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Public Statements

Remembering Senator Robert C. Byrd

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, I rise to celebrate the life and career of Senator Robert C. Byrd. I have been in the body now since 2002, and Senator Byrd will go down in history as not only the longest serving Senator to date--maybe forever--but also as one of the most effective Members of the Senate.

He was tough. During his prime, they tell me, there was no tougher opponent and no better ally than to have Senator Byrd on your side. And when he was on the other side, you had a long day ahead of you.

He talked about his early life. He is a human being, like the rest of us. I think what he was able to do for his people in West Virginia, and the country as a whole, will stand the test of time, and he will be viewed for many things, not just one. That is the way it should be for all of us.

I had the pleasure of getting to know him when I first came to the Senate and I walked into one hell of a fight over judges. The Senate was in full battle over the filibustering of judges. The Senate had gone down a road it had never gone down before--an open resistance to the judicial nominations of President Bush across the board. The body was about to explode. There were 55 Republicans at the time, and we all believed that what our Democratic colleagues were doing was unprecedented, unnecessary, and, quite frankly, dangerous to the judiciary. I am sure they had their view, too, and everybody has a reason for what they do around here.

The Gang of 14--affectionately known by some, and discussed by others--was formed during that major historical moment in the Senate. I remember talking to some observers of the Senate who were telling me that if the rules were changed to allow a simple majority vote for the confirmation of judges, that would take the Senate down a road it had never gone down before, and where it would stop, nobody knew. At the same time, there was another constitutional concept that meant a lot to me and to others, and that is that people deserve a vote when they are nominated by the President.

Well, Senator Byrd and 13 other Senators--and he was a big leader in this--came up with the compromise called ``extraordinary circumstances.'' We agreed that we would not filibuster judges unless there was an extraordinary circumstance. We understood that elections had consequences. What we had in mind was that we would reserve our right to filibuster only if the person did not meet the qualification test. I believe the advise and consent role of the Senate has to be recognized, and I respect elections but not a blank check. So there is always the ability of any Senator here, or a group of Senators, to stand up and to object--one party versus the other--if you believe the person is not qualified.

The second issue we dealt with was that we all reserved unto ourselves the ability to object if we thought the person was an activist judge--a political person who was going to be put on the bench and the robe used to carry out the political agenda rather than to interpret the law.

The law meant a lot to Senator Byrd--the Constitution did. One of my cherished possessions is a signed copy of the Constitution, given to all the members of the Gang of 14. That is just one example of where very late in life he made a huge impact on the Senate. As history records that moment, I daresay it is probably one of his finest hours. Because the consequences of not resolving that dispute the way we did could have changed the Senate rules forever, and I think the judiciary for the worse. So we have a lot to celebrate.

His family, I know, mourns the loss of their loved one; the people of West Virginia, their best champion has passed. But we all pass. It is what we leave behind that counts, and I think he has left a lot behind and something both Republicans and Democrats can be proud of. Even though you disagreed with him, as I did on many occasions, I had nothing but respect for the man. He was a true guardian of the Senate and what it stands for.

I don't think we will ever find anybody who loved the institution more than Senator Byrd. He will be missed. But the best way we can honor his memory is to try to follow in his footsteps when it comes to making sure the constitutional role of the Senate is adhered to, and that we understand the Senate is not the House, the Senate is not the executive branch, the Senate is something special, and let us keep it that way.

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