CONGRESSIONAL RECORD - SENATE
MARCH 7, 1961
DEBATE ON A JAVITS MOTION TO RECOMMIT TO THE COMMITTEE ON BANKING AND CURRENCY THE NOMINATION OF CHARLES M. MERIWETHER TO BE A MEMBER OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE EXPORT-IMPORT BANK.
Mr. MUSKIE. Mr. president, I hesitate to impose upon the patience of my colleagues, and I suppose I could delay my remarks on the nomination until after this vote. However, as a member of the committee, I think I have an obligation to make my position known before the vote on the motion of the Senator from Oregon.
As some of my colleagues may have noted, when the vote was taken in committee I withheld my vote. I did so because at the time the vote was taken I had not heard or read all of the testimony that had been taken, and I refused to take a position until I had the benefit of that testimony. I feel that at this point, before any vote is taken, I should make the decision which was made by my colleagues on the committee, by indicating publicly what my position is.
As the discussion this afternoon makes clear, a vote on a Presidential nomination is not a matter to be entered into lightly. All of us, as the distinguished Senator from Oregon has pointed out, have a very special obligation to examine with care any nomination presented to us for our advice and consent. The obligation to be absolutely fair and, insofar as possible, objective applies to those cases in which we may disagree with the nominee as well as to those cases in which the nominee has our enthusiastic support.
In the case of the President's nomination of Mr. Meriwether to be a member of the Board of Directors of the Export-Import Bank of Washington, I am confronted by a choice in respect to a man with whom I disagree on the crucial issue of civil rights. I am also confronted by a special responsibility as a member of the Senate Committee on Banking and Currency.
On March 2, the date of the hearing on Mr. Meriwether's nomination, as I have said, I was unavoidably detained during the morning session of the committee. As a result, I was unable to benefit from the close and careful examination of the nominee conducted by the senior Senator from New York. Under the circumstances, and in view of the controversy surrounding the nomination, I did not consider it wise for me to take a position.
I have since had an opportunity to examine the record in detail, and on the basis of information contained therein I have reached my decision.
If I were to vote today in committee, on the basis of that testimony, I would vote to support the President's nomination of Mr. Meriwether. I take this position recognizing that I do not agree with Mr. Meriwether's position on segregation, nor do I approve the program of his party organization in Alabama on the civil rights question.
I do not contend that this is an outstanding appointment. I say that the President has, after due deliberation and examination of the record, nominated Mr. Meriwether.
I point out at this moment that after the President indicated his intention to nominate Mr. Meriwether several weeks passed, weeks during which the President was given ample warning that it was a controversial nomination, and weeks during which, I assume, the President took extraordinary care to check upon the qualifications of this nominee.
On the record of the hearings, which is the record upon which as a committee member I have to indicate my position, I find no evidence to justify denying consent to the Presidents nomination.
Serious objections have been raised to Mr. Meriwether's nomination on at least two grounds. The first objection is that as an exponent of segregation in Alabama he would not vote to administer the Export-Import Bank, or the loans of the Export-Import Bank, in line with U.S. policy prohibiting segregation in Federal institutions and agencies and encouraging development of countries in the nonwhite areas of the world.
The second objection is that his political associations with certain extremist, anti-Negro, anti-Semitic, and anti-Catholic persons disqualify him from consideration for this important post.
On the first point, I think it must be said Mr. Meriwether acquitted himself with integrity in his testimony before the Senate Committee on Banking and Currency. He did not deny or seek to gloss over his attitude on such questions as school integration in Alabama and in other Southern States. On this issue I must repeat that I disagree with him, and I am perfectly happy to refer the Senate to the record.
At the same time, under strong questioning by the senior Senator from New York he stated very emphatically that he would obey the laws and regulations of the Federal Government on nonsegregation, in Federal agencies and that he would not allow his decisions to be influenced by integration questions in other countries which may seek assistance from the Export-Import Bank.
Indeed, his statement on noninterference in domestic questions in countries seeking loans from the Export-Import Bank is exemplary.
On the question of Mr. Meriwether's political associations, it must be said, regrettably, that the attempt to disqualify him on these grounds approaches accusations of guilt by association. I cannot agree with or condone such a position. I react against it when it is used against people who share my religious background or my political background, and I react against it when it is used against those who have a different background from my own.
On the issue of Admiral Crommelin, it has not been demonstrated in any way that Mr. Meriwether was associated with him during or after the admiral made anti-Semitic remarks. It has not been demonstrated that Mr. Meriwether had a close association with Mr. Shelton, the alleged head of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan.
In addition, there is no evidence that Mr. Meriwether is or ever was a member of the Klan.
There have been other allegations relative to Mr. Meriwether's previous activities or experience: No proof was submitted to support these allegations, and consequently very little weight can be attached to them.
I was as aware as anyone else in the country, and as any Member of the Senate, from the moment the President indicated his intention to nominate Mr. Meriwether, that this would be a controversial nomination.
I was aware of and read very carefully every word which was written to substantiate the allegations. I expected that as a result of the days and weeks of this kind of open discussion, frank discussion, and blunt discussion, the members of the committee would be given a full case not only by those who supported the nomination, but also by those who opposed it.
I refer my colleagues of the Senate to the statement in the report of the hearings that nobody asked to be heard against the nomination of Mr. Meriwether. Oh, we received anonymous documents of one kind or another, calling our attention to accusations made in the public press, but not a scrap of evidence was adduced in the committee by anyone to support these accusations, in my judgment.
I can only make up my mind on the same basis on which I should like others to make up their minds about me. I wish to be fair. I wish to be factual. I wish to be objective. I am not going to make a decision on the basis of anything else but the facts and the evidence as presented to us.
I repeat, I do not regard this as a strong nomination or a strong appointment. I think there are other men who might have been selected. I am sure there are other men who could have been selected who would be able to fill the post more effectively and more adequately. But I find nothing in the record of the hearings to justify opposition to the appointment.
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The motion to recommit subsequently failed, 18-66, 16 not voting.