Challenges of Senate Leadership

Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield on the Challenges of Senate Leadership

On February 24, 1964, Time Magazine Capitol Hill correspondent Neil MacNeil profiled Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT) for a cover story. In his report, MacNeil focused on Mansfield’s approach to leading the Senate. What follows are excerpts—see the full text

Mansfield’s definition of “leader”: “In the Senate, the word ‘leader’ is a misnomer. You don’t lead. You try to see what the Senators want and then you follow. I am a follower.”

“The job of senator is serious,” he said, “but we’re pretty expendable. We’re the employees, the servants of the Senate. We represent the Senate temporarily. We people the institution of the Senate.”

“When it comes to parliamentary tricks,” Mansfield said of his floor leadership, “I have none. And if I had any, I wouldn’t use them. An open door policy is the only way I can operate. It’s the only way I can hold the trust of my colleagues.”

“I make no deals of any kind. There’s a lot of talk on how we operate up here. The only way is to let all the senators know all the time what we’re doing, and trust in their maturity, their intelligence and their love of country.”

On the contrast between his leadership style and that of his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson: “He was an extrovert—I am an introvert. He was outgoing—I was a loner and still am. He was enthusiastic in his pursuits, about everything—and I’m kind of reserved. He had a great parliamentary talent for welding his colleagues together that I do not possess. He is a proud man. He always thinks of victory—but he never forgets the policy of compromise. I always seek victory, but I recognize that there are so many divergent avenues that I take half a foot rather than none. He would too but I do so less grudgingly. He always used to say ‘Come, let us reason together.’ He did that in his own way, and I try to do it in my way. We are not similar men. Although basically we are similar in what we seek, what we want, what we hope for our country. He was extraordinary—magnificent.”

“I operate on the theory, and I believe in this wholeheartedly, that every senator regardless of what stands he takes is an equal, he is on an equal basis with every other senator and I treat them all alike. I expect to be treated as courteously in return, and I am. I do not believe in arm-twisting. I do not ask a Senator to vote one way or the other. I hope by logic and persuasion that he can be brought to see the light as need be, but each senator is there to vote as he sees fit, as he thinks best. And each senator has as much right as the next senator to vote one way of the other.”