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Francis R. Valeo: Secretary of the Senate, 1966-1977; Secretary to the Majority, 1963-1966; Administrative Assistant to Senator Mike Mansfield, 1958-1963


“…all other business of the Senate would be stopped until the Senate faced what was then the most critical issue in the country.”

Frank Valeo discusses Majority Leader Mike Mansfield strategy in getting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed in the Senate.

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VALEO: Again, the critical question of breaking the filibuster was to hold that quorum on the floor at all times. And I must say, this thing went on…oh, and a corollary of that was that you would have to take the lead away from Russell in terms of tying up the Senate. Russell always tied up the Senate when there was a filibuster. He would not let the committees meet, for example. Which is, again, permissible under the Senate rules. One man at that time, one objection, would have prevented committees from meeting. Of course, Russell would do that, and then people would be irritated if people were pushing this bill in spite of their need to meet as a committee. But when we started on this bill, Mansfield announced right off the bat that no committees would be permitted to meet while the bill was under discussion, that all other business of the Senate would be stopped until we faced what was then the most critical issue in the country. Russell was taken aback by this. I was quite surprised, because he looked up at Mansfield. And Mansfield was stealing his thunder in effect.

But the difference was that public opinion in the country had shifted from essentially an indifference…when you talk about mass public opinion…from a position of essential indifference to civil rights, it had now become activist in terms of wanting to see it through. And except in the South, this had become a major factor of influence, stronger in some places than others, but no one in the Midwest at this point needed to fear a positive vote on civil rights for any reason. That would be true also in the West, as well as in the Northeast, which was, of course, the citadel of the push for the civil rights legislation.

So between the maintenance of the quorum on the floor at all times and the decision to take the thing out of Eastland's hands…that was done by a parliamentary maneuver which was a perfectly proper one. When the House bill came over, Mansfield intercepted it at the door. And so that prevented a routine referral to the Judiciary Committee. That meant the bill would lay on the table, subject to referral or to direct taking up by the Senate. Well, Eastland did not push that issue. There was some outrage at violating the Senate's normal procedures, and so forth, but by that time, everyone knew that this was the only way that you could possibly move the bill. Morse defended Eastland's prerogatives in this, and if I can recall correctly, Mansfield offered to send it to the committee for three or four days, with the understanding that it would be reported back on a day certain, which meant that it could no longer be bottled up in Eastland's committee. And I don't remember whether we actually sent it or not. It had no difference in the outcome of the bill. So therefore the bill then was on the floor of the Senate and in effect had been taken up.