Saturday, June 12, 2010

Representative, 1939–1947, Republican from Illinois

A type of politics once very popular in the Midwest and the sort of forgotten. Via House dot Gov's Women in Congress.
While opposition to domestic policies got her elected, the imperatives of military preparedness absorbed Sumner’s attention in Congress. After World War II erupted in September 1939, Sumner opposed amending the Neutrality Act to lift the arms embargo in favor of a “cash and carry” policy, whereby belligerents could buy American war materials and transport them in their own ships. In the fall of 1940 she opposed the Burke– Wadsworth Selective Service Bill, which established the first peacetime draft in the country’s history. A year later she voted against its extension and against the arming of American merchant ships ferrying war materials to Europe. She also rejected direct American aid to the British, expressing grave reservations that the President was nudging the country to war, having struck a secret alliance with London. Sumner laced her speeches with anglophobia and subtle admiration for Nazi Germany’s militarization.9 In 1939, she introduced a joint resolution to prevent U.S. participation in foreign combat without congressional consent. “We have more to fear from an American invasion of Europe,” Sumner declared, “than from a European invasion of America.”10

President Roosevelt was Sumner’s target of opportunity, but her attacks also sought to rouse Congress to preserve its oversight powers and prerogative to shape American foreign policy. Sumner hoped to rein in FDR’s powers by using the House’s authority to originate and pass appropriations, even over the President’s veto. “Today when the White House endeavors to control your votes as Representatives, by promising to approve or threatening to withhold projects for your district, they are using a power which you delegated to the Executive very recently,” Sumner warned colleagues. “It is an abuse of that power. It robs you of your right and duty to vote your convictions.”11

Sumner’s isolationism mirrored that of her constituency. In her first bid for re-election in 1940, Sumner again defeated Meeks with 53 versus 47 percent of the vote. She won against two other candidates by even wider margins in 1942 and 1944, with 62 percent and 57 percent, respectively.12 Increasingly, however, the Illinois Congresswoman found herself moving against the current in Washington.

Sumner’s strident attacks on the FDR administration were only amplified after America joined the war. Most significantly, she opposed opening a Western Europe front to relieve pressure on the Soviet Union. In March 1944, Sumner took to the House Floor to declare that it made no difference whether Hitler or Stalin dominated Europe and warned an invasion might cost a million lives. “The difference between these two ambitious tyrants is not worth the life of a single American boy,” she declared.13 That spring Sumner offered an amendment to postpone the long anticipated D-Day, calling the proposed invasion a “quixotism.” Simultaneously, she submitted a bill to enlarge the Pacific campaign, vesting all military authority in General Douglas MacArthur.14

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