124. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations (Bennet), the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations (Beckel) and the White House Congressional Liaison Aide (Thomson) to the Assistant to the President (Jordan) and the Assistant to the President for Congressional Liaison (Moore)1



Last Tuesday2 at the leadership breakfast, Senator Byrd confirmed his intention to make Panama the first order of business in the second session. It is, therefore, imperative that we adopt a public affairs and legislative plan for the final phase of the Canal Treaty fight. Outlined below is a plan that you should review. Feel free to make comments and suggestions. A revised draft should then be offered to Senator Byrd for comment to ensure that we are all on the same track.


A. Vote Count

Presently, we can see approximately 55–57 votes for the Treaties. There are perhaps 35 against or leaning against, many of whom will [Page 342] be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to move. (See Attachment for updated count.)3

B. The Climate

There are several factors working in our favor at the moment. The Majority Leader’s trip to Panama4 had a marked positive influence. Trips by others who may be less favorably inclined towards the Treaties will also be useful in broadening their perspectives and impressing upon them the importance of the Treaties to Latin America.5

We also have an active working Senate staff group headed by Dick McCall in Senator Humphrey’s office. A number of Senators (e.g., Morgan, Hollings, Weicker, Matsunaga, Hatfield, Hayakawa) are making speeches in favor of the Treaties.

Several factors are also working against us. Senate mail in favor of the Treaties has picked up, but the count is still strongly against. News stories have appeared with vote counts more pessimistic than our own. Senators supporting the Treaties are still not organized into a cohesive working group. Sentiment is growing that the Treaties will have to be substantially altered by the Senate to pass. Since the Byrd trip, there have been no additional events or news stories to indicate progress toward support for ratification. Finally, it appears that Senator Humphrey will be unable to play as strong a role during the debates as he would like.

At this time, there is little movement in the Senate for or against the Treaties, since energy is the overriding concern. Most Senators feel that this issue is far down the road (i.e., next year) and are not actively involved with Panama. Pressure is increasing from both sides on Senator Baker, since all realize his decision on the Treaties will be crucial.

The present equilibrium will be disrupted when the Treaties are about to be reported. Minority members of the SFRC—particularly Baker and Griffin—will be forced to choose sides and justify their positions with fresh arguments, hopefully in favor. The first fights over amendments will occur in the Committee. The attitude of non-SFRC Senators will be heavily influenced by (a) the momentum Senators Byrd, Baker and others may decide to build before the Committee reports, (b) the force of the SFRC’s action and (c) accompanying support from the Administration and public spokesmen.

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At the leadership breakfast, Senator Byrd indicated he wants Chairman Sparkman to report the Treaties out this year. White House Liaison met with Byrd shortly thereafter and raised three problems with that idea:

First, an early SFRC vote would force an early decision by Senator Baker who is certainly inclined to wait until next year. A strong push could easily result in a no vote. Second, the SFRC plans a trip to Panama in January before marking up the Treaties. Third, the Armed Services Committee has been led to believe the SFRC will not report the Treaties until after its own January hearings.6

The Majority Leader indicated he would check all three of these objections before pursuing Sparkman further on an early vote. We believe he will find it impossible to have the Committee mark up the Treaties this year.

We can, however, expect that the Committee will act immediately next year. Markup should take no more than five days. Thus, the Treaties could be on the floor during the first week of February. Of course the only real lobbying time we will have prior to this is the remainder of this year prior to completion of energy and the days after January 19 when the Senate reconvenes.

It is impossible to predict the length of the debate. If final passage seems likely, both supporters and opponents may find protracted debate on such a no-win issue unattractive. If the issue is in doubt, opponents who see a chance to embarrass the Carter Administration may try to prolong the debate. Three weeks seems a likely minimum, but this could be extended substantially in the likely event that we are faced with a blizzard of amendments. Much will depend on how the leadership chooses to deal with these amendments.


A. Committee Markup—SFRC

State Department Congressional Liaison will continue to take the lead in dealing with the SFRC during markup. The White House will be involved where necessary.

A large majority of the Committee and its staff support the Treaties. Senators Baker, Griffin and Stone are question marks. Our objective should be unanimous support by the SFRC, because support from Baker, Griffin and Stone would produce decisive momentum on the floor. This will almost certainly require some Committee amendments, [Page 344] but Committee amendments are probably inevitable in any case. Obviously we will want as few amendments as possible in Committee, consistent with the unanimity objective, thereby reserving acceptable amendment opportunities for picking up votes on the floor.7

The first task will be to get a realistic assessment from the Committee on the number and substance of amendments that it is likely to report with the Treaties. The Administration must continue to oppose all amendments, which means that negotiating will have to be done by favorable Senators. However, it is possible for us to offer “technical drafting assistance” in selected cases to make amendments less objectionable, as long as it is clearly understood we oppose the amendments even in revised form and will lobby against them. It must be made clear that we absolutely cannot accept any amendments even as reservations or understandings which would require Panama to resubmit the Treaties to a vote by plebiscite. Lobbying against amendments that seriously alter Treaty language should begin as soon as possible.

B. Armed Services Committee Hearings

As mentioned above, the Armed Services Committee plans to hold hearings in January. Chairman Stennis has not decided on the length of the hearings, but his staff is clearly thinking ambitiously. Pressure must be brought on Stennis to limit his hearings and complete them before the SFRC markup. Senator Byrd, with Senator Sparkman, should work on Stennis over the next couple of weeks to secure an agreement on this. Action has begun on the score during the McClellan funeral.8

C. Preparation for Floor Action (December 1 through Adjournment)

The next three weeks should be devoted to personal contact with Senators by White House and State Congressional Liaison to:

(1) get an accurate appraisal of each Senator’s position;

(2) determine areas of concern and appropriate pressure points;

(3) solicit support or pledges of neutrality.

This program will begin today with daily reports through Frank to the President. There will be recommendations for follow-up contact by the President or high Administration officials, if necessary.

Additionally, with Senator Byrd’s approval, the Senate support group headed by Senator Hollings should be convened next week. This group should work with us and Senator Byrd on identifying potential Senate supporters and in obtaining neutrality agreements from those Senators who are not yet ready to commit and who are susceptible to [Page 345] political pressure over the recess, e.g., DeConcini and Ford. The Senate support group should also begin formulating a floor strategy with particular emphasis on dealing with obstructionist tactics which the opposition will employ during the debate. This group should meet at least twice with White House and State Congressional Liaison and once with the President before the Christmas holidays.

We will continue working with the staff group, particularly in identifying potential amendments to the Treaties and devising arguments, both political and substantive, against the amendments. Staff will be helpful in drafting rebuttals to Treaty opponents for insertion in the Congressional Record.

D. Floor Strategy

The Senate will take up the Treaties as a Committee of the Whole. The legislative procedures are very complicated and have varied precedents, but in recent years, the sequence has been:

1. The Senate convenes in a Committee of the Whole and takes up the Treaties as reported from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with Committee amendments expressed in recommended report language.

2. Amendments from the SFRC are the first amendments considered in the order they are presented by the Committee.

3. Additional amendments are then considered in the order that they are brought up in the Committee as a Whole. Historically, the Committee of the Whole read the Treaties article by article, and non-Committee amendments to articles were considered as each article was raised. This is a long and time-consuming process and has not been employed since the Second World War. However, on these Treaties we can expect the opposition to demand this procedure. There is no limit to the number of amendments to each article prior to the filing of a cloture petition. Cloture may eventually be necessary on this debate.

4. The Committee of the Whole votes on the Treaties as amended and reports them to the full Senate.

5. In a pro forma vote, the full Senate votes on the Treaties as reported from the Committee of the Whole.

6. Both Treaties will be voted on together.

Amendments to treaties are passed by a simple majority. Obviously, these Treaties will not pass without amendment. Many Senators will only be able to justify a vote for the Treaty if they have forced Panama and the Administration to accept restrictive amendments.

Therefore, the State Department should have on hand reasonably acceptable versions, where possible, of all major amendments to be [Page 346] offered.9 The leadership can offer these as alternatives to unacceptable amendments. It will be necessary for us to oppose these amendments we have drafted in order to preserve the credibility of a vote “against” the Administration. A vote “against” us on some amendments is the only politically viable approach for many Senators. The bottom line for all these amendments is whether they are acceptable to Panama politically and whether Panama can legally accept the amendments without a new plebiscite.

E. Organization

We must mobilize all available Senate and Administration resources for the Treaty fight. This will require active day-by-day guidance from the leadership, plus a very deliberate organization of tasks and resources. The actual organizational structure should be worked out with Senator Byrd, but here are some of the obvious components:

Tasks Resources
Strategy & tactics Leadership, Committee/floor managers, key Senators, White House, State
Committee management Committee manager SFRC staff supporters
Floor management Floor manager & staff
Floor support Key Senators, Senate staff group, State
Information/drafting State, DOD
Intelligence Leadership, Senate staffs
Policy Amendments White House/State
Lobbying Key Senators, White House, State
Whip Counts (general plus specific amendments) Leadership, White House, State, Senate staff


A. President’s Media Appearance

There has been a great deal of debate over the timing of the President’s television address, as well as numerous suggestions from the Hill on format. Senator Byrd has encouraged the President to go on television in early January and then again during the floor debate.10 [Page 347] The Speaker suggests the talk not take place until after energy is completed.11 If the address is made in early January, it would have the advantage of being the first major policy statement of the New Year and could be a good foundation to launch into the Senate debate.

On the other hand, a great many others on the Hill argue that we must begin educating the American people on the terms of the Treaty. The sooner this is accomplished, the sooner the political heat will die down. Additionally, there is a growing belief that the President is not committed wholeheartedly to the Treaties and an earlier address could lay this issue to rest. Obviously, we must also deal with the networks since they are stingy with air time.

We think the following plan would be the best way to proceed. The President should conduct a town meeting in mid-December, inviting questions on Panama, energy and SALT. He should then have a “Fireside Chat” or oval office speech on the eve of the Senate debate.12

The town meeting format in mid-December would not reach as large an audience as a “Fireside Chat”, but it has several advantages:

1. Many say it is the President’s most effective forum.

2. The December date could silence critics who say the President is not acting early enough.

3. It preserves the option of a more formal, nationally televised speech just prior to the Senate debate.

4. By taking questions on Panama and energy, the President cannot be accused of deemphasizing the latter at a critical stage in the Congressional process. In fact, he would have an opportunity to comment publicly on progress of the conference committees.

5. The town meeting would receive maximum press attention, possibly national television coverage for the entire event. This possibility would be greatly enhanced if the town meeting were held in hostile territory and tough questions were guaranteed.

6. It would present a chance to help two key Senators by having the meeting in their State.

7. It would convince the Hill and the American people that the President is willing to face the public on this issue in the most direct way.

8. Because the mid-December date is virtually upon us, it would take opponents by surprise and give them little time to organize a counter-event.

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9. It would be conducted in the Christmas season when peace and goodwill prevail.

We suggest Louisville, Kentucky, as the location. Senators Ford and Huddleston are both key to our efforts. Kentucky has a traditional relationship with the Canal Zone since the Federal judge is appointed from Kentucky. Most Kentuckians oppose the Treaties, so the President could not be accused of preaching to the choir. However, the city’s major newspapers favor the Treaties. In addition, it is only a short flight from Washington, and the Carter organization could be counted on for help.

After the town meeting we should seek statements of support from both Democratic and Republican Senators whom we know to be favorable but have remained publicly uncommitted. This will require some arm twisting since support before Christmas exposes Senators to political heat over the recess.

B. Other Initiatives

In addition to the President’s appeal, continuing efforts by private organizations to develop grassroots’ support for the Treaties in targeted states is essential. More friendly Senators should be mobilized in this effort. There still is little visible sign—i.e., mail—of support for the Treaties on the Hill. It is essential that this happen. If we get nothing else out of the Citizens’ Group or other support groups, we must get mail.

Additionally, we should recommend opinion leaders who might contact individual Senators over the recess. These could include both home-state and national figures.

Whatever we decide, we should keep in mind that constant pressure must be kept on Senators while they are away from Washington to avoid losing fence-sitters, and to keep up the impression that we are making progress.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Papers of George D. Moffett, Box 7, (Memoranda—White House, 6/14/77–3/27/78). No classification marking. Carter initialed the top-right of the memorandum and wrote: “Ham—let’s have a top staff meeting c¯ the VP & me on this.”
  2. November 29.
  3. Not attached.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 119.
  5. An unknown hand highlighted this paragraph.
  6. An unknown hand highlighted this paragraph.
  7. An unknown hand highlighted this sentence.
  8. An unknown hand highlighted this sentence. Reference to Senator John L. McClellan (D-AK) who died on November 28.
  9. An unknown hand placed a checkmark next to this sentence in the right margin.
  10. Carter highlighted this sentence and placed a checkmark in the right margin.
  11. See footnote 3, Document 114.
  12. Carter highlighted this paragraph. See footnote 6, Document 99 and footnote 4, Document 125.