The list of notable Texans to serve in the U.S. House is a long one. Names like Sam Rayburn, “Cactus Jack” Garner, Barbara Jordan and Lyndon B. Johnson have been lionized through history. But that parade of names often leaves someone out: Congressman Jack Brooks.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Brooks a “master legislator” and a “giant of the House.” But a new biography by by Timothy and Brendan McNulty calls him “The Meanest Man in Congress.” Brooks represented part of Southeast Texas on Capitol Hill from 1953 to 1995.
Brooks was the Democrat who drafted the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. He was also the man peering over Jackie Kennedy’s shoulder as Lyndon B. Johnson took the presidential oath of office on Air Force One in 1963. In fact, it was Brooks who convinced Johnson not to wait until he got back to Washington to take the oath, after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Brendan McNulty says Brooks is not as well known today as other influential lawmakers from Texas. And that’s why McNulty and his father, Timothy, wrote the book.
“He had such an impactful career in the U.S. Legislature that we felt this story was too good and too significant for the historical record and the public discourse to go undocumented,” McNulty says.
Brooks was a larger-than-life presence in Congress, and a maverick among Southern members when it came to civil rights.
“He was absolutely fearless in terms of political reprisals from taking stances that were not yet in vogue,” McNulty says.
Brooks represented the Golden Triangle of Texas – a region with a diverse population.
“He knew that he was on the right side of history with integration and with the civil rights legislation, even though he was … one of three or four Southern Democrats who chose not to sign onto the Southerners Manifesto.”
The manifesto was a rebuttal to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, which paved the way for integration of public schools. McNulty says Brooks’ stand, made when he was a young congressman, took guts.
Later, Brooks earned the nickname “the executioner” for leading the movement to impeachment of Richard Nixon.
Despite being on the “right side of history,” as McNulty says, Brooks earned the title “the meanest man in Congress.”
“Nobody wanted to be on the opposing side of Jack Brooks in a legislative or political fight,” McNulty says. “I mean, he was tough as nails. He knew the law. He knew congressional prerogatives inside and out.”
McNulty says there’s a reason other lawmakers are more famous than Brooks, even years after leaving office.
“[Better-known members of Congress] have one overarching trait and that is that they love to talk,” McNulty says. “And Jack Brooks loved to do; I would say he was the most effective legislator of our time, in terms of passing legislation.”
Written by Shelly Brisbin.