Nixon Faces Mounting Pressure to Resign
Turkey dinner at the White House this year will doubtless bear no resemblance to the festive Thanksgiving meal that followed closely on Richard Nixon's landslide re-election. Republican leaders who visited the president at Camp David. Md. or in New York during the four-day weekend, came to congratulate the "world's greatest peacemaker," to watch the annual Thanksgiving football rivalries on television and possibly to discuss plans for a cabinet post in the administration's second term.
If Congress has confirmed Rep. Gerald R. Ford (R-Mich.) as vice president by Thanksgiving, as Democrats and Republicans now predict, this year's White House guests may be interested in something of far graver import than football--the president's resignation.
Every day, evidence mounts on Capitol Hill that Republican leaders in Congress will spend a great deal of their time between now and Thanksgiving discussing among themselves the best way to approach Richard Milhous Nixon to suggest that he resign for the good of the Republican Party.
This will be a difficult task for men who have supported Nixon faithfully for so many years and one which they have sought to avoid at all costs. But by the middle of last week it was finally clear to many Republicans that Nixon had become "an albatross around their necks," and that unless they wanted to risk "complete disaster" in the 1974 Congressional elections they had to find a way of easing him out of the Presidency.
Although most of them are not yet ready to support outright the moves to impeach the president, leading Congressional Republicans last week indicated that they are, in one senator's words. "taking the logical course and moving away from Nixon."
Sen. Barry Goldwater remarked Thursday that the president's credibility has sunk to an all-time low and may never recover, and reportedly said in private that Nixon should resign.
The Senate Rules Committee's questioning of Ford made it quite clear that Congress is examining him as the next president and Ford, in his testimony, made it equally clear that he is being careful to divorce himself from the president's Watergate affairs. And Senate Minority leader Hugh Scott (R-Pa.)--probably Nixon's strongest and most vocal supporter through the Watergate crisis--was reported by one of his aides to be "considering the damage to the Republican Party which could result if Nixon remains in the White House."
Several conservative Republicans have already admitted outright that cloakroom talk of resignation has begun. Senator Milton Young (R-N.D.), told The Crimson Friday. "I've heard some talk of asking the president to resign in the Senate. If the president's position with the public continues to decline, I think it could happen."
The chairman of the House Campaign Committee, Rep. Robert H. Michel (R-III.) told the Los Angeles Times Friday he has heard a lot of private discussion favoring resignation.
Rep. John H. Rousselot (R-Calif.) said last week that discussion among Congressmen regarding "how effective the president can now be is very evident, but one must realize how hard it is to bring the kind of pressure needed for resignation."
The turning point for many Republicans who have staunchly defended the president in the past was the mid-week announcement by Nixon's lawyers, claiming that two of the nine Watergate tapes which Nixon agreed to turn over to District Court Judge John Sirica have never existed.
"I believe that Nixon has finally run out his string," an aide to one of the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee said last week. "Most members of Congress have reacted to the latest announcement (of the missing tapes) with a certain degree of calm because they've already made up their minds. Even thoughtful Republicans have given up on Nixon now."
The source said that major Republican leaders in the House and Senate will now await the outcome of the hearings on Ford's confirmation and then try to schedule a meeting to discuss resignation with the president.
"You've to got to understand that these are men who must face re-election campaigns next fall. All incumbents are going to be hurting, but Republicans who try to stick by Nixon realize they are putting their necks on the chopping blocks," another Congressional aide said last week.
Naturally, Congressional Republicans are reluctant to discuss impeachment or resignation, but the past week brought few public declarations of faith in the president's claim that the tapes never did exist.
Most sources agree that even if Republican leaders decide to pressure Nixon to resign, they will not publicize their efforts. After all, one of the Republican aides said, "No matter what, Nixon is a Republican and they must at least give outward indications that they are not actively seeking his removal, even if they don't voice support for him."
They also agree that Republicans and Congressmen in general would prefer Nixon's resignation to his removal from office by impeachment--if the question reaches that stage. Despite the massive public outcry for impeachment and the flooding of Congressional offices with anti-Nixon letters, few people on Capitol Hill believe they have the required votes to carry out impeachment.
Members of Congress, especially conservative Republicans, are generally reluctant to push for impeachment under almost any circumstances. Besides the fact that the proceedings would involve drawn-out, bitter debates and a tremendous shock to the entire political process, the lawmakers have to protect their own self-interest. An all-out effort to find the necessary evidence of "high crimes and misdemeanors" could end up incriminating a lot more politicians than Nixon.
Resignation, rather than impeachment, is then considered the best solution to the country's crisis. For now, much of the backroom talk among Republicans centers around the best way to approach Nixon with the request for resignation.
Republican leaders, including Scott, have sent several messages--described by some sources as ultimatums--to the president in recent weeks. So even if they won't admit it publicly, it is apparent that the GOP wants the Watergate ordeal cleared up at any cost--well before campaigns for 1974 start--even if members are forced to pressure the resignation of their standard-bearer.
Recent reports from the White House have indicated that Nixon is spending more time alone and meeting with fewer advisers and friends than ever before. This, the reporters say, is the president's choice. But if pressure for resignation continues, Nixon may have more visitors in coming weeks.
One of the Republican sources said last week, "The next step will be by the Republican leadership; if they request a meeting with the president, there's little doubt what they will want."
This Thanksgiving the president may have to concern himself with more important things than turkey dinner and football.
The announcement of the missing tapes reportedly drew a calm reaction from most members of Congress. "They've already made up their minds. Even thoughtful Republicans have given up on Nixon now."