Byrd demanded respect for the institution of the Senate

June 28, 2010

Senator Robert Byrd was a stickler for Senate decorum. And the Democrat from West Virginia would not tolerate any disrespect of the institution to which he was elected an unprecedented 9 times.

I remember when Bill Richardson, who was energy secretary in 2000 and under fire over security lapses at U.S. nuclear weapons labs, decided to skip a Senate hearing where he was asked to be a witness, Byrd was livid.

The following week when Richardson did show up for a Senate hearing, the Democratic senator from West Virginia delivered a scathing public scolding to the former member of Congress from his own party. (Jaws dropped at the sight of the Democratic senator telling Richardson he’d never work in this town again if Byrd could help it).

Richardson had shown a “supreme contempt of the committees of this Congress,” Byrd said, making clear that it was quite unforgivable.

“You would never again receive the support of the Senate of the United States for any office to which you might be appointed,” Byrd said. “You’ve squandered your treasure.”

And there is little doubt that if Richardson came before the Senate for confirmation again, which he didn’t, that he would have had to contend with Byrd’s ire.

During the more recent healthcare debate, Byrd would be wheeled into the Senate chamber for key votes. On Christmas Eve, he said “This is for my friend Ted Kennedy” as he cast a vote to approve President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare overhaul.

Today, the senator’s desk was covered in black crepe in the tradition of marking a death in the Senate, the flag at the White House flew at half-staff, and everyone had something heartwarming to say about the senator who could spout history and Senate procedures like no one else.

“He was as much a part of the Senate as the marble busts that line its chamber and its corridors.  His profound passion for that body and its role and responsibilities was as evident behind closed doors as it was in the stemwinders he peppered with history,” Obama said in a statement.

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Byrd waves copy of U.S. Constitution that he always carried)

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