Memorandum of Conversation, by the Ambassador at Large (Jessup)
Subject: Meeting at Blair House
|Postmaster General Donaldson|
|Mr. Jessup and Mr. Rusk accompanied the Secretary of State|
The President asked Mr. Acheson to lead off.
Mr. Acheson said the purpose of the meeting was to lay before the President and his advisors a recommendation by the Department of State that the President go before Congress some time in the near future to make a full report to a Joint Session of the Congress on the Korean situation. It was proposed that this report to the Congress would be followed by the introduction of a Joint Resolution expressing approval of the action taken in Korea.2 It was not proposed that the President should ask for such a resolution but that the initiative for this should come from the members of Congress. He said that Mr. McFall and others had talked to various Senators and Congressmen and that his exploration revealed a general desire for a Presidential message of this kind. This was partly due to the fact that they felt that so far only the leaders had been told what was going on. The Secretary then distributed copies of the draft resolution and read it aloud. He explained that in drafting it he had tried to avoid anything which would give rise to debate by concentrating on points on which there seemed to be general agreement. For example, the resolution proposes that the Congress commend the action by the United Stales rather than the action by the President.
The President said that is right.
Mr. Acheson said they had also eliminated from the draft resolution any reference to Formosa or Indochina. There the action was preliminary; no American boys were getting shot and the action was clearly within the Presidential powers. The Secretary then distributed copies of the draft message and read it aloud.
The President asked Senator Lucas what was his reaction to this suggestion. He indicated that Congress would not reassemble until a week from today but that he wanted to consider whether he should deliver such a message when Congress reassembled.
Senator Lucas said it was hard for him to give an opinion without consulting his colleagues.
The President said that all he was asking for was his personal opinion.
Senator Lucas said that he frankly questioned the desirability of this. He said that things were now going along well and he questioned especially the paragraph on the top of page 14 which suggests that the President may come up with further recommendations. He said that one could draw whatever conclusions he pleased as to what such Presidential recommendations might contain. He said that the President had very properly done what he had to without consulting the Congress. He said the resolution itself was satisfactory and that [Page 288] it could pass. He suggested as an alternative that the President might deliver this message as a fireside chat with the people of the country.
The President said he had reached no decision on this point. He had merely discussed it with Secretary Johnson and Secretary Acheson and wanted this round-table discussion on it.
Senator Lucas said that most of the members of Congress were sick of the attitude taken by Senators Taft and Wherry.
The President said he thought Wherry had been a little better after the consultation the other day.3
Senator Lucas said that he thought this was not the case in view of the statements which Wherry later made.4
Secretary Johnson thought that Senator Wherry’s statement was not so bad.
Senator Lucas said that to go up and give such a message to Congress might sound as if the President were asking for a declaration of “war.
The President said this was exactly the point. He said that he had not been acting as President but as Commander-in-Chief of our forces in the Far East.
Senator Lucas reported that the President would be practically asking for a declaration of war if he came up to the Congress like this. On the other hand a fireside chat with the people would be good. He said the document itself was wonderful. He would merely leave out the paragraph on the top of page 14.
The President then asked Secretary Snyder for his opinion pointing out this was a suggestion from the Department of State and that the Secretary of Defense agreed with Senator Lucas.
Secretary Snyder said that it would be a fine thing for the people to know what was in this message and to hear this statement from the President himself. He said Senator Lucas had made a good point but that the substance of the message was excellent. He agreed it was debatable whether this should take the form of a message to the Congress or a fireside chat. His first reaction was in favor of having the President make this statement in some form.
The President said that it was necessary to be very careful that he would not appear to be trying to get around Congress and use extra-Constitutional powers.
Secretary Johnson said there were some difficulties in the text that he would question; he had noted that Senator Lucas marked up his copy where it referred to Communist China, for example. He thought this was not the time for a message to the Congress but that this was a political decision.[Page 289]
The President said he didn’t want to call Congress back for this purpose.
Secretary Johnson said things were going very well and there was nothing in the message that was not already in the press. He suggested that the President wait until there were things which the public does not know and which could then be told to them.
Secretary Brannan said he thought the President could not go to the people without going to the Congress. He said that perhaps the talks with the leaders had filled the need for reporting to Congress but the real question was whether the President should now send a message to the full Congress. Such a message of course went to the people also. He questioned including in the last few pages the discussion of the diplomatic exchange with the USSR. This seemed to him to be at variance with the policy of not putting the Soviets on the spot. The less said about their machinations the better. He thought we should stick to the North Koreans and action under the UN.
The Postmaster General said that he had carefully listened to Senator Wherry’s remarks at the recent meeting. Wherry felt there should be a report to Congress and had raised the question of the President’s authority. If the President made a report like this he might be called back again and again in further explanations to the Congress. He felt the President should not go unless he had some new information or wished to make a request for some legislative action.
Senator Lucas stated that Senator Wherry was complaining because the President didn’t go to Congress before he acted. Regarding the resolution he said he was just thinking out loud but it occurred to him that if the President should call the same group together we might get their reaction and then would have no trouble in getting it through. He thought they would be unanimous.
The President said that it was up to Congress whether such a resolution should be introduced, that he would not suggest it. He said it was not necessary to make the decision today and that he too was just thinking out loud.
Secretary Pace said the legislative branch has a strong desire for participation at some time.
Secretary Snyder said that we were going along a new road and making a historical record. He thought the President should make this record clear. On this point he disagreed with Secretary Brannan. He thought the President could not wait too long for a summation. He thought the public support should be kept steady as it is today.
Secretary Matthews thought it was essential to say something to the people and not to by-pass the Congress. He was not sure as to the timing.
Senator Lucas said that he felt he knew the reactions of Congress. He thought that only Senator Wherry had voiced the view that Congress [Page 290] should be consulted. Many members of Congress had suggested to him that the President should keep away from Congress and avoid debate. He thought a debate on the resolution might last at least a week.
Secretary Johnson said that everybody in Congress wanted to pose as an expert on Constitutional law.
Secretary Finletter agreed with Secretary Snyder that we were treading new ground. If such a message were sent by the President people would feel a sense of participation. The report should stress that his one cardinal purpose is to maintain peace.
Mr. Harriman commented on the European reaction and stressed the need for close relation between the President and Congress under Presidential leadership. While things are going well now there may be trouble ahead. Regarding the paragraph on the top of page 14 which had been considered he thought people were wondering about this and that some statement should be made. He did not know that Congress would not reassemble until next Monday.5
The President said we should not call them back before they planned to return.
Secretary Acheson said no one thought of doing that.
Mr. Rusk said that clear Congressional support would help abroad. Comments by Senator Taft and Wherry are reported abroad and may raise a question of our solidarity.
Mr. Jessup stressed the importance particularly for opinion abroad having the President reiterate the facts in the situation. The statement by the President would in itself be news.
General Bradley said that he thought some report at some time was a very good idea but he wished to avoid a long debate in Congress on matters which now seemed to be taken for granted.
The President said he certainly must make a report some time but he did not want to call Congress back now. He said it was always difficult to keep 541 men informed even about legislative business. Even though he did explain matters to the leaders there were many in Congress who did not know and eventually he must report. He said his judgement was to hold up his decision for the rest of this week. He would have further consultations with the Big Four next Monday. He said he was still just thinking out loud and if there were any better suggestion he would be glad to listen to it.
Senator Lucas commented that Senator Taft was merely following his same old line. Senator Jenner’s statement in Indiana was unbelievable. [Page 291] Senator Lucas said if there should be a row in Congress that would not help abroad. He did not think that Congress was going to stir things up.
The President said this depends on events in Korea. He said that if this view met with the approval of those present he would wait until he had his talks with the leaders next Monday.
This was agreed.6
- Secretary of Agriculture Charles Brannan.↩
- Neither the draft Presidential Message nor the draft Joint Resolution is printed.↩
- Presumably this is a reference to the meeting at 11 a. m. on June 30; see the editorial note, p. 257.↩
- See Congressional Record, June 30, 1950, pp. 9537 ff.↩
- July 10.↩
- President Truman did not deliver his message to Congress until July 19; see editorial note, p. 430. No action was taken on the draft Joint Resolution.↩