Even FDR can’t win them all.
The Supreme Court reorganization legislation is in a very bad way on Capitol Hill, and the President has only himself to blame. Two months ago the program had an assured majority of six in the Senate and from fifty to seventy-five in the House. Today the original six-judge bill is entirely washed up, and the prospects even of a compromise on a two-judge basis are none too bright. Finally aroused to the danger of damaging defeat which faces him, the President is bestirring himself and cracking the whip. He probably will succeed in preventing a complete rout, but he is in the tightest spot of his incumbency, and if he emerges with even part of his skin he can count himself lucky.
For a highly touted political wizard the President’s generalship on the court legislation has been a brilliant flop. His opening maneuvers had all the elements of dynamic leadership and astute strategy—surprise, boldness, and aggressiveness. He sprang his plan without warning, catching the opposition off guard and unprepared. While it was still floundering around, disorganized and leaderless, he followed up his offensive with two smashing radio attacks. The situation was clearly in his hands. He had only to push home his drive by forcing speedy legislative action. Instead, Mr. Roosevelt stopped dead in his tracks and amiably let the opposition rally its cohorts and launch a shattering counter-attack. Every dictate of ordinary horse sense called for starting the bill through the legislative mill in the House. That was, and still is, the weak point of the opposition. The chamber’s limited-debate rules and general amenability to party Control lend themselves readily to parliamentary manipulation by a forceful and determined leadership. Committee hearings could have been rushed and the bill jammed through the House in a few days. Then with this okay in his hands, the President would have been in a powerful position to deal with the Senate. For one thing, the fence straddlers and waverers there would have been less inclined to rebel. Also, on the ground that public views already had been heard in the House, committee hearings in the Senate could have been either dispensed with entirely or held to a minimum. Finally, there was the psychological factor. House approval would have put the Senate opposition on the defensive.
But despite all these patent advantages to be gained by starting the ball rolling in the House, the President and his corps of master-minds, for some still unexplained reason, decided to launch their Congressional offensive in the hard-boiled Senate. As one disgusted Democratic floor leader expressed it, “This proposition wasn’t tough enough, they had to make it tougher by going at it the hardest way.”