Richard Nixon and Gerald R. Ford on 17 June 1971


Transcript

Edited by Ken Hughes, with Patrick J. Garrity, Erin R. Mahan, and Kieran K. Matthews

Following the example set by the Senate the previous day, the House of Representatives voted down a bill to set a 31 December 1971 deadline for Nixon to withdraw American military forces from Vietnam, by a vote of 254–158. Defeat of this bill was essential to the President’s secret plans to bring the last troops home from South Vietnam either shortly before or shortly after the 1972 election, thereby ensuring that Saigon would not fall until after he had secured a second term in office. House Republicans opposed the withdrawal deadline bill 149–23, prompting this phone call from Nixon to House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford [R–Michigan].[note 1] See John W. Finney, “House, Like Senate, Bars Deadline in Troop Pullout,” New York Times, 18 June 1971.

President Nixon

Yeah.

White House Operator

Congressman [Gerald R. "Jerry"] Ford, sir.[note 2] Gerald R. "Jerry" Ford was a U.S. representative [R–Michigan] from January 1949 to December 1973; House Minority Leader from January 1965 to December 1973; and vice president of the United States from December 1973 to August 1974.

President Nixon

Yeah.

White House Operator

There you are.

President Nixon

Hello?

Gerald R. “Jerry” Ford

Hi, Mr. President.

President Nixon

Well, the boys did very well today, didn't they?

Ford

They sure did. And—

President Nixon

They came through in great style.

Ford

We lost, I think, 21 or 22, and we won by 98 votes, which is a better margin than we won on on a comparable vote a year ago.

President Nixon

That's really great, Jerry. That's a marvelous job.

Ford

Our guys did real well and . . .

President Nixon

Right, right.

Ford

So . . .

President Nixon

Well, that's really great, and that, with the Senate vote, is really very heartening.

Ford

Well, it ought to tell the enemy that all this division isn’t [President Nixon acknowledges]—it’s superficial rather than real.

President Nixon

Yeah, well, it also shows that the men that lead are not going to just follow polls and all the rest. They're going to stand up, and we're ready to, you know, to negotiate from strength rather than division.

Ford

Well, our guys [President Nixon acknowledges] did a good job. And I think if you had the time, a call to [F. Edward] Eddie Hébert [D–Louisiana] would be [President Nixon acknowledges] very appropriate.[note 3] F. Edward Hébert was a U.S. representative [D–Louisiana] from January 1941 to January 1977, and chair of the Armed Services Committee from January 1971 to January 1975.

President Nixon

Yeah, I see. Uh-huh.

Ford

‘Cause he, you know, led the fight, carried the bill and—

President Nixon

Yeah.

Ford

—without his total cooperation [President Nixon acknowledges] we would have had trouble.

President Nixon

[Chuckles.] Yeah. I'll be sure that—I'll give him a call.[note 4] The President immediately called Hébert after his conversation with Ford. See Conversation 005-123, 17 June 1971, 8:25–8:28 p.m., White House Telephone. Yeah. Well—

Ford

That was a good presentation this morning, I thought.[note 5] Ford refers to a Cabinet Room briefing for congressional leaders on initiatives to prevent drug addiction and abuse. President’s Daily Diary, 17 June 1971.

President Nixon

Well, we . . . I think we got them shook up a little on that. [Ford acknowledges.] And now our people should really ride this issue, you know, not in a partisan way, but we can make it our issue. After all, this is, and mainly, just to not let it just be zeroed in on Vietnam. It's a national issue, and it'll be here long after Vietnam, and we're going to fight the drug traffic.

Ford

Well, [President Nixon acknowledges] it'll have a big public response.

President Nixon

And because, as I put it, it's Public Enemy Number One. Let's just think of it that way and crack it.

Ford

That's right.

President Nixon

Right, right. Well, we—

Ford

Now, we just got to win HR 1 and [President Nixon laughs] FAP but we'll take that up next week.[note 6] Ford refers to the administration's welfare reform bill, including Nixon’s proposed Family Assistance Plan to provide a guaranteed income to the needy.

President Nixon

That's next. Well, the . . . what do you think of all this hullabaloo about the New York Times?[note 7] On 13 June 1971, the New York Times began publishing stories about a top secret Defense Department history of America’s Vietnam War that the newspaper called the Pentagon Papers. Nixon took the Times to court on June 15 to block further publication of the classified information, and a federal judge issued a temporary injunction—the first time in American history that the government had engaged in “prior restraint” of the press on national security grounds. The Supreme Court ruled against the administration on 30 June, finding that publication of the Pentagon Papers did not pose a threat of irreparable harm to the United States. Isn't that the goddamnedest thing?

Ford

[Clears throat.] Well, I have mixed emotions in some respect. I'd just as soon it [President Nixon acknowledges] [unclear] published.

President Nixon

Yeah, I know, I know. It really exposes the other side, I understand, but—

Ford

But that's not right.

President Nixon

But as you know, what they did, though, they really are trafficking in stolen goods.

Ford

Sure, that's right.

President Nixon

And hurting the country. Boy, I'll tell you, they lost me with that one.

Ford

Well, it doesn't do any of their people any good, including Hubert [H. Humphrey] [D–Minnesota], et cetera.[note 8] Hubert H. Humphrey was a U.S. senator [D–Minnesota] from January 1949 to December 1964 and January 1971 to January 1978, and vice president of the United States from January 1965 to January 1969.

President Nixon

Yeah, Hubert's really crawling, isn't he? [Laughs.]

Ford

I think we ought to just sit back, other than the legal issue.

President Nixon

Yeah.

Ford

We should sit back and—

President Nixon

Let them fight.

Ford

—let them explain.

President Nixon

Yeah, right! OK, Jerry.

Ford

All right, thank you, Mr. President.

President Nixon

Great, great.

Ford

OK, good night.

Cite as

“Richard Nixon and Gerald R. Ford on 17 June 1971,” Conversation 005-121, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Nixon Telephone Tapes 1971, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4002149