February 10, 2022

1961. Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield Discusses the Crisis in Berlin

Interview with Senator Mike Mansfield
"From left, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, President-elect John F. Kennedy, Speaker Sam Rayburn and Senator Mike Mansfield in December 1960" (source)
On August 24, 1961, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield of Montana sat down for an interview with CBS News correspondents Bill Downs, Neil Strawser, and Wells Church. The senator was asked questions about foreign policy, specifically the Berlin crisis, and about ongoing developments in Congress under the Kennedy administration.

The text below is adapted from the transcript entered into the Congressional Record by Senator Mansfield on August 28, 1961. The original transcript is featured here (large PDF).
"Capitol Cloakroom"

(As broadcast over the CBS Radio Network, August 24, 1961)

Guest – The Honorable Mike Mansfield, Senate majority leader, Democrat, of Montana

Correspondents – Bill Downs, Neil Strawser, Wells Church

Producer – Ellen Wadley

BILL DOWNS: Senator Mansfield, will the United States fight to preserve our rights in Berlin?

NEIL STRAWSER: Will the Senate pass legislation to limit debate this year?

WELLS CHURCH: How do you assess the legislative record of this Congress to date, Senator Mansfield?

DOWNS: Senator Mike Mansfield, welcome to "Capitol Cloakroom." We feel fortunate indeed to get the Democratic leader of the Senate at this crucial period in international diplomacy, and when the Congress is now driving for adjournment, while you are pressing for passage of important sections of the Kennedy administration program.

Senator, the Russians have made new charges that the West is misusing its air corridors into Berlin, by flying in saboteurs and espionage agents, heading at a new blockade. Will the United States use military force if necessary to preserve our rights and communications with West Berlin?

SENATOR MANSFIELD: Well, I would assume that we would use whatever means would be necessary to preserve our rights in Berlin, and also to preserve our rights of access into West Berlin and out of West Berlin into West Germany.

STRAWSER: Well, there comes a question, Senator Mansfield, just where do we draw the line? The things that have been going on in the past several days have all been piecemeal and chipping away at our rights as we define them. Where do we draw the line?

MANSFIELD: That is something which the President would have to decide, because he is in charge of the foreign policy of this country. I don't think, though, that we should be surprised at the fact that this chipping away has taken place. The surprising factor to me is that it has not occurred sooner than it did. And as long as they are just chipping away as they are, I would say that while tension would mount, that the immediate difficulty would not become too apparent.

STRAWSER: What is your personal feeling about where we should draw the line?

MANSFIELD: Well, the line has already been drawn, and that is the border between East and West Berlin, and the routes of access into and out of Berlin.

CHURCH: Senator Mansfield, how do you assess the value of the Vice President's trip over there?

MANSFIELD: I was one of those who was somewhat perturbed at the fact that the Vice President was going over to Berlin and Bonn, evidently in response to allegations made by the Germans, both in West Berlin and in West Germany itself. I for one did not like the statement made by Mayor Willy Brandt about politics, and that actions were needed and not words. I did not like the idea of these German students in West Germany sending an umbrella to the President of the United States. I was a little apprehensive even of the convoy of 1,500 combat troops from Helmstedt to West Berlin. But my worries were needless, because the Vice President was tremendously successful in what he was able to accomplish, along with Ambassador Bohlen and General Clay in West Berlin, and I think that by and large it was a successful venture in diplomacy, and had the effect of creating psychologically, at least, a good feeling and a feeling of security.

CHURCH: I take it you don't think that he went too far in promising all the way up to our sacred honor in defense of West Berlin?

MANSFIELD: The Vice President did not go too far, because, despite the stories carried in the newspapers, he did not carry to the Germans any commitment which had not already been made to them.

DOWNS: Well, he is alleged to have recommended to President Kennedy that we should send more troops into the West Berlin garrison. Would you go along with that?

MANSFIELD: No, I don't think that that allegation is correct, because, as I understand it, the total which we are allowed under the agreement in West Berlin is 6,000. We had 4,500 prior to the bringing up of the 1,500 over the Autobahn. So now we have our full total of 6,000. I dare say that the French and the British are perhaps a little understrength at the present time, and that may be where the reference is.

CHURCH: There has been some water over the dam, Senator Mansfield, since you first made your suggestion for a free city of Berlin. How do you feel about it now?

MANSFIELD: Well, I don't feel as good about it now as I did then, because since that time the East Germans have taken over control of East Berlin, erected a wall of sorts, and created certain points of entrance and egress. Up to that time, and for the 2 years previous, I think that the idea had much in the way of merit. It may not have been the answer, but certainly somebody has got to get off dead center. If we keep on going as we are now, it is like two trains coming together from opposite directions on the same track. And if a third way, or a way out is not found, those two trains are going to collide and the whole world is going to pay part of the price.

DOWNS: Well, Senator, you mentioned the fact that the French and the British seem to be understrength in their garrisons in Berlin. There have also been suggestions they are dragging their feet on this entire crisis situation, President de Gaulle particularly.

MANSFIELD: I understand that the British are fairly anxious along with the Americans to undertake negotiations, but that President de Gaulle seems to think that all we have to do is to remain firm and that conditions will work out. I do not think that we should be guided in our policy by President de Gaulle, any more than I think we should be guided in our policy by Mayor Willy Brandt or Chancellor Adenauer. We have to do what we think is best, pick out a time which is propitious, and then get to work.

CHURCH: Do you feel that same way about resumption of nuclear testing—do it when we think it is right?

MANSFIELD: Yes, I think we have to chart our own destiny. We have to figure out just what course we should pursue. We have to recognize the fact that we have carried on negotiations, that we are trying to do the best we can to arrive at an accommodation. When you reach a point where that is no longer possible, then I think a decision must be made, and if one is to be made, it should be made by us.

DOWNS: You are not saying, sir, that our destiny is not tied up with the destinies of the entire free world.

MANSFIELD: Not at all. But I do not think that we ought to hold back always and make sure that our allies will come around to our way of thinking, because we have something to perform in the function of leadership, and I think that we ought to assume that responsibility.

DOWNS: Well, I would like to get back to this question of what they call the undeclared policy of Britain and France. It was mentioned by Walter Lippmann. It has been mentioned in the European press—that the division, permanent division of Germany is not entirely a bad thing. And as one London newspaper put it, after fighting a bloody war to remove the Germans as a threat to the peace, we are not going to fight another war to unify them. And this seemed to be a very popular concept among the people at least of Western Europe. We call for reunification. Aren't we out in left field alone on this?

MANSFIELD: That is right. And I daresay that the French and the British are not too dissatisfied with the present division of Germany. Maybe they have got something from their point of view. Our policy has been, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, to at least pay lip service to the idea of a reunified Germany. But I would point out that when we speak of a reunified Germany, we speak of East and West Germany primarily. The West Germans themselves refer to East Germany as Mittel Deutschland or Middle Germany, meaning, of course, that beyond the Oder-Neisse there is another Germany which has been occupied by the Poles and which in time may well have to be faced up to, because of the influence it may have on the history of Europe and the world.

DOWNS: You don't think we are going to come out, though, for a readjustment of that line at this particular time.

MANSFIELD: Not at all. As a matter of fact, I think that insofar as the unification of Germany is concerned, which we have advocated consistently, that it is not in the immediate offing.

STRAWSER: Senator Mansfield, in exerting this Western leadership goal that you think we have, where do you think we should go in this question of Berlin? What steps should we take now?

MANSFIELD: Well, I think that what we ought to do now is to call Mr. Khrushchev to task on the basis of some of the statements and assertions he has made in his various speeches in recent weeks. He has said that he would—that he was going to negotiate a treaty with East Germany. Well, he can do that. There isn't a thing we can do to stop him. He has said that he would guarantee our access in and out of Berlin. How? Under what means? What guarantees will we have and how good will those guarantees be? What I think we ought to do is return to old-fashioned diplomacy and put our Ambassadors to work in a private way, away from the glare of publicity, give them authority and responsibility, and see if some way could not be found whereby we could both get off the main track on which we are coming together at the present time, some way in which an honorable, negotiable solution could be found which would protect the people of West Berlin, which would protect our right of access in and out of the city, and give some hope to the people of Middle Europe and the world of a peaceful future.

CHURCH: Senator Mansfield, why aren't we doing these things? What are we waiting for? What is the roadblock?

MANSFIELD: I don't know. We may be doing them. But if we are, I have no knowledge of it. But it appears to me that the Soviet Ambassador, for example, is still in Moscow. We have a good Ambassador over there in the person of Ambassador Thompson. I see no reason why he couldn't carry on conversations with the Soviet Foreign Office, and Mr. Menshikov or his successor here carry on conversations with the State Department.

DOWNS: You seem to be dissatisfied with the recent course of American foreign policy. You feel that it has been too passive and not positive enough?

MANSFIELD: I think we have been reacting for the past 10 or 12 years.
"On August 16, 1961, a mass demonstration organized by the Berlin Senate drew approximately 300,000 West Berliners to the square in front of Schöneberg City Hall, where demonstrators expressed their dismay over both the construction of the Wall and the apparent passivity of the Western Powers. The banner held by demonstrators refers to the Western Allies' statement of protest; it reads, 'To the Western Powers: You Don't Stop Tanks with Pieces of Paper.'" (source)
STRAWSER: Senator Mansfield, part of the fencing that is going on in this Berlin situation now is done with the uncommitted watching world in mind. And we have been quite shocked here in the West, I think, recently, by this statement by Nehru that our rights in Berlin are a concession from the Soviets. What suddenly happened in this fight for Nehru's mind?

MANSFIELD: Well, this appears to be opposite to what Nehru said last week, so I would expect him to reverse himself again next week. Those are things you have to expect. He has no immediate interest, though he does have, as all neutrals have, an indirect interest in what happens in Berlin.

DOWNS: There has been one suggestion that followed up your original one of several months ago, to make Berlin a free city, that perhaps they move the United Nations there as the capital of the divided world, perhaps as a third way of preserving the integrity of Berlin.

MANSFIELD: That wouldn't be a bad idea—anything which would bring about the unification of Berlin, both East and West. And what a lot of people don't seem to realize is that the capital of East Germany is in Pankow, which is a part of East Berlin. It is an idea which I am sure that Mr. Ulbricht will never accept, which Mr. Khrushchev will never allow. But we have got to throw the ball back to them some way or other, and this is one way to put them, perhaps, on the defensive for a change.

CHURCH: I asked you about nuclear testing a moment ago, Senator Mansfield. What about disarmament? I suppose it seems to a good many of the people listening to you today that talking about disarmament under these Berlin conditions is kind of silly. How does it strike you?

MANSFIELD: Well, I think there is a reason for the administration, and some of our best minds, thinking that the proposition of a disarmament agency ought to be given consideration at this time. Whether or not that is true, I am not prepared to say. But I do know this—that the executive branch does have a disarmament agency of sorts in operation under Mr. McCloy, and that if there is any need in the minds of the executive for a continuation of this kind of an agency, that can be done very well in the foreseeable future at least in the executive branch of the Government under Presidential order.

DOWNS: We seem to be having, or you do, at least, seem to be having a little trouble with the President's foreign aid program. What is going to come out of this House-Senate conference?

MANSFIELD: That is hard to say. They tell me they have come to an agreement on 16 points of difference, and that 116 points of difference still remain. But I would hope that out of it would come a 3-year Treasury financing plan, and that the difference in the first year in funds between those allowed by the House and Senate would be split, so that the President would have something on the order of a little over $4 billion to inaugurate his program.

CHURCH: As I understand Mr. Halleck of the House Republican leadership, he won't stand still for that.

MANSFIELD: Mr. Halleck is only one House Member, though he does control a lot of Republicans and controls them quite well, on the basis of his record to date. But we will see what the conferees do, and then what the House will do if it has a chance to vote on a different proposition.

STRAWSER: Senator Mansfield, as the Democratic leader in the Senate, you promised to see that there is a chance to vote on further limiting debate in the Senate before this year is up. What do you think will be the chances for passage of such legislation?

MANSFIELD: I couldn't say. We have reported out the change in rule XXII, out of the Rules Committee. It will be on the calendar shortly. It will be brought up before the Senate to work its will on as the last measure this session. Now, what the outcome will be, I cannot say. But I intend to do my best in line with the pledge made last January to bring about a change which would call for three-fifths of those present and voting instead of the two-thirds of those present and voting as is the case at the present time.

CHURCH: Has there been any pressure that you could relate or speak of in anyway whatsoever put on you to back away from your cold promise?

MANSFIELD: There have been some members who have come to me with the proposal that this matter could be put over until next January. I have stated that I have given my word, I intended to keep it, and unless they can unanimously agree to do so, the change in rule XXII will come up this session.

CHURCH: Would you be inclined, Senator Mansfield, to call a halt to the whole session if you should run into a bona fide long discussion of this matter on the floor on the Senate floor—what is the word I am trying to find—

STRAWSER: Filibuster.

CHURCH: Filibuster.

MANSFIELD: Oh, yes, indeed. I think we ought to try and invoke cloture, and if cloture wins or fails, then I think we ought to, after a reasonable time, quit and go home and be ready for next year.

DOWNS: Well, how do you regard the Senate's failure to renew the fiat for the President's special Commission on Civil Rights? Is that a defeat for the Democrats, or did he want this Commission particularly?

MANSFIELD: Oh, yes. The President wants the Civil Rights Commission extended. We have suffered a temporary setback, not a defeat. And I anticipate that before we close up shop for this session, that we will have extended it—that Commission.

STRAWSER: How will you arrange this?

MANSFIELD: We will probably tie it to the State, Justice, and judiciary appropriation bill again, and ask permission to suspend the rules.

STRAWSER: What makes you feel this time you will be able to pass it?

MANSFIELD: Well, I think in time we will win.

CHURCH: Senator Mansfield, we have been talking about a lot of individual pieces of legislation here, or possible legislation. Take a good, long breath and assess the legislative successes of the Congress from the Democratic standpoint.

MANSFIELD: I can only speak for the Senate, Ted, and I think that on the whole we have had a fairly successful record. We have had a lot of cooperation, a lot of luck, and we have had a President of our own party in the White House, and all those amalgamated together spell a degree of success. But I think that one of the real reasons why we have been able to achieve a creditable record is because of the groundwork laid by Lyndon Johnson as majority leader over the past 3 or 4 years. He laid this groundwork, or he laid these foundations what we have done is to build on them. And we get the credit but he has really done the work.

CHURCH: I can't help but inject a little bit of political thinking into this. Do you suppose the rank-and-file voter would agree with you?

MANSFIELD: Yes, if they knew the circumstances.

DOWNS: But the President still—for example, the medical aid to the aged, which was one of his big campaign issues and promises—that is dead for this session, isn't it?

MANSFIELD: That is true. We can do nothing in the Senate, because of the appropriation responsibility of the House. So we have to wait for the House to take action. And that will be next year.

DOWNS: What kind of a school bill is going to come out? I mean what are you going to end up with?

MANSFIELD: I wish I knew. We passed four school bills out of committees, passed one of them through the Senate. But we are just marking time to see what the House will do, and that will determine in large part what we will do.

STRAWSER: Senator Mansfield, what are you and the other Senators hearing from back home?

How is this getting across to the voters? We hear that the Republicans think they are going to make big gains in 1962.

MANSFIELD: I think the Republicans have been strengthened since the November election. The proposal that this is a spending Congress and a spending administration is achieving some headway. The Republicans are saying it is all right to spend as much as you want on defense, but go slow on the domestic spending. They are operating in a way which I think will be politically advantageous to them. I don't blame them. It is a good tactic. But I think we have to take care of both the domestic and the foreign fronts at the same time if we can, and it is going to take money to take care of both.

CHURCH: Were you saying then, sir, that the Republicans are right when they say they will pick up some seats in 1962?

MANSFIELD: I would say that things look a little more encouraging for them now than they did last November.

DOWNS: Well, you seem to have gotten over the economic hump, and the recession that we heard so much about at the beginning of the year is rapidly disappearing. How much can this be claimed as the achievement of the Kennedy administration, or how much is this just a momentum of our own economy coming back?

MANSFIELD: I think that some of the measures taken by President Kennedy in his position as the Chief Executive did help to slow the downturn in the economy. However, I do not think that we have recovered purely because of Democratic policies. It is the way the economic cycle works. I think there is credit enough to go all the way around. I think that the President, though, made a significant contribution.

•   •   •   •   •

DOWNS: Well, there was some talk that when Lyndon Johnson stepped upstairs to the Vice-Presidency, that he was going to continue to operate the Senate. This has not been true. You have been the operating man on the floor.

MANSFIELD: Well, Lyndon Johnson, in my opinion, was the greatest majority leader the Senate has ever had. I don't operate the Senate. I try to do what I can on behalf of my colleagues, both Democratic and Republican, in accord and cooperation with Hubert Humphrey, who is the majority whip and George Smathers, who is the secretary of the conference. And then, of course, we have a very good sidekick on the other side in Everett Dirksen who, in my opinion, is one of the outstanding leaders the Senate has ever had, too.

•   •   •   •   •

DOWNS: Well, to get back to this campaign, the 1962 campaign, which is going to be an interesting one, because the policies of the New Frontier administration are going to be tested, what do you foresee as the major issues?

MANSFIELD: Oh, next year it will be foreign policy. For the next decade it will be foreign policy and I think we might as well recognize that, and prepare ourselves accordingly. If some accommodation is not reached, we are going to have to continue to spend tens of billions of dollars in our defense, and in the promulgation of our foreign policy. Of course, you cannot disassociate domestic policy from that. But the prime factor is going to be our relations with other countries overseas and most importantly with the Soviet Union.

DOWNS: Have you been satisfied with the cooperation and contacts with the White House? For example, under the Eisenhower administration the Republicans were screaming that they often felt cut off and isolated. Are you advised in advance of policy? Are you called in and asked for your advice?

MANSFIELD: Oh, sometimes; very rarely.

I think that is the way it should be, because under the Constitution the responsibility is the President's or through his agent, the Secretary of State. As far as the Congress is concerned, both Republicans and Democrats, I think, have had a good deal of easier access to the White House under President Kennedy than they ever did under President Eisenhower.

STRAWSER: You are an independent thinker in many ways, Senator Mansfield, and so is Chairman Fulbright, of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Do you think your independent and sometimes differing views are appreciated by the White House?

MANSFIELD: I think so.

CHURCH: That is quite a spread sometimes there between you and Mr. Fulbright. How could they be happy about two such important Members of the U.S. Senate, the majority leader and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee?

MANSFIELD: Well, I think that President Kennedy has served long enough in the House and Senate, 14 years, to understand the practical situation as it applies to the Congress, and he doesn't expect to have things all his own way. He recognizes points of differences. But he realizes, and so do we, that he and he alone makes the ultimate decisions.

•   •   •   •   •

DOWNS: Thank you very much for appearing on "Capital Cloakroom."