Sunday, March 6, 2005

In an op-ed last week in The Washington Post, Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd wrongly claimed the Senate had “rejected” seven of President Bush’s 20 nominees to the federal bench. He also argued that Senate Republicans threaten free speech by considering rules changes. We hold floor debates in high esteem and appreciate the machinations of partisan politics. But Mr. Byrd not only was inaccurate; the senior senator’s own voting record runs contrary to his partisan parsing that appeared in The Post.

First of all, Mr. Byrd was wrong to state the Senate had “rejected” 20 Bush nominees, since none has been voted on.

Mr. Byrd also said that: “By a simple majority vote, a Senate filibuster on judicial appointments would be ‘nuked’ for all time.” He also posited a right to “unlimited debate.”

This from a senator who is himself something of a pioneer in filibuster-busting. As Republican Sen. John Cornyn pointed out to us, Mr. Byrd led the charge to change the rules in 1977, 1979, 1980 and 1987, and, in some cases, to do precisely what Republicans are now proposing. In 1977, Mr. Byrd called for rule changes to break a post-cloture filibuster on a natural-gas deregulation bill. In 1979, he advocated the quashing of objections to appropriations bills by having the chair — not the full Senate, as had previously been the case — rule on questions of germaneness. His 1980 move changing voting rules for nominations was meant, in his own words, to “deal with a filibuster.”

In 1987, Mr. Byrd pushed a new precedent ruling out “dilatory” tactics during roll-call votes regardless of whether cloture had been invoked. At a time when Democrats dominated the Senate, Mr. Byrd thought nothing of tweaking procedure to quell dissent. As a matter of law, he was within his rights to advocate such changes. Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution establishes that “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings.” The senator wasn’t shy in justifying changes, either. “This Congress is not obliged to be bound by the dead hand of the past,” he said in 1979. The rules “have been changed from time to time,” he said. In fact, the founders wanted this, he reasoned: “The Members of the Senate who met in 1789 and approved that first body of rules did not for one moment think, or believe, or pretend, that all succeeding Senates would be bound by that Senate.” But now that Republicans would cast off the “dead hand” of the past, Mr. Byrd objects.

Mr. Byrd, a member of the Senate since 1958, knows as well as anyone that the Bush nominees will pass if they get the up-or-down vote they deserve. It’s yet another sign of the lengths to which some Senate Democrats will go to obstruct the president’s judicial nominations.

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