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Foley Recalls Johnson Era

As President Clinton sought last week to push an unpopular budget through Congress, much was made of the late President Johnson's ability to get things done through sheer intimidation.

Some of this has been exaggerated, historians say. Nevertheless, House Speaker Thomas Foley (D) of Washington - who was first elected to Congress in 1964, the year Johnson was elected President - recalled in a Monitor breakfast Friday how he was "subjected occasionally to Johnson glares and stares."

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It was about July of '65, and the Washington State delegation had been invited to the White House for a little introductory meeting with the president. The House had just passed a rent-supplements bill in a vote of 208 to 204.

"Everybody in the Washington delegation had voted for this bill that the president was supporting - except, c'est moi," Speaker Foley recalls. "We got into the Oval Office.

The president was sitting in the Kennedy rocking chair with a big call director in front of him and he fixed his eyes right on me and said, `The first thing I want do is thank the Washington delegation for its support of the rent supplements bill.

`You'd have to be a ... fool to vote against that bill," Johnson continued. "The mortgage bankers were for it. The elderly were for it. The unions were for it. Business was for it. Everybody was for it! How could a fool explain a vote like that!'

"And I thought to myself, maybe I ought to tell him I voted against it. ... I thought to myself, he knows. "He was giving me the Johnson treatment," Foley said.

But since Johnson, the political environment has changed, he says. "It's a different society. It's a different political culture."

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