Happy Mother’s Day!
Over the past few weeks, I read Robert Caro’s brilliant (and massive) four volumes on Lyndon Johnson. The fourth one, which covers 1958-1964, came out two weeks ago. I did this for a few reasons. First, I thought that this would help me as I revise the Bingham book. Working for three years a biography feels like a massive project to me, but consider that Caro has spent more than thirty-five years on LBJ! Second, the portion on LBJ’s Senate career contains powerful insights on how Congress works. I’ve written about the Senate filibuster before, and now I’m thinking of moving to the committee structure and rules that relate to party discipline in both Houses. More on that later this week.
Here’s a small point that I found interesting from a constitutional perspective. After Pearl Harbor, about eight members of Congress (including LBJ) enlisted in the Armed Forces without resigning their seats. In 1942, FDR ordered those members to return to politics, on the ground that their service there was more valuable. Some complied, and others quit the House so that they could serve in battle.
My question is why does the President have the authority to tell members of Congress that they cannot serve in the active military? Sure, he’s the Commander-in-Chief, but such an order would seem to intrude unduly on the prerogatives of members of another branch and of the voters who choose them. It’s not a problem that’s likely to recur, but it’s puzzling.