Well-rested and strengthened by pulse-feeling back home, the Congress returns to Washington far less docile and far more doubtful than when it left. . . .
-- Time, January 14, 1966
Seldom bad a Washington secret been so closely held on a matter not affecting the national security. When Lyndon Johnson drove up Pennsylvania Avenue the evening of Wednesday, January 12, 1966, to address a joint session of Congress, only four other people in the government knew that his State of the Union Address would propose a constitutional amendment to change the term of House members from two years to four years.
The President was bound and determined to keep it a complete surprise--or else! He warned Attorney General Nicholas de B. Katzenbach, who both drafted the constitutional amendment and would be in charge of guiding it through Congress, to maintain perfect security. If word leaked into the newspapers ahead of time, Johnson warned Katzenbach, he would drop the proposal from his speech and from his program.
Returning to the White House immediately after the speech, Johnson hurried to the wire-service tickers to examine the congressional reaction to his address. To his dismay, be quickly discovered that the four-year House term was under attack from a powerful figure: Representative Emanuel Celler of New York, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee which had life-and-death power over all proposed changes in the Constitution. Mightily annoyed by Celler's opposition, the President telephoned Katzenbach at home late at night. Why didn't you do your homework? he demanded of Katzenbach. Why didn't you bring Manny Celler into camp? Katzenbach patiently replied that the President's insistence on secrecy foreclosed all advance lobbying and this very foreclosure contributed to Celler's opposition. Irritated over not receiving advance notification, Celler felt no compunction about expressing his genuine opposition. His was the first of a fatal series of attacks on the four-year term.