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Nearly two centuries ago the new constitution of a new nation was read and proclaimed in the Town Halls of America. Legislative powers here and granted shall be vested in my Congress of the United States. Consists of my Senate and House of Representatives. The House of Representatives shall be composed. These were the words that gave birth to one of the three branches of our government the legislative branch or the needs as own nation has grown what has become of this branch of the governmental tree branch of this what is the status of your Congress today. Your Congress today is recorded by a university radio and television service under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in
cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. Here is your narrator. Gone are the Liberty Bell has lost its resonance and the many town hall bells ringing out the message of government have ceased to toll a new bell rings for America. Listen. This is the bell any tourist to our nation's capital can hear resoundingly through the corridors of our Capitol building. This is the bell which summons your congressman to his voting chamber. When he arrives there why does he vote the way he does. To him of what importance are you the voting constituency whom he represents Of what importance are his party the special interest groups the president the Supreme Court and the administrative agencies of government. On today's program we consider the fourth of these six potential influences on his legislative behavior. That is the role of his president or chief executive. To get a glimpse of the relationship between members of Congress and the president I talked with two
Congressman Senator Richard Russell of Georgia and Representative Joseph Markey of Massachusetts. My first interview was with Senator RUSSELL chairman of the Armed Services Committee of the Senate. Senator RUSSELL and what various ways does the president communicate his legislative desires to the Congress. Well the historic way of caution a message usually in the state of the Union message he deals in broad outline with the different phases of his program and then he will send in a message from time to time that will go more into his desire. In detail that is a Oldman obvious way then of course there are other approaches such as calling members of Congress over the phone to discuss with them and having private conversations with the leadership and with those that are most closely connected with the legislation such as the chairman of the committee to which the legislation will be referred.
I say I've heard the term used executive bills other actually have bills or resolutions drawn up by the executive department. Oh yes in recent years the Congress has resorted to more than more to considering only bills that are drafted in the executive agencies and forwarded to the Congress. I don't regard that as a very pleasant situation but it is undoubtedly true and it has really been very mark for the last 20 25 years. Well even with this particular practice during the last decades. Don't these bills have to be sponsored by members of Congress only to be legally they are sent up to the Congress. The leadership of the party in power at least when it has control the executive branch will offer them all instances if they build it or not of any degree of a partisan nature such as those dealing with national defense where the Cham of the committee will introduce them about request.
Generally speaking does the Congress exercise its right to override presidential veto we've talked about the introduction of bills what about the bills that have been passed and have been turned down by the president. Well that of course is not an ordinary process it's very seldom that Congress does override the president. And it depends very much on the nature of the issue that involved if there is a great deal of public demand in the country. The Congress at times arises to where it can get two thirds to support a they're overriding a veto but most members of Congress particularly of the party to which the president along a little slow about rebuking the president. Would you have any idea offhand I realize this is a tough question but offhand would you have any idea approximately what percentage of bills are. Over written or in which of general Bales Yes. Oh I wouldn't think you'd be more than two or three percent Mr O'Connor I haven't checked that. Yeah it's best element of Congress that the president is overridden more than once every two
years or twice. Do you consider that a healthy condition of relationship between the executive and the legislature. Am I in favor of the veto because it's one of the very important elements in our whole system of checks and balances. But I'm also in favor of the Congress exercising his prerogative as way it has a conviction and overriding a veto. The regard in this type of behavior of the executive department as a kind of super legislature and I sense no I don't think so. They question as to whether or not you override a determined by many things I've said to see importance to the issue the amount of public sentiment that is that has been generated behind it and the type of president that you have had a great deal to do with it. If you have to be a man of tremendous popularity throughout the country he's much less likely to have his veto overridden and one who is less popular. I think the veto is wholly consistent with general checks of general
system of checks and balances. It has been abused at times but we came blame anybody but the Congress for not measuring up to it responsibilities and overriding because they the Congress has the authority to enact any law and they break the veto of the president to the contrary notwithstanding. When I was interviewing another congressman recently on the same series he made the remark that the history of our country seems to indicate that the relative power between the three branches of government seems to go in cycles there seems to be a period in history when the the legislative branch of government perhaps preempt the power of a the judicial of the executive and then the judicial has its turn then the executive has its turn. Do you feel that we are in a cycle at the present time in which one of these three branches is perhaps more powerful than intended to be. Well I think that the Supreme Court of course has it ever gave dates they have powers that it never had properly exercised the balance between the president and the legislative branch of the government is very well at the present time.
They're present in how I have been fortunate in securing legislation from a Congress that belongs to the opposite political party. We have an active a great many ability had recommended not exactly as he's recommended but we have generally speaking been a little kinder to him in Congress in the past where they have the executive and the Congress they belong to different political parties. If you feel that this balance has been maintained rather well during your entire years of service in the Congress. Oh no it's swings to and fro in the early days of my Savior CEO and President Roosevelt occupied the White House what I do to a variety of factors that we don't have time to go into just such an overwhelming majority of Democrats. Yeah so many of whom owed the election to having gotten on to the presidential coattails that he exercised a wholly disproportionate power and
he could. You go to the people on a radio speech in the first two or three years of his service in past almost any piece of legislation he won't do. Matter of fact he passed nearly everything you want to do until a Supreme Court enlargement to a court backing Bill that as I recall has about the first failure he had he had a number of MPT that notably has a suggestion that we limit the incomes of people of the country to $25000 and he has other suggestions without his I recall that was the first real rebuff he had to hand to the Congress. You feel that at this determining factor as to balance or imbalance between these two branches of government is the personality in the White House largely depends upon the personality and the personal popularity of the man in the White House and of course his political know how and why. They how he utilizes a policy of the presidency some man have exercised over vast powers with more strength than others.
A number of factors but the primary one of course is personal popularity the primary factor would not then the perhaps bigger and bigger government that seems to be taking shape. But with the complex idea of living in a space age and so on which may at the same time mean bigger and bigger executive administration. Well of course this complex age in which we live has tremendously increased the size of government and in some cases that means an increase of executive power. You know there's a Congress that undertakes to establish you want to call independent agencies that are primarily responsive to the Congress rather than the executive. Government grows All right. But we had strong executive and weak executive who had only two or three departments of government. So it is possible then that as the executive branch increases in power the Congress itself can increase as a watchdog perhaps in a sense well I don't know that we are able to fully measure up
to the duties they are because government becomes so complex that no one man this country can understand all of it whether it be the president of the United States or anyone else we undertake to supervise it through a committee system that causes a certain group of each house of Congress to have a specific responsibility as to each agency of the executive branch of government. Yes but in the last analysis it depends on whether you have a independent courageous Congress that is willing to measure up to its obligations under out of Asian apologies. Are you implying that there is room for more independence or one person cited to Congress has lost a great deal of pressure gauge in my opinion over the past 25 years as I have saved here in the Congress. Well you referred a moment ago to the committee system and the importance of it. As chairman of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate do you work very closely with the president be here a Republican or a Democrat. Well course I have never consented to any legislation for the Armed Services Committee to be political in nature. It's all related to the defense and we've got to defend Republicans and Democrats alike. I have worked very closely with the president. If I could I
defend defend with them on matters of policy with respect out defense. But did the president as commander in chief of the armed forces. The Congress has a constitutional responsibility to maintain an adequate defense and I conceived me my duty to work as closely as I can with the president the commander in chief. Well thank you very kindly Senator Richard Russell in Georgia for your kind to space in this series. Thank you Mr. Hogan. After talking with Senator RUSSELL I met Congressman Joseph Martin of Massachusetts in his office on the House side of the Capitol building. As we walked to the recording studios the Capitol Police the elevator boys on the pages addressed him as Mr. Speaker. Although during the current session of Congress his party is in the minority and he is the minority leader. Welcome to our program Congressman Martin as you know on this particular program we want to
explore the relationship of the Executive and Legislative branches of government as viewed by members of the two legislative bodies the House and the Senate. One of the reasons for asking you to be on this program is that as a member of Congress you have gone through so to speak quite a few presidents haven't you. Yes I've seen four common goal that not tell you what for where they serve. I came in with Calvin Coolidge whom I had previously served with in the state Senate and there and followed Hoover and Roosevelt and there Truman and now I you know during these many years what approximately 33 they fam on my thirty four thirty fourth year during this time as I understand you held rather important positions in the Congress is that right. Yes I've been. A Republican. Leader and our speaker for the last 20 years as a matter of fact very first important post was on the
Rules Committee when your father was a member of that committee and you were speaker of the house and Lee in a recent session of Congress 80 of them 83 had Congressman and president now or your minority leader is that correct. That is right. Well to get to the real business at hand here by you what means of communication the members of Congress learn of the president's legislative desires. Well the preference of course always sends his message to Congress at the opening session when he which he defines the various topics that are in his program and what he hopes to do for the country. He also way has the. A Republican leadership committee meeting every Tuesday and we chair these different subjects in which we are interested. Gone over very carefully and in addition to that when we reach the field of foreign affairs or wherever there is some subject that is more or less
partisanship he has meetings of both Democrats and Republicans are in attendance and then I on top of that if they be particularly interested in a subject he has personal interviews with members of Congress who hold key positions in that I just laid it right and wouldnt think they took power itself when exercised to represent a kind of presidential interest and legislative matter here. You saw as a restraining influence because no one likes to enact legislation that you're writing for issue of veto and so sometimes that mere fact that the president has an opposite view will restrain folks and the bill that will go up to him or might be a little more modest than that would otherwise say when the president delivers a radio address or a television address to the people of America.
Do you think that his possible influence on the American people isn't turned translated into legislative action anyway. Well it helps of course. I don't think it's a it's. Always there has the almost powering effect that many people I believe it might but it does stimulate public sentiment and that public sentiment is reflected in the votes that various members of the House and Senate and then of the various methods of executive communication that you've indicated the Tuesday meetings with the leaders of the Republican Party the state of the Union address the veto power of public addresses by radio and television. You think there's any one of these methods that would stand out. Predominantly has executive influence like a slate of my own I presume they are weekly sessions would be the most important because after all that's where you get down to brass tacks you talk of the different rare topics the consideration and
the president hopes through his influence that he might be able to induce the latest to help get that legislation. So I would think that would be where the most good could be accomplished at these particular meetings are there any types of legislation in which the president is traditionally more interested than other types of budget matters or. I know I did hearing matters or anything. No I think he si interested in very many matters. Does the president's wishes then on legislative matters affect your own decision as to whether I can't deny that it has some effect because after all I am the Republican leader and Vera as the Republican leader I am or are forced to have as much as there are supposedly the views of the president because he is also well below the compass suasion So I I admit it would be have a very little influence upon
my view is not necessarily conclusive because of course we all have our views their own which we are more embarrassed or fixed. That develops particularly with members who have served our great many years they make a record have been there but on the whole you are very happy to get the Presidents views they do have a lot of influence upon you. And as you say though you have your own views with which to reckon on perhaps the views of your constituency I mean just after so many years of their reconfirmation of faith and you too. I was right. Well do you personally feel that the president. Now and in recent years has too much influence on legislation or not enough or just the proper amount. No I don't think the president has too much influence on legislation. And I say that not just ask answer non-abstract question I
I believe that we all like to hear his views. I believe we all like to have his judgment and if I speak I say he is a man of great experience he's had a long study of most of these matters because I really I don't know why during his long service in the army which is very helpful in his in the matters of national defense but besides that he had long service here on the Hill in Washington before he became the great general. Freedom forces I say. I was in attendance at a public Committee hearing yesterday when a witness of the hearing made the observation that down through American history there was a kind of rhythmic alternation of power a dominant power over a legislative policy there were times in history when the executive branch of government had too much dominance over legislative matters and times in history when the Supreme Court had too much dominance and so on. Do you feel that we are in a period of executive dominance. No I
use later matters. No I don't believe that because I don't see any disposition on the part of the president to absolutely dominate the picture he tries to in his advocacy of the issues he tries to present he's using there in a way that is commendable what they are orderly process of government. And he tries to have you believe. Or so I knew on the fact that that is probably beneficial to the country but I don't think he's there he's not there of the. Fighting type of either one of the Roosevelt. Then you fail that as far as the executive and the legislature are concerned that the constitutional theory of balance of power is as it should be. Well these were pretty well maintained of course say no one can deny in these days that not the president but the department
having more influence than they ever had before but that is where I suppose the part of the great growth for America is a has become a big institution with many sprawling activities and by look Cartman's you mean the administrative age and years that have actually been instituted by Christ. Yes they did. Congress is authorized happened and they all have big problems and they are expanding and they sometimes get beyond any control of any one man whether with the present Congress of snow may I say that there is another reason why they are. So-called bureaucracy have been expanding their authority in that power and that is the fact that they are in session here in Washington 12 months of the year whereas the Congress likes to go home and July August and the on the Mons they must be someone to do a great deal of this work
and for that reason that you must find the bureaucracy extending its power and its difficult then for the Congress to have adequate check you feel over the activities of the administrative agencies during these non sessions when you can hammer congressional or supervision over an activity if there if the leaders are in there to listen. But the harder the better. When I return to the campus of Indiana University I asked Professor pianist hopeless of the department of government to listen to the tape recorded interviews for a brief sum ation of this topic. The congressman and the president. I one of the views of a specialist in the field. Well Alan after listening to my interviews with these two distinguished gentleman Joseph
W. Martin from Massachusetts Senator Richard Russell of Georgia. What do you think. I think that both legislators have given a certain insights into the president's role as a legislative leader. In fact it would indicate a dominance by the executive for the past 25 years and probably a rendering to nothing more than a schoolboy maxim of the principle of separation of powers. Could you explain what you mean there are some. Yes there are constitutional provisions for the checks and balances system whereby both the legislature ours and the executive will have certain checks upon each other and will maintain some type of a balance. However it would seem that the checks that are made available to the president have been much more significant within the past 25 years and it certainly propelled him into a leading position as a an initiatory of legislation.
What are some of the checks that these men brought out that are available to the press may illustrate. We'll have to think in terms of provisions generally or extra constitutional devices. There spurs the state of the Union message which has become the most significant source of legislative proposals. Now as originally provided in the Constitution the president was to use the State of the Union message to advise the Congress of what had taken place in the months since they had previously met. Now as I say it has become the most significant source of legislative proposals in terms of extra constitutional devices we might point to his role as a leader in that he makes direct contacts with the members of his party in Congress. I think Senator Russell brought out some of these methods of direct contact as a matter of fact you will know that he indicated that these meetings could be bipartisan in composition. That it doesn't have to be a
Republican president going only to Republican leaders in Congress but that he will set up conferences and invite both Democrats and Republicans and some Republican Joso Governor Markell has attended the White House sessions of quite a few Democratic presidents says he has indicated this would apparently appear to be a very significant device at the President's do employ. Now there are certain other things as well for instance the president does get on the phone and make a direct call to legislative leaders trying to win their support and their approval for his proposals. We know too that the introduction the development of certain communication mass communication media has made it possible for the president to in a sense go over the heads of Congress to the boss to the people. And in that way try to build up a sentiment and be happy with his legislative program. And in that way try to get the people to put some pressure on Congress in order to adopt these ledges.
This legislation did you get the same feeling that I did that Senator Russell felt that this particular method was perhaps more powerful than than Congressman Martin. He made a couple of references to public sentiment indicating the executive action and then the congressional response to executive action. I think he did feel that popular reaction was more of a no did. Congressman Markey Congressman Martin if I recall correctly came out and made some statement to the effect that radio on television addresses or fireside chats of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt variety didn't always carry the impact that people gave him credit for carrying isn't correct. Yes but it seems evident that in those first couple of years of the Roosevelt administration he was very successful in reaching the people and in making some type of an impression on the Congress in this way. What would you say by way of summary insofar as the veto power is concerned if these men got
it. It's rather significant I think that of the many thousands of bills which have been vetoed by our presidents only seventy one in all our history have been overridden by the Congress. Now it is necessary for a two thirds vote of those present and voting in each House to override a presidential veto. And yet only 71 in all our history have been overridden. We might point out to FDR as a good example that of six hundred thirty one bills that he vetoed. Only six were overridden by the Congress. So this may in a sense show a lack of courage or prestige on the part of the Congress but of those six hundred thirty one war and a great many of those pocket veto's Yes there were something over 200 As a matter of fact around 250 or two hundred sixty that were pocket veto's which means that the president was actually vetoing bills after the Congress had adjourned and Congress had no way to react then at the moment. So as far as a proximately a third of them are concerned not
necessarily an indication of lack of courage on the part of the Congress quite right. The significance here would be in terms of Congress returning in the following session reintroducing the legislation but keeping in mind any objections the president might have raised. Well thank you very much Alan for your interesting summary. Your Congress today was produced and recorded by the Indiana University Radio and Television Service under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center and is being distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the NEA E.B. Radio Network.
Your Congress today
Congressman & President
Producing Organization
Indiana University
WFIU (Radio station : Bloomington, Ind.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program presents interviews with Senator Richard Russell ("Congress has lost a great deal of prestige over the past 25 years") and Representative Joseph W. Martin ("Pres. Eisenhower is not the forceful, fighting type of either of the Roosevelts").
Series Description
This series explores the relationships between the Congress and the Supreme Court and the Presidency.
Broadcast Date
Politics and Government
United States. President; United States. President
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Guest: Russell, Richard B. (Richard Brevard), 1897-1971
Guest: Martin, Joseph W. (Joseph William), 1884-1968
Host: O'Connor, Daniel
Producing Organization: Indiana University
Producing Organization: WFIU (Radio station : Bloomington, Ind.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 59-10-4 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:25
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Chicago: “Your Congress today; Congressman & President,” 1959-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 13, 2024,
MLA: “Your Congress today; Congressman & President.” 1959-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 13, 2024. <>.
APA: Your Congress today; Congressman & President. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from