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Public Statements

Remembering Senator Robert C. Byrd

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. BUNNING. Mr. President, today I want to speak on the loss of the great statesman, orator, and author, Senator Robert Byrd. Senator Byrd served the State of West Virginia and this great Nation in the Senate for over 50 years. It has been an honor to serve and craft legislation with Senator Byrd to protect and promote the values of our two States, which share a common border and economy. He represented his State well.

Following my election to the Senate, Senator Byrd offered me valuable advice and direction on the operations and rules of the U.S. Senate. Upon learning of his passing, my wife Mary and I were deeply saddened by the news.

Starting from humble beginnings, Senator Byrd was a great example of the virtue of hard work and determination. After losing his mother during the influenza epidemic of 1918, Senator Byrd was sent to live with his aunt and uncle in the coal-mining region of southern West Virginia. With a combination of his strong work ethic and quest for knowledge, Senator Byrd graduated as valedictorian of his high school class. Despite his stellar academic achievements, Senator Byrd was unable to attend college following his high school commencement due to financial constraints.

At the age of 19, Senator Byrd married his high school sweetheart and lifetime soulmate Erma Ora James. In an effort to support his growing family, Senator Byrd took jobs, which included working as a gas station attendant and butcher, to put his family first.

After serving in the West Virginia House of Delegates and Senate, Senator Byrd was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and began serving in 1953. Unable to stop his quest for knowledge, Senator Byrd began attending night classes at the American University's Washington College of Law where he received his degree a decade later.

Senator Byrd's love for this country and the Senate itself could be seen in many ways such as the copy of the U.S. Constitution tucked away in his jacket pocket and his vast knowledge of the rules of the Senate. As he said to many of us, ``he who knows the rules will rule.''

He believed, as I do, in the power of the Senate. He understood that the Senate should not be beholden to the executive branch, but must remain separate and equal to provide the necessary checks. As he stated, ``We must never, ever, tear down the only wall--the necessary fence--this Nation has against the excesses of the Executive Branch and the resultant haste and tyranny of the majority.''

Even in his frustration of the current political climate and through his remaining days, Senator Byrd continued to fight for the protection of the rules of the Senate and the rights of the minority, because as he wrote, ``I know what it is to be Majority Leader, and wake up on a Wednesday morning in November, and find yourself a Minority Leader.''

I extend my thoughts and prayers to his surviving children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. During this time of difficulty, there is strength in knowing Senator Byrd has once again been reunited with his sweetheart and the son he missed dearly.

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