Senate Democrats

Reid Statement On LBJ Day

Washington, DCSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate in honor of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was born 100 years ago this summer:

“In the summer of 1908, a man named Sam Ealy Johnson, Sr. rode through the Texas hill country, announcing to whomever happened to pass by, ‘A United States Senator was born this morning!’  The name of his grandson: Lyndon Baines Johnson.

“I am pleased today to mark the beginning of the celebration for the 100th birthday of that boy from Texas who would not only be Senator, but Senate Majority Leader, Vice-President, and President of the United States.

“There is a tradition on the floor of the Senate of which our colleagues but few Americans are aware.  If you open any of the desks in the Senate chamber, you will find carved the names of each Senator who was assigned the desk in years past.  Among the names carved in my desk is Lyndon Baines Johnson.

“America and the world know Lyndon Johnson as the President with a steady hand that guided our country through a deeply troubled era – and was the guiding hand in creating the Great Society.  But those of us in the Senate – and his family and dear friends who join us here today – know that it was this Senate chamber – this Capitol building – that was his home.

“Born in the Hill Country of Texas, Lyndon Baines Johnson came to the Senate in 1948 after prevailing in one of the closest Senate contests in American history.  As my colleagues well know, most rookie Senators arrive in Washington resigned to spending a few years getting to know the rules and traditions of this body – biding their time and gaining seniority.

“Not Lyndon Johnson.  His rise to power was laser-fast.  He was appointed to the powerful Armed Services Committee within his first two years, and was elected Assistant Democratic Leader – or Majority Whip – in 1951.  No Senator ever rose to the leadership of the Senate faster.

“But Lyndon Johnson had good timing as well as talent as his allies.  In the 1952 election, Dwight Eisenhower was elected in a landslide, sweeping Republicans into power in both the House and Senate.  Among the defeated Democrats was Majority Leader Ernest McFarland of Arizona.  With just four years’ tenure, four years in the United States Senate, Lyndon Johnson became the Democratic Leader of the Senate.

“At the time, the positions of Majority and Minority Leader took a back seat to the powerful committee chairmanships.  Lyndon Johnson had a different vision, and it is no exaggeration to say that he singlehandedly made the job of Leader what it is today.

“After establishing himself as the legislative and political leader of the Senate Democrats, Johnson was uniquely well-positioned in 1954, when Democrats regained the majority and he became Majority Leader.

“What followed is the stuff of legend.  Based upon his philosophy that ‘The only real power available to the leader is the power of persuasion,’ Lyndon Baines Johnson used that power to the fullest.  In just one day in 1956, Lyndon Johnson’s Senate confirmed two appointments and passed 90 bills – a record that may stand for all time.

“The quantity of Johnson’s Senate work was impressive, but so was the quality.  As an exhibit at the LBJ library says: ‘By working to find common ground uniting liberals and conservatives alike, LBJ’s Senate passed legislation to increase the minimum wage, extend social security benefits, increase public housing construction, create an interstate highway system, create a national space agency and enact the first civil rights legislation since 1875.  The majority leader’s inspiration was the prophet Isaiah, who preached “Come now, and let us reason together,” a philosophy – and a result – that unquestionably and dramatically improved the lives of all Americans.’

“On behalf of my colleagues, I welcome members of Lyndon Johnson’s family, his former staff, and friends of the Johnson family to the United States Senate to mark his 100th birthday and honor his life.  This celebration is tinged with sadness that his beloved wife, Lady Bird, passed away last year and is not with us today.

“As President, Lyndon Johnson once said, ‘This nation, this generation, in this hour has man’s first chance to build a Great Society, a place where the meaning of man’s life matches the marvels of man’s labor.’  Lyndon Baines Johnson’s pursuit of a Great Society is a legacy that changed America forever and will last as long as our republic stands.”