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Papers were being shuffled amid much fidgeting when Ford at last ended the impasse: "Mr. President, with your indulgence I have something to say." Nixon nodded, and Ford continued: "Everyone here recognizes the difficult position I'm in. No one regrets more than I do this whole tragic episode. I have deep personal sympathy for you, Mr. President, and your fine family. But had I known what has been disclosed in reference to Watergate in the last 24 hours, I would not have made a number of the statements I made. I'll have no further comment on the issue because I'm a party in interest. I'm sure there will be impeachment in the House. I can't predict the Senate outcome. You have given us the finest foreign policy this country has ever had. A super job, and the people appreciate it. Let me assure you that I expect to continue to support the Administration's foreign policy and the fight against inflation."
Nixon seemed to hear only the comment about inflation. He picked up a proposal Ford had floated a few days earlier of a summit of business and labor leaders to overcome inflation. Attorney General William Saxbe interrupted: "Mr. President, I don't think we ought to have a summit conference. We ought to be sure you have the ability to govern." George Bush, then chairman of the Republican National Committee, took up the theme. The Republican Party, he said, was in a shambles; the forthcoming congressional election threatened disaster. Watergate had to be brought to an end expeditiously. Everyone in the room knew the corollary: the only way Watergate could end quickly was for Nixon to resign immediately.
It was cruel. And it was necessary. For Nixon's own appointees to turn on him was not the best way to end a presidency. Yet he had left them no other choice. Nobody is less likely to rebel than a President's Cabinet. At meetings with Presidents, the normal tendency of senior Cabinet officers is deference, occasionally bordering on obsequiousness. If Nixon's Cabinet officers felt impelled to say what they did, they must have felt that they had been deceived on Watergate; if they felt free to say it, their judgment must have been that Nixon's days were numbered.
But it was too cruel to Nixon to allow this to continue, and it would also have deprived his resignation of one important message: that our institutions remained vital and our procedures democratic. More than enough had been said. The Cabinet owed it to the President not to deprive him of self-respect or his almost certain departure of dignity. So I took the floor as the senior Cabinet officer. "This is a very difficult time for our country," I said. "Our duty is to show confidence. We must demonstrate that the country can go through its constitutional processes. For the sake of foreign policy we must act with assurance."
Around 12:45 p.m., I returned to the Oval Office unannounced. I owed it to the President to say that his best service to the country now would be to resign. An impeachment trial would preoccupy him for months, obsess the nation and paralyze our foreign policy. It was too dangerous for our country and too demeaning to the presidency. He should leave in a manner that appeared as an act of his choice. Nixon said he appreciated what I said. He would take it seriously.