A Lunch Date, September, 1979


In the summer of 1979, Senator Edward M. Kennedy was threatening to challenge President Jimmy Carter for their party’s nomination in the upcoming election. Senator Kennedy’s aide Richard Burke phoned Carter’s Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan in August. He told Jordan the Senator had something personal he wished to discuss with the President. A lunch date was set for early September:

‘Upstairs in the residential quarters, on an outdoor terrace overlooking the Rose Garden, Mrs. Carter joined the President and Senator for a brief time, and the atmosphere remained cordial.

The First Lady left and, over their luncheon, the two national leaders discussed various current issues and the conversation remained civilized. The Senator spoke about his feeling that the country was adrift and needed stronger leadership. He quietly announced that for the sake of the Democratic party, and the country, he was going to make an effort to attain the presidency. Unstated was the hope that the President would gracefully bow out, leaving the Senator with an open field.

But it was not going to be that easy. President Carter demurred politely. He agreed that the country was beset by problems, but declared his belief that he was dealing with these problems effectively.

They finished their discussion over coffee, and then the President and the Senator returned to the Map Room, along with Jordan. Jordan introduced me to the President, who greeted me warmly. To my astonishment, he then left the Senator with Jordan and took me on a tour of the Map Room, taking his time, commenting, ‘This is where President Roosevelt and Churchill met.’ He pulled out various maps and showed them to me, seemingly unhurried. I said to myself, No wonder this guy won in 76. He has the ability to make you feel like you’re the most important person in the world.

Finally, the President and Jordan walked us out to the Rose Garden, to our car, where driver Jay Morgan waited. The President shook hands with us both and wished us a good day.

Afterward, as we rode back to the Senate, I commented, ‘God, the President was so nice to me. It was incredible.’

The Senator was livid. He snapped, ‘That’s just because he wanted to irritate me. He did that on purpose. He knew I was waiting. He wanted me to get the impression that he was unfazed by what I said.’

The Senator: My Ten Years with Ted Kennedy, Richard E. Burke, with William and Marilyn Hoffer, St. Martin’s Press, 1992

 White House Staff Photographers. (01/20/1977 – 01/20/1981), President Carter meets with Senator Kennedy in the Oval Office, 20 October, 1977