Introducing Friends of the Institute

As a tribute to Senator Kennedy's 47-year career, gifts of $47 and up recognize you as a Friend of the Institute.

Oral History

Mark Schneider Oral History (2/2/2009), Peace Corp Director; Kennedy Staffer

Copyright 2016 the Miller Center Foundation and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.

Heininger

This is an interview with Mark Schneider on February 2, 2009. Let’s start at the beginning. When did you first meet [Edward] Kennedy and how did you come to work for him?

Schneider

I came to Washington in January of ’69, and started working for the Washington Daily News. I found out when I got here that I was in the finals for the American Political Science Association Congressional Fellowship, and immediately—almost the week that I got here—went down for an interview. Six months later I found out that I’d gotten it. It provided for me to begin in November of that year, to negotiate where I would stay for the first four months of what ultimately was supposed to be a nine-month fellowship: four months in the Senate, four months in the House and a month off in between, so in about November I started to negotiate with the different offices. 

They assigned me to start in the Senate, so I interviewed with Phil Hart, Birch Bayh, Ralph Yarborough, [Walter] Mondale, and then I interviewed with Ted Kennedy. Mondale was the only one—I don’t think I initially met him. For everybody else, I interviewed with the Senator. When I interviewed with Ted Kennedy, he said, If you come, I’d like you to do some work on Latin America. Because I’d been a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador and had become interested in Latin American policy, that decided it for me. I really liked Phil Hart and I really liked Birch Bayh when I met them, and I was interested in those offices as well, but Kennedy’s focus was that I’d be in his personal office and would be working on a range of things, but my work would include Latin America.

Heininger

Why was he so interested, at that point, in Latin America? The Vietnam War was going on.

Schneider

He told me, You know, my brother the President [John F. Kennedy] started the Alliance for Progress, but things have not gone the way we wanted. Sarge [Robert Sargent Shriver] thinks there are some reasons, and I’d like you to start focusing on that. I started in January of ’70, just when the Chappaquiddick hearings began in Massachusetts. He said, I have to give a speech at the University of Montana—Mike Mansfield’s lecture—so why don’t you plan on preparing a speech for me on Latin America? I said fine. I was very excited; I’d never written a speech before in my life. I’d been a reporter; I had done interviews; I’d written lots of stories: news stories, crime stories; I’d covered the Congress, et cetera.

Heininger

A speech is a little different from that.

Schneider

Speeches are different, right. 

I started in his office in January of 1970 and stayed for seven years. Then I went to the State Department. I resigned from the State Department when he called and told me he was running for the Presidency, and went to work for the campaign. I was the co-director for issues with Peter Edelman. We can get to that later. 

He was interested in Latin America from his brother’s, the President’s, perspective.

Heininger

But at this point, he didn’t have many legislative staff.

Schneider

No.

Heininger

He had Carey Parker at this point.

Schneider

Carey Parker. For a little bit there, he still had—

Heininger

How long was Dun Gifford there?

Schneider

Dun. Dun was still there.

Heininger

He was still there, okay.

Schneider

In a sense, Carey was replacing Dun as the chief. Bob Bates was there.

Heininger

Bob came in not that much before you, right?

Schneider

Within months. In fact, Bob and I shared a desk. I think it was 431, and the Senator’s personal office was, let’s say, this office. There was one room on the other side, which was where the legislative office was. Say there’s another office just like this. Bob and I sat over there initially. [gestures] We shared a secretary, who sat over here. Dun sat in that corner, like over where that table is, and Carey sat next to him. My memory is that initially Jim Guest was in there.

Heininger

Yes. He hadn’t left at that point.

Schneider

At about the same time Joe Onek came on, but not in the main—He was in one of the other offices initially. 

My fellowship ran for four months—and I can talk about what I did—but it finished just when he was going to give that speech, so he asked me to stay. I talked to the Congressional Fellowship program and they said I could if I wanted, so I stayed. We can talk about the speech, because that was an experience. At the end of the fellowship he asked me to stay on, and it was at just about that time that Dun left and Carey moved into that corner. Everybody was jockeying for their six inches of space. [laughing] Again using this room, if the Senator’s room was there, there was a door that went into his office over there; there was a door over here that went into his office; and there was a space here. My desk was right there, and my secretary, Rubye Allen at that time, sat right over here. Next to her then was—Bob Bates stayed over here, but now he had a whole desk—and his secretary, then Carey and Carey’s secretary. At that point Guest had moved. That was about it.

Heininger

Yes, I think so.

Schneider

That was the way the room was for six years.

Heininger

And then you had Jim Flug.

Schneider

Jim Flug was over at AdPrac [Subcommittee on Administrative Practice and Procedure of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate], and during Watergate I wound up working over there off and on—everybody did, for that matter. Flug had the entire group employed.

Heininger

Yes, I’m sure he did.

Schneider

Larry [Horowitz] wasn’t the first health aide. There was Phil Caper, another guy, and then Larry. Larry was the third. I became involved because I did the Hispanic issues. That meant I was involved in the poverty legislation and that also meant that I did migrant health. I was involved with those committees as well, and because of the Hispanic issues, I did bilingual education legislation. Because I was doing bilingual education, I began to do a lot of the straight education. Bob and I shared a lot of this, so when we had the ESEA, the Elementary Secondary Education Act, up for reauthorization, I focused on that and Bob did more of the poverty stuff. It was a great time.

Heininger

Who was doing Vietnam during all this?

Schneider

Vietnam was being done between—That was the other subcommittee, the Refugee Subcommittee, and Dale de Haan—

Heininger

Yes. He was there until Jerry Tinker came.

Schneider

And Jerry Tinker. Carey was involved as well. Oh, we forgot—Toward the end, maybe ’74, Bob Hunter came on and sat over there.

Heininger

Okay. Was this the period in which Kennedy was ramping up his staff?

Schneider

Yes.

Heininger

Not as massively, obviously, as later. Who did what? He had his Immigration Subcommittee, which we know about; he had the Health Subcommittee; but then he had the world to cover. How did he use all of you? And there were very few of you.

Schneider

I’ll just tell you what I did. When I started as the fellow, the first thing I did—God knows why—was school bus safety. [laughing] There was an article about a school bus having been in an accident. There were no standards, no requirements, nothing, and many kids had been killed. I raised it with him and we wrote a letter to the Secretary of Transportation. It was clear that there were simply no standards, so, using AdPrac, we held a hearing. I organized a hearing. I didn’t know how to organize a hearing at the time, but we called some people, got some things, ran a hearing, and put in legislation. In a month, I was suddenly the legislative assistant and it was great. I did that.

It was a time when [Richard] Nixon was trying to dismantle the antipoverty program and [Donald] Rumsfeld and [Richard] Cheney were put into OEO [Office of Economic Opportunity]. Do you remember that?

Heininger

Yes.

Schneider

Their job was to do away with that. The first thing they wanted to do away with was Legal Assistance.

Heininger

That was a longstanding battle in the Senate.

Schneider

Right. That, in fact, was as a result of this, so I became involved in that. Again, coming in through the Hispanic side, one of the legal services programs that they particularly wanted to kill was California Rural Legal Assistance, because it was involved in supporting farm workers.

Heininger

That was his anti–César Chávez move.

Schneider

Exactly. The agriculture guys were big supporters of Nixon. That’s where I remember the first time getting to know Flug and working with him, and Joe Onek. Kennedy became one of the true saviors of the Legal Assistance program.

Heininger

And remains one of the true saviors of Legal Assistance.

Schneider

Then they had backup centers. Don’t ask me why, but I also became involved in issues affecting the elderly. There were backup centers for the elderly. Again, they wanted to get rid of those, because there was a linkage to the National Council of Senior Citizens, which was sort of the labor side, as opposed to AARP [American Association of Retired Persons]. I’m getting a little bit ahead of my fellowship, but I’ll go back to that, because it was interesting.

I was involved in the OEO program, and during that time we put in legislation that saved Legal Assistance. This was for a national housing law project, and they gave me an award because we saved the backup centers, one for the elderly and one for rural issues, so that was a big time.

Heininger

This was a heady time too.

Schneider

Oh, yes.

Heininger

A very exciting time, and before the super-specialization of staff members too.

Schneider

Absolutely.

Heininger

And he was ostensibly a long-term Presidential candidate.

Schneider

Absolutely. I was trying to get him to Latin America all that time, through several years. When was the Cambodia bombing?

Heininger

It was May of 1970.

Schneider

We were working on the speech that was going to take place in April or May, a big speech. Dave Burke was the chief of staff then. I’ll never forget that Dave pulled me in and said, Here’s how you write a speech, and went through structure, et cetera. I said okay. He said, First though, figure out what the hell you want to say. Talk to some people and put it down. I wrote something like a 12-page outline. I talked to everybody. One thing that Ted Kennedy does is keep his network in his head, like what we have in our BlackBerries.

Heininger

Right.

Schneider

He knows people all over, back to Jack Kennedy. Part of it is because he really is a political animal. He knows how important contacts and relationships are. He keeps those up.

Heininger

He writes his thank-you notes too.

Schneider

And he writes thank-you notes. 

I talked to Frank Mankiewicz, who had been the Latin America director for the Peace Corps and then was the Peru director. I talked to Dick Goodwin because he was involved. I talked to Walt [Rostow] and the other guys in the NSC [National Security Council] under President Kennedy.

Heininger

Walt Rostow wasn’t still there, was he? That late?

Schneider

No, he wasn’t, but I talked to him—

Heininger

Oh yes, okay.

Schneider

I talked to Ralph Dungan, who was the Ambassador to Chile in the mid-’60s. After Jack Kennedy was assassinated—Ralph Dungan was in the White House with President Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson appointed Dungan to be Ambassador to Chile. There was a guy who was the head of policy for President Kennedy, John Plank, who was a Latin American specialist and professor at the University of Connecticut. I talked to all of them and pulled together this outline, then Dave suggested that, for a speech, I’d need to pare it down a little bit.

Heininger

Only a bit. 

Schneider

Just a bit. The Senator read that outline.

Heininger

Really?

Schneider

Oh, yes. He reads everything. I probably still have lots of memos that he scribbled on. Reading—understanding—what he’s written on those memos is a different task. You know he takes home a briefcase every night and goes through it. Now he may not get it all done, but then, he got everything done. The next morning, Angelique [Voutselas Lee] would pass out the stuff. You’d get a memo back and say, Well, what does this say? In that room, we’d all go around, take each other’s memos—

Heininger

Can you read this?

Schneider

Can you read this? We’d wind up having to take it to Angelique; she was the ultimate translator. It was great fun. Then I wrote a draft of the speech.

Heininger

At this point, had he given you general directions of what he wanted to say on Latin America?

Schneider

He was concerned about the way the alliance had not done what it was going to do. He was concerned about the Cuba policy—that it had now been ten years that [Fidel] Castro had been there. We had an embargo that didn’t make a lot of sense.

Heininger

You could say the same thing 50 years later.

Schneider

I know. Remember, that was about the time that Nixon was going to China.

Heininger

Right, secretly.

Schneider

There was a certain juxtaposition here: this is a Communist, that’s a Communist; this one we’ll talk to, that one we can’t talk to. This was 90 miles away. What was going on?

In ’69, Nelson Rockefeller had a commission that had gone to Latin America. When it came back, most of the recommendations were to stand by our friends, stay with the military, et cetera. It was a very military-focused report, fearing the Communists would take over. I didn’t exactly see that the same way, so we made some—He was very comfortable with a fairly significant position, which said, The alliance has failed, and here’s why. It was partly because of Vietnam—resources that were promised never went, et cetera—but partly because of some structural problems. The alliance was built in a way that was aimed at opting more on the pragmatic security side and saw itself as doing things that would prevent the left from going too far, because there was no distinction made of the left. It was all the same. They were all Communists and they were all—

Heininger

Left of a military dictatorship.

Schneider

They were all linked to the Soviet Union, whether they were European socialists or whatever. It could be anything that was left of center.

The first draft, then, we sent around to Frank and to others. Ben Stefanski was another advisor, former Ambassador to Bolivia. Then he said, Let’s have everybody over to the house for dinner, so we organized a dinner at his house and all these—They’ll come from anywhere. [laughing]

Heininger

They still will, too.

Schneider

They still will. They all had a chance to read it, and Dave was very clear. He said, When this dinner takes place, listen, take notes, comment, but don’t defend, don’t be defensive about it, and let the Senator manage the conversation. We got lots of good input, I redrafted it, learned about rhetoric, and rewrote it.

Heininger

And Carey hadn’t developed, yet, his role of being the—

Schneider

Über alles.

Heininger

Yes, the über alles who can put everything in what Kennedy must be thinking and exactly how he’d say it, because he was too new at that point.

Schneider

Maybe so. On the substantive stuff, I was doing it almost throughout, until I left. I would show Carey drafts on major speeches. Sometimes by the end, I knew the Senator’s style comfortably. But no, Carey didn’t play the overall speechwriter role, until I left for three years to State. In the campaign, initially on the big speeches, then it was Carey and [Robert] Shrum—I was supposed to be Shrum, but I tore my ACL—I play basketball, still do, but I had a knee operation. The idea was that I was going to go on the plane with Carey and do the issues from the plane. Peter was to be back here, handling issues, and Carey and I would be on the plane. I didn’t go on the plane, so Peter and I shared the issues back here and then, when my knee healed—It took a long time. They didn’t have arthroscopic surgery at the time.

Heininger

No, they sliced them all open.

Schneider

They sliced it all open, yes. A good six to eight weeks I was in a wheelchair. Anyway, then I’d spell one of them one week a month on the plane.

The speech draft was finished; he gave the speech, and then we sent it around. I’m almost sure that John Kenneth Galbraith sent a note back saying it was a great speech, and that we should turn it into an article.

Heininger

And here you were, just a Congressional fellow. 

Schneider

Yes! So I redrafted it. Do you remember there used to be the Saturday Review? The Saturday Review ran it.

Heininger

Wow.

Schneider

Then we put it in the Congressional Record. First, it was Ted Kennedy saying that his brother’s policy hadn’t worked. Second, it was saying that the embargo against Cuba didn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense, and that we should lift the embargo. It just doesn’t work; change it.

Heininger

This was 1970.

Schneider

It went on to say how to reinvigorate a Latin American policy—one that doesn’t view all of the left as automatically being Russian allies. There were certain things like injustices, inequities, and the reasons why Evo Morales is where he is today and why Hugo Chávez is where he is, and that there were structural issues that had not been dealt with. It was a good speech and it was policy throughout the region. We’ve yet to get there. [laughing]

Heininger

We’re at the same speech today.

Schneider

Exactly. Pretty close, pretty close. The fellowship ended, and by then I was heavily engaged on the OEO issues and on migrant health, bilingual education, and the elderly. When the fellowship ended, I was hired and was assigned. I became the education and elderly aide, split poverty with Bob, and then I did all the Hispanic issues that would pop in from various things. Carey and I divided foreign policy. Carey did China, Ireland, most of Europe, and NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization]. We split the Russia issue in the sense that I did the human rights stuff: Soviet Jews, torture, whether it was in Brazil or was in Greece, et cetera. Then I wound up doing defense until Bob came, which was interesting, but boy, I didn’t like it. I did all defense. Every year we had the Defense Authorization Bill come forward, with all of those issues.

Heininger

It still does too.

Schneider

And all the liberals would put together the amendments, so I did the draft. John Stennis was the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. It must have been ’71, just before the volunteer Army.

Heininger

Before the lottery?

Schneider

Yes, but this was in that period.

Heininger

In the period when the lottery was coming into play?

Schneider

The question was how to remove some of the inequities within the draft.

Heininger

Of which there were myriad.

Schneider

We put in amendments, bills, et cetera, and wound up getting enough votes to force Stennis to negotiate. Jim [Woolsey] became the head of the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency]. We negotiated on the floor and had five or six specific amendments that Stennis agreed to, and he applauded Kennedy for reaching a compromise. This was about having the right to an attorney. You used to go before draft boards without the right to an attorney. To have the right to an attorney, to be able to assert conscientious objection, to have greater due process in draft board proceedings; the amendments were aimed at that. Kennedy wanted to make it more fair in the sense that anybody, regardless of income, had the same chance of going or not going.

Heininger

But he wasn’t talking, at this point, about getting rid of student deferments?

Schneider

No, but it was the same thing, that there had to be some standards: Why was it that everybody in this draft board—from, say, Grosse Point, Michigan—wound up getting deferred and never going, while from Harlem—this draft board—everybody went? We had half a dozen due process amendments adopted, and then the lottery became a way of doing this.

Heininger

Did he have any role in the lottery?

Schneider

Yes, he pushed it. Again, the whole point was making it fair, or more equitable.

Heininger

He wasn’t the originator of the idea, was he?

Schneider

I don’t think so. I’m not sure. We had a debate about the volunteer Army. He initially was opposed to the volunteer Army for that same reason, the belief that—

Heininger

That it would not be equitable.

Schneider

Yes. I think Carey got him finally to go along with it, but we opposed it for a long time, doing many studies and holding hearings. Because I was doing defense, I got into amnesty and helped organize the first hearings. That’s when we gave John Kerry the opening testimony in that first amnesty hearing. He did pretty well. [laughing]

Heininger

Without realizing how it was going to come back and bite him.

Schneider

But I remember that. I remember there was a question about whether this was the kind of thing that should not become public until way down the road. 

Heininger

Tell me a little bit about how—What was Kennedy’s philosophy about how to organize a hearing?

Schneider

First, you set up what you want the hearing to produce, either in the way of an outcome that forces the administration to take executive action to enforce the law that it’s failing to enforce—setting school bus safety standards—or to demonstrate why there needs to be a law—migrant health. You go around and hold hearings around the country and show that the farm workers are getting screwed and that there are no health facilities, the water—It was just awful. Then you pass a law that says you have to have these conditions, these standards.

Heininger

How important was the media to—

Schneider

No, no. I’m saying that, depending on how you do it, it involves getting the media to pay attention, organizing the hearing so that you have a John Kerry, as a Vietnam Veteran Against the War, in there in his uniform, testifying.

Heininger

Very often these were designed to personalize the issues too, weren’t they?

Schneider

Yes. You wanted to have somebody who was the face of the issue, so people could understand what it meant.

Heininger

I don’t think this is true for all members organizing hearings. Kennedy has been a real master of this.

Schneider

This was pretty early, but it became the trademark of those health hearings.

Heininger

Yes, the health crisis field hearings in particular.

Schneider

That’s exactly right. When he became chair, he had to do hearings. To get an authorization bill through, you have to do the hearings. And those are different; you have the expert witnesses and the administration and they’re sort of pro forma, but the investigatory  hearings were a lot more fun. 

Heininger

I was going to say. They probably were much more enjoyable to put together.

Schneider

We put in the Bilingual Education Act of 1974. Kennedy put in that bill. There was a time when there was a lot of debate about bilingual education versus ESL [English as a Second Language].

Heininger

Right.

Schneider

We did a lot of work with the Center for Applied Linguistics, getting its information, its reports, and then getting the people who—Kids were punished, sometimes with corporal punishment, if they used Spanish in the classroom. We went through that and got legislation adopted, the Bilingual Education Act of 1974, which provided a substantial expansion in bilingual education at all levels. It didn’t mandate that it had to be total immersion or that it had to be fully bilingual, but it incorporated enough options so that school systems across the country that had non-English-speaking students coming in had a range of tools to work with. I think it was very successful, and that was in ’74.

Heininger

The belief at this time was that the real issue was Spanish—

Schneider

Right, right.

Heininger

Whereas now schools are dealing with 70 or 80 languages.

Schneider

The reason I became somewhat expert is because my wife is a Ph.D. linguist. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on these amendments, and it was published. This was also during a time—’73, ’74—when the farm worker protests were going on.

In the ’72 convention in Miami, his speech started with Hello, fellow boycotters, something like that. I don’t remember exactly, but I wrote it. We traveled out there—I just sent the original to the library up there. We wrote his speech. This was the convention of César Chávez’s farm workers union in California. I drafted a speech and he read it on the plane and didn’t like it. I was out there; Paul Kirk and I were on the plane. He started to write over it, and my handwriting is almost as bad as his is. He started to write over it and then gave it to me and said to rewrite it. I rewrote it on the plane; there was a lot of time, because back then it was probably seven hours to fly out there. Then I read it to him and he said, Yes, but change that. Then he said, But give it to me so I can read it. We didn’t have much time when we got there, so Paul printed it from that. Today, still, if you look at any of Ted Kennedy’s speeches where there are other languages, the speech is written in—

Heininger

It’s phonetic.

Schneider

Phonetics. And that’s really where it started.

This is funny. I remember in 1980, when we went to Puerto Rico and there was a big—This is a great story. He wound up having to give a speech from the top of the roof of a basketball stadium because the crowds had taken over the stage where they were going to give the speech. He was there with Rafael Hernández Colón and we were supposed to go from the hotel to the event, and the Secret Service said, They’ve gone over the barriers; they’ve taken over; the crowds have just totally gotten out of control—and some have weapons. The Secret Service told the Senator, No, you can’t go. Rafael Hernández Colón, who was the Governor, said, I’m going. They’re my constituents, so I have to go. And Ted said, Well, if he’s going, I’m going.

Heininger

A Secret Service nightmare. 

Schneider

Exactly. The guy who was head of the Secret Service then, a great guy, retired in Florida, said, Here’s my badge, here’s my gun. I’m not going to be responsible. There’s no way that you can go there, none. By then the Governor was out there and he said, It’s a peaceful crowd! But it was like 50,000 people, just all over.

Heininger

And all it takes is one.

Schneider

All it takes is one. We kept talking to the advance guys and I swear to God, I think Al Kamen—

Heininger

He was there that early?

Schneider

Yes. Al Kamen did advance for Kennedy.

Heininger

I didn’t know that.

Schneider

In the 1980 campaign.

Heininger

I didn’t know that.

Schneider

And Al was in the Peace Corps at the same time I was, in the Dominican Republic. I was in El Salvador and the Dominican Republic maybe a little bit after. Any time we were going to South Texas, Mexico—We went to Mexico during the Kennedy campaign in 1980. Don’t ask me why, but we went to Mexico and Puerto Rico and I’m pretty sure Al advanced them all. 

Al was out there and he was saying that maybe we could turn the whole crowd around toward this basketball stadium, and maybe we could get a helicopter to land us on the top of the roof. Kennedy was saying, Well, let’s do it, let’s do it, so the Secret Service went out and talked about it. They said the roof wouldn’t hold a helicopter, but they could close off behind the basketball stadium and put us down in the parking lot on the other side, then we could go on ladders up to the roof. Ted Kennedy said, Well, how strong are the ladders? [laughing] This all goes back to the story about language. 

We finally got up there, and they got the microphones set up. The crowd didn’t notice and was still looking the other way. Finally the microphones were set up and we started—I was speaking in Spanish to the crowd, Mira aqui … . Everybody started to turn around and the Governor then walked from the stage, through the crowd, into the stadium, and came up to the roof.

Kennedy had his speech, but you know what he does, particularly on those kinds of things: He reads it and incorporates it. He doesn’t read to them. He just gets it in his head, then goes off the cuff a little. Well, this was a totally Spanish-speaking audience, so he had a little bit of Spanish and some English, and all the Spanish was in phonetics. He started to do it and the crowd went crazy; they were loving it. Then he said, Mark, come up here. What else should I say? I was feeding him the words and he was giving the speech, just repeating. It was fun; it was a great time.

Heininger

And the Secret Service didn’t lose him.

Schneider

No, the Secret Service didn’t lose him. 

During that time, as I said, I did all the education legislation. For a while Bob and I split—He did elementary and secondary, and I did higher education, except for bilingual and then the busing.

Heininger

When you got into school busing—not bus safety, but school busing—did you have to handle those issues?

Schneider

Yes, yes.

Heininger

Oh, boy.

Schneider

I was with him in Boston.

Heininger

You were there on that … oh, oh.

Schneider

Yes. That was no fun.

Heininger

No, it was not.

Schneider

He stayed right through it and didn’t back off at all. Those legislative conferences went through the night with the House and the Senate. They were unbelievable, and he stayed with those things right through. [Claiborne] Pell, [Jacob] Javits, Mondale, when you sit with them in a Senate/House conference for four to five hours, you get to know them, and I respected those guys a lot. They didn’t win; it didn’t help them a bit in terms of the politics in that, and they knew it.

Heininger

Well, talk a little bit about that Boston trip, because I don’t think we’ve gotten that from anyone else.

Schneider

We flew up there specifically—Remember, we were with the mayor at the JFK [John F. Kennedy] Government Center, and the mayor’s office is right there. Kevin White was the mayor. I’ll never forget it. We went out on those steps to speak and they were screaming and throwing stuff. It was awful, just awful. They must have photos of that and TV stuff, because it was awful. I can still see Louise Day Hicks, the head of the anti-busing crowd.

Heininger

Did he expect this reaction?

Schneider

We knew what the reaction was, in general, but didn’t expect it to happen then.

Heininger

He hadn’t had that kind of reaction.

Schneider

People gave him a lot of space.

Heininger

They cut him a lot of slack.

Schneider

Yes. And they sort of said, All right, he has to do it, but it was just at the same time that the courts in Boston had reaffirmed that Southie [South Boston] had to also open, and that they were going to get bused out of Southie. That was the point at which it blew up.

Heininger

What was his reaction to them? This was not a reaction from a crowd that he had much experience dealing with, shall I say.

Schneider

I remember he used to walk the St. Patrick’s Day and Columbus Day parades through Boston.

Heininger

But he had not had that kind of a reaction from a crowd to whom he had to give a speech.

Schneider

Not in Boston.

Heininger

Not in Boston.

Schneider

Well, it wasn’t a full speech. They were just coming out to give remarks. Anyway, he said, I’ve listened to you; now let me say what I need to say. It didn’t quiet down much. He didn’t give that speech and then had to walk through them to get to the car. It was no fun.

Heininger

And weren’t they banging on the car too?

Schneider

They were banging, but not too much; the cops there stopped that. My heart was in my throat, but it was not really fear in that sense. It was just very uncomfortable.

Heininger

Was he shaken at all by that reaction?

Schneider

People may have told you that he sometimes gets angry. He said, Why didn’t I know about this? Who did the advance? What the hell’s going on!?

Heininger

Okay, deflected then. [laughing

Schneider

The St. Patrick’s Day parades, though, were great. He walked them all, and even during that time, he walked them all.

Heininger

What were the elderly issues that you were dealing with in this period?

Schneider

We did the backup center for Legal Assistance. It was part of the Older Americans Act. Initially the Older Americans Act was part of the Economic Opportunity Act, so some of the provisions there would extend.

Heininger

Right.

Schneider

There were programs that would help the elderly get jobs, community-service types of programs, and out of that came the school lunch program. When I say school lunch program, it was for the elderly. We included hot meals for the elderly in a piece of legislation. Kennedy was also on a special committee on the elderly.

Heininger

Yes, the Special Committee on Aging with [Thomas] Eagleton, I think.

Schneider

He and [Charles] Percy.

Heininger

And Percy.

Schneider

And [Frank] Church. We put together, initially, this little pilot program.

Heininger

This is what became Meals on Wheels.

Schneider

Yes.

Heininger

This was yours?

Schneider

Yes. We put this little thing together—and it was like $17 million—then we put it into a major bill. It was a hot lunch program for the elderly, but through Meals on Wheels reached them in their homes and community centers. We took it from $17 million one year, and got an appropriations amendment to boost it up to $40 million. We put it in the authorization for $500 million to make them nationwide, because there were maybe 30 of them around the country, and this was to make it nationwide; every community would have this.

Heininger

How did the appropriators react?

Schneider

Well, this was the authorization. We ultimately got all the money and it’s way more than that now, but what happened was that we passed the legislation. I can’t remember who did it in the House; I want to think it was [Thomas] Harkin. But at that time, it was a Kennedy bill. It passed in the House, and wound up passing in the Senate. It passed in the Senate something like 92 to 1. The administration had opposed it from day one, from day one, and when it went to the President, he vetoed it.

Heininger

Meals on Wheels?

Schneider

Yes, he vetoed that.

Heininger

Oh, not smart.

Schneider

Not smart. I don’t think he got one vote in the Senate. In the House, he may have gotten a dozen, but we overrode the veto. Then that next year we began to ramp up the appropriations each year.

Heininger

This is one of the programs that Kennedy is extremely proud of.

Schneider

Oh, yes!

Heininger

Extremely proud of.

Schneider

If you go back and read his speeches when we were passing it and when Nixon vetoed it, he was so angry that he could veto it. 

There was also the workers program, the jobs program for the elderly, which was to provide community-service employment for the elderly. We put in another one that took many of the OEO kinds of things for everybody and incorporated it into the Older Americans Act with special nuances for the elderly, and almost all of them were successful.

Heininger

What was the impetus for Meals on Wheels? Was it his idea, or did it come from you?

Schneider

That idea, again, came out of the OEO. See, there were two kinds of programs. One was what to do for the elderly who are unable to leave their homes. For the poor elderly, the only way was for someone to bring them the food. That’s where Meals on Wheels came from. But the whole point, in terms of aging, was to get as many of the elderly out of those single rooms as possible, to meet with others. That’s where the idea of the school lunch program for the elderly came from, to create social settings. By providing monies to churches and to whoever would organize a lunch program for the elderly, it became not just the elderly poor, but for the elderly, because even many of those who weren’t below the poverty line didn’t have much social contact. This became a way that they would have some kind of social exchange. In terms of the balance, the social setting versus Meals on Wheels, I’d guess it was probably 8 to 1.

Heininger

The desire was really to get the elderly out.

Schneider

That’s right.

Heininger

What was his special interest in the elderly?

Schneider

It was just there. Clearly there was a problem, and it was clear that these people did not have any protections. If you think about it, many of his responses go to who is vulnerable and who is not, and those are the people who are vulnerable. They’re made vulnerable by age, made vulnerable by poverty, made vulnerable by discrimination.

Heininger

Made vulnerable by health.

Schneider

Made vulnerable by health, exactly. That’s how he responds.

Heininger

It’s an extension also, of the piece of the Great Society program that said that among the most poor in our country, at that point, were the elderly.

Schneider

Right. That was before—SSI [Supplemental Security Income] was the thing that changed that a little bit, but clearly it was the case, and now it’s becoming the case again. 

The other big piece that we did—Again, within the OEO, there was the idea of finding ways to give the poor access to economic opportunity, not just as specific jobs, but to create enterprises through community development corporations, or CDCs; Harlem development corporations; et cetera. That was one of the things, again, that the Nixon administration wanted to kill in OEO. It didn’t have separate legislation; it was just part of the overall program that the Office of Economic Opportunity had developed for a certain number of these organizations under the general rubric of strengthening community economic opportunity for the poor, but there wasn’t legislation.

We put in a bill for community development corporations and gave it separate authorization within the Economic Opportunity Act. That was a great concept. We never quite fully developed it, but the ones that worked … . I remember one in Mississippi, a catfish farm; there’s the TELACU in East L.A. [Los Angeles]. TELACU—The East L.A. Community Union— is a huge real estate operation now. It’s totally self-sufficient and employs thousands of people. The East Los Angeles Community Union was TELACU. Then in Harlem, there is the Harlem Development Corporation. They were all scattered around.

What else?

Heininger

How powerful were the elderly as a lobbying group at this point?

Schneider

They were beginning, they really weren’t that strong. The National Council of Senior Citizens was the labor side—that was a more in-your-face type of group—and was much more Democratic. AARP seemed to be more Republican.

Heininger

I think AARP wasn’t the force then that it is now.

Schneider

No, no, no. That occurred in the ’80s, really.

Heininger

And as these programs for the elderly were losing steam too.

Schneider

Yes. Part of the reason was because SSI began to boost income up.

Heininger

The indexing was already in.

Schneider

Yes.

I worked on a lot involving Latin America. One of the first was with Church, on torture in Brazil. We put in legislation. Then, when the coup occurred in Chile, on September 11, 1973, we immediately began a series of—Kennedy put out a statement expressing concern, and by the end of the month we held our first hearing. We put in legislation that was more hortatory. It was a Senate resolution to release political prisoners, stop human rights violations, restore democracy. We got that adopted by the end of the month. By the end of the year, we put in the first legislation to bar grant military aid to [Augusto] Pinochet, and that got the attention of the Pinochet government. This was all opposed by the Nixon administration, as you know.

Heininger

Let’s go back into what the Senate was doing at this point. Clearly, the administration was, shall we say, on the other side.

Schneider

Right.

Heininger

But was the reaction in the Senate to the coup mixed or was it—?

Schneider

Mixed.

Heininger

Because you had the business interests, with Anaconda Copper.

Schneider

No, no. It was more than that. At that time, there were maybe five Senators who were concerned at all about Latin America.

Heininger

Even knew where it was.

Schneider

That’s what I mean. Very few people were interested.

Heininger

But this coup was a big deal.

Schneider

Yes, it was, but I’m telling you, it just was not on people’s radar screen. There was Vietnam. And there were only a handful of staff who were concerned about Latin America. That’s why we put in that legislation. The Foreign Minister of Chile wrote a letter inviting Kennedy to come to Chile that said, You don’t understand; we saved the country from communism.

Heininger

Had he been to Latin America at any point, aside from his honeymoon?

Schneider

Aside from his honeymoon, no. At that point, no, we still hadn’t gone. When I asked you about Cambodia, we had a trip planned. We were going to go to Mexico; I wanted to take him to El Salvador, where I went with the Peace Corps; and we were going to go to Chile. This was ’70. We were going to go the next week and he called me up and said, Come over to the house. I remember being in his bedroom, watching the announcement of the bombing of Cambodia, and he said, We’re not going anywhere.

Heininger

It derailed many of his days.

Schneider

There was another time. Again, it was the same kind of thing. We had the trip planned, something blew up, and we couldn’t go, so I didn’t get him to Latin America until the Presidential election campaign in 1980. We went to Mexico and then afterward, during the mid-’80s, I went with him to Chile, Brazil, Argentina, and Peru.

Heininger

That was the trip when Greg Craig and Nancy Soderberg went too.

Schneider

Right. The Chile thing was the first legislation. The Foreign Minister sent the letter inviting him. Instead, we wrote back saying that he couldn’t go, the Senate was in session, but he would like to send a delegation. The delegation was John Plank; Ralph Dungan, the former Ambassador; and me. I remember he used to have to go over to see Chairman James Eastland.

Heininger

He had a very good relationship with Eastland.

Schneider

That’s right. He used to have to go and have bourbon with Eastland—

Heininger

The afternoon bourbon.

Schneider

So he’d have the letter. The Senate Judiciary Committee authorized—because we were going under the Refugee Subcommittee to authorize—the expenses for the delegation. Left alone, Jim Eastland really cares about the coup in Chile, right?

Heininger

Right.

Schneider

So he went over. Kennedy wanted it and was willing to sit down and have a bourbon with him, so he signed it. We got ourselves organized and went in April of ’74. We wrote the letter back to the Foreign Minister and to Pinochet, saying we would go. Because the Foreign Minister had given us a letter from Pinochet saying he wanted Kennedy to go, we wrote back saying we’d go only if we had access to anybody, any prison, any political prisoner, and that we would have the opportunity to tell the President, personally, what our findings were. They accepted it all.

We went in a week and we saw—I have written that up. We did in fact see people who had been tortured. We went to places where torture was carried out. We met with the widows of people who had been killed. That’s where I met the mother of the current President, Michelle Bachelet, because she had organized, in her home, a dozen women whose husbands were being held. They were Ministers being held in Dawson Island. In her case, her husband had died by then. He had been tortured and died. We met with the Cardinal.

Heininger

Why did Pinochet agree to all this?

Schneider

He believed that a good Catholic would—This is a very Catholic country—

Heininger

Yes.

Schneider

—would recognize that throwing [Salvador] Allende out, and whatever was necessary to do that, was saving the Catholic Church, Western culture, from atheist, Communist rule, and therefore anything was acceptable.

Pinochet himself said—I don’t remember the number, whether it was 80,000 or 50,000—that they had arrested 80,000 people in the past six months. At the end of the week, we met with him and said our findings were that there was torture and that it was consistent. He said that they did it to themselves, that they scarred themselves, and that there may have been some rogue officers who used too much coercion to get the information they needed to stop the Communists. We said, No, no. Everybody who is taken in gets tortured, some for longer periods, and it’s a continuing practice. We just saw these people on the floor of the basketball stadium, who had just come from—there were two or three different places—Tejas Verdes, Calle de Londres, who had just been tortured and didn’t have any fingernails. It was just awful.

We wrote it up when we came back and held another hearing. John and Ralph testified. I didn’t testify because I was committee staff. The hearing record provided the basis to extend the cutoff of assistance to the Pinochet government, which set up the next round of clashes with the administration.

[Henry] Kissinger believed—Well first, because the administration had been heavily involved in trying to get the coup in the first place and keeping Allende out, it was appalled by our success in getting Senate majorities in favor of cutting off military aid; cutting off military sales; cutting off military credit; cutting off direct, government-to-government economic assistance; cutting off loans in the international financial institutions; et cetera. This was at a point at which we had proposed amendments to halt commercial licenses for military equipment in 1975. This is the Foreign Assistance Authorization Act. Do you remember the War Powers Act?

Heininger

Yes.

Schneider

It was in that same bill, so it was vetoed by Nixon specifically to block the War Powers Act. In the 16 or 17 days between the time the bill was vetoed and a deal was made—We didn’t override his veto, but there was a new bill submitted that had no change except for the deal that was made on the War Powers Act, and it was signed into law. In those 17 days, Kissinger had signed the authorization for commercial licenses for weapons sales, the contracts for commercial credit, for a bunch of repairs to military equipment for the Chilean Air Force. We’d learned about it. I remember that when it came to the floor for passage, Kennedy spoke and [Hubert] Humphrey spoke, and Javits spoke, condemning this nefarious and sneaky thing that Kissinger had done.

Heininger

I was thinking of the word underhanded.

Schneider

Right. The Kennedy Amendment is known throughout Chile. It was viewed by the right wing and the military as horrendous. One of the things we had hoped was to go to Dawson Island to see VIP political prisoners, but instead Pinochet said, No, you don’t have to go because we’re going to let them out, and within three or four months he did; they did get out. They got out and were expelled from the country.

The other thing we did at that time was to get the administration to agree to parole—There’s a special provision that permits you to parole from jail in another country, where it’s in the interest of the United States, individuals as refugees into the United States. It’s like political—

Heininger

It’s like political asylum, but is a different mechanism.

Schneider

That’s right. It’s called the parole method. We got about 430 political prisoners out of jail—

Heininger

Really? That many?

Schneider

A couple of whom have gone back since and become Ministers in the new Chilean government, after democracy came back.

Heininger

Let’s back up a minute here. This was also the same period when you had the efforts to ban military assistance to Turkey, and in fact that got tangled up in this effort to ban military assistance to Chile. The administration made it one specific case with Turkey, that it was essential to our security.

Schneider

Right.

Heininger

What was their case for maintaining military aid to Chile?

Schneider

Remember, it was total ideology.

Heininger

Of communism?

Schneider

Yes, that was it.

Heininger

But was it bought? Was the argument bought by members of the Senate?

Schneider

Was the argument bought? No, the argument wasn’t bought. We had bipartisan support for these amendments that were adopted. They were adopted by strong majorities all the way through. Remember, this was a democratic government that was elected that they overthrew, and this military government was killing people and torturing people as a matter of course. You didn’t have much support for that.

In ’76 there was a general summit with the OAS [Organization of American States] in June in Santiago. We were holding up the nominee to be assistant secretary of the Western hemisphere. That person had been the number two in the embassy at the time of the coup—

Heininger

But I’m sure he knew nothing.

Schneider

Two years earlier. His name was Harry Shlaudeman. Kennedy sent the letter that I drafted to the Foreign Relations Committee, saying that he wanted to question him when he came up before the committee, and we heard nothing. 

What we didn’t know was that Kissinger had then decided to call—I don’t remember if it was [James] Fulbright or Church or Pell, but I think it was Church—saying that he wanted this guy with him in Santiago so could they have the hearing. They quickly scheduled a hearing and invited Kennedy to come to ask questions, and Kennedy was prepared to do that. For some reason it was postponed, like to a Friday from the Thursday or Wednesday, and it turned out a close friend of Kennedy’s died and the funeral was in Massachusetts. We thought that the whole thing was off for the next week, because you don’t have hearings on a Friday morning.

Because he was up in the state and I had worked hard, I thought, Okay, I’ll sleep late on Friday. I got a call from Javits’s staff guy on the Foreign Relations Committee, and he said, Where are you? I said, What do you mean, ‘Where am I?’ I’m home. Kennedy’s in Massachusetts. I don’t have to be there; there’s nothing going on. It’s Friday. He said, No, no. We’re holding a confirmation hearing with Shlaudeman. I said, What are you talking about? He said, We’re holding a closed confirmation hearing this morning and they’ve agreed to allow Senator Kennedy to ask his questions. I said, What are you talking about? He’s in Massachusetts. He said, I know, but they have agreed that you can ask Senator Kennedy’s questions.

Heininger

Really?

Schneider

I said, Well, give me a chance to get dressed, and I rushed—

Heininger

Now that’s unusual.

Schneider

Very unusual. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has that little room off the floor, so I went up there. There were votes on the Senate floor, so they brought Shlaudeman to this room. I remember—I love these guys. You want to talk about Republicans: Jacob Javits, Charles Percy, John Sherman Cooper, Clifford Case, I mean—

Heininger

Republicans the likes of which you don’t see anymore.

Schneider

Yes, exactly. They were there. They were in the hearing room and [Joseph] Biden was there. Then they had me ask the questions. They’d be called for votes and they’d stop, but they said, No, no. We want to hear his answers to the questions. They were supportive of our position, which was that this guy should not be confirmed unless, at the very least, he committed that he would never again support actions against a democratically elected government, and that if the administration ordered him to, he would resign. It took a little while to get that, because at first he thought this was just me.

Heininger

Right.

Schneider

First he thought it was just me or maybe just me and Kennedy, so he was dodging and weaving, and doing a pretty good job. He’s a smart guy. Then they said, No, we want to hear the answer. Do you agree that the policy was inappropriate; that if it occurs again you will not be part of it; and that you will resign? That’s pretty tough stuff.

Heininger

Not only that, he’d been there, so he’d have trouble agreeing that it was inappropriate since he—

Schneider

No, he said he was wrong. He had to say he was wrong, that what he did was inappropriate, and not in the U.S. interest.

Heininger

And do you think he felt it was wrong?

Schneider

No. Not at the time he served in Chile.

Heininger

No? Okay.

Schneider

That’s one of the few published hearings that came out like a year later or something that I keep.

Heininger

For good reason.

Schneider

Yes. Senator Kennedy stayed with the issue throughout the [Jimmy] Carter administration, pressing in a variety of ways. He went to Chile in ’86, and gave that speech, which he still says was the most emotional speech he’s ever given, to a crowd, I mean a crowd. The room was going to explode with people. It was almost as if you took the people who were in the inauguration of [Barack] Obama and put them all into a hall. In fact, I think I brought it. This is the one thing that I pulled out. I went back and pulled some stuff.

This is the César Chávez stuff. [reading from notes] I’m sure I can address you as I did the delegates, as fellow lettuce boycotters, and this is what it looked like, by the way. [reading a few words in Spanish]

Heininger

[reading the notes and laughing] Look at all the phonetics underneath. 

Schneider

Right. This must have been March ’72. We had just put out something about the attack on the farm workers. This was in L.A., in October of ’73.

In ’75, I went to Cuba. These are my notes of a meeting with Fidel Castro.

Heininger

We’ll talk about that.

Schneider

Okay. Back to Chile. He gave that speech and visited different people. That was the trip where the right wing, when he got there, organized demonstrations against him, government-organized demonstrations against him, and stopped us from going from the airport to downtown by car. We had to take helicopters. I had gone a week earlier to Chile to organize the trip, and Mariano Fernández, who is now the Ambassador from Chile to the U.S., was my contact in doing it. He and the then head of the Christian Democrats, Gabriel Valdés, and Chile’s former Foreign Minister went out to the airport by car to greet Kennedy, and had eggs and produce thrown at them. Gabriele Valdés always says that Kennedy owes him a new suit. [laughing

That was in ’86. In ’87 the No campaign began. After talking to people, we organized the Committee to Support Free Elections in Chile, Chairmen were Senator Kennedy and Senator Lugar, and the honorary co-chairs were Carter and [Gerald] Ford.

Heininger

And Ford?

Schneider

President Ford, and the co-chairs were Ted Kennedy and [Richard G.] Lugar.

Heininger

Really?

Schneider

Yes. That was a way of getting many distinguished U.S. people in support of the No campaign. Then he and I were invited to the [Patricio] Aylwin inauguration. He went and I tagged along, as part of the Quayle—[James Danforth] Quayle led the U.S. delegation.

Heininger

He did? That trip also went to Brazil, didn’t it?

Schneider

The ’86 one went to Brazil. We started in Brazil, then went to Argentina. I had dropped off and helped organize Rio. We were with the Governor of Rio de Janeiro, Leonel Brizola, whom I knew, and then we flew to Argentina. I just stopped there and continued on to Chile.

Heininger

Then Nancy Soderberg did the Argentina piece.

Schneider

Right, exactly.

Heininger

And Greg Craig was with him for the whole thing, right?

Schneider

Right, right.

Heininger

But you went ahead to organize in Chile?

Schneider

To Chile, yes. We all went from there to Peru, and that was the last one. In Peru, we stood for 45 minutes—he was ready to kill me—while the then President, Alan Garcia, lectured on the new development policy for the world. I finally got somebody to get some chairs for us.

Heininger

We haven’t talked about [Orlando] Letelier.

Schneider

I was going to say. Going back to Letelier, Orlando and Isabel had been here and I had gotten to know them after Allende was elected and Orlando was named Ambassador to Washington. He then went back to be Foreign Minister first, and then Defense Minister. One of the reasons that we’d asked to go to Dawson Island was to see him. He was one of those released about four or five months later, went into exile in Venezuela, and then finally came here. When the assassination occurred, they were going to come to see me that day.

[BREAK]

Heininger

This is a resumption of the interview with Mark Schneider on February 2.

Letelier was on his way to see you.

Schneider

Yes, because they had taken actions, on the economic side, against—He made some speeches and they were taking away his citizenship. We were talking about some issues related to the economic situation in Chile, and he was going to come in that afternoon to see me and talk to me. He was dropping off Ronni Karpen Moffitt and her husband, Michael, at the IPS [Institute for Policy Studies] office, and then was going to come over. I got a call, initially from IPS, about the assassination.

I wrote something for the Senator to say and he went to the floor immediately and spoke, then I got a call from Isabel, who wanted me to come down to the hospital, so I went down to the hospital emergency room. By then they had declared him dead. It was very sad. The Senator followed the efforts to bring those involved to justice throughout the next several years, and we finally, during the Carter administration … .

You know the story about who did it: [Michael] Townley and the Cubans. Some of them—not all of them—were arrested and finished their time and were released. In Chile, we finally got the two people: [Manuel] Contreras, who was the head of the intelligence agency; and the other, his deputy [Pedro Espinoza]. Ultimately they were both prosecuted for the Letelier assassination. It was the first and remains the only successful terrorist attack in Washington, D.C., other than the Pentagon in 2001.

When Aylwin was inaugurated, we went to the inauguration. He sat next to Isabel in the stadium. In different speeches, he talks about that. That’s when, in 1992, President Aylwin gave me this Bernardo O’Higgins award, which is what Michelle Bachelet gave to Senator Kennedy in October this year. Her father had pounded out—from copper, in jail—a metal wall hanging of somebody holding the bars of a jail cell. After I went to Chile for that delegation in ’74 and came back, the other prisoners—They were all in a single cell. Her father was a general in the Air Force, and the others in the cell were also Air Force officers, all of whom had refused to take up arms against the constitutional government. Particularly because they were military, they were more severely tortured, I think. They sent me, that following Christmas, this wall hanging that her father had done.

Heininger

Wow.

Schneider

So when she first came to Washington after being inaugurated, I gave it to her.

Heininger

She must have appreciated that.

Schneider

Remember that Pinochet stayed out of jail for a long, long time.

Heininger

Yes, he did.

Schneider

Many of the military who were engaged in horrific things amnestied themselves in 1979. But, ultimately, accepting that amnesty resulted in getting rid of the Pinochet regime. So the questions about how to deal with issues of peace and justice continue to arise, and the Chilean example is one that always comes back. What would have happened if the United States had not taken the position the Nixon administration took in support of the coup? We can save the rest for another time.

This is one of the many interviews that comprise the Edward M. Kennedy Oral History. For more information about the Edward M. Kennedy Oral History, including links to all interviews, please click here.

Additional Resources