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Robert Byrd, One Odd Duck

Robert Byrd is the 92 year-old wheelchair bound senior Senator from West Virginia and a key Democratic vote in the health care balance. He is a former Senate Leader for the Democratic Party.  Byrd has been a Senator since January 3, 1959, and is the longest-serving Senator as well as the longest-serving member in congressional history.  He has been the Dean of the Senate since 2003 and he is also the oldest current member of the Congress.

Byrd is President pro tempore of the United States Senate, a position that puts him third in the line of presidential succession, behind Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In this role, Sen. Byrd signs bills passed by Congress before they are sent to the president to be signed into law or vetoed.

I saw the video of Byrd being wheeled in for the vote at 1am last night and I thought damn.  So, I looked up his Wikipedia entry.  Holy smokes.  This is one of the most interesting (note: interesting doesn’t denote good or bad!  George Wallace was extremely interesting as well).  Below the fold find the Wiki entry on his politics, he is an old school complex dude.  His awkward quote where he uses an inappropriate racial term — though he meant it in what seems to be a non-racist way — really reminds you he is freakin’92.

On occasion, Byrd disagreed with President Bill Clinton‘s policies. Byrd initially said that the impeachment proceedings against Clinton should be taken seriously and conducted completely. Although he harshly criticized any attempt to make light of it, he made the motion to dismiss the charges against the president and effectively suspend proceedings. Even though he voted against both articles of impeachment, he was the sole Democrat to vote for the censure of Clinton.[37] He strongly opposed Clinton’s 1993 efforts to allow gays to serve in the military and has also supported efforts to limit gay marriage, in 1996 before with the pending passage of the Defense of Marriage Act he said The drive for same-sex marriage, is, in effect, an effort to make a sneak attack on society by encoding this aberrant behavior in legal form before society itself has decided it should be legal…Let us defend the oldest institution, the institution of marriage between male and female as set forth in the Holy Bible.[38]

However, he opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment, arguing that it was unnecessary because the states already had the power to ban gay marriages.[39] However, when the amendment came to the Senate floor he was one of the two Democratic Senators who voted in favor of the cloture motion.[40] He also opposes affirmative action.

He also voiced praise for George W. Bush’s nomination of Judge John Roberts to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court created by the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Likewise, Byrd supported the confirmation of Samuel Alitoto replace retiring Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Like most Democrats, however, Byrd opposed Bush’s tax cuts and his proposals to change the Social Security program. He is pro-choice and voted against the first ban onpartial birth abortions in 1995, but voted for the bill on subsequent occasions. Byrd voted against Laci and Conner’s Law, which strongly divided the supporters and opponents of legal abortion.

Byrd is opposed to the Flag Desecration Amendment, saying that, while he wants to protect the American flag, he believed that amending the constitution “is not the most expeditious way to protect this revered symbol of our Republic.” In response to the amendment, Byrd has cosponsored S. 1370, a bill that prohibits destruction or desecration of the flag by anyone trying to incite violence or causing a breach of the peace. It also provides that anyone who steals, damages, or destroys a flag on federal property, whether a flag owned by the federal government or a private group or individual, can be imprisoned for up to two years, or can be fined up to $250,000, or both.[41]

In 2003, Byrd voted for the Partial-Birth Abortion Act, which prohibits a form of late-term abortion known as partial-birth abortion.[42]

In 2004, Byrd offered an amendment that would limit the personnel in Plan Colombia, but was defeated in the Senate.[43]

Byrd received a 65 percent vote rating from the League of Conservation Voters for his support of environmentally friendly legislation.[44] Additionally, he received a “liberal” rating of 65.5% by the National Journal — higher than six other Democratic senators.[45]

In 2006, Byrd received 67 percent rating from the American Civil Liberties Union for supporting rights-related legislation.[46]

In 2009, Byrd was one of three Democrats to oppose the confirmation of Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner. Geithner was confirmed 60-34.[47] After missing nearly two months of votes due to being hospitalized, Byrd returned to the senate floor on July 21 to vote against the elimination of funding for the F-22 fighter plane.[48]

In a March 4, 2001 interview with Tony Snow, Byrd said of race relations:

They’re much, much better than they’ve ever been in my lifetime… I think we talk about race too much. I think those problems are largely behind us… I just think we talk so much about it that we help to create somewhat of an illusion. I think we try to have good will. My old mom told me, ‘Robert, you can’t go to heaven if you hate anybody.’ We practice that. There are white niggers. I’ve seen a lot of white niggers in my time, if you want to use that word. We just need to work together to make our country a better country, and I’d just as soon quit talking about it so much.[49]

Byrd’s use of the term “white nigger” created immediate controversy. When asked about it, Byrd responded,

I apologize for the characterization I used on this program… The phrase dates back to my boyhood and has no place in today’s society… In my attempt to articulate strongly held feelings, I may have offended people.[49]

Byrd has since explicitly renounced his earlier views on racial segregation.[50][51] Byrd said that he regrets filibustering and voting against the Civil Rights Act of 1964[20] and would change it if he had the opportunity. He has stated that joining the KKK was “the greatest mistake I ever made”.[50] Byrd has also said that his views changed dramatically after his teenage grandson was killed in a 1982 traffic accident, which put him in a deep emotional valley. “The death of my grandson caused me to stop and think,” said Byrd, adding he came to realize that black people love their children as much as he does his.[52]

Byrd is the only Senator to have voted against the nominations of both Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Court, the only two African-Americans to have been nominated to the court. Marshall’s confirmation vote came in 1967 when Byrd and other segregationist senators were opposed to the idea of a black integrationist being placed on the court.[53] In order to gain evidence against Marshall’s appointment, Byrd asked FBIDirector J. Edgar Hoover to look into what Byrd believed to be the possibility that Marshall had either connections to communists or a potential communist past.[54] Byrd opposed Thomas because Byrd stated that he was offended by Thomas using the phrase “high-tech lynching of uppity blacks” in his defense. Byrd stated that he was “offended by the injection of racism” into the hearing. He called Thomas’s comments a “diversionary tactic”. Byrd commented upon the racism issue that Thomas raised by stating that “I [Byrd] thought we were past that stage.” Byrd dismissed Thomas’ racism charges by stating that Thomas exhibited “arrogance” and Thomas’ comments were “nonsense, nonsense.” Regarding Anita Hill‘s sexual harassment charges against Thomas, Byrd believed Hill.[55] Byrd joined 45 other Democrats in their opposition to Thomas.[56] Byrd also opposed some of George W. Bush‘s judicial and cabinet nominees who were black, notably Janice Rogers Brown for judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and Condoleezza Rice for Secretary of State. Despite his opposition to Brown’s appointment, Byrd would later ally himself with the Gang of 14 that would ensure that Brown’s nomination would not be filibustered.

In the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People‘s (NAACP)[57] Congressional Report Card for the 108th Congress (spanning the 2003–2004 congressional session), Byrd was awarded with an approval rating of 100 percent for favoring the NAACP’s position in all 33 bills presented to the United States Senate regarding issues of their concern. Only 16 other Senators of the same session matched this approval rating. In June 2005, Byrd[58] proposed an additional $10 million in federal funding for the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, D.C., remarking that “With the passage of time, we have come to learn that his Dream was the American Dream, and few ever expressed it more eloquently.”


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