The Center for Legislative Archives

Oral Histories and Interviews: Fenno - J. Vaughan Gary - 1964


Interview Notes Index

Access to this interview is subject to the deed of gift of December 14, 1993.



Interview with Rep. J. Vaughan Gary (R-VA)
April 1964

"Very frankly, I hope that Mr. [Otto E.] Passman [D-LA] does not become the chairman of that committee. I think it would cause a great change in the operation of that committee. I have always believed in cooperating with the agencies and in working together. If they have a suggestion, I'll listen to it; if I have a suggestion, they listen to it, and we work things out together. They know they can come in here and see me any time they want. But Mr. Passman does not take that attitude. He'll call the agency people sons of bitches and bastards. He thinks they're all crooks and liars, and that they've got to be squelched. He browbeats the witnesses before his committee. I've sat there and listened to him for years till I've become disgusted. I won't take it any more, and I don't go over any more except when some of the important government officials are there. He won't let the witnesses answer the questions. He does all the talking. He browbeats them all except the big boys--[Secretary of Defense Robert S.] McNamara and [Peace Corps Director R. Sargent] Shriver--they can take care of themselves, and he hates their guts. But the ones down the line are afraid to argue with him. He and I have been good friends for years, and we've gotten along well until the last few years. He's mad at me now because I opposed him on a cut last year in military assistance. He wants to be the whole show on his committee and have everyone rubber stamp his ideas. If you oppose him on anything you're against him and all that. Very frankly, I think Mr. Passman is a sick man. He's the most biased man I know. He can't see anything objectively. And he's so nervous. I think he's emotionally unbalanced. He's a sick man, and I'm very worried about him," et cetera, et cetera. He hopes that Tom Steed (D-OK) will get the chairmanship. If he does, that will not mean any great change in the operation of the committee.


Regarding the conference committee controversy: "There had been grumbling among some of the boys for quite a while about the conditions of the conference, and how impossible it was to have a reasonable conference. In the first meeting of the full committee, someone made a motion that we hold half of the conferences over on the House side and half of the conferences be chaired by a House member. The resolution was passed, and we were all bound by it. I wasn't interested in it. These people were interested in prestige. That's what it was. But I don't care about prestige, I'm only interested in getting things done. Prestige plays an important part around here, and some of the boys get very worked up about it. Oh, it was a little inconvenient. We used to meet way over on the Senate side, when they had a quorum call they just had to run upstairs; but we had to come way across from the other side of the Capitol. Well, the thing came up in my subcommittee first. After we had had our first meeting of the conference and were about to adjourn, I said that the next meeting would have to be over on the House side, that the Committee had passed a resolution, et cetera. They objected. I said I was bound by the resolution. Mr. [Carl] Hayden [D-AZ, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee] was there. I said, "you'll have to take it up with Mr. [Clarence] Cannon [D-MO, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee]." There was then a meeting of the full Committee. Gary proposes that a subcommittee be set up to settle the dispute. He was on the Committee, and he thinks Gerald R. Ford (R-MI) and Michael J. Kirwan (D-OH) were on it, too. It was "a non-partisan committee." "We had several stormy sessions" with the Senate committee. He reports a meeting with House parliamentarian Lew Deschler and the Speaker and a special subcommittee. Deschler discovers a rule that a chairman of the conference is not necessary, and that the chairman was not originally contemplated. The next time they go to conference, Gary says that we can have no chairman or elect one (they were then meeting in the old Supreme Court room). "When we met, [Senator] Willis Robertson [D-VA] moved that I be made chairman. I tried to prevail upon him to take it. I said I can raise more hell outside of the chairmanship. It makes no difference to me."


"When I first took over the committee, I went extensively into all the operations of the agencies. But now I only consider the new departures. It's the changes we look at now. The hearings and junkets are necessary in the consideration of changes." There followed a long defense of junkets, of how they had gone to Bermuda and to other places and discussed the need for Coast Guard installations and Customs offices, et cetera.


I asked him if he had any regrets over giving up the Foreign Aid chairmanship. He said he had none, and did not indicate at all how that did come about. I did not press it.


He said that Cannon always supported his subcommittee, even though he was unpredictable. "I remember one time when I was chairman of the Foreign Aid Subcommittee. I went to Mr. Cannon before the markup and said, 'Mr. Chairman, don't you think we ought to get the members on our side together before the markup and decide what we are going to propose?' He said, 'Oh, no, we'll take care of it in committee, don't worry.' Then when we got in the markup, he said, 'I make a motion that we cut the estimate two billion dollars.' That would have wrecked the program. So I talked around and stalled and waited until we got some bells for a quorum call or something, and then adjourned the meeting. I got ahold of John Taber [R-NY], a ranking minority member, and said to him. 'You we can't have a cut like that. It will wreck the program.' He and I always worked well together. We straightened it out. You never can predict what Mr. Cannon will do. He's a fine fellow and all that, but he's got some funny ideas of his own."


He talked about his retirement. He began by saying that his law partners wanted him back. He also said that campaigning was getting him and that his last campaign was bitter and close. Mrs. Gary had been patient. The invective bothered her in the last campaign so much that she wouldn't go out in the street, et cetera. He wavered when the President was assassinated because his election would be easier. It is clear campaign was getting to be a chore.