Recruiting Senators from the Navy This week: Virginia Democrat Jim Webb is hardly the first former Navy secretary to seek elected office before or after a stint in the Cabinet. Plus: Sorting out the details of an old impeachment battle.
NPR logo Recruiting Senators from the Navy

Recruiting Senators from the Navy

The 32nd secretary of the Navy tried, in 1897, to become New York City's first mayor. hide caption

toggle caption

And he is a friend of ours: LaHood is this week's "Political Junkie" guest on NPR's Talk of the Nation. hide caption

toggle caption

Sixteen years ago today, the House failed to get a two-thirds vote to pass a constitutional amendment to protect the flag. They are still trying. hide caption

toggle caption

Q: Jim Webb, the Democratic challenger to Virginia Sen. George Allen this year, served as secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration. Virginia's senior senator, John Warner, is also a former Navy secretary, having served in the Nixon administration. If Webb should win, would this be the first time that both of a state's senators served in that post? — Sally Smith, Ashburn, Va.

A: Yes, but there is no shortage of Navy secretaries who either served in political office before their tenure in the Cabinet or after. In fact, John Warner is not even the first Virginia senator who had been secretary of the Navy. Claude Swanson, who was President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first Navy secretary (1933-1939), served Virginia in the House (1893-1906), as governor (1906-1910) and in the Senate (1910-1933) before FDR plucked him from Capitol Hill.

Here's a list of some other Navy secretaries (with dates of tenure and president who appointed him) whose biographies include candidacy for political office:

Benjamin Tracy (1889-1893, B. Harrison) — ran for mayor of New York City (R), 1897

Hilary Herbert (1893-1897, Cleveland) — member of the House from Alabama (D), 1877-1893

John Davis Long (1897-1902, McKinley) — Massachusetts lieutenant governor, 1879; governor, 1880-1882; House (R), 1883-1888

William Moody (1902-1904, T. Roosevelt) — member of the House from Massachusetts (R), 1895-1902

Victor Metcalf (1906-1908, T. Roosevelt) — member of the House from New York (R), 1899-1904

Truman Newberry (1908-09, T. Roosevelt) — member of the Senate from Michigan (R), 1919-1922

George von Lengerke Meyer (1909-13, Taft) — Speaker of the Massachusetts House (R), 1894-1896

Edwin Denby (1921-1923, Harding) — member of the House from Michigan (R), 1905-1911

Charles Edison (1940, FDR) — elected governor of New Jersey (D), 1940

Frank Knox (1940-1944, FDR) — Republican nominee for vice president, 1936

John Connally (1961, Kennedy) — governor of Texas (D), 1963-1968; switched to the GOP and sought the Republican presidential nomination, 1980

John Chafee (1969-72, Nixon) — governor of Rhode Island (R), 1963-1968; unsuccessful candidate for the Senate, 1972; member of the Senate, 1977-1999

Q: Former HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo is currently a Democratic candidate for state attorney general of New York. Has a former Cabinet member ever run for a "down ballot" office before? — Martha McCarthy, Darnestown, Md.

A: I love this question, but I confess I don't have an answer. I assume by "down ballot," you mean not governor, or U.S. Senate, or the House; as you know, there are many former Cabinet officials who sought those offices. I know that Patricia Roberts Harris, who was HEW (later HHS) Secretary under President Carter, ran for mayor of Washington, D.C., in 1982; I'm just not sure if "mayor" is considered a down-ballot office. As Adlai Stevenson did at the '56 convention, I open this up to all of you!

Q: If my understanding of history is correct, Andrew Johnson was impeached for violating the Tenure in Office Act by firing Cabinet officers. What happened to them? Did they leave before impeachment, stay on until impeachment, or leave after Johnson avoided being tossed out of office? — Arthur Kallen, Arlington, Va.

A: It was the firing of one man — Secretary of War Edwin Stanton — that initiated the move to impeach Johnson.

Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat who was placed on Abraham Lincoln's second-term ticket in 1864, was vice president for only six weeks when Lincoln was assassinated. At odds from day one with the Radical Republicans who controlled Congress, Johnson adopted a lenient position towards the South. The anti-Johnson forces in Congress made major gains in the 1866 midterm elections, and one of their legislative victories was passing the Tenure in Office Act, which gutted Johnson's power of removing officials from the Cabinet without Congress' approval. Johnson felt the act was unconstitutional and vetoed it, but the veto was easily overridden.

Nonetheless, Stanton, a Radical Republican who proved to be an effective secretary of war under Lincoln, was less forgiving of the South, and less tolerant of Johnson's actions. He often conspired with congressional leaders against the president. When Johnson decided to suspend Stanton, and ultimately removed him from the Cabinet, the move for impeachment took off. On Feb. 24, 1868, Johnson was impeached in the House by a vote of 126-47. With a two-thirds vote in the Senate required to remove Johnson from office, the May 16 vote to convict — 35 to 19 — came up one vote short.

Since Johnson survived a Senate bid to oust him, Stanton was left with little choice but to resign. But while Johnson's bid for the Republican presidential nomination — as well as the remaining months of his presidency — went nowhere, Stanton found himself appointed by President Ulysses Grant to the U.S. Supreme Court the following year. Four days after being confirmed by the Senate, however, Stanton was dead.

Q: During the Era of Good Feelings, John Quincy Adams, secretary of State under James Monroe, seems to have run at least a nominal campaign against his boss' re-election, but then returned to the Cabinet to formulate the Monroe Doctrine. What gives? — Jamie Eiler, New Albany, Ind.

A: While Adams was part of a faction of the Democratic-Republican Party that had its differences with President Monroe, he did not oppose Monroe's 1820 re-election at all. In fact, hardly anyone did; with the demise of the Federalist Party, Monroe's 1820 campaign was a walk in the park; hence, the "era of good feelings." That may be what prompted a New Hampshire elector to vote for Adams for president that year — not because of any serious Adams campaign, but simply because no one should be afforded the kind of coronation that greeted George Washington when he ran for re-election.

Adams never wavered from his strong support of the Monroe administration and, as you say, was a major force behind the implementation of the foreign policy known as the Monroe Doctrine.

Q: Who sings your theme song for the "Political Junkie" segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation? I love it! — Robin Stamp, Tempe, Ariz.

A: The song, "I Wanna Grow Up to Be a Politician," is by the Byrds. (Hear a clip). Not as in Senator Robert of West Virginia, or Senator Harry of Virginia. The Byrds, as in Roger McGuinn… 1971 or thereabouts.

Q: I can't wait to see what you have to say about your second-place Yankees in this week's column! — Henry Donovan, Newton, Mass.

A: It's funny you say that. I've suddenly discovered soccer and that "World Cup" thing everyone is talking about. (Did you know that you're not allowed to touch the ball with your hands?) I was especially fascinated by England's 2-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago — just another, as I see it, in the latest string of defeats for the Tobago industry.

Sorry, I haven't been following baseball this week.

I'M A MAIZED HE WOULD SAY THAT: Under what should have been the header, "Next Time Think Before You Type That," I suggested in last week's column that it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if outgoing Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) became a viable contender for his party's presidential nomination — because we would then pay less attention to the Iowa caucuses. I ended the thought with, "Raise your hand if you'd rather be in New Hampshire."


"Are you serious?" asks Dan Conley of Chicago, Ill. "I've worked both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary and I'd much rather work the caucuses for the simple fact that Iowans are much nicer people than New Hampshirites." (Hey, N.H.: Want Dan's home phone number?)

And our good friend Ken Bode at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., adds, "I'm not sure what to make of your wish that the Iowa caucuses are rendered null for 2008. The problem is not Iowa or New Hampshire, per se, it's that the whole thing effectively ends after those two. P.S. If you make me choose between the two, I pick the Hawkeye State (maybe because I grew up there)."

I didn't mean to diss Iowa, though it certainly came off that way. It is true, I have more of a personal affection towards N.H., having been in the state for every presidential primary since '76 (my first Iowa foray wasn't until '87-88). And I think I also have more of a romanticism about the N.H. primary, how it made/wounded/broke candidates, the history of it all (going back to 1952), a history I don't think especially pertains to Iowa. In addition, I think I've been feeling sorry for the Granite State lately, given the proposal on the table by the Democratic National Committee that would inject several caucuses in between the two state contests (and thus would lessen the importance of N.H.).

So I apologize. I realize I came off too harshly. Iowa can have its caucuses after all.

REMINDER: "Political Junkie" is featured every Wednesday on NPR's Talk of the Nation, a live call-in program. This week is an expanded "Junkie" segment, starting at 2:05 p.m. Eastern. Theme: Republican strategy for the 2006 midterms. Special guest: Illinois Congressman Ray LaHood (R).

Also … check out NPR's interactive election map, highlighting every Senate, gubernatorial and key House race in the country, with early projections.

Podcast Update: The inaugural edition of "It's All Politics," NPR's weekly political podcast, is up and running. Featuring the rantings of Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving and myself, it is ready to be downloaded on your iPod — assuming that's what one does with a podcast. (I don't have a clue; I'm still trying to figure out my eight-track player.) New edition goes up every Thursday at noon. Check out the podcasting page on the NPR Web site for more details.

This Day in Political History: The Supreme Court declares unconstitutional laws that prohibit people from burning the flag (June 21, 1989). In response, the House votes on a constitutional amendment to protect the flag. But the margin, 254-177, is 34 votes short of the two-thirds necessary for passage (June 21, 1990).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: