President Gerald Ford: Political Career and Road to the White House

About the political career of President Gerald Ford as he moved towards the White House.

On the Way to the White House: After his 1st election to Congress in 1948, Ford was reelected by the voters of his district 12 times in a row-each time with more than 60% of the vote. On 2 separate occasions, Michigan Republican leaders urged Ford to try for a seat in the U.S. Senate, but the congressman liked his job and worked hard to advance himself in the hierarchy of the House of Representatives. He 1st won a name for himself with his meticulous attention to the details of military budgets, and soon earned a reputation as an armed forces "expert" and friend of the Pentagon. This endeared him to the House establishment, and he received a series of choice committee assignments. He was also active in the "Chowder and Marching Society," a jolly group of young Republicans, including that rising congressman from California, Richard M. Nixon. By the mid-1960s, many of the members of this group had become dissatisfied with the aging Republican leader of the House, Charles Halleck of Indiana. The "Young Turks" insisted that their party needed more aggressive and up-to-date leadership, and eventually they settled on Ford as their candidate to challenge Halleck. The congressman from Michigan had the right combination of politics (staunchly conservative), physical appearance (youthful), and personality (inoffensive) to appeal to his fellow Republicans in the House. In January, 1965, on a vote of 73 to 67, they elected Ford as the new minority leader.

During the 9 years he served in that role, Ford won many friends among his colleagues but few headlines from the national press. Among the highlights of his House leadership were his impassioned pleas for escalation in Vietnam (Why, he asked, are we "pulling our punches"? He urged the Johnson Administration to "unleash devastating air and sea power.") Another was his unsuccessful "crusade" to impeach liberal Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. It was widely reported in Washington that Ford actually launched his attack on Douglas as a favor to his old friend, President Richard Nixon. In fact, on every major issue before Congress, Ford proved himself one of the President's most loyal and outspoken supporters. In October, 1973, after Vice-President Spiro Agnew had resigned amid charges of accepting illegal payoffs, it came as no surprise that Nixon nominated Ford to be the new Vice-President. Ford's popularity on Capitol Hill assured congressional approval of his nomination; after 2 months of hearings and investigations, and despite grumbling by liberals and civil rights groups, Ford was confirmed with only minor opposition.

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