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1970

McGovern-Hatfield amendment defeated in the Senate

The U.S. Senate rejects the McGovern-Hatfield amendment by a vote of 55-39. This legislation, proposed by Senators George McGovern of South Dakota and Mark Hatfield of Oregon, would have set a deadline of December 31, 1971, for complete withdrawal of American troops from South Vietnam. The Senate also turned down 71-22, a proposal forbidding the Army from sending draftees to Vietnam. Despite the defeat of these two measures, the proposed legislation indicated the growing dissatisfaction with President Nixon’s handling of the war.

On this same day, a bipartisan group of 14 senators, including both the majority and minority leaders, signed a letter to the president asking him to propose a comprehensive “standstill cease-fire” in South Vietnam at the ongoing Paris peace talks. Under this plan, the belligerents would stop fighting where they were on the battlefield while a negotiated settlement was hammered out at the talks. This approach had been discussed and rejected earlier in the Nixon White House, but the president, concerned that senators from his own party had signed the letter, had to do something to quell the mounting opposition to the seemingly endless war. Accordingly, on October 7, in a major televised speech, he proposed what he called a “major new initiative for peace”—a new truce plan for stopping the fighting in Vietnam. Although Nixon did not offer any new concessions, his speech got high marks in both Congress and the U.S. media. Unfortunately, the North Vietnamese rejected the overture, insisting that no truce was possible until the Thieu regime agreed to accept the authority of a coalition government in Saigon that “favors peace, independence, and democracy.” Thieu stubbornly refused to participate in any coalition government with the communists. Subsequent negotiations with the North Vietnamese in Paris remained deadlocked and the war continued.

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