The Corpus Christi Caller-Times (Corpus Christi, Texas) Sunday, March 16, 1969

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The Corpus Christi Caller-Times (Corpus Christi, Texas)

Sunday, March 16, 1969  - JOHN W. McCORMACK, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE SINCE...
JOHN W. McCORMACK, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE SINCE 1952, ISN'T THINKING OF RETIREMENT . . . faced-an attempt to unseat him as speak er when this session of congress opened Jawn 9 of the House , · By HARRY KELLY WASHINGTON (AP) --'The'President of the United States stands at the rostrum rostrum of the House of Representatives addressing addressing Congress, his countrymen and the world. Suddenly coming into focus over the President's left shoulder is a solemn gray wraith in a dark suit, squinting through rimless spectacles. The ghost of politics past? John W. McCormack, 77, speaker of the House of Representatives, has spanned the era from the gaslights and carriages of the 19th century to a nervous nervous nuclear world and revolutionary riots of the last half of the 20th century. Some of his Democratic colleagues-but colleagues-but apparently only a minority in the seniority-worshipping House--feel he is too much of the past, that he symbolizes the "Old Politics" in image, style and bent--that his personality is not strong enough to fill the second most powerful office in Washington, particularly in Democratic hard times with a Republican Republican in the White House. One powerful Democrat hoots at this: "There is nothing the matter with John McCormack. The only trouble is that he looks like a corpse on television. That's what bothers them." McCormack operates from an office only a few feet from the House floor. There is an old-fashioned atmosphere of plush and gilt and cigar smoke. In the outer office, under diamond- bright chandeliers and a muraled ceiling, a half dozen men work at desks pushed back to back. Capitol Hill is noted for attractive secretaries. But there are no women here. There is seminary quiet. One man eats lunch at his desk. On a black leather lounge a visitor waits to be received. He has sharp-toed shoes, cufflinks cufflinks the size of silver dollars and two pinkie rings that he keeps inspecting. The speaker, (all, pale, angular comes to the door. He moves with nervous quickness, as if he's late for a train and isn't sure of the right gate (he doesn't ,like to fly). He greets his natty visitor by name and draws him into the office. In the -privacy of the speaker's office-where office-where for decades the fate of politicians and legislation has been debated and compromised--McCormack must ponder whether' this is his last term. No s p e a k e r has been toppled in this century by a party insurrection--only by his party losing control of the House.' Any Don Quixote attacking this windmill windmill better beware of his political life, for the speaker is well armed. Through his various powers, control and discretions he can exercise tremendous tremendous influence on legislation and appropriations. appropriations. Among his weapons: His right to refuse to recognize members on the floor and his discretionary privilege of entertaining or refusing to entertain a motion. Nevertheless, this January McCormack faced a challenge -- which he turned aside--led by an aggressive, youthful liberal, liberal, Rep. Morris K. Udall, D-Ariz. Would McCormack win again two years from now, in a new Congress, when he would be 79 and his party would be preparing for the 1972 presidential election? A veteran McCormack watcher and admirer admirer says, "Maybe he wouldn't have tried for the job this year. He's a funny guy. He won't nm away from a fight, especially if he knows he can win. If they hadn't pushed him about his age. . . ." Some who would like to see McCormack McCormack replaced dismiss this as sentimental sentimental propaganda put out by the speaker's speaker's friends. In any event, the brief McCormack- Udall skirmish left a splattering of bad blood. McCormack is considered k i n d , decent and courteous by even most of those who oppose him -- but he's also Irish. He reportedly has declined to shake hands with some who voted voted against him, tongue-lashed a couple more who urged his retirement and has been "cool and distant" to Udall. A generation of rough-and-tumble politics politics has given the Boston Irishman a thick skin about practically everything but his age. He described as the worst time in his life the period after President Kennedy's assassination when he was next in succession succession to Lyndon B. Johnson. But he angrily dismissed as "indecent" suggestions suggestions that because of his age he should step out of the speakership--and thus out of succession--for the good of the country. country. McCormack's most persistent and publicized publicized critic in the House is Rep. Richard Richard Boiling, D-Mo., a protege of the late Sam Rayburn, McCormack's celebrated celebrated Democratic predecessor. In his most recent book on Congress, Boiling compared McCormack unfavorably unfavorably with Rayburn. The Kansas City congressman congressman described McCormack as a weak king surrounded by strong dukes. He said McCormack lacked Rayburn's courage and was out of touch. Shortly after the book, "Power in the House," was published, McCormack pulled a copy out of his desk drawer to show a visitor, and said, "I haven't read the damned thing but I know what it's about." Boiling, said McCormack, was enamored enamored of the strong speakers of the past "who didn't care for the sensitivity or the feelings of the members of the House- speakers like Cannon." Joseph G. Cannon was speaker from 1903 to 1911 and won fame for his dictatorial dictatorial control of the House and its committees. committees. "I don't operate that way," said McCormack. McCormack. ,"I believe in treating people like human beings. Cannon believed in punishing the members who didn't fall in line." Criticizing "Big Jawn" McCormack is like throwing stones at Dick Merriwell; like scorning the boy who quit school at 13 to support his widowed mother and two younger brothers yet rose to the highest councils in the land; like scoffing at a man who is religious, doesn't drink liquor or use dirty words, is hard working working and never misses dinner with his wife. McCormack is a devoted Roman Catholic Catholic and identified with the church's hierarchy hierarchy but resents being called (only behind behind his back) "the Archbishop." He is a passionate anti-Communist and was a loyal loyal supporter of President Johnson's Vietnam Vietnam policy. He is an old fashioned liberal. liberal. He is publicity-shy. His spare, pale, teetolaling asceticism misses by a mile the stereotype of the bluff, hard-drinking Irish politician. He was born and reared in South Boston Boston where the Irish brogue was heard more than the Yankee twang--and which once bragged that it produced more nuns and priests per capita than any other community in the country. When McCormack was 13 his father, a bricklayer, died. McCormack quit school to support his mother and two younger brothers, Edward and Daniel. (Nine other other brothers and sisters died in infancy or youth.) It was a time when a two-room tenement tenement cost $1.25 a week. But McCormack's McCormack's earnings from his newspaper sales didn't stretch far. The younger brother picked up coal from the train yards for the stove and the Welfare Department Department helped with a "pauper basket." "It was him that kept us together," Edward said of brother John. The lucky turn in the McCormack fortunes fortunes came when a lawyer offered him §4 a week to run errands and encouraged him to read law. When he was 21, three months after his mother died, McCormack McCormack passed the bar examination, McCormack prospered as a trial lawyer. lawyer. But politics, as he put it, "was the natural thing for anybody born in South Boston." In 1928 he was elected to Congress, and 34 years later, when Sam Rayburn died, McCormack stepped up from majority leader to speaker. McCormack has not changed much the habits of 40 years-- morning coffee with cronies in the House dining room, the love of a good cigar, a day spent at duties of the House and as representative of Massachusetts' 9th District, the drive downtown in his chauffered limousine dinner with his wife Harriet. Harriet Joyce of Boston gave up a career as an opera singer to be Mrs. McCormack in 1920 and hasn't missed many days at his side since. Childless, they live a life of relative seclusion hotel suite not far from the White They have been active in child welfare work and charities. When the Udall forces were challenging challenging McCormack in January the story abroad that this would be McCormack's last term anyway and why deny the speaker's chair to him. But some of those on both sides at that now. A Udall backer points to some of reforms McCormack has adopted since the challenge, such as beefing up the Democratic congressional c a m committee and having monthly meetings of the Democratic members. "Does that sound like a man his oars, waiting for his term to asks. "McCormack will run and run run if he can, unless he knows he win." IN 1933, McCORMACK (LEFT) WITH FDR ... standing right is H. V. Hesselman, a House clerk

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  1. The Corpus Christi Caller-Times,
  2. 16 Mar 1969, Sun,
  3. Page 14

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  • The Corpus Christi Caller-Times (Corpus Christi, Texas) Sunday, March 16, 1969

    Edgetthous – 30 Mar 2013

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