Sustained Outrage

Sen. Byrd speaks: The line-item veto

In a 1977 photo provided by County Records, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-WV, posed in front of the capitol building with his fiddle.

This is the last in a series of 14 speeches Sen. Robert C. Byrd gave in 1993 about the line-item veto (From Milestone Documents):

Mr. President, this is the fourteenth in my series of speeches on the line-item veto, with particular reference to the Roman Republic and the Roman Senate. When I began this series of one-hour speeches on May 5, I spoke of Montesquieu, the eminent French philosopher and author who had greatly influenced the Founding Fathers with his political theory of checks and balances and separation of powers.

I have also stated a number of times that if we are to have a better appreciation and understanding of the U.S. Constitution—its separation of powers and checks and balances, and the power over the purse—then we should follow in Montesquieu’s tracks and study Roman history as he did, and that is what we have been doing together during these past several months.

What have we acquired to pay us for our pains? What have we learned that can be applicable to our own time, our own country, and to the political questions of today concerning checks and balances and the control over the purse? Let us see.

Napoleon said, “Let my son often read and reflect on history. This is the only true philosophy.” We have elected, therefore, as did Montesquieu, to look to Roman history for guidance.

Roman power derived from Roman virtue, basically; in other words, from great moral qualities. The average Roman, as we have noted, was simple, steadfast, honest, courageous, law-abiding, patriotic, and reverent, and his leaders were men of uncommon dedication and acumen.

From the earliest times, the Romans possessed a profound reverence for national tradition, a firm conviction of being the special object and instrument of destiny, and a strong sense of individual responsibility and obligation to that tradition and to the fulfillment of that destiny.

There spring to mind several parallels between the history of the Romans and the history of our own Republic, one such parallel being that the same old virtues which lent sturdiness and integrity to the early Romans, also gave stability and substance and strength and character to our own national life in the early years of its formation and development.

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Sen. Byrd speaks: Coal mine safety

Here’s is Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s opening statement during a committee hearing on the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster earlier this year:

Mr. Chairman:

I very much appreciate your holding this hearing. You and your staff have been very gracious in accommodating my requests for supplemental funding and for this oversight hearing, in the wake of the terrible tragedy that took the lives of 29 miners in the coal fields of southern West Virginia.

Nearly two months after that horrific explosion, I am perplexed as to how such a tragedy, on such a scale, could happen, given the significant increases in funding and manpower for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, which have been provided by this Committee.

In recent weeks, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has announced so-called inspection blitzes. MSHA has announced new rules concerning pre-shift examinations and pattern violators, and has displayed a new-found willingness to use injunctive relief to close dangerous mines. It is tragic that miners had to perish in order to precipitate such enforcement. The Congress has authorized the most aggressive miner protection laws in the history of the world, but such laws are useless if the enforcement agency is not vigorous about demanding safety in the mines.

These laws are also jeopardized when the miners themselves are not incorporated into the heart of the inspection and enforcement process – – as Congress has intended them to be. Now is the time – – in fact, long past the time – – to cast off the fears, cronyism, and other encumbrances that have shackled coal miners and MSHA in the past.

Assistant Secretary Main, and his team at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, still have much to explain regarding this tragedy at Upper Big Branch which happened on their watch. I do not believe it was because of a lack of funding. I do not believe that MSHA lacked enforcement authorities.

Massey Energy officials, who bear the ultimate responsibility for the health and safety of their workers, still have much to explain to the country and to the families of the miners who perished. I cannot fathom how an American business could practice such disgraceful health and safety policies while simultaneously boasting about its commitment to the safety of its workers.

The Upper Big Branch Mine had an alarming record of withdrawal orders – – where was the commensurate effort to improve safety and health?

Presently there are several ongoing investigations, including an ongoing criminal investigation. Perhaps these will provide some solace to the families who are looking for accountability. Let us also hope that this hearing will provide information on the government and company officials who should be held accountable, and lead us to some additional steps which may be taken to avoid such horrific loss of life in the future.

This is a floor speech Sen. Robert C. Byrd delivered on Oct. 22, 2009, about the war in Afghanistan:

“Mr. President, I am a student of history, and a firm believer in applying the lessons of history to present and future planning. There is no profit in making the same mistakes over and over again, and no future in building on a foundation of shifting sand. Our military planners and our Afghanistan policy analysts as well as members of this Senate would do well to spend some time considering the history, geography and cultures of Afghanistan.”

“Throughout the long centuries, Afghanistan’s geopolitical value has been its location along the great Silk Road that carried both trade goods and armies between Europe and Asia through the forbidding Hindu Kush Mountains. Afghanistan has limited natural resources and a climate and a geography that produce very little for export, so the fiercely independent tribes that populate this harsh and barren land have long earned a living instead from the goods and the armies that travel across it. Tribesmen have used the dry, rocky plains and the steep, bare, cavern-riddled mountains to great advantage to extort both armies and traders for security and shelter, or as a base from which to raid.”

“In weary succession, rulers and nations have witnessed their dreams of conquest and their dreams of empire in Afghanistan dashed. From Alexander the Great in 326 B.C., to Genghis Kahn in the 13th Century, to the British in the 19th Century and to the Russians in the 20th Century, no invading army has ever conquered Afghanistan, earning it the sobriquet “Graveyard of Empires” or “Graveyard of Foreigners.” In one horrific example, in 1842, the British lost more than 16,000 troops and civilians in a single 110-mile retreat from Kabul to Jalalabad. History tells us that Afghanistan does not take kindly to foreign intervention.”

“Yet here we are, discussing a proposed counterinsurgency strategy that would vastly increase the U.S. presence in Afghanistan in the vain hope of spawning the establishment of a Western-style modern democracy and economy in a land that in many areas and in many ways is still frozen in the time of Alexander the Great.”

“As a junior U.S. Senator, I traveled to Afghanistan in the 1960’s. It was an eye-opening experience. Men were treated like beasts of burden, actually pulling carts like oxen. Living conditions were primitive. Corruption was widespread. While life in Afghanistan’s cities has changed somewhat in the intervening decades, many of the scenes I see in the news still look very familiar to me. The fundamental changes that are wished for by some NATO and U.S. planners, particularly in the least-developed rural areas where the tribal, theocratic Taliban rule is most entrenched, would certainly be a long shot and likely will be quite unwelcome.”

“Mr. President, what is really at stake for the United States in Afghanistan? We all know that Afghanistan is not a threat to us militarily. The Taliban is not a threat to us militarily. Al Qaeda, however, is a demonstrated threat to us with ambitions and a philosophy that must keep us vigilant. But the link between al Qaeda and Afghanistan is a tenuous one, based only on the temporary expediency of location, an expediency that has already been replaced as the al Qaeda leadership has moved, and may move again.”

“Building a Western-style democratic state in an Afghanistan equipped with a large military and police force and a functioning economy based on something other than opium poppies may or may not deny al Qaeda a safe haven there again. It will guarantee that the United States must invest large numbers of troops and many billions of dollars in Afghanistan for many years to come, energy and funds that might otherwise go toward fueling our own economic recovery, better educating our children or expanding access to health care for more of our own people. And yet there are many here in this body — the Senate — who believe we should proceed with such a folly in Afghanistan. During a time of record deficits, some actually continue to suggest that the United States should sink hundreds of billions of borrowed dollars into Afghanistan effectively turning our backs on our own substantial domestic needs — all the while deferring the costs and the problems for future generations to address.”

“Our national security interests lie in defeating — no, in destroying — al Qaeda. Until we take that, and only that, mission seriously, we risk adding the United States to the long, long, long list of nations whose best laid plans have died on the cold, barren rocky slopes of that far off country of Afghanistan.”

In this Jan. 30, 2003 file photo, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va, left, and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., talk to reporters on Capitol Hill to discuss the situation in Iraq.

Here is Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s September 2009 speech remembering Sen. Edward Kennedy:

“On August 25, a towering figure on our national political landscape left us. Edward Moore Kennedy succumbed to a malignant brain tumor after an 18 month battle for his life. As I look now at his desk, draped with black cloth and covered with flowers, I still have difficulty believing that he is gone. My ebullient Irish-to-the-core friend has departed this life forever. How bleakly somber. How utterly final. How totally unlike Ted Kennedy in life.

Ted Kennedy in life was a force of nature – – a cheerful, inquisitive, caring man, who never accepted somberness for long or the finality of anything. His energetic adherence to perseverance, his plain dogged determination, his ability to rise from the ashes of whatever new horrific event accosted him, always with grace, and usually with a liberal dose of humor, were his trademarks. It was almost as if Ted Kennedy were at the top of his form when coping with adversity. Life itself inspired him. He believed that life was a contact sport, but that it should never be played without joy in the game itself. That is how he saw politics as well.

Ted Kennedy and I were friends and, yet, we were the oddest of odd couples. He was the scion of a wealthy and storied family. I am a coal miner’s son who had no bottom rungs in my ladder. In earlier years we were rivals.

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In this July 26, 2004, file photo Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., holds a copy of the Constitution he keeps in his pocket as he speaks at the launching of his book “Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency,” at a bookstore in New York. AP photo.

Yesterday’s announcement that a special election to fill the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s seat won’t be held until 2012 has produced a lot of commentary already — much of it not very, well, thoughtful.

I’m certainly not a Constitutional lawyer, but I thought readers might like a little more background, along with some links to relevant information so they can put all of this in context.

In announcing her views on how this should be handled, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant pointed to Section 3-10 of the West Virginia Code, which says:

Any vacancy occurring in the office of secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, attorney general, commissioner of agriculture, United States senator, judge of the supreme court of appeals or in any office created or made elective to be filled by the voters of the entire state, judge of a circuit court or judge of a family court is filled by the governor of the state by appointment. If the unexpired term of a judge of the supreme court of appeals, a judge of the circuit court or judge of a family court is for less than two years or if the unexpired term of any other office named in this section is for a period of less than two years and six months, the appointment to fill the vacancy is for the unexpired term. If the unexpired term of any office is for a longer period than above specified, the appointment is until a successor to the office has timely filed a certificate of candidacy, has been nominated at the primary election next following such timely filing and has thereafter been elected and qualified to fill the unexpired term.

Tennant also pointed to a 1994 West Virginia Supreme Court decision, involving a Republican challenge to the appointment of current U.S. District Judge Irene Berger to the Kanawha Circuit Court. Importantly, this state court ruling referenced — and at least partly relied on — a 1968 federal appeals court ruling concerning the filling of the Senate vacancy created by the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy that June.

The underlying legal issue in all of this is the 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which created popular election of U.S. Senators, their selection by election or appointment by state legislators. Here’s the text of the amendment:

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.

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In this Feb. 26, 2009, file photo Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., waves as he arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP photo.

Here is a speech Sen. Robert C. Byrd delivered on the Senate floor in June 2007:

Mr. President, I feel compelled to address head on the news stories in recent weeks that have pointed out the shocking discovery that I am growing older. I find it no surprise, but then I have had some time to become accustomed to the increasing distance between the year of my birth and the current date. I may not like it, but as Maurice Chevalier put it, “Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.”

A recent Associated Press story ran in West Virginia’s Charleston Daily Mail. The headline read, “Dramatic change in signature shows that age is catching up with Senator Byrd.” The newspaper offered as proof the signatures on my Senate financial disclosure forms from last year and this year. It is true that this year’s signature looks like I signed it in a moving car. Some days, the benign essential tremor that I have had for years now is worse than on other days — just as it is for the approximately 5 million other people in the United States who suffer from similar tremors. It is annoying, but hardly evidence that I am at death’s door.

Nor should it come as a surprise that I use canes to help me get around, or that I am not always as fast as I once was. I am not aware of any requirement for physical dexterity in order to hold the office of U.S. Senator. The often grueling hours that work in the Senate requires are tough on far younger Senators, and I am no longer one of the younger Senators. But to worry in print that I have missed one vote this year? Really?! Out of more than 18,000 votes in my career, to miss one or two votes every now and then is surely excusable. Even old people can be allowed a sick day or two now and then, can’t they?

That is really the crux of the matter here. In this internet-savvy, media-infused culture, we have forgotten that people get older. Even, dare I say it — old. Television is full of pretty, young people. The few white-haired heads that one sees on television are made up and glamorous. Off-camera, though, most bear little resemblance to their tv persona. In a culture of botox, wrinkle cream, and hair dye, we cannot imagine that becoming older is a good thing, an experience to look forward to and a state worthy of respect. If I were 50 years old, and used canes due to some injury, or had a disease-related tremor, the news stories would be about my carrying on despite my adversities. But my only adversity is age.

In real life, the lucky ones among us get old. We move down the steep slope to the far right of the bell curve of age. The really lucky ones — and I almost count myself among them — get to be “aged,” into their nineties or older, a distinction that I like to think is naturally paired with the wisdom borne of experience. We get white hair. We get wrinkles. We move more slowly. We worry more about falling down because we don’t bounce up the way we used to. Our brains are still sharp, but our tongues are slower. We have learned, sometimes the hard way, to think before we speak. I hope, however, that what we have to say is worth the wait.

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As recently as last week, Sen. Robert C. Byrd displayed his mastery of and insight into the Senate’s archaic rules of procedure. As the Associated Press’ Andrew Taylor noted in his obituary of the longest-serving senator in U.S. history, Byrd’s procedural acumen was widely admired: “‘Bob is a living encyclopedia, and legislative graveyards are filled with the bones of those who underestimated him,’ former House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas, once said in remarks Byrd later displayed in his office.”

With confirmation season in full swing (U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings began yesterday) and a number of nominees pending, including James Wynn and Albert Diaz, two North Carolina judges up for seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, Sen. Byrd weighed in on abuses of the tradition of anonymous holds:

I commend the Committee for this third hearing on the filibuster and cloture rule, with today’s focus on secret holds and nominations.

When a small minority – often a minority of one – abuses Senatorial courtesy, and indefinitely delays action on a matter, then I am as adamant as any of my colleagues insisting that Senators should come to the Senate floor and make their objections public.

When such abuses have occurred, I have supported efforts by others, (and proposed some ideas of my own), to ignore requests for holds after a designated period of time. As Majority Whip, I supported the Democratic Caucus policy not to honor holds after three days. As Majority Leader, I cautioned Senators that I would not delay action on a bill indefinitely because of a hold. In the 108th Congress, I cosponsored, with Senators Wyden and Grassley, Senate Resolution 216, which would have required holds to be disclosed in the Congressional Record after three days. I supported the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, which requires Senators to publicly disclose their intent to object to proceeding to a matter after six days. I am ready to support any reasonable proposal that will do away with indefinite holds.

However, there are situations when it is appropriate and even important for Senators to raise a private objection to the immediate consideration of a matter with the Leadership, and to request a reasonable amount of time to try to have concerns addressed. I declined to sign the pledge that has been circulated by Senator McCaskill, because it does not differentiate between temporary and permanent holds. There are times when Senators put holds on nominations or bills, not to delay action, but to be notified before a matter is coming to the floor so that they can prepare amendments or more easily plan schedules. Certainly, Senators should not have to forswear requesting private consultation and advanced notification on a matter coming to the floor.

If the Committee pursues changes to the Senate rules, we must avoid impinging on common sense Senatorial courtesy. We must also realize that if Senators persist in abusing Senatorial courtesies like holds, and taxing the patience of their colleagues by objecting to noncontroversial matters, then Senators are flirting with the loss of those privileges.

Sen. Byrd speaks: On cruelty to animals

Sen. Byrd delivered these remarks on July 19, 2007:

For several days, the news has been saturated with stories about the indictment of a well-known professional football player for running a dogfighting operation.

I am not about to comment on that particular case. The man has been accused. He has not been convicted. We must wait until all the facts are in, and a verdict is rendered. The man cited in these recent news stories is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. We must wait for the justice system to run its course.

But, the facts are already in, and the verdict has already been delivered, about the scourge of dogfighting in the United States. According to the Humane Society, there are about 40,000 dogfighting operations in the United States. The Deputy Manager of Dogfighting Issues for the Humane Society, John Goodwin, points out, “… dogfighting is at an epidemic level” in the United States. It involves urban areas as well as rural areas, and all sections of the country as it cuts across cultures and class and other socio and economic differences.

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Here is a speech that Sen. Robert C. Byrd delivered on the Senate floor on Feb. 12, 2003:

Madam President, to contemplate war is to think about the most horrible of human experience. On this February day, as this Nation stands at the brink of battle, every American on some level must be contemplating the horrors of war.

My wife says to me at night: Do you think we ought to get some of those large bottles, the large jugs, and fill them with water? She says: Go up to the attic and see if we don’t have two or three there. I believe we have two or three there.

And so I went up to the attic last evening and came back to report to her that, no, we didn’t have any large jugs of water, but we had some small ones, perhaps some gallon jugs filled with water. And she talked about buying up a few things, groceries and canned goods to put away.

I would suspect that kind of conversation is going on in many towns across this great, broad land of ours. And yet this Chamber is for the most part ominously, dreadfully silent. You can hear a pin drop. Listen. You can hear a pin drop. There is no debate. There is no discussion. There is no attempt to lay out for the Nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing.

What would Gunning Bedford of Delaware think about it? What would John Dickinson of Delaware think about it? What would George Read think about it? What would they say?

We stand passively mute in the Senate today, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events. Only on the editorial pages of some of our newspapers is there much substantive discussion concerning the prudence or the imprudence of engaging in this particular war. I can imagine hearing the walls of this Chamber ring just before the great war between the States, a war that tore this Nation asunder and out of which the great State of West Virginia was born.

But today we hear nothing, almost nothing, by way of debate. This is no small conflagration that we contemplate. It is not going to be a video game. It may last a day or 6 days. God created Earth, and man, the stars, the planets, and the Moon in 6 days. This war may last 6 days. It may last 6 weeks. It could last longer. This is no small conflagration that we contemplate. This is no simple attempt to defang a villain. No, this coming battle, if it materializes, represents a turning point in U.S. foreign policy and possibly a turning point in the recent history of the world.

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Goodwin confirmed by Senate

The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed R. Booth Goodwin II to be U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia on Tuesday. The Senate also approved John Foster to be U.S. Marshal for the Southern District and Gary M. Gaskins to be U.S. Marshal for the Northern District.

In a news release, Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller applauded the confirmations. From the release:

“I was proud to have recommended Booth Goodwin as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District. His confirmation and appointment is not a day too early. There are a variety of investigations taking place which require immediate attention — including the recent mine disaster in Montcoal which took the lives of 29 West Virginia coal miners.  I believe the people of the southern coalfields deserve the competent and vigilant representation that Mr. Goodwin will bring to the table. He has some very important work to do, and the Southern District is entitled to the resources they need to see their interests protected,” said Byrd.

“I have known Booth Goodwin for many years and cannot think of a better person to fill this important position – a position responsible for investigations of tremendous significance to Southern West Virginia including the tragic Upper Big Branch mine disaster,” said Rockefeller. “His years of service show that he is fighting for the people of West Virginia – and I know that as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia he will continue to enforce our laws and protect our state’s citizens from crime. Mr. Goodwin is more than qualified as a federal prosecutor and I am pleased that the Senate has moved forward on his confirmation.”

In addition, Senators Byrd and Rockefeller applauded the Senate’s unanimous confirmation of West Virginia’s federal U.S. Marshals:  John Foster to be United states Marshal for the Southern District of West Virginia; and Gary M. Gaskins, to be United States Marshal for the Northern District of West Virginia.  Senator Byrd and Senator Rockefeller recommended both Foster and Gaskins to these positions.  They were unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 13, 2010.

“U.S. Marshals have been protecting this great nation since 1789, and their service has never been more important than it is today. The task of securing the homeland from terrorist attack must be balanced with protecting the public’s court officers and buildings and ensuring the effectiveness of our judicial system. West Virginia is fortunate to have the experience and dedication of men like John Foster and Gary Gaskins to fill those roles,” Byrd stated.

“In these two men we have almost six decades of law enforcement experience, said Rockefeller. “Whether serving as a West Virginia State Trooper or in the U.S. Marshal Service, John Foster and Gary Gaskins have protected West Virginia communities for their entire careers and I am confident that they will keep serving us with integrity and dedication. I look forward to seeing them take office and I thank them for their willingness to continue their incredibly important and honorable work.”