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Remembering Senator Robert C. Byrd

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, since hearing this morning about the passing of Senator Byrd--he died shortly after 5 a.m.--I have been reflecting on the man I knew.

Those who have the great privilege to serve in the Senate have occasion to meet and interact with great people. The expression ``giant'' is used not too frequently about Senators. It certainly would apply to Senator Byrd, but I believe it is insufficient. Searching my own mind for a more apt term, ``colossus'' might better fit ROBERT BYRD.

His career in the Congress of the United States was extraordinary, really astounding. To think that he was elected in 1952 and was sworn in while Harry Truman was still President of the United States and has served since that time, with many things that happened, during the administrations of President Eisenhower, President Kennedy, President Johnson, President Nixon, President Carter, President George H.W. Bush, President Ronald Reagan before, President George W. Bush, President Clinton, and now President Obama.

One of the distinctions he made early on was the fact that in the Senate, we serve with Presidents; we do not serve under Presidents. I think that was a calling card by Senator Byrd as a constitutionalist on the separation of powers. He was a fierce fighter for that separation of powers.

When the line-item veto was passed, he took up the battle to have it declared unconstitutional as an encroachment on article I powers in the U.S. Congress on appropriations. The bills which we present to the President have a great many provisions, and Senator Byrd was looking upon the factor of the President perhaps taking some provisions he did not like too well in order to take the whole bill. I am sure on Senator Byrd's mind was the largess which came to the State of West Virginia. That is part of our Federal system, part of our democracy, part of our Constitution of the advantage of seniority, where Senator Byrd had been elected and reelected on so many occasions.

I recall Senator Byrd and his swift action shortly after the 1986 election. I was on the Intelligence Committee at that time. Senator Byrd stepped into the picture to see to it that the witnesses who testified on what was later known as the Iran Contra controversy were placed under oath. He had a sense that there was a problem that had to be investigated by Congress, again, under the doctrine of separation of powers.

I recollect his position on the impeachment proceeding as he stood at this chair and recited the provisions of the Constitution, about the impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors, and then started to talk about the action of the respondent in the case, President Clinton, and the charges which were levied. He came to the conclusion that the constitutional standard had been met and then voted not guilty--with a sweep on the conclusion, a judgment of a higher principle involved that President Clinton had not lost the capacity to govern, and he ought to stay in office.

I recall in October of 2002 we debated the resolution authorizing the use of force for President Bush. The resolution did not say force would be used but gave the President the authority to use force as he decided it appropriate.

I was concerned about that. The scholars who had written on the subject for the most part said it would be an inappropriate delegation of constitutional authority for the Congress to say to the President: You may start a war at some future date.

The starting of a war depended on the facts and circumstances at hand when the decision was made. Senator Byrd and I discussed that at some length and finally concluded there ought to be some flexibility. Both of us voted for that resolution on the ground that empowering the President without authority, we might have the realistic chance of avoiding a war.

While serving with Senator Byrd on the Appropriations Committee, I recall 1 year when he chaired the Appropriations Committee--I think in the late 1980s--the allocations made were not in accordance with the budget resolution which had been passed. Some of us on the Appropriations Committee thought we ought to have those allocations in accordance with what Congress had set in the budget resolution. Senator D'Amato, Senator Kasten, and I staged a minor revolution. It did not last too long. The vote was 26 to 3. But we expressed ourselves.

I recall hearing Senator Byrd and participated in a discussion with him on the Senate floor about the right to retain the floor, whether you could yield to someone or whether you had to have an order of consent before you retained your right to the floor. Discussing or debating Senator Byrd on procedural issues was indeed an education. He was always regarded as the foremost expert on Senate procedure and the rules of this body.

His service--most recently in coming in ill, in a wheelchair for a series of cloture votes at 1 a.m.--historians, I think, will write about the passage of the comprehensive health care bill and the cloture votes and passage in the Senate on Christmas Eve early in the morning--finally, we had a concession we would not vote at 11:59 on Christmas but would vote earlier in the day. Even the objectors wanted to leave town. Senator Byrd came here performing his duty, although he certainly was not well and it was a tremendous strain on him. He came and made the 60th vote.

It is a sad occasion to see a black drape on Senator Byrd's desk and flowers. I am sure in days to come there will be many comments, many eulogies about Senator Byrd. He leaves a great void. But reflecting on the experiences I have had with him, there is much to celebrate in his life. He was a great American, a great Senator. We will all miss him very much.

In the absence of any other Senator on the floor seeking recognition, I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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