Robert Byrd

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Robert Byrd
U.S. Senior Senator, West Virginia
image:Byrd.jpg
Party Democratic
Assumed office (class 2)

January 3, 1959
Serving with John Rockefeller

Preceded by W. Chapman Revercomb
Committees
Born November 20, 1917
Spouse Erma Ora Byrd (deceased)
Religion Southern Baptist


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Robert Carlyle Byrd (born November 20, 1917 died – June 28, 2010) was a West Virginia Democrat serving in the United States Senate. He remains the longest-served member of the U.S. Congress, having served in the United States House of Representatives from January 3, 1953, until he entered the Senate on January 3, 1959; current Dean of the House John Dingell has only served since December 1955. At 92, Byrd was the oldest member of Congress. Some like to call Byrd a "walking encyclopedia" on the history of both the American and Roman senates.

Byrd has held the office of president pro tempore of the Senate three times, most recently from 2001 to 2003, and held the title from 2007 to 2010. He has served as a member of the Appropriations Committee since the 1950s and was chairman of the committee from 1989 to 1995, 2001 to 2003, and 2007 to 2009. Byrd has the distinction of being the longest-serving member in congressional history, with 56 years, 320 days of combined service in the House and Senate,

Contents

Biography

Early life and political career

Byrd was born Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr. in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, in 1917. When he was one year old, his mother died in the 1918 Flu Pandemic. In accordance with his mother's wishes, his father dispersed the family children among relatives. His father was a member of the KKK. [1] He was given to the custody of an aunt and an uncle, Vlurma and Titus Byrd, who renamed him Robert Byrd; they raised him in the coal-mining region of southern West Virginia. His parents inculcated Byrd in "the typical southern viewpoint of the time," Bryd has written. "Blacks were generally distrusted by many whites, and I suspect they were subliminally feared." [2] Byrd graduated as valedictorian of his high school class and soon afterwards married Erma Ora, his wife today. It was twelve years before he could afford to go to college. He eventually attended Beckley College, Concord College, Morris Harvey College, and Marshall College, all in West Virginia. He worked as a gas-station attendant, grocery-store clerk, shipyard welder, and butcher before he won a seat in the state legislature in 1946. Byrd was a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1947 to 1950. He was a member of the West Virginia Senate from 1951 to 1952. Since that first bid for office, Byrd has never lost an election. He graduated from American University's Washington College of Law in 1963. He has two daughters, Mona and Marjorie, as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Participation in the Ku Klux Klan

In the early 1940's, when Byrd was approximately 24 years old, he joined the Ku Klux Klan, which he had seen holding parades in Matoaka, West Virginia as a child, his father having been among the hooded marchers.

When running for Congress in 1952, he announced that he became disinterested, quit paying his dues, and dropped his membership in the organization. Since then, Byrd has often referred to his Klan membership as a mistake of his youth.

U.S. Senate

He was first elected to the Senate in 1958 and has held the position ever since.

In the 1960 Presidential election primaries, Byrd, a close ally of Lyndon B. Johnson, then Senate Majority Leader, tried to derail the Democratic front-runner and ultimately successful candidate John F. Kennedy in the crucial West Virginia primary. "Kennedy allies retaliated with leaks to the press about Byrd's work as a Klan organizer." [3]

Byrd later joined with other southern Democrats to oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Byrd filibustered the bill for more than 14 hours, saying it abrogated principles of federalism.

In 1965, the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program was created by Congress as a federally funded, state-administered program. It awards $1,500 a year to graduating high school seniors who continue on to higher education on the basis of academic merit.

From 1977 to 1989 Byrd led the Senate Democrats, serving as Senate Majority Leader from 1977-81 and 1987-89 and as Senate Minority Leader from 1981-87.

Byrd's pursuit of federal dollars for West Virginia, the nation’s second poorest state (behind only Mississippi) has been remarkably effective over the course of his long career. When he became the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee in the 101st Congress (after six years as Senate majority leader and another six years as minority leader), he sought to steer, over time, a total of $1 billion for public works to West Virginia; he had exceeded the goal two years later, and the steady streams of funds for highways, dams, educational institutions, and federal agency offices has progressed unabated. More than thirty pending or existing federal projects bear Byrd's name. He is close friends with the Ted Stevens (R-AK) with which he sits next to on the board of the Senate appropriations committee, a man who is also known for his prowess in appropriating funds for his constituents. The two men have been longtime friends, but their relationship has been strained over Byrd's recent stands on the Bush Presidency.

Byrd has also been known for his versatility and prowess as the Senate Majority leader. Before the "Reagan Takeover", he frustated conservatives of the day with his encylopedia-like knowledge of the inner workings and values of the Senate. In the period from 1977-1979 he was described as "performing a procedural tap dance around the minority, outmaneuvering Republicans with his mastery of the Senate's arcane rules."

"Favorite son" presidential candidate

In 1976, Byrd, at the time the Senate Majority Whip, announced that he would run for president as a "favorite son" candidate, only campaigning in his home state of West Virginia. Like many Democrats, Byrd thought that perhaps if the convention were deadlocked, he could use his delegates to hold some influence in the selection of a nominee.

Every other Democrat but George Wallace stayed off the West Virginia ballot in deference to Byrd, and even Wallace didn't campaign in the state. Byrd won by a near 9-1 margin. However, he was never a serious candidate for the nomination, and Byrd had set his sights instead on the position of Senate majority leader, after the retirement of Montana's Mike Mansfield. Byrd focused most of his time on campaigning for the office of majority leader, more so than for re-election to the Senate, as he was unopposed for his fourth term. By the time the vote for majority leader was at hand, he had it so wrapped up that his lone rival, Minnesota's Hubert Humphrey, withdrew before the balloting took place.

He was a strong critic of Bill Clinton throughout his presidency. Byrd was initially a force in demanding that the impeachment proceedings against Clinton be taken seriously and conducted completely, harshly criticizing Democratic and White House attempts to make light of it, but in the end it was his motion to dismiss the charges against the president which brought about the end of what was left of the House prosecutors’ case.

Opposition to war in Iraq

In the 107th Congress, Byrd suffered some legislative defeats, particularly with respect to debates on homeland security. Byrd opposed the 2002 law creating the Department of Homeland Security, saying it ceded too much authority to the executive branch. He led the opposition against granting President George W. Bush broad power to wage a "preemptive" war against Iraq, but he could not get even a majority of his own party to vote against the war. He also led the opposition to Bush's bid to win back the power to negotiate trade deals that Congress cannot amend, and he lost overwhelmingly. But, in the 108th Congress, Byrd won his party's top seat on the new Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, positioning himself to use the subcommittee as a forum for oversight of the executive.

Byrd was one of the Senate's most outspoken critics of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the Bush Doctrine's support of unilateralism and preemptive warfare.

On March 19, 2003, when President George W. Bush ordered the invasion after receiving U.S. Congress approval, Byrd stated:

Today I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned. Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination.

Byrd also criticized Bush for his speech declaring the "end of major combat operations" in Iraq, which Bush made on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. Byrd stated on the Senate floor:

I do question the motives of a deskbound president who assumes the garb of a warrior for the purposes of a speech.

Views on stiffling dissent

On October 17, 2003, Byrd delivered a now-famous speech, expressing his concerns about the future of the nation and his unequivocal antipathy to the policies of President Bush. Referencing the Hans Christian Andersen children's tale The Emperor's New Clothes, Byrd said of the president: "the emperor has no clothes." Byrd further lamented the "sheep-like" behavior of the "cowed Members of this Senate" and called on them to oppose the continuation of a "war based on falsehoods."

Byrd condemned what he saw as the stifling of dissent and the marginalization of the legislature:


The right to ask questions, debate, and dissent is under attack. The drums of war are beaten ever louder in an attempt to drown out those who speak of our predicament in stark terms.
Even in the Senate, our history and tradition of being the world's greatest deliberative body is being snubbed. This huge spending bill — $87 billion — has been rushed through this chamber in just one month. There were just three open hearings by the Senate Appropriations Committee on $87 billion — $87 for every minute since Jesus Christ was born — $87 billion without a single outside witness called to challenge the administration's line.

The senator ended his speech in a provocative fashion by repeating a famous quote from the Nuremberg Diary by citing the following passage, the author is interviewing Nazi war criminal Herman Goering:

We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.
... But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.
There is one difference... In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.
Oh, that is all well and good, but voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them that they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for a lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

Father of the Senate

Byrd vigorously pursues a role of guardian of the Senate's powers and precedents, and has positioned himself as a leading historian of the institution and a master of its rules and procedures.

Byrd is currently called the "Father of the Senate" — the senator with the longest continuous service. As the longest-serving Democratic senator, he has held the office of president pro tempore of the Senate three times, most recently from 2001-2003. He has served as a member of the Appropriations Committee since the 1950s and is chairman of the committee when the Democratic party is in the Senate majority. In May 2001, West Virginia Governor Bob Wise and both Houses of the West Virginia Legislature named Byrd "West Virginian of the 20th Century," which Byrd considered the greatest honor of his career.

As the 109th Congress began, Byrd was beginning his sixth decade in the Capitol and his forty-seventh year as a senator. If he completes his eighth term, he will surpass Strom Thurmond as the longest-serving senator in U.S. history. If he wins reelection in 2006 he will be on course to surpass Arizona's Carl T. Hayden as the longest-serving member of Congress in the fall of 2009.

Byrd has a cameo role as a Confederate general in the Warner Brothers film Gods and Generals (2003).

In July 2004, Byrd released the book Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency about the Bush presidency and the war in Iraq.

Presidency

Under George W. Bush and probably also under Obama Senator Byrd is 3rd in the succession for the US Presidency after the United States Vice President and the House Speaker. As a potential president the United States and the world perhaps needs someone younger.

Nuclear weapons

The United States President has control of American Nuclear weapons. He may have to make a fast decision without having time to consult advisers in an emotionally charged situation. A terrorist disaster killing the three people who should be president before Byrd is unlikely but possible. Senator Byrd should stay in the Senate as long as he wants to and as long as his constituents have confidence in him. There is a strong case for Byrd giving up the position which could lead to the presidency.

Voting record

Though a former party leader, Byrd is one of the most independent members of the Democratic caucus. Byrd sees himself as placing the prerogatives of the Senate and the needs of West Virginia before the interests of the Democratic party. Among Byrd's conservative positions were opposing President Clinton's efforts in 1993 to allow gays to serve in the military, affirmative action, and abortion rights. Like most members of his caucus, however, Byrd opposes the tax cuts implemented by President George W. Bush and is expected to vote against Bush's forthcoming Social Security reform proposal.

"The Gang of 14"

On May 23, 2005, Byrd was one of fourteen moderate senators to forge a compromise on the Democrats' use of the judicial filibuster, thus blocking the Republican leadership's attempt to implement the "nuclear option". Under the agreement, the Democrats would retain the power to filibuster a Bush judicial nominee only in an "extraordinary circumstance", and the three most conservative Bush appellate court nominees (Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen and William Pryor) would receive a vote by the full Senate.

Political timeline

Committees

  • Senate Committee on Armed Services
    • Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities
    • Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support
    • Subcommittee on Strategic Forces
  • Senate Committee on Rules and Administration
  • Senate Committee on Appropriations, Chairman
    • Subcommittee on Homeland Security, Chairman
    • Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies
    • Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
    • Subcommittee on Defense
    • Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
    • Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government
    • Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
    • Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
    • Subcommittee on Legislative Branch
    • Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans' Affairs, and Related Agencies
    • Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
    • Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies
  • Senate Committee on Budget

Published writing

Affiliations

Contact

Email: Senator Robert C. Byrd

GovTrack link

External links

Related areas

Portions of this document were copied from Wikipedia, from the entry titled http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Byrd

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