Wednesday, January 11, 1967
Lyndon Johnson, Joseph Keenan

White House Operator: Ready, sir.

President Johnson: Hello.

Joseph Keenan: Hello?

President Johnson: Hi, Joe.

Keenan: How are you?

President Johnson: [Unclear] thank you.

Keenan: Well, listen, I'd just like to--give me a little run-down what your ideas [are] on this joining the two departments [Commerce and Labor] together. They've been calling me. I don't disagree with it, but I've just get--they ask a lot of questions, and I don't know anything about it.

President Johnson: There's very little left in [the Department of] Commerce and what is left in Commerce is export, census, statistics, economic bureau, technology, Bureau of Standards--all of it fits into a very good picture with [the Department of] Labor, and we're always talking about labor management and we're always talking about coordinating the two departments, and it was our feeling--I talked to [AFL-CIO President] George [Meany] at some length about it--but it was our feeling that when--Connor came for a couple of years and he won't be here much longer. We have a vacancy over there in the Undersecretary. We haven't named him, so we don't have any business people to throw out.

Keenan: Yeah.

President Johnson: And our feeling was that if we were ever--and there's nothing left over there. We've taken all the transportation functions like the good Bureau of Public Roads spends $4 billion every year--stuff of that type--and it's gone over to [the Department of] Transportation and [the] Federal Aviation [Administration] has gone to Transportation, and all of those functions. So, we could have one central organization and get a top, brilliant young fellow to be Undersecretary of Commerce. If we made it business and labor and we have an undersecretary there and have a top labor man as Undersecretary of Labor, and then we could probably, I guess, Jim Reynolds would probably go in that place. We're getting ready to nominate him for Undersecretary, as you know--

Keenan: Yeah.

President Johnson: --to succeed [Undersecretary of Labor John] Henning and that--this would be a very good thing for the whole country and for the organization and particularly for labor.

Keenan: Can you build up the Labor Department, too?

President Johnson: Well, yeah, we got all of it. We keep every bit of it, and it just gives it more power and more standing and more prestige. It stays right where it is, you see.

Keenan: Because it's--with the way now and I'd think that--

President Johnson: Neither one of them are powerful enough now to do much but if you had both of them together, it's like both of us. Our resources don't amount to much but we go into partnership, why, we got something.

Keenan: Look, well, that's all I wanted to know. The newspaper was calling me, and I just wanted to get [unclear].

President Johnson: I'd just say first of all--

Keenan: [Unclear.]

President Johnson: I'd say first of all that a good many of the functions that are left over there are of vital interest to labor, like exporting.

Keenan: I see.

President Johnson: Like travel, like selling our goods abroad, like the travel service, like the technological developments, the weather, and these scientific things like the Bureau of Standards. That's--labor's future depends on a lot of those things. And the Census Bureau--they have figures on the families and everything there, all the census. So it's--get every activity they have is, be just as much interested if it were in the Labor Department per se, by itself. But we--we're going to call them both departments and combine them like we say.

Keenan: [Unclear] work it out with George [Meany] then.

President Johnson: Health, education. Well, I didn't say I worked it out. I talked to him about it in detail, and it impressed him. I don't want to speak for him. I never do that because that's a matter for him. But he said he would talk to all of his people and talk to you-all and I think he's anxious to help on it. I can't--it's like--it's very much like a man's getting four hundred dollars a month and he says I'd like to raise you to seven hundred. What do you think about it? 

Kennan: OK.

President Johnson: I think if he's got any sense he'd be for it.

Keenan: OK.

President Johnson: Now, we'll have some troubles, some businessmen, because they think that you have a lot of red-hot labor union organizer[s] heading it up. But we'll have to meet that when we get to it. What we got to do is get the department, and we've got to--all of your labor people, of course, will be transferred intact over there, and you'll have--

Keenan: Well, we'll have to do something with that, too, to bring it in line. It's completely lost its identity as far as our union is concerned, and that's what's always concerned me.

President Johnson: Yeah, well--

Keenan: You know, they-- there--well, there's nothing there that represents us with the average rank and file and, of course, that can be talked about later.

President Johnson: OK. That's what'll have to be done. What you ought to do is to get your labor paper and your, however you-all communicate--and Meany and you and [Solomon] Barkin and [unclear: Bemiller] and Lane Kirkland. About ten of you ought to come over and sit down and let Joe Califano, who is your friend and who works closely with you, let him outline to you the advantages from your standpoint so you can see it. I told him this morning [to] get you a meeting today or tomorrow. And they all sit down and take your notes and then go back and make up your mind and then get behind the damn thing quietly. I wouldn't get--I wouldn't raise too much hell. I'd just say, "Anything that's economical--"

Keenan: Yeah.

President Johnson: "Anything that's efficient makes sense to us. That's what we're interested in, period."

Keenan: OK. All right. Fine. OK.

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