Oral Histories and Interviews: Fenno - Katharine St. George
Interview Notes Index
Access to this interview is subject to the deed of
gift of December 14, 1993.
Interview with Rep. Katharine St. George (R-NY)
"We want someone with a thorough background in economics and who has the Republican point of view on these matters. We don't go by seniority in committee assignments the way we do in other things around here. We look much more at the man's qualifications and how he's going to fit into the committee slot."
The former ranking minority member on Appropriations, John Taber (R-NY), was the one who decided who went on his committee. He was more influential than any other committee chairman in that way. He'd check over all the applicants very carefully. And he'd come around to our meetings every time with a list of the men he wanted on his committee. And he got just about everyone he wanted. He'd talk very frankly about people. He would say, I don't want that man on my committee. I just can't work with that guy. He's not my kind of man. That 's why we've got such good people on that committee." She went down the committee list and spoke very admiringly of Frank T. Bow (R-OH), Harold C. Ostertag (R-NY), Charles R. Jonas (R-NC), Melvin R. Laird (R-WI), Elford A. Cederberg (R-MI), and Gerald R. Ford (R-MI). Of Ford she said, "He's supposed to be an up and coming man."
I asked with regard to people you have worked with and she answered, "That's a committee you want to give to a man with a safe district. If he 's been elected by a razor-thin majority, this wouldn't be a good committee for him. He would have to vote down things they wanted and it might tip the next election against him."
She spoke of her balance of power on the Committee on Committees, "I have the most votes. New York has the most votes. I can throw my votes, and I do. I hold the balance of power many times."
She found no criticism of the committee or feeling that it is too powerful. "It is one of the most sought after committees in the House." And there are lots of applicants. "They do a very good job. They're a highly respected group of men. It's a very economical committee on both sides of the aisle. If the committee were left alone, they would cut a lot more than they do. They offer the cuts, but they are overridden on the floor. That's the truth of the matter."
There are no big spenders on the committee that she could find and she went down the list. She said that Walt Horan (R-WA) was a big spender "with a narrow point of view." He is interested simply in Washington, and she expressed her dissatisfaction with that way of operating.
Regarding Louis C. Wyman (R-NH), he was better qualified than most, he worked with former Senator Styles Bridges (R-NH), and he supported the Republicans on the Rules fight. She stressed his qualifications. In view of the conversation with Minority Leader Charles A. Halleck (R-IN) her most significant remark was that he supported the Republicans on the Rules Committee fight--William T. Cahill (R-NJ) did not!
She says that the chairman's or the ranking minority member's popularity makes a great difference in how many apply for the committee. She said that Johnny Byrnes (R-WI) was very popular and that's why more people wanted Ways and Means than they did Appropriations--since Ben Jensen (R-IA) is not popular.
"There are some big spenders on the Republican side. But they don't get on the Appropriations Committee."
Regarding Minority Leader Halleck's influence--"He's very influential. He talks very frankly about who he thinks ought to go on which committee. He votes his delegation, too."
She talked with regard to the limitation of states, that is to say that one can't have too many people from one state. She said that New York lost its seat this time because people ganged up on New York. "New York's a big state and sometimes it's hard to get what we deserve. People like to gang up on New York."
Regarding H. R. Gross (R-IA) on the Foreign Affairs Committee: "We laughed him out of court for two weeks on that. We told him that now he'd have to wear striped pants and go to diplomatic receptions. And above all, we told him you have got to go abroad. He came back from the committee meetings and was all upset. I didn't even have a chance to ask my questions he said. Young people always come down here and think that they are going to make a big splash. They can't do it. But, you see, it happens to the older people, too, on these committees."
"I have an unlisted telephone number at home, and I got a call there from Walter Judd [R-MN, defeated for reelection in 1962] about one of these people. Don't you think someone was working pretty hard on that!" This was regarding the Foreign Affairs Committee hassle this year.