Nixon and Cuomo: An Unlikely Duo

    RN and Cuomo

    A never-before-seen memo from former President Richard Nixon addressed to Governor Mario Cuomo of New York uncovers an unlikely relationship between two political heavyweights on opposing ends of the political spectrum.

    Governor Cuomo, a staunch and old-school Democrat who passed away on January 1 of 2015, formed a surprisingly amicable relationship with the former President—a camaraderie that facilitated some animated intellectual and political exchange.

    In an article that highlights the late Governor’s relationship with her and President Nixon, Washington Times editor Monica Crowley sheds light on their relationship.

    “Nixon and Cuomo often shared copies of books they found interesting. They’d leave Nixon’s hands dog-eared and underlined, only to come back after Cuomo had read them, even more beaten up. After both men had read each book, a long conversation would ensue,” Crowley recalls when she worked as President Nixon’s foreign policy assistant from 1990 until his death in 1994.

    “They may not have agreed on much, but they admired each other’s wide-ranging minds and scope of impact.”

    Much like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, RN admired the colorful Governor whom he considered a man “refreshing and stimulating.” The men respected each others’ intellectual desire, nor did they refrain from sharing their ardent views with one another.

    On September 19, 1987, Governor Cuomo began a much anticipated trip to the Soviet Union for what was deemed a mission of peace. Tapped as a possible presidential candidate for the 1988 presidential elections despite having already announced his decision not to run, Cuomo’s trip attracted ample media attention. Among his traveling party were 12 reporters.

    Two days prior, in understanding of the gravity of Cuomo’s trip, RN wrote a letter to the Governor offering advice on how he should handle his trek to Moscow. RN listed four suggestions taken from his prior experiences: advice on handling the media, on talking points in the case of a conversation with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, on Afghanistan and on how Cuomo should address the prospect of annual summits on arms control and trade.

    “The media will have an enormous interest in what you say,” RN suggested, warning Cuomo that those in the press corps will want him to criticize President Reagan openly. “I would suggest that you should parry their queries by saying that you have some differences with the Reagan Administration’s foreign policy but that you will always follow the practice of never criticizing your own country’s policies while travelling abroad and will make such criticisms only when you are in the United States.”

    Evidently, Cuomo took RN’s advice in this regard. In his public statements before his departure, Cuomo stated that he would not criticize his president or his country.

    “I go there as an American, not a Democrat,” stated Cuomo to the press. “I will not say anything that criticizes my president or my country.”

    Later, Cuomo would publicly praise the former President’s advice.

    “Nixon was very, very helpful.”

    Read the memo below:

      Nixon Takes the World to the Great Beyond

        Optimized-Space Cooperation Nixon Kosygin

        President Nixon and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin sign the Cooperation in Space Agreement on May 24, 1972

        With the end of the Apollo space program in sight two years into his first term, President Nixon knew that his Administration had to rethink the future of space and its place in American foreign policy. NASA’s budgetary demands needed to be curtailed and its vast amounts of resources redirected in order to keep the country’s priorities in line. Nixon’s solution was to bring the United States’ space exploration initiatives into its foreign policy realm by pushing for further cooperation in space with both Europe and amazingly, the Soviet Union. Nixon effectively put an end to the combatant space-race between the U.S. and Soviet Union, which he saw as the source of past mistakes and inefficiencies. Instead Nixon and his Administration ushered in a new era of global cooperation in space science that would benefit the world as a whole.

        On May 24, 1972 during his trip to Moscow, President Nixon and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin signed the Cooperation in Space treaty that committed the United States and Soviet Union to a joint effort in exploring the heavens and conducting space research. The trademark mission of the agreement was the Apollo-Soyuz Test Program which resulted in a successful docking of an American Apollo module carrying 3 NASA astronauts and a Soviet Soyuz module carrying 2 Soviet cosmonauts, the first ever joint mission between two countries’ space programs.


        Two NASA astronauts mingle with a Soviet cosmonaut during the successful Apollo-Soyuz Test Program 1975

        Additional agreements with the Europeans (and later the Japanese), the Nixon Administration ensured that the future of space would be a collective global initiative in which many countries would contribute in costs and one in which the entire world would benefit from the scientific research made available. It is hard to imagine that such cooperative financial and budgetary commitments on a global scale would ever take place in the world today. It is also hard to imagine that such programs would actually be accomplished at their original budgetary levels as the Space Shuttle program and the international programs had done. More connected cooperation between the United States and Soviet Union in particular greatly contributed to the success of President Nixon’s détente policy and to the success of his foreign policy agenda as a whole. Cooperation in space both improved relations between the U.S. and Soviet Union and brought Western Europe and the United States even closer. Such joint scientific endeavors could be the key to improved relations between the nations of the world and Nixon’s example should be included in the playbook of any current or future world leader.

        Through the initiative to make space exploration a shared global endeavor, President Nixon set the stage for 4-plus decades of extraordinary scientific research that greatly contributed to mankind’s understanding of its place in the universe. One could even question if there would be an International Space Station today if it weren’t for Nixon’s space policy.

          The Dawn of the Space Shuttle

            Scan 380

            President Richard M. Nixon and Dr. James C. Fletcher, NASA Administrator, discuss the proposed Space Shuttle vehicle in San Clemente, California, on January 5, 1972.

            Endowed with the stunning success of the Apollo program, yet faced with the exorbitant costs of NASA, President Nixon considered a space policy shift in the second year of his presidency. On March 7, 1970, President Nixon made public his intention to redirect the NASA vision. He released a statement (link) that divulged his administration’s approach to continuing space exploration and research efforts at a more manageable cost to the nation.

            We must think of [space activities] as part of a continuing process… and not as a series of separate leaps, each requiring a massive concentration of energy. Space expenditures must take their proper place within a rigorous system of national priorities. … What we do in space from here on in must become a normal and regular part of our national life and must therefore be planned in conjunction with all of the other undertakings which are important to us.

            President Nixon was not necessarily paring down the efforts of the nation’s space program, but rather attempting to instill a withstanding national paradigm. It was his hope that space exploration would become a component of national priorities, in line with the nation’s many domestic programs and as a result a staple of American government. It would compete, along with other national programs, for the government’s limited resources.

            President Nixon’s aim to reprioritize this “massive concentration” of energy given to NASA began when he created the Space Task Group to study the future possibilities of the space program in February of 1969. After several months of examination, the Space Task Group sent the Nixon administration their recommendations in October.

            One of the principle recommendations forwarded by the Space Task Group included developing “low-cost, flexible, long-lived, highly reliable, operational space systems with a high degree of commonality and reusability.” In other words, NASA should be tasked with constructing something along the lines of a reusable shuttle.

            The unveiling of the space shuttle program became reality at the beginning of President Nixon’s iconic year of 1972. On January 5, RN met with Dr. James C. Fletcher, NASA Administrator, to discuss the proposed space shuttle vehicle.

            Shortly after the meeting, the President issued a statement announcing the commencement of the Shuttle Program, closing the book on the Apollo program and opening another for the future of space exploration.

            This new program will give more people more access to the liberating perspectives of space, even as it extends our ability to cope with physical challenges of Earth and broadens our opportunities for international cooperation in low-cost, multi-purpose space missions.

            On December 19, 1972, Apollo 17 reentered Earth’s atmosphere, marking an end to the prestigious and largely successful Apollo program. President Nixon shared a message with the American people about the future of the space program assuring that “the making of space history would continue,” albeit at a more steady and economically viable pace.

            President Nixon described the possibilities the space shuttle would bring:

            Economy in space will be further served by the Space Shuttle, which is presently under development. It will enable us to ferry space research hardware into orbit without requiring the full expenditure of a launch vehicle as is necessary today. It will permit us to place that hardware in space accurately, and to service or retrieve it when necessary instead of simply writing it off in the event it malfunctions or fails. In addition, the Shuttle will provide such routine access to space that for the first time personnel other than trained astronauts will be able to participate and contribute in space as will nations once excluded for economic reasons.

            The Space Shuttle program, retired in 2011, continued for 39 years–the longest yet program launched by NASA. It produced 135 total flights and countless cutting-edge research missions. It is safe to say that space travel and exploration as we know it today was a result of President Nixon’s decision to economize the American space program in 1972.

              Nixon: Congressman Bush to be U.S. Representative to United Nations

                Scan 259 (1)

                Congressman Bush, President Nixon, and Ambassador Yost at President’s Announcement Dec. 11, 1970

                At noon on December 11, 1970, President Nixon announced at the White House that Congressman George H.W. Bush would receive his nomination to succeed Charles Yost as the US Ambassador to the United Nations. Congressman Bush, who was then fresh off an unsuccessful bid for the Senate, caught the President’s eye during his two terms in the House as a result of his hard work, personal sacrifices, and his superb business and international experience.

                President Nixon was confident that Bush would be a perfect fit in his cabinet and would represent a clear extension of his foreign policy initiatives, particularly in peacekeeping and the environment.

                “His distinguished service in the House, his years of experience before that in activities in private enterprise, which took him abroad to many countries, and, most important, his enormous interest in the United Nations, his support of the United Nations and its objectives, not only its peacekeeping objectives, but also its objectives in the field of the environment and all of the others that will be so exciting in the next decade–these are the qualities that led us to the conclusion that he was the best man who could now go to this very important post.”

                (See President Nixon’s full December 11th 1970 address here)

                Bush’s first major UN vote as USUN Representative was the China representation vote, which was to transfer China’s UN representation to the People’s Republic of China from Taiwan. Although the outcome of the vote was against the position of the United States, Ambassador Bush was as dedicated as his President to improving relations with Mainland China.

                Scan 254

                President Nixon with Ambassador Bush (left) and Secretary of State William Rogers

                Bush would continue to carry on Nixon’s China initiatives after the letter’s resignation, serving as the Chief of the U.S. Liaison Office to the PRC from 1974-1975. He would also oversee contentious political battles over China’s trade status with the U.S. during his own Presidential Administration nearly 20 years later. Bush also worked closely with the newly appointed Secretary General Kurt Waldheim who would go on to serve in that capacity for 10 years.

                Scan 258 (2)

                After Ambassador Bush’s Swearing in Ceremony on Feb. 26, 1971. Justice Potter Stewart performed the ceremony while future First Lady Barbara Bush held the family bible.

                  On This Day: William Rehnquist and Lewis Powell Confirmed as Associate Justices of the Supreme Court

                    L-R, unidentified family members, Lewis Powell, President Nixon, William Rehnquist

                    President Nixon presents Lewis Powell (shown on the left of RN) and William Rehnquist (on right of RN) framed gifts recognizing their confirmation as Supreme Court Justices. (December 22, 1971)

                    On December 10 1971, following intense scrutiny by the legislative and executive branches of the Federal Government, the Senate confirmed President Nixon’s nominations of William Rehnquist and Lewis Powell as Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, thus completing the President’s unprecedented duty of filling four vacant Supreme Court seats during a single presidency.

                    On September 17, the retirement of two Supreme Court Justices, Hugo Black and John M. Harlan was announced. The selection of the next two Justices caused some political stir. The American Bar Association, captured by an ideologically liberal leaning bloc, put forth possible candidates aimed at countering potential Nixon nominations. However, President Nixon came up with Lewis Powell, a 64 year-old Georgia Democrat and former president of the ABA, and the much younger 47 year-old Assistant Attorney General William Rehnquist as likely nominees. Both nominees were both relatively conservative in that they followed the same lines of President Nixon’s constitutional philosophy, but there was no credible opposition to them nor were their resumes exceptionable. The Senate confirmed Powell by a margin of 89-1 and Rehnquist by a margin of 68-26. Both went on to serve as distinguished Supreme Court Justices.

                    Below are President Nixon’s biographies of both candidates when he announced their nomination on October 21 of the same year:

                    LEWIS F. POWELL, JR.

                    Everything that Lewis F. Powell has undertaken he has accomplished with distinction and honor, both as a lawyer and as a citizen. Excellence has marked his career since his days as a student at Washington and Lee, where he was Phi Beta Kappa and first in his class at law school. He has practiced law in Richmond since 1931, except for 4 years of distinguished service during World War II.

                    In his unique legal career he has received virtually every honor the legal profession can bestow upon him. He has been president of the American College of Trial Lawyers, president of the American Bar Foundation, president of the American Bar Association. In that latter role he provided leadership in the provision of legal services for the needy and for the revision of the standards for administration of criminal justice.

                    Lewis Powell is from Virginia. But like another great Virginian, Chief Justice Marshall, Lewis Powell is recognized by his legal colleagues throughout the Nation as being a man who represents not just Virginia and the South–he is first and foremost a very great American.

                    WILLIAM H. REHNQUIST

                    William Rehnquist has been outstanding in every intellectual endeavor he has undertaken. He was graduated from Stanford University Phi Beta Kappa, 1948. He graduated first in his class from the Stanford University Law School in 1952. And then he was awarded one of the highest honors a law graduate can achieve: He was chosen as law clerk for Mr. Justice Robert Jackson, one of the most outstanding members of the Supreme Court in the past half-century.

                    In this position, he acted as legal assistant to the Justice, and his duties included legal research of the highest order.

                    Upon leaving the Court, Mr. Rehnquist engaged in the general practice of law for 16 years in Phoenix, Arizona, until 1969, when I appointed him Assistant Attorney General, office of Legal Counsel.

                    Now, that is a very technical name. Let me tell you what it means. The Legal Counsel has a very special function in the Department of Justice, serving as the chief interpreter, for the whole Government, of the Constitution and the statutes of the United States. He is, in effect, the President’s lawyer’s lawyer.

                    I was a member of a major New York law firm, a senior partner. I have had the opportunity both in Government and in private practice to know the top lawyers in this country, and, as a matter of fact, some of the top lawyers in the world, and I would rate William Rehnquist as having one of the finest legal minds in this whole Nation today.

                    He has discharged his responsibility in his capacity as the President’s lawyer’s lawyer with such great distinction that, among the thousands of able lawyers who serve in the Federal Government, he rates at the very top as a constitutional lawyer and as a legal scholar.

                    Lewis Powell. William Rehnquist. Those are names you will remember, because they will add distinction and excellence in the highest degree to the Supreme Court of the United States.

                    President Nixon poses with newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist and his family, as his daughter displays his certificate of commission to the Court

                    President Nixon poses with the Rehnquist family. The appointment of William Rehnquist became one of RN’s longest lasting legacies, as the Supreme Court Justice served until his death in 2005. 

                    Former Associate Deputy Attorney General Wallace Johnson discusses President Nixon’s selection of William Rehnquist and Lewis Powell below:


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