Friday, December 30, 1966
Lyndon Johnson, George Meany
LBJ Ranch

The conversation has already begun when the recording starts.

President Johnson: --and I hope you had a good Christmas?

George Meany: Very good.

President Johnson: Are you getting ready to go down to Miami?

Meany: No, no, no. I'll be here.

President Johnson: When are you going?

Meany: Oh, not for another four weeks.

President Johnson: Oh, it's that long?

Meany: Oh, yeah.

President Johnson: George, I want to ask you--give you a bombshell and let you think about it and not discuss it with anybody, except maybe your boy [Lane] Kirkland if you want to. But let's don't let it get out anywhere else. I--I'm--you may-- [Joe] Califano may have called you. Has he talked to you this morning?

Meany: No.

President Johnson: I want you to give some rather serious thought from my standpoint as well as yours--

Meany: Yeah.

President Johnson: --to putting the Commerce Department over in the Labor Department. We're going to have--now, this is just between us and I'm talking to you like my brother--

Meany: Yeah.

President Johnson: It may or may not be wise but the only way I can find out is to get some good heads that had some experience to look at it.

Meany: Yeah.

President Johnson: We're concentrating 32 administrative agencies in the Department of Transportation. We pulled together HEW [Health, Education, and Welfare] much more efficiently, as you know, with [the] Food and Drug [Administration] and all that, Surgeon General and everything. We have pulled together HEW pretty well.

Meany: Yeah.

President Johnson: Now, Commerce has got nothing left.

Meany: Yeah.

President Johnson: It exports some stuff. It's got some census. It's got some economic reports that conflict with the Bureau of Labor statistics. And it's generally regarded as the spokesman for business.

Meany: Yeah.

President Johnson: But it really doesn't. The President makes whatever decisions that he thinks ought to be made. I would say the biggest spokesman for business is normally the Treasury Department.

Meany: Yeah.

President Johnson: Now, that department over there--that fellow hasn't got much to do. [Secretary of Commerce John] Connor is--came for two years. He's going to be leaving.

Meany: Yeah.

President Johnson: If we could combine the two and I could get it through, I would be glad for [Secretary of Labor Willard] Wirtz to be the head of it while I'm there, if he wants to. If he wants to leave, I'd be glad for [James] Reynolds to.

Meany: Yeah.

President Johnson: Now, it may or may not be right. They may say, well, labor would lose its identity.

Meany: Yeah.

President Johnson: I don't think you'd change a thing in the world in labor.

Meany: No.

President Johnson: I think you'd just increase it.

Meany: Yep.

President Johnson: The businessmen say, well, business will lose its identity and I would say, "Well, Jim Reynolds is a damn good businessman, very sympathetic to it. Wirtz has been representing them all of his life. He's a good one. And the Treasury's here. And you want to save money. And we could just call it the Department of Human and Economic Development. And our--if you want labor's name in it, you could call it the Department of Labor and Economics. It's just something we've been thinking about.

My braintrusters, who are not very practical, don't know any of your problems, [and] don't know a lot of my political ones, think it's very desirable. I have not talked to Wirtz and I have not talked to Connor.

Meany: Yeah.

President Johnson: They're both liable to blow, but I didn't want to 'til I talked to you.

Meany: Well, my first reaction is I don't see anything wrong with it.

President Johnson: I think it would strengthen you. And I talked to your boy [Thomas] Donahue yesterday--

Meany: Yeah.

President Johnson: --at considerable length. Ms. Johnson did, too. We were quite impressed and we're think he's going to be very, very good. I want to talk to Wirtz and be sure. Now, you cleared him with Wirtz, didn't you?

Meany: Oh, yes. And Wirtz has gone and talked to him since then and is quite pleased.

President Johnson: I told him that I expect him to be loyal to his country.

Meany: Yeah.

President Johnson: And that is the first consideration, labor or no labor, that I expect him to be loyal to his President, and I expect him to be loyal to you. And that--could he do all those three without having any major conflicts? And if he did have conflicts, just be loyal to his God. And he said he could.

Meany: Yeah, I think so.

President Johnson: And I told him that you and I didn't have any trouble being true to each other, and he ought to be able to do the same. He said he could.

Meany: Yeah.

President Johnson: And then we talked about different things, and Ms. Johnson, she had a couple hours with him, and we came away with kind of a, oh, I guess a grade A.

Meany: Yeah.

President Johnson: So, I'll call Wirtz and he's on--talk to him. You think about this and then I'll talk to you when I get back.

Meany: OK. Fine.

President Johnson: Thank you.

Original tape courtesy of LBJ Library. This transcript is a working draft. Please let us know if you find important errors.