Though often political adversaries, Democratic Speaker of the House Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill and President Ronald W. Reagan share a light moment at the 1983 inaugural St. Patrick's Day lunch.
Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office
On this date, Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill
of Massachusetts declined a request from President Ronald Reagan to address the House of Representatives about a foreign aid package that was about to come up for a vote. The unique proposal from the White House, which excluded the Senate, came days before the House was scheduled to weigh in on a $100 million appropriation to help Nicaraguan rebels fight their country’s socialist government. O’Neill turned down the request privately and suggested that Reagan schedule a Joint Session
, a more traditional method of addressing Congress. Looking to put pressure on O’Neill, the White House made the situation public hoping to generate a backlash against the Speaker
. But O’Neill did not back down, and argued that Reagan’s request to lobby the House was “unprecedented” and “constitutionally wrong.” Determined to drum up support for his policies in Nicaragua, Reagan held a televised daytime address about the need to approve the funding. (His viewing audience proved limited, however, because standard network television stations did not carry it.) The President opened with “My fellow Americans—and members of the House—I need your help.” Reagan submitted his televised remarks as a Presidential Message to the House on June 24, and the appropriation request passed later that week. In declining the President’s request to address the House, O’Neill pointed out that he had twice rejected similar requests by Democratic President Jimmy Carter. In 1978, for instance, Carter asked to schedule a Joint Address on the Middle East peace process for 9:00 p.m. O’Neill responded, “Mr. President, 9 o’clock? That’s when the football game is on. . . . How about 8 o’clock?” Carter agreed and his address on September 18, 1978 preceded the game between the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Colts. The Colts won 34 to 27.