President Johnson met with civil rights activist Whitney Young. During that meeting, Johnson called G. Mennen Williams, the assistant secretary of state for African Affairs and former governor of Michigan:
I want to get any ideas you’ve got on what we can do with our Negro community, too, and additional things in the field of equal opportunity, and what our goals ought to be. We’ve got to have new plans, new programs, new ideas of our own ... .
And we’re going to go all out on this civil rights bill. We’re going to give our blood, sweat, and tears. But the President did that from May to December and they hadn’t made any progress …. Now, I think we’ll win, but Howard Smith refused the Speaker even an opportunity to be heard. He said, ‘I’ll see you in January.’ And we’ve got to go the petition route and that’s a mighty hard route, as everybody knows. But we’ve got to put the Republicans on the spot. [Charles] Halleck put it on yesterday, saying, [mimicking, in a whining tone] ‘Well, we’ve got to have hearings, and the bill was rushed through.’
Rushed my ass—it was there from May till November. But he was telling how it rushed. [Everett] Dirksen was on explaining why he couldn’t quite get the job done. So we’ve got to find some way ... .”
Rules Committee Chair Smith said that he would not schedule hearings. Civil rights forces had three options to overrule Smith.
Rule 11, for example, allowed any three members of the Rules Committee to request that Smith hold a meeting. If, after three days, he had not scheduled one, a simple majority of the committee could compel a meeting at a specified date and time, to consider the bill. Because so many southerners served on Rules, however, any such move would require Republican support. House Republican leader Halleck had always resisted moves to undercut a chairman’s authority with his committee.
Calendar Wednesday provided that, on any Wednesday, the Speaker of the House could call the roll of committees in alphabetical order, and any chairman could order a bill already reported out of his committee directly to the floor. This meant, for example, that chairman Celler could have demanded consideration of the Judiciary Committee’s compromise bill. But the bill would have to be disposed of by day’s end, and eleven other committees would be called on before the roll reached “J” for Judiciary. Half of these committees were chaired by southerners who would be more than willing to run out the clock.
Finally, Smith could be outmaneuvered via a discharge petition. If a majority of the House members, or 218, signed a petition, the bill would go to the House floor.
8:45 a.m. At his first weekly Tuesday breakfast with Democratic congressional leaders, President Johnson told them that he would back a discharge petition to remove the bill from the Rules Committee.
10:15 a.m. President Johnson met with Martin Luther King Jr. The president’s briefing points suggested that Johnson discuss (1) the practical difficulties inherent in moving legislation rapidly through Congress; (2) the role black leadership could play to ensure the bill’s favorable reception on Capitol Hill by avoiding violence, as it did so effectively during the August 38 March on Washington; and (3) voter registration, employment, and the Civil Rights Commission.
In his memoir, Johnson wrote: “I spoke with black groups and with individual leaders of the black community and told them that John Kennedy’s dream of equality had not died with him. I assured them that I was going to press for the civil rights bill with every ounce of energy I possessed.”
President Johnson met with Dirksen for breakfast. Dirksen assessed the prospects for passage of HR 7152, saying the Senate “certainly would act on the bill early next year.”
Later, the president met with James Farmer, head of the Congress for Racial Equality, with 20 members of the executive council of the AFL-CIO, and with 90 members of the Business Advisory Council—all intended to gain support for the civil rights bill.
President Johnson’s Remarks at a Meeting With the AFL-CIO Executive Council
President Johnson’s Remarks to Members of the Business Council
The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights met in Washington to plan a campaign to support the discharge petition.
President Johnson continued his lobbying effort on behalf of civil rights by meeting separately with House Minority Leader Charles Halleck and with A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
The president met with the leadership of the AFL-CIO and the Business Advisory Council to lobby for the bill.
The ranking Republican on the Rules Committee, Clarence Brown (R-OH), visited chairman Smith that evening to tell him that enough Republicans on the committee would vote under Rule 11 to force a hearing on a rule to govern debate of HR 7152.
Smith reversed position and announced he would schedule hearings on HR 7152 reasonably soon after the start of the next session of Congress.
A discharge petition intended to force the Rules Committee to act was filed by Emanuel Celler, but it required the signatures of a majority—218 in 1963—of the members of the House to dislodge the bill from Rules.
Since 1932, when the current version of the discharge petition was adopted, 333 motions to discharge bills from committee had been filed. Of those, only 32 had received enough votes to be placed on the House calendar, 14 had passed the House, and just two became law.
By December 24, when the House was ready to adjourn for the year, the petition had acquired 173 signatures. Virtually all of the signers were northern Democrats.
The Republican leadership opposed the discharge petition. The only reason the liberal Democrats pursued the petition, Republicans charged, was so that they could get all the credit for getting the civil rights bill out of the Rules Committee. According to Republicans, Democrats wanted to prevent civil rights supporters across the nation from seeing that there was strong Republican backing for the bill in the Rules Committee.
Republicans attempted to force immediate House debate and vote on HR 7152 by using “Calendar Wednesday” procedures. But the efforts to force Democrats to act failed when Majority Leader Carl Albert moved to adjourn the House. His motion passed by an almost straight party vote of 214 to 166.
The Republicans had achieved their goal, however. The liberal Democrats had been forced to cast a recorded vote against “immediate” consideration of the civil rights bill in the House. When in the future Democrats charged that certain Republicans were not “really for civil rights” because they would not sign the discharge petition, the Republicans could answer that the Democrats were not “really for civil rights” because they voted against the Calendar Wednesday procedure.
Arnold Aronson, Secretary of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, sent the following telegram to Dirksen:
Dear Senator –
On behalf of the 75 organizations in the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, we urge you to vote for any amendment or support any action that will restore to the Justice Department’s appropriation bill sufficient funds to increase the personnel in the Civil Rights Division. Failure to provide the needed manpower will make it impossible for the department to carry out the increasing responsibilities it faces in trying to protect the Constitutional rights of American citizens.
In his year-end report on Congress, Dirksen acknowledged that no one was happy with the stalemate on civil rights, but he did not apologize: “Can this be regarded as inertia and indifference, or is it a proper regard by Congress for the present and future implications of a proposition which is bound to have a durable impact upon the entire Nation for a long time to come?”
Faced with a threat by members of his committee to usurp his authority, Rules Committee Chair Smith announced hearings on HR 7152 to begin January 9, 1964.
The Senate adjourned at 2:51 p.m., ending the longest session of Congress since the Korean War crisis of 1950.
At year’s end, a Newsweek poll showed that, by nearly two to one, Americans expressed no confidence in Congress, citing its inability to act on John Kennedy’s tax cut and civil rights proposals. Public support of HR 7152 stood at 62 percent. President Johnson’s popularity registered at 79 percent.