49. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and the Representative to the Council of the Organization of American States (Linowitz)1

President: Sol, how are you?

Linowitz: I’m fine, Mr. President.

President: I was talking to Morse this morning. I think the best way now that we’ve got this thing in shape where we ask the Congress to consult with us and to give us their views on what we should do in regard to this program that we brought back from the Foreign Ministers meeting. The House has expressed themselves and the Senate has said that they do not want to do anything that would go beyond saying that they would consider considering it. That’s about the best way I can read that resolution. It just says we’ll give consideration to consideration.2

Linowitz: Yes, sir. There were only nine men in that Senate who said that.

President: Yeah, but they’re the ones that are leading it, and they have more—We couldn’t get anything but a zero on our end of it. They wouldn’t either stand up or—So I told Morse that I thought that he ought to talk to Mansfield who is out in Montana and hold it up until he comes back.

Linowitz: Yes. He’s not due back till the end of the week though.

President: And I had much rather see it just—I don’t see anything to be gained by bringing it out and having a mean debate. I don’t think that—

Linowitz: I agree.

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President: I don’t think that you can get anywhere that way. And I think then we—It will destroy our ability to make any real commitment, but we can see how far they want to go.

Linowitz: Yes, sir. The only question, sir: there was talk of the possibility of getting the committee to reconsider. Do you think that—

President: I don’t believe they’ll do that. Fulbright’s an adamant man and I do not believe we can beat the chairman of the committee any more than you can beat the President on who he’s going to appoint as his appointments secretary. He’s just got that authority, and he’s got that position, he’s got that power. And this is a gesture to the Congress that a President would ask them to express themselves. Most Presidents don’t ask them—they’ve done it two or three times—but it’s generally they go on and make a commitment and treaty and send it up and negotiate without any resolutions or anything. Now if they don’t want to be consulted, I think our public position can be: we sought to consult them, we were ready to put on our hearings. We’ll know next time if we submit something, we ought to submit it by putting the amount in it and asking just for an authorization. And I thought that if we’d bring Tom Mann and Jack Vaughn and Adolph Berle and Milton Eisenhower and David Rockefeller and all these folks in for the hearings that we’ve been having up there—just arguing back and forth, and they could give the positive aspects of it—I would have thought that it would have been better, but our people didn’t think so. So—

Linowitz: Did you know that I put that actually to both Morse and Hickenlooper and both of them said that it would be a mistake.

President: Yes. Well—

Linowitz: So—I think they were wrong. I agree with you, sir, that it would have been helpful to build us a stronger record.

President: Yeah, then they could have—Fulbright couldn’t have said that we hadn’t had a hearing and we didn’t, we hadn’t presented our case. Well anyway, I don’t want us to get crossways, so I have told Mike Manatos to try to talk to Mansfield, so you ought, you and Macomber3 ought, to get with Mike. I think the best thing to do is leave it in the committee and just say: “Well the House acted on it; the Senate chose not to go further than to say that they’d give us consideration.” Now we don’t need a resolution for that.

Linowitz: That’s right.

President: If they pass it, it won’t have any more effect on the conference or on me than it would to just stay in the committee and then it would have to go to conference committee. 3

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Linowitz: At the press conference yesterday I read the latter part of your message in which you talked about your having the executive authority to do this but you wanted to go having first consulted with the Congress—and that’s exactly what you did.

President: Yeah. Well, now we’ve done that.

Linowitz: The record is clear.

President: We’ve done it. So I would try then to get a hold of our friends or talk to Morse and anyone else on the committee that would be friendly, I guess Hickenlooper

Linowitz: Yes, sir.

President: And just say: “Now it appears to us we don’t have the votes without a big fight. The President wanted to consult with the Congress. He has. They’ve had a chance to express themselves, the committee’s expressed itself, and it says in effect it doesn’t want to do anything.” So we’ll just leave it there. We’ll go on to the conference, if they don’t bomb us out down there. I’ve been very concerned about that. I don’t like these intelligence reports I read about them.4

Linowitz: Well, you know, sir, that we’ve been in close touch and— On the assumption that you’ll be arriving at 11 in the morning: there isn’t any problem that anybody can foresee before you get out of Montevideo and to Punta del Este. I agree with you that this action they’ve taken—you notice they did that to the Brazilians too. It’s just troublemakers who are hoping, I think, exactly what is happening will happen: that is people will begin to get a little worried about it. I think these, the people there don’t, the Communists there don’t want to have this conference. They think it’s not going to do them any good, and I think they’ve—We probably will get more of this, a few here and there. But from what I can gather—and I’ve been in touch with Hoyt down in Montevideo and I’ve talked to the Uruguayans here on a regular basis—if we work it as we are now planning, arriving around 11—because I guess Frei is coming in at noon and you’re coming in at 11— we’ll be out of there and into Punta del Este before the lunch hour and before any of these people are even around. So I think that’s going to work out all right. We’re at least keeping an eye on it, sir.

President: Good. I would do that. I told them to take whatever people they needed. They want to borrow some military people to [wear] civilian clothes over there. And I sure think we ought to watch that very, very carefully.

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Linowitz: Yes, sir, I agree.

President: I think that they can cause a Nixon incident5 very easy. And I heard a lot of ambassadors—I don’t know, at least their personal opinion, but I heard a lot of them at the Ranch this week6 say awful nice things about what you’re doing, and you evidently have a very good rapport with them and understanding with them.

Linowitz: Well, I do. I wish I had done better for you up at the Senate.

President: Well, we just can’t do that. That’s not you; that’s not you and I don’t think it’s me. I think Fulbright is very unhappy because he wasn’t Secretary of State, and he was this way with President Kennedy, and I had to nurse him all during the Bay of Pigs. I had him down and worked with him because he couldn’t, and then he took the position that we ought to bomb Cuba out, just the opposite of what he’s doing now.

Linowitz: Well, I can’t help the feeling that I let you down there, sir.

President: No, no. Not at all. No, we just haven’t got that situation. And I think that this will have rather serious repercussions on our whole aid program. My judgment is they just don’t have the votes there for aid this year. That’s what I’m afraid of. I think yours is the most popular of all, and if you can’t get them to commit on yours, why I don’t know what’s going to happen with the others.

Linowitz: I think that’s true. There’s one other thing, sir. I do, upon reflection, I do believe that Fulbright has chosen the worst possible place at which to take his stand.

President: Yes, I do too.

Linowitz: I just think that this was—if we could have picked a battleground, an issue on which we could say “this is how we ought to proceed, this is what we’ve done, this is a case we can make”—I don’t think we could have picked it better than this one, and that’s the one he chose to make an issue on.

President: That’s right. Now how do we get that line drawn over the country?

Linowitz: Well, I’m meeting with Max Frankel of The New York Times in about 20 minutes. What I’m trying to do is, I’ve been doing [Page 124]constantly is, at least getting to these people. I know that Walt talked to The New York Times yesterday. I was on the phone yesterday with Punch Sulzberger,7 and the editorial today is pretty good—not as good as it ought to be, but it’s pretty good. And I’m just trying to get this around to the news people so that they see this in the context. I had a good chance to talk to Scotty Reston8 before he took off. I hoped he was going to do a piece on consultation, but this is exactly what these people up on the Hill have been talking about and that no President has ever done more to give advance consultation for a meeting than what you did in this case, and for that you get blamed. I’ve been trying to do this with the people across. [sic] I was going to go on “Meet the Press” this Sunday, but I can’t, of course, because they’re going to have this strike again, but I’m trying it anyway, sir.

President: Well, I think that’s very good and I think that’s quite important. I think you ought to point out to Frankel that this barbecue thing was not a great elaborate deal that he pictured yesterday. He said five hundred people, four or five hundred people: we had a hundred and four, I think.

Linowitz: Hell, he was down there. I saw him at the press briefing yesterday and I said: “where did you get your nose count?”

President: [Laughter] And he had it very elaborate, and very outlandish, almost like a bribe, and then winding up, I thought, that way, slap-happy stuff. I thought it was a little ugly, his article. But anyway, I think that we ought to say that we have tried to consult with them, the House has given us their opinion, and Fulbright and his group have said in effect that they don’t want us to make any overtures to Latin America in this regard at this time until the Latin Americans act and then they want to take a look at it in the light of their action. Now that’s the effect of what they’ve said. So we will go, and we will listen, and that was what I told Walt to say in his backgrounder. He did, but didn’t quite get it over. I read it. The impression we’ve got to leave is to play this thing down as much as we can. We did that with Guam and we did it with Manila.9 But they play it up, and they boost it, and they say “Great Big Elaborate Conference.” Then when nothing really shocking comes out of it, then they say it’s a failure. Now that’s what they’ll do again, so you better start Frankel off and say: “Now I want you to keep these notes, so when the conference is over, you won’t say we misled you. We’re going there as we did in the Manila Conference, [Page 125]not to run it, not to ram something down their throat. The future of Latin America depends largely upon the Latins themselves; and we’re going to be an interested brother, sitting there, hearing their reports, and getting their recommendations; and we’re not going to try to force anything down them. We’re not going to try to press anything upon them. We would have liked to have been able to have said that ‘if you will do these various things that you talk about doing, then we will support you to this extent.’ But the Congress doesn’t want to do that, and we’re not going to be angry about it, not going to fight about it, not going to get into any personal brawls about it, not going to mention anybody’s name. We’re just going to make it clear that we can’t say what we want to say, what we had intended to say, but we will come back, and we will point out what they say, and then submit our recommendations again.” But let’s play it down just as much as we possibly can, and say to him that we’re just going to be a good listener.

Linowitz: May I just say, sir, two things. First, if I might suggest, I think it’s awful important not to convey the suggestion that you didn’t have, and that you don’t have, full authority to speak as President on what you would like to do when you get there, and that this isn’t interfering at all with that. What you had hoped to do was to go down there and say “not only I but the Congress gives you this assurance.” That all you can do now is say “this is what I would like to have accomplished, but, of course, I’ll have to go back and see if Congress will go along with me.” Is that appropriate to say that that’s the difference in the two?

President: Yes. Yes. Yes.

Linowitz: Because it seems to me, that one of the things that the aginners may now try to do is say this has cut off, or tried to cut off, your own executive authority, which is nonsense. And that’s the other side that troubles me a little bit, that the “worse than useless” phrase has created the impression that it’s really put a damper onto your authority to go there and do whatever you think is right. And I just think that would be inconsistent too.

President: OK. All right.

Linowitz: OK, sir.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Sol Linowitz, Tape F67.11, Side A, PNO 1. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.
  2. In a special message to Congress on March 13, President Johnson presented a proposal to increase support to the Alliance for Progress and asked Congress to show its support by approving a joint resolution before the Punta del Este conference. (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967, Book I, pp. 318–324. Although the House approved a modified version, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee rejected the resolution on April 3, opting instead for its own resolution by a vote of 9–0. A spokesman for the administration subsequently called the Senate resolution “worse than useless.” The President went to Punta del Este without a formal expression of Congressional support. (Congressional Quarterly Almanac, 1967, pp. 331–333)
  3. William B. Macomber, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations.
  4. A recent intelligence assessment judged that “the risk to President Johnson during the course of this trip will be slight—though greater than was the case with his visit to Mexico a year ago.” (SNIE 98–67, “Security Conditions in Uruguay,” March 23; Central Intelligence Agency, Job 79–R01012A, O/DDI Registry)
  5. Reference is to Richard M. Nixon’s trip to South America, April–May 1958, when demonstrators in Lima and Caracas showered the Vice President with spit and stones. For documentation on the trip, see Foreign Relations, 1958–1960, vol. V, pp. 222–248.
  6. On April 1 Johnson hosted a barbecue at his Texas Ranch for Latin American Ambassadors to the United States and the OAS, and other guests. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary)
  7. Arthur O. Sulzberger, publisher and president of The New York Times.
  8. James B. Reston, associate editor of The New York Times.
  9. Reference is to two conferences on Vietnam in Manila (October 1966), and Guam (March 1967).