In January 1957, as the newly appointed chief counsel to the Senate’s Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor and Management Field, Robert F. Kennedy began his pursuit of Jimmy Hoffa, the union boss who was said to be the most improper of them all. The clash quickly took on a primal hue.
They met for the first time that winter. Kennedy, who was 5-foot-10, wasn’t unhappy to find himself peering down at the 5-foot-5-inch Teamsters executive. Hoffa came away telling friends that RFK had a feeble handshake. (Later, in union press releases, he sometimes referred to his nemesis as “Bobbie,” trying to feminize Kennedy with a bit of cutesy spelling.)
This was not unusual—their ongoing conflict was basically one long barroom stare-down. James Neff describes a fairly typical encounter between the two men in his brisk and expansive new book, Vendetta: Bobby Kennedy Versus Jimmy Hoffa: “Bizarrely, somehow the standoff (at a Washington courthouse) turned into a discussion about physical fitness, which devolved into juvenile boasting about who could do more push-ups. (Hoffa said he could do thirty-five, and RFK said he could do more).”