Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D)|
Last Updated June 5, 2001
seat up 2006
Born: Nov. 20, 1917,
North Wilkesboro, NC
Education: American U., J.D. 1963
Marital Status: married
- Political: WV House of Delegates, 1946-50; WV Senate, 1950-52; U.S. House of Reps., 1952-58; U.S. Senate Majority Whip, 1971-76, Majority Ldr., 1977-80, 1987-88, Minority Ldr., 1981-86.
DC Office: 311 HSOB
202-224-3954; Fax: 202-228-0002; Web site: byrd.senate.gov
- President Pro-Tempore.
- Appropriations (Chmn.): Defense; Energy & Water Development; Interior (Chmn.); Labor, HHS & Education; Transportation; VA, HUD & Independent Agencies.
- Armed Services: Emerging Threats & Capabilities; Readiness & Management Support; Strategic Forces.
- Rules & Administration.
Robert Byrd, longtime chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, may come closer to the kind of senator the Founding Fathers had in mind than any other. He comes from the humblest of beginnings, and when first elected to the Senate, as part of the large and talented Democratic class of 1958, he was scarcely noticed. Now he is the last member of that class still in the Senate, and an authentic power whether in majority or minority. From a background as grindingly poor as that of any American politician, he has continually moved up with awesome persistence. Son of a coal miner, he was a welder in wartime shipyards and a meat cutter in a coal company town when he won his seat in the House of Delegates in 1946; he campaigned in every hollow in the county, playing his fiddle and even going to the length of joining the Ku Klux Klan (which he quickly quit and has ever since regretted joining). He worked hard in the legislature, and won a U.S. House seat when the incumbent retired in 1952; he made such a name for himself in West Virginia that by 1958, when he was 40, he was elected to the Senate even though the United Mine Workers initially opposed him and the coal companies never supported him.
In the Senate, he became a supporter of Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson and in return got a seat on Appropriations his first year. He backed Hubert Humphrey against John Kennedy in the 1960 West Virginia presidential primary not because he shared Humphrey's liberal politics--his voting record then was as conservative as any Southerner's and he opposed civil rights--but because Johnson wanted to stop Kennedy. Then, in the 1960s, Byrd's career took what in retrospect was a helpful detour. He became assistant majority whip, an unimportant position in 1965; in 1971, when Edward Kennedy neglected his duties as whip after Chappaquiddick, Byrd quietly lined up support and, with Richard Russell's deathbed vote, ousted Kennedy. There Byrd performed ably, managing Senate business and accommodating colleagues' needs, and when Majority Leader Mike Mansfield retired in 1976, Byrd easily won the job. All the while Byrd was working hard to keep in touch with West Virginians, to the point that he won 78% of the vote in 1970, becoming the first West Virginian in history to carry all 55 counties.
Byrd did not like being majority leader. Contrary to most people's assumptions, the post carries little power, because Senate rules requiring unanimous consent or supermajorities allow individual senators to block action; the office gained its reputation in the six years Lyndon Johnson held it, when his extraordinary abilities and compulsive personality, applied in a closely divided Senate, enabled him temporarily to become a national leader. No majority leader has since, and Byrd was aware that his power came from meeting other senators' needs and did not have a national issues agenda of his own, though his voting record became notably less conservative. In 1987, with Democrats back in the majority after six years out of power, Byrd established some legislative priorities and then announced he would leave the post after the 1988 election.
In 1989 Byrd got the position he had been aiming for all along, chairman of the Appropriations Committee. ''I want to be West Virginia's billion dollar industry,'' he announced in 1990, and in the next dozen years succeeded handsomely. An FBI office went to Clarksburg, Treasury and IRS offices to Parkersburg, the Fish and Wildlife Training Center in Harper's Ferry, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Martinsburg, a NASA Research center in Wheeling. ''All roads, they say, lead to Rome,'' he said in 1994 in Logan, West Virginia. ''They haven't seen anything yet. All roads lead to Logan.'' The December 2000 final appropriations included more than $1 billion of spending in West Virginia. Some of it represents the ordinary operations of government, but much of it is Byrd's work: $322 million for expanding the FBI Fingerprinting Identification Center in Clarksburg; $15 million for drought relief and watershed projects; $6 million for forensic programs at Marshall University and West Virginia University; $9.2 million for the National White Collar Crime Center in Fairmont and Morgantown; $4 million for the Canaan Valley Institute, $25 million for a biometrics research facility in north central West Virginia; $8.2 million for renovations to the Allegheny Ballistics Laboratory in Mineral County; $53.7 million for the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Morgantown and Pittsburgh; $95 million for Clean Coal technology; $237 million for highways. He has worked hard to find funds for the depleted United Mine Workers health care program for retired miners and their widows. He has supported the state's coal mining industry, seeking funds for miners displaced by the Clean Air Act in 1990, co-sponsoring the 1997 resolution opposing the Kyoto Protocol so long as it excluded developing countries like China, which passed 95-0 and opposing EPA's 1999 proposed air quality standards. When a federal judge ruled in October 1999 that mountaintop mining violated federal environmental laws, he tried to pass an appropriations rider reversing the decision; he was angry when the Clinton administration, at first agreeable, decided to oppose such a rider with a veto. The issue helped George W. Bush carry West Virginia in 2000; in April 2001 a federal appeals court reversed the decision and ruled that state laws governed mountaintop mining.
It should be added that Byrd's positions are not just parochial but are the product of serious study of the Constitution and of history. He always carries a copy of the Constitution in his left breast pocket. With the assistance of Senate historian Richard Baker, he wrote The Senate 1789-1989, a two-volume history, plus two volumes of classic speeches and statistics; based on impressive research, gracefully written, full of arresting anecdotes and sound insights, it surpasses any previous work on the subject. Byrd earned his law degree while in the Senate and had his diploma presented to him by President Kennedy at the 1963 American University commencement where Kennedy delivered his most important foreign policy speech; in 1994 he was awarded his B.A. summa cum laude by Marshall University, which he had attended for one semester 43 years before and could not afford to continue, and where he earned As in all eight courses he took. Byrd has been educating himself as well, systematically reading the classics, and takes to quoting Shakespeare, Thucydides or Cato the Younger in debates on the balanced budget amendment and the line-item veto. He said the balanced budget amendment ''would rudely disrupt the carefully balanced powers of the three branches so assiduously planned by the Framers.'' He said passage of the line-item veto in 1996 was ''one of the darkest moments in the history of the republic,'' and with five other members of Congress brought suit against it; the Supreme Court rejected their challenge in July 1997; but it was ruled unconstitutional in June 1998. He objected as well to the October 1998 omnibus budget: ''Only God knows what's in this monstrosity.'' In 1998 he objected to the Clinton administration's recess appointments as an undermining of the prerogatives of the Senate. ''After 200 years,'' he wrote in his history, the Senate ''is still the anchor of the Republic, the morning and evening star in the American constitutional constellation.''
As might be expected, Byrd played a leading role on impeachment. In October 1998, when the White House sought to forestall a House vote by getting 34 Democratic senators to sign a letter saying they would never vote to remove Clinton, Byrd responded, ''Don't tamper with this jury.'' The tampering stopped. After Clinton and most Democratic House members held a campaign-style rally at the White House after the House voted for impeachment, Byrd called it, ''an egregious display of shameless arrogance the likes of which I don't think I have seen.'' To the senators-only meeting in the old Senate Chamber in January 1999 he delivered a 20-minute speech, saying, ''The House has fallen into the black pit of partisan self-indulgence. The Senate is teetering on the brink of that same black pit.'' Later in January, he introduced a resolution to dismiss the charges, but that was defeated 56-44. In February 1999, he sounded ambivalent: ''It would be very difficult to stand and say not guilty, very difficult. … Who's kidding whom here? I have to live with myself. I have to live with my conscience.'' But, though he evidently continued to believe that Clinton committed high crimes, he decided that a vote to remove would abet partisanship.
Byrd has upheld the Senate's prerogatives consistently and has responded fiercely when he believes the Senate has been slighted. He pushed in May 2000 for a requirement that U.S. troops be withdrawn from Kosovo by July 2001, which was beaten by only 53-47; he argued that deployment should not continue indefinitely unless authorized by the Senate. He brutally dressed down Energy Secretary Bill Richardson in June 2000 for skipping an Intelligence Committee hearing and warned ominously that he would "never again receive the support of the Senate of the United States for an appointive position." He opposed permanent normal trade relations with China in June 2000 and complained particularly about the administration's insistence that the Senate approve the House legislation: "What weak dishwater is the excuse that we cannot add anything to the House-passed bill? What a sorry spectacle is a Senate completely cowed by the possibility that we might upset the Chinese." He attacked the procedure of keeping appropriations off the floor, to be settled by negotiations between the Republican leadership and the Clinton administration, saying in October 2000 that "senators will be reduced to nothing more than legislative automatons."
If Byrd is determined to uphold the prerogatives of the Senate, he is determined also to uphold the prerogatives of the Appropriations Committee. He sought a seat, as a junior member, on the Budget Committee in January 2001: "In recent years, unrealistically low funding levels have been included in the budget resolution, making it difficult for the Appropriations Committee to adequately fund many vital national priorities." George W. Bush went out of his way to shake Byrd's hand at his first speech to a joint session of Congress; Byrd had not attended State of the Union addresses since 1994 out of distaste for Bill Clinton: "His lifestyle and mine were so different I didn't care about coming to hear him." But Byrd opposed Bush's tax cut as "sheer madness," arguing that it was based on inevitably untrustworthy economic forecasts and complaining that it would cut off funds for appropriators. At Democratic caucuses he made impassioned pleas that Democrats not support tax cuts, and in February 2001 he clashed with Senate Parliamentarian Robert Dove over his interpretation that budget resolution procedures, which allow debate to be shut off by 50 senators, could be used on the tax cut. "The president's proposals are not an edict, and the Senate is not a quivering body of humble subjects who must obey. We must not shackle the intellects of 100 members of the Senate in this way." In this Byrd was consistent with his long-held beliefs. He had fired Dove in January 1987, when he became majority leader again (and Trent Lott fired him again in May 2001), and he opposed the use of budget resolution procedures to pass the Clinton economic plan in 1993. When Majority Leader George Mitchell suggested using budget resolution procedures to pass the Clinton health care plan, Byrd objected so strenuously that Mitchell and the Clintons dropped the idea.
In November 2000 Byrd was re-elected by a 78%-20% margin, his largest percentage margin ever, carrying all 55 counties for the third time. At a spirited rally at the end of the campaign he said, "West Virginia has always had four friends. God Almighty, Sears Roebuck, Carter's Liver Pills and Robert C. Byrd." He is the second senator to have been elected to eight six-year terms (the other is Strom Thurmond of South Carolina); he has served longer than any other senator but Thurmond and, assuming Thurmond retires as promised in January 2003, Byrd stands to beat his record in February 2007.
|National Journal Ratings|
Key Votes of the 106th Congress
|1. Educ. Savings Accts.
|2. Prescrip. Drug Benefit
|3. Delay Ergonomic Standards
|4. Phase Out Estate Tax
|5. Review Movie Violence
|6. Gun Show Bckgrnd. Checks
| 7. Ban Part.-Birth Abortion
| 8. Broaden Hate Crimes List
| 9. NATO War in Serbia
|10. Table Cuba Travel Ban
|11. Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty
|12. Perm. Trade with China
||Robert C. Byrd (D)
|David T. Gallaher (R)
||Robert C. Byrd (D)
||Robert C. Byrd (D)
|Stan Klos (R)
|2000||Receipts||Receipts from PACs||Expenditures|
|Robert C. Byrd (D)
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