Richard Nixon became the 37th president of United States of America after the presidential elections of 1968. He successfully served his first term as president and was reelected overwhelmingly into office in 1972. He, however, did not complete his second term in office due to allegations of involvement in Watergate scandal. He resigned as the president of US on August 9, 1974 after the Judiciary Committee had recommended his impeachment to the Congress over Watergate Scandal (Vile 30). Before Nixon became president, he served as the vice president during Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency between 1953 and 1961. In 1960, Nixon unsuccessfully vied for the presidency as a Republican nominee. Nixon also served as a Representative for California 12th District in 1946 before joining senate in 1950. President Nixon made tremendous achievements on diplomacy and foreign relations. He was ranked 11th in foreign relations by C-SPAN in 2009. This was an indication that he played a significant role in shaping US foreign policy in early 1970s. Nixon is credited for signing Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty (SALT). This treaty was instrumental in controlling nuclear arms race between US and Soviet Union. Russia. He personally travelled to Soviet Union in 1972 for a meeting in Russia that eventually culminated into the signing of SALT. He also visited China in the same year and initiated diplomatic engagement between the two countries for the first time. Again, Nixon is praised for withdrawing American troops from Vietnam through treaty signed between South Vietnam, North Vietnam and US. Nixon was poorly ranked by C-SPAN in Congress relations. He was placed at position 37 with a score of 39.2. His overall ranking was 37 with a score of 450 (“C-SPAN Survey of Presidential Leadership”). Meaning that, his Congress relations score seriously weighed down on his overall ranking. It can be concluded that presidential performance was below average as far as the relations with Congress is concerned. The data used by C-SPAN are collected from historians, professionals and observers with a keen eye on presidents’ performance. Consequently, the ranking can be relied upon as indicators of performance. Besides, C-SPAN has no political and commercial interest. It is a Cable Television Network started to provide live coverage of Senate and House of Representatives proceedings. Therefore, the entity cannot be said to be biased towards any political party or class. The purpose of this paper is to analyze President Nixon relationship with Congress with a view of determining whether C-SPAN scores are valid and warranted. It is important to note that Nixon became the president of US at a time when the democrats dominated both the House of Representatives and the Senate. There were 243 democrats in the House of Representative against 192 republicans. Senators from Democratic Party were 57 while those from Republican Party (Olson 133). Consequently, Nixon faced an uphill task securing the support of Democrats in the Congress. Nixon was aware of the political reality and had to try to find a common ground with Democrats representatives and senators amid tensions. He used his experience as a representative and senator to convince senators to pass one of the most important bills in US history. However, he also disagreed with the Congress on many occasions over the contents of some laws. These include Employment and Manpower bill of 1970 and the Labor-Health, Education, and Welfare appropriation bill. The passing of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) bill by the Congress in 1970 was one of the greatest achievements of President Nixon legislative agenda. This law was intended to promote safe working environment for Americans. Before, the enactments of OSHA, the American workers were subjected to hazardous working environment with little recourse for injured workers. Initial attempts by President Lyndon Johnson to introduce a similar bill in 1968 failed after the committee that was charged with the responsibility of drafting it disagreed. Therefore, Nixon’s success in pushing the bill demonstrated that his ability to secure bipartisan support of the lawmakers. Meaning, his relationship with the Congress was guided, not by personal interest but by the principle of public service. Indeed, the passing of the bill was influenced greatly by the prevailing circumstance in early1970s. There was a dire need for laws that could protect American workers from occupational injuries and deaths. Nixon was quoted saying that bill represented all the interest of Americans including state house, democrats, businesses and republicans (US Congress 22412).
Before the passing of OSHA, the occupational safety regulation was conducted by the states in coordination with the Department of Labor. However, the states had limited capacity to inspect and enforce occupational safety regulations. Consequently, millions Americans continued to work in environment that posed great danger to their lives. In 1965, when Nixon was the president, US Public Health Service published a report that established a close link between cancer and workplace. The labor organizations compelled President Johnson to establish a taskforce that would draft an occupational safety proposal. However, the committee did not produce any proposal due to internal bickering. At the time President Nixon came to power in 1969, the US Secretary of Labor had reported that 2.2 million Americans were injured annually at their workplaces. In August 1969, Nixon declared his support for altered version of Johnson proposals.
The Nixon proposal gave the Labor Department the responsibility of workplace inspection. It advocated for establishment of a five member board that would develop national occupational health safety standards and guidelines. The members of the board were to be appointed by the President. The labor organizations opposed the idea of president appointing the members of the board. Instead, they shifted their support for Democrats sponsored bill in the senate. For more than a year debate on labor management stalled in the Congress. However, in 1970, the lawmakers from the two parties agreed to create an independent agency called Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that would ensure that working environment are safe. The US constitution grants the president powers to decline to assent to bills passed by Congress with reasons. Such bills are taken back to the Congress for reconsideration. However, Congress can override the veto through two third votes. In US history, less than 5% of the presidential vetoes have been overridden by the House of Representatives and Senate. Vetoes are reliable indicators of the relationship between the legislature and the executive. High number of vetoes implies that the president and the Congress had strained relations. Nixon vetoed 43 bills during his presidency. His regular and pocket vetoes were 26 and 17 respectively (US Census Bureau 255). Out of his total vetoes, the Congress reversed 7. In 1970, the president clashed with Congress when he vetoed three domestic appropriations bills that were presented to him for accent. Other bills vetoed include Labor-Health, Education, and Welfare appropriation bill and Federal Water Pollution and Control Act Amendment Bill, Minimum Wage Bill and War Power Resolution. On many occasions, Nixon and Congress struggled to take credit for popular bills introduced in the Congress. Nixon was elected the president through Republican Party at a time when America had not had any president from the party for 8 years. He propelled to the presidency because of his promise to end American involvement in Vietnam War and tackle pertinent domestic issues. To deliver his campaign pledges, Nixon had to work with both the democrats in the Congress. At the same time, he had to sponsor bills that address the issues he had raised during campaigns. He was very keen on getting reelected and for that reason proposed popular bills into the house and asserted great ownership of the bills. Consequently, the senators and the representative could not reject some of the bills sponsored by Nixon because of great public support of the bills. The only option for lawmakers was to change the bills to make them attractive to the public and receive credit. For instance, Nixon proposed a 10% increase in the Old Age, Survivor and Disability compensation to Congress in 1969 (Thurber 171). However, the Democrats in the house increased the figure to 15% despite the fears the alteration of the figure could lead to budgetary constraints. Majority of the bills enacted during Nixon Presidency originated from the members of Congress. This is an indication that during Nixon administration, the interaction between the executive and the legislature was at its lowest. A government bill requires intensive lobbying in Congress in order for lawmakers to pass it. This explains why thousands of legislators are introduced into the Congress, but only few are passed and taken to the president for assent. The bill has to be debated and amended and approved in both houses. Consequently, government has to strategize in order for its sponsored bills to be passed. It involves meeting with lawmakers, highlighting the benefits of the bill and expounding on the grey areas. Nixon had lacked an effective legislative strategy in the Congress. In about 30% of the bills, Nixon took no position (Thurber 172). These included Higher Education Act of 1972 and Housing and Community Act of 1974. At times, he publicly supported the bills proposed by the Congress for instance, the Equal Opportunity Act of 1972. He avoided taking opposing bills that he considered popular irrespective of the financial implications. Like his predecessors, Nixon failed to secure the support of Congress in crucial bills. Nixon was among few American presidents to propose national welfare legislation. Soon after he became president in 1968, he introduced a bill to institute a social welfare system in US. His plan dubbed Family Assistance Plan of 1969. Needy families were to be given $ 1600. The plan was rejected by liberals because of low support levels. It was also not supported by conservative because they thought the program was aimed at expanding welfare assistance. Given that this bill was popular with the public, the lack of support for the bill among the representatives and senators can be attributed to Nixon’s failure to relate with the Congress in a constructive manner.
The first call for Nixon impeachment came when he bypassed Congress in war matters in Vietnam. Congress was the only arm that had the responsibility of declaring war according to US Constitution. They lawmakers were mandated to approve military action through voting. Nixon attracted criticism from the Congress for authorized military bombing of Cambodia without approval from the Congress. Even though bombing of Cambodia was part of his war strategy, he was expected to uphold the constitutional provisions by going before the Congress and obtaining approval. He further vetoed a bill that the Congress passed to prohibit future Presidents from exploiting the weakness in law to order war. He cited breach of the constitution and public interest. Even after the military action in Cambodia was out, Nixon engaged in concealment of facts in order to evade sanctions. Nixon suffered first Congressional defeat when his nominee, Clement Haynsworth, for the Supreme Court was rejected by the Senate in 1969. Nixon preferred very minimal interaction with members of Congress. Moreover, his other nominee to the same court Harold Carswell also suffered the same fate. Nixon continuously presented weak candidates to judicial offices during his presidency. This further strained his relationship with Senators. President Nixon did not enjoy good relations with the Representatives and Senators partly because he preferred to with Congress through appointed people. He hardly engaged lawmakers in direct discussions. Instead, he mostly delegated the function of articulating government position to few state officials. Besides, he preferred to talk about domestic and foreign policies in presentations and speeches made at various functions and not in the Congress. Consequently, many legislators never had a close relationship with the president. They did not know what values, principles, ideas and views he stood for. The relationship between Nixon and Congress worsened towards late 1972 when Watergate Scandal emerged. Nixon maintained his plea for innocence before the nation even after he had been implicated by his staff. He also tried to conceal evidence from the scrutiny of Congress during investigation. In some instances, President Nixon was accused of attempting to bribe witnesses. These were matters that both the Senators and Representatives considered a gross violation of the constitution. However, Nixon did not resign even after many people were convinced that he was involved in Watergate scandal. The Congress then instructed the Judiciary Committee to investigate Nixon. The committee established that Nixon was involved in the scandal and recommended his impeachment. Throughout, the duration Nixon was being investigated, his relationship with congress was at its all time low. In conclusion, it is worth mentioning that President Nixon had strained relations with the Congress during his last years in office before resignation. His relations with the between 1969 and 1971 can be described as lukewarm. Consequently, Nixon ranking on relations with the Congress by C-SPAN is warranted. Nixon lacked effective legislative strategy and acted in a manner that encouraged confrontation with the Congress. He disregarded the constitution in bombing Cambodia and tried to conceal evidence during congressional probes.
"C-SPAN Survey of Presidential Leadership - Overall Ranking - C-SPAN." C-SPAN Survey of Presidential Leadership - Overall Ranking - C-SPAN. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2014. <http://legacy.c-span.org/PresidentialSurvey/Overall-Ranking.aspx>.
Olson, James S. Historical Dictionary of the 1970s. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1999. Print.
Thurber, James A. Rivals for Power. Lanham (Md.: Rowman et Littlefield Publishers, 2006. Print.
US census Bureau. Statistical Abstract of the United States. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2009. Web.
US Congress. Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates. Vol 122, Part 18. Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1976. Web
Vile, John R. A Companion to the United States Constitution and Its Amendments. Santa Barbara, Calif: Praeger, 2010. Print.