HONOLULU — President Lyndon Johnson urged Hubert Humphrey to consider picking U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye as his vice-presidential running mate in 1968, newly released tapes from the Johnson library reveal.
The Hawaii Democrat, then 43, was a serious enough prospect that Johnson had the FBI run a background check on him. Humphrey was serving as Johnson's vice president at the time.
Jennifer Sabas, Inouye's Hawaii chief of staff, said Friday the senator knew at the time he was being considered for the job and was aware of the background check. But she said Inouye, now 84, told Humphrey he wasn't interested.
"He was content in his position as a U.S. senator representing Hawaii," Sabas said.
On Aug. 29, 1968, three days after Inouye delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Johnson was recorded telling Humphrey that Inouye had "cold, clear courage" and that he had never known the Hawaii senator to make a mistake.
The president told Humphrey that Inouye's World War II injuries — he lost his right arm fighting in Italy — would silence Humphrey's critics on the Vietnam War.
"He answers Vietnam with that empty sleeve. He answers your problems with (Republican presidential candidate Richard) Nixon with that empty sleeve," Johnson said.
Southerners loved Inouye, said Johnson, adding the senator would win minority votes because he's Japanese-American.
"The South can't get mad at him because he's colored. And he would appeal to every other minority because he is one," Johnson said.
Humphrey said "yes" several time as Johnson spoke. But he was lukewarm to the idea overall, prompting the president to ask, "Inouye doesn't appeal to you?"
Humphrey replied: "Well, I just don't believe so. He does, Mr. President, but I guess maybe it just takes me a little bit too far, too fast. Old conservative Humphrey."
Humphrey later picked Edmund Muskie, a U.S. senator from Maine, as his running mate. But he lost the election to Nixon.
The conversations were among 43 hours of telephone recordings the library this past week. They cover the period from May 1968 through January 1969, when Johnson left office after deciding against seeking re-election.
The LBJ Library has archived and periodically released groups of the recordings, which were made throughout his presidency. The phone conversations took place at the White House and at the LBJ Ranch in Texas.