Senate Republicans. Unless they agree to a vote at a specified time, the Democratic leadership will not bring the bill to the floor for fear it will provoke a filibuster, threatening other key pieces of legislation in the closing days of this congressional session.
Carter and Mondale, the sources said, suggested that caucus members and their allies approach the Senate GOP leadership to see if an agreement for a vote could be reached.
Conyers however, countered by saying that if the bill is not enacted this year it will be "perceived" as a failure on the part of the president and the administration. He then proposed a summit conference on the issue.
The White House version is that Conyers called for "a meeting at Camp David" meaning an actual meeting at the Maryland presidential retreat, site of the 13-day Middle East summit conference. Mitchell and other caucus members insist that Conyers suggested a "Camp David-style" summit, to emphasize the importance of the issue and not necessarily the location of the talks.
The president turned down the idea, saying it would not be "appropriate" and suggesting that Conyers proposal for a summit might not be representative of the feelings of the black caucus, sources said.
They said Mondale reacted strongly to Conyers comments about the likely perception of a Humphrey-Hawkins defeat as a White House failure and that he told the Detroit Democrat he resented the implication. Both Carter and Mondale, the sources said. Stressed the effort the White House has put behind the bill's passage.
According to one White House participant at the meeting. Conyers appeared to be suggesting that he intended to blame the White House if the bill died in the closing days of the session. When Conyers raised the subject a second time, the source said, "Mondale got really incensed."
It was then that Conyers stalked out and made the comments about integrity and loyalty, sources said.
After the meeting, White House officials and caucus members sought to diminish the importance of Conyers' walkout.
"John is a very aggressive individual," said Hawkins. "He may feel more needs to be done by the administration. I think a lot more needs to be done by all of us."
Carter has had uneasy relations with some black leaders since the beginning of the administration. Blacks contributed heavily to his election victory and there is a feeling among some black leaders that the White House has not responded sufficiently to that level of support. Specifically, there still are lingering doubts in some quarters about the extent of Carter's commitment to Humphrey Hawkins.
The president's relatively regular meetings with the caucus have been an attempt to maintain communications with black constitutents and convince black congressional leaders of the administration's good intentions.
Mitchell told reporters on Capitol Hill yesterday that he believes there are enough votes to shut off a Senate filibuster on Humphrey-Hawkins if the administration will just force the issue.
"In light of all the talk about creating 4 million new jobs, there has got to be a lot of game-playing going on because blacks are left where we started." he said.
Mitchell said about 200 black leaders from around the country are to meet in Washington later this week and will discuss Humphrey-Hawkins ward the measure. The president is and the administration's attitude to scheduled to address the black caucus annual dinner here Saturday night.
White House officials said they know of no charges in Carter's speaking plans.