21. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for Congressional Relations (Harlow) to President Nixon1

    • Congressional Status of ABM Issue

Careful analysis of the immediate situation in the Senate strongly indicates:

The ABM system advanced by LBJ has no chance whatsoever;
Even a modified system can now be passed only with maximum effort, including all-out Presidential participation.

We estimate that right now in the Senate the modified plan would lose by 58–42. Dick Russell believes even a modified system doesn’t have a chance. John Cooper and Chuck Percy, ardent opponents, claim up to 54 votes against. UPI reports (March 8) 46 against, out of 91 responding. AP (March 9) reports 47 against out of 100. Both report 25 to 30 more undecided. AP shows only 24 in favor; UPI only 20. Over a third of the Republicans have stated they are opposed.

Your own Senate leaders are divided. Dirksen and Tower are the only ones categorically for. Allott is weakly for; Young, likewise. Scott will go only for a prototype system advocated by Russell and Young. Margaret Smith is flat against. The House situation is considerably more encouraging. We think a modified system could pass the House.

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I emphasize that the foregoing bleak prospect exists because opponents have had a field day, lacking Administration counterforce. It is reasonable to assume that a careful exposition of Administration views will influence numerous Senators. Of the 58 Senators we now expect to oppose, only 40 appear to be fixed in opposition. The remaining 18 may well be susceptible to Administration arguments if they are cogently and powerfully advanced.

It is important not to under-estimate the impact of all-out Presidential involvement. If you present this system forcefully to the country and the Congress as imperative for the national security, the impact on Capitol Hill is bound to be heavy.

You may recall that we won fights of this kind before in 1958 (National Defense Reorganization) and 1960 (Landrum–Griffin Act) by allout use of Presidential influence. I dare say this can be done again—but only if you are willing to invest greatly in the effort.

If it is your decision to proceed with a modified plan, I envision a launching along the following lines:

Announce it late Thursday2 afternoon to a specially called bipartisan leadership meeting;
Immediately on the heels of this meeting, address the nation on the necessity of this program for the security of the United States;
On Friday begin Pentagon briefings of the press, affected Congressional committees, and interested civilian groups;
Beginning the following Monday, an extensive mailing of personal letters over your signature to influential leading citizens around the country requesting their active support in their communities and with Congress;
Your staff be directed to identify suitable forums and occasions for you to drive home week after week your determination to obtain Congressional approval of this program—such as, for example, your Business Council dinner; national organizations convening in Washington; press conference statements; using White House visitors to transmit your message to White House press; publicized meetings with Congressional groups; use of members of your Cabinet and other top Administration officials to carry the message across the country. Press backgrounders would be an adjunct of this program to build public support.

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My belief is that, given a total effort, you would prevail in the Congress—but even with this it would be a very tough fight. As you know, the Congressional issue is now being deliberately broadened beyond the ABM. It is being increasingly presented as a military versus social need.3 Senators Kennedy and Mansfield will probably do their best to make this a party issue—and many believe it is an issue that will be ridden into the 1972 election campaign.

I understand there are alternatives to the present or modified systems—for example, a prototype approach, with active R & D. I would recommend that, unless it is determined to pull out all stops and go into this fight determined to win it and determined also to put such time as necessary against it, the fight should not be undertaken. But if the decision is to go full tilt, I think you would win.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 843, ABMMIRV, ABM—Memoranda. No classification marking.
  2. Because of the Congressional reception, perhaps Friday is better. [Handwritten footnote in the original. Thursday was March 13.]
  3. Daniel P. Moynihan, Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, offered similar advice in a memorandum to Nixon on March 11: “You will not be able to give the Mayors the money they need, much less the minorities, et al. ABM is not an expensive weapons system, but it is being depicted as such, and will be blamed for the ‘failure’ to solve the ‘urban crisis.’ “Turning to Vietnam Moynihan continued, “So far, it is not ‘your’ war. But if you should make a ‘hawkish’ move on ABM, I fear your enemies will be able to make it ‘your’ war, as there is clearly a strong association between these issues in public opinion of the moment. Conversely, a ‘dovish’ move on ABM might very well buy you the time you need to get out of those swamps.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 843, ABMMIRV, Sentinel ABM System, Vol. I) Copies of Moynehan’s memorandum were sent to Kissinger and Ehrlichman. Kissinger’s copy indicated that he had seen it. (Ibid.)