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MPR’s Paul Gruchow reports on U.S. Senator Walter Mondale’s speech on the congressional floor about abuses of Nixon administration.

In a speech on the floor of Congress Walter Mondale comments on the presidency and abuses of presidential power. He says legislation is needed to protect basic liberties and to address the increasing power of the White House, causing an imbalance in the branches of government. He proposes a long list of reforms.


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WALTER MONDALE: We need a strong presidency, but a legal and open presidency with strong safeguards to protect against the abuses of presidential power. We must ensure that Americans' basic personal liberties are never again violated by spying and wiretapping and espionage directed from the White House for political purposes. To do this, we must pass legislation to protect Americans' basic liberties and give Congress the power it needs to regain its position as a co-equal branch of government.

And for the long term, in my opinion, we need a commission on the Office of the Presidency to examine what has happened to the office, why it has happened, and what can be done to ensure that the presidency remains open and accountable to the American people and to the Congress.

PAUL GRUCHOW: Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale speaking in Washington today about the presidency, the subject of his floor speech. Mondale was sharply critical of President Nixon, saying he has misrepresented the will of the people and misrepresented the will of the Congress. A major portion of the blame, the senator said, must be ascribed to the changing nature of the presidency itself, which he described as moving toward monarchy. "Now the presidency has become larger than life," Mondale said, "and larger than law."

He went on, "We have created an office so at variance with many of our democratic ideals and traditions that it marks itself as an easy target. We have allowed modern-day presidents to flee from reality, shielded by the perquisites that may cost the American taxpayer $100 million per year. No one knows the exact cost in dollars." Mondale said. "The White House won't tell us."

Continuing from his speech, "But we do know this. Today, when the president wishes to travel, a fleet of 27 planes, valued at more than $80 million, awaits his command. Four more costing between $5 and $8 million each are now being purchased. When he wishes to talk with advisors from anywhere in the world, a communications network estimated to cost $35 million per year to operate is at his command.

When he travels on world diplomacy, the trips can cost $5 to $10 million each. And his travels to San Clemente this year alone have cost the American taxpayer over $1 million. When he wishes his home's appointed in a style befitting a royal head of state, it is done. And we are only now learning how many millions it has all cost. And when he wants to equip White House Police in uniforms worthy of a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera or a South American Banana Republic, it is done without question.

Obviously," Mondale said, "the president must be able to communicate instantly in case of emergency. He must have adequate security. He must be able to travel on important official business. But the extravagance of the presidential establishment breeds isolation. And in the wake of Watergate, this isolation may in turn breed anger on the part of the American people, who may wish to eliminate not only the frills, but also much that is necessary."

Mondale was also critical of the growing size of the White House staff. "From 1955 to 1970," he said, "the Executive Office of the President grew about 24%. In the three years between 1970 and 1973, it has grown by 25%. Since 1970," Mondale said, "nine new offices within the Executive Office of the President have been created. They have usurped power from existing agencies and departments and have done so with an arrogance that has often astounded longtime observers of the American political scene.

Most importantly," he said, "this has resulted in power flowing away from executive agencies and officers accountable to the Congress and being exercised by White House aides not accountable either to the Congress or the people, shielded by executive privilege and not subject to confirmation." In his speech, Mondale proposed a broad series of reforms to correct what he sees as a growing abuse of power in the presidency.

His proposals include new legislation to prohibit spying or wiretapping for political ends, a requirement that every important officer within the Executive Office of the President must be confirmed by the Senate, legislation requiring members of the president's staff to appear before the Congress for public questioning, strong anti-impoundment legislation, legislation requiring Senate approval of executive agreements with foreign powers, legislation establishing an Office of Congressional Counsel with the authority to bring, in the name of Congress, suits against illegal Executive branch actions, and finally, establishment of the Commission on the Office of the Presidency to re-examine the institution of the presidency.

"In short," Senator Mondale said, "we need a life-sized presidency with its faults recognized, its virtues praised, and its interaction with Congress and the courts one of mutual respect." I'm Paul Gruchow.


Digitization made possible by the State of Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, approved by voters in 2008.

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