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And Johnson had, more lately, turned aside Robert Kennedy’s desire to be his running mate in 1964. Robert Kennedy never seriously chided me about my friendship with Johnson, although he and Ethel did tease me a little about it from time to time. Indeed, Kennedy once offered to support me for a leadership position in the Senate, precisely because I got along with Johnson and could therefore serve as a go-between with him. Johnson never said anything directly to me, either, about my friendship with Robert Kennedy, but he let me know he didn’t like it. Once, when LaDonna and I were weekend guests of Robert and Ethel Kennedy at their home in Hyannis Port, the President called me. Ethel got up from the dinner table to answer the telephone. “It’s President Johnson for you, Fred,” she announced, giggling. “He’s found you, and you’re in big trouble now, kid.” On the telephone the Presi dent and I chatted amiably for a while, and that was that. He had wanted nothing in particular, except, I figured, to let me know he knew where I was. Not long after that, Johnson found a way to give me the message a little more clearly. I was back in Oklahoma one weekend, when Dean A. McGee, president of the Kerr-McGee Oil Company, telephoned and said that he would like to see me, that he had something very important to tell me. McGee was a friend of President Johnson’s and had supported me for the Senate. I went over to his office. “I was with the President the other day, and he said something about you,” McGee began, in a confidential tone. “I’m sure he meant for me to pass it on to you, or he wouldn’t have said it to me. The President said he really liked you, but he could do a lot more for you if you weren’t so close to those Kennedys.” McGee then observed that I could do whatever I liked with the information; he had thought he owed it to me to pass it along for whatever it was worth. I thanked him and told him I would see the President personally about the matter. The following Monday, I did go to see the President. We chatted for a while, and then the President said, “What’s on your mind, Fred?” “Dean McGee told me you thought I was too close to the Kennedys,” I said. The President remained totally expressionless, making no acknowledgement or response at all. I continued, “Bob Kennedy is my close friend, and I’m his, as you know. And I’ll tell you the same thing that I told Malvina Stephenson of the Tulsa World. She asked me, wasn’t I getting too close to the Kennedys and didn’t I know that they were trying to build a power base in the Senate? I said, ‘So am I, Malvina.”‘ The President smiled and changed the subject, and he never again, directly or indirectly, said anything to me about my friendship with Robert Kennedy. Defection All the time that Johnson was president, I could tell by his manner, when I went through a White House reception line, how he regarded me at the moment. If he felt good toward me, he would hold up the line and continue to clasp my hand while chatting with me, never about much of importance. Society reporters would take note, as Johnson knew they would, and there would be plenty of time for news photographs of us together. When from time to time I was not in favor, Johnson’s eyes would be hooded and expressionless. I would get a quick handshake and a weary “How are you, Fred?” and be moved on. I received that treatment frequently white I was working on the Kerner Commission report. It was even worse when I teamed up with Robert Kennedy against a Social Security bill that the President wanted. The bill had a Johnson-sponsored increase in it for Social Security beneficiaries, but it also included amendments whose provisions were terribly repressive and punitive toward welfare mothers. Johnson opposed the welfare amendments, but he wanted Kennedy and me to let them pass and fight them later, in order to get his Social Security increase adopted. Kennedy and I refused to step aside, until we were, eventually, defeated by a piece of adept Senate maneuvering by Sen. Russell Long of Louisiana. Johnson was deeply angered by my independence on that occasion. And it was worse still when, very late in the day not until the spring of 1968 I began to move away from Johnson’s position on the Vietnam war. For too long, I had accepted at face value the White House briefingsfull-dress presentations by the President himself, the Johnson and I understood each other because we talked the same language. A friend who knew us both observed, “When Lyndon Johnson and Fred Harris are in the same room, there’s one too many talkers.”