Two Senators to the White House
In November 1960 two incumbent senators resigned to take on new responsibilities as president and vice president of the United States. Senators John F. Kennedy and Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson won the presidential election of 1960 with 49.7 percent of the popular vote against 49.6 percent for Vice President Richard Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge—both former senators.
Soon after Kennedy and Johnson had received their party's nomination in July, Majority Leader Johnson arranged for Kennedy to move into prime Capitol space. With his office in S-211, Johnson made space for the president-elect by evicting the Senate sergeant at arms from quarters across the hall—the room known today as the John F. Kennedy Room. From August through the end of the year, the corridor between these two rooms proved to be the nation's hottest patch of political real estate.
At the beginning of the 1960 session, Johnson had harbored his own presidential ambitions. He hoped the session would follow the traditional presidential-election-year pattern of adjourning sine die before the mid-summer party conventions. His plan fell victim, however, to extended debate over civil rights and an early version of Medicare.
When the Senate returned to work on August 9 for a three-week post-convention session, visitors thronged its galleries in hopes of seeing a future president. Vice President Nixon was known to preside occasionally. Majority Leader Johnson regularly appeared at his front-row desk. Senator Kennedy attracted much attention from his position in the back row near the center aisle. With three of the four candidates in the Senate, the House deferred to the Senate's scheduling wishes and Congress adjourned for the year on September 1, leaving lots of major pending legislation for the new administration
After the November 8 election, Senator Kennedy retained his Senate seat until just before Christmas, when the Electoral College certified his victory. He had delayed his resignation because of Democratic concerns that disputed vote counts in Illinois and Texas might have been resolved to change the outcome. Senator Johnson served until January 3, 1961. He took his oath for the new Senate term to which he had been simultaneously elected and then immediately resigned.
Recognizing that the office of vice president, as it then existed, offered little for him to do, Johnson sought to strengthen his Capitol Hill presence by keeping this room, forcing incoming Majority Leader Mike Mansfield to find other quarters. He also prevailed on Mansfield to allow him to continue to chair meetings of the Democratic Conference. Heated caucus debate on that proposal and a less than unanimous final vote deeply offended Johnson. He later attended a few caucus meetings, but only in the unaccustomed role of observer.
The Senate's John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson Rooms continue as a reminder of those exciting post-convention months in 1960.