[Congressional Record Volume 143, Number 1 (Tuesday, January 7, 1997)]
[Senate]
[Pages S21-S23]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]




  SENATOR BYRD'S ADDRESS TO NEW SENATORS--AND RETURNING SENATORS, TOO

  Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, on December 3 as part of the orientation 
program for new Senators, our distinguished colleague from West 
Virginia, Senator Robert C. Byrd, delivered an eloquent address in this 
chamber emphasizing the indispensable role of the Senate in American 
democracy.
  Senator Byrd is well known as a scholar and historian of the Senate. 
I believe his address will be of interest and importance to all 
Senators as we begin the new session, and I ask unanimous consent that 
it be printed in the Record.

   Remarks by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd at the Orientation of New 
                       Senators, December 3, 1996

       Good afternoon and welcome to the United States Senate 
     Chamber. You are presently occupying what I consider to be 
     ``hallowed ground.''
       You will shortly join the ranks of a very select group of 
     individuals who have been honored with the title of United 
     States Senator since 1789 when the Senate first convened. The 
     creator willing, you will be here for at least six years.
       Make no mistake about it, the office of United States 
     Senator is the highest political calling in the land. The 
     Senate can remove from office Presidents, members of the 
     Federal judiciary, and other Federal officials but only the 
     Senate itself can expel a Senator.
       Let us listen for a moment to the words of James Madison on 
     the role of the Senate.
       ``These [reasons for establishing the Senate] were first to 
     protect the people against their rulers: secondly to protect 
     the people against the transient impression into which they 
     themselves might be led. [through their representatives in 
     the lower house] A people deliberating in a temperate moment, 
     and with the experience of other nations before them, on the 
     plan of government most likely to secure their happiness, 
     would first be aware, that those charged with the public 
     happiness, might betray their trust. An obvious precaution 
     against this danger would be to divide the trust between 
     different bodies of men, who might watch and check each other 
     . . . . It would next occur to such a people, that they 
     themselves were liable to temporary errors, through want of 
     information as to their true interest, and that men chosen 
     for a short term, [House members], . . . might err from the 
     same cause. This reflection would naturally suggest that the 
     Government be so constituted, as that one of its branches 
     might have an opportunity of acquiring a competent knowledge 
     of the public interests. Another reflection equally becoming 
     a people on such an occasion, would be that they themselves, 
     as well as a numerous body of Representatives, were liable to 
     err also, from fickleness and passion. A necessary fence 
     against this danger would be to select a portion of 
     enlightened citizens, whose limited number, and firmness 
     might seasonably interpose against impetuous councils, . . . 
     .''
       Ladies and gentlemen, you are shortly to become part of 
     that all important, ``necessary fence,'' which is the United 
     States Senate. Let me give you the words of Vice President 
     Aaron Burr upon his departure from the Senate in 1805. ``This 
     house,'' said he, ``is a sanctuary; a citadel of law, of 
     order, and of liberty; and it is here--it is here, in this 
     exalted refuge; here, if anywhere, will resistance be made to 
     the storms of political phrensy and the silent arts of 
     corruption; and if the Constitution be destined ever to 
     perish by the sacrilegious hand of the demagogue or the 
     usurper, which God avert, its expiring agonies will be 
     witnessed on this floor.'' Gladstone referred to the Senate 
     as ``that remarkable body--the most remarkable of all the 
     inventions of modern politics.''
       This is a very large class of new Senators. There are 
     fifteen of you. It has been sixteen years since the Senate 
     welcomed a larger group of new members. Since 1980, the 
     average size class of new members has been approximately ten. 
     Your backgrounds vary. Some of you may have served in the 
     Executive Branch. Some may have been staffers here on the 
     Hill. Some of you have never held federal office before. Over 
     half of you have had some service in the House of 
     Representatives.
       Let us clearly understand one thing. The Constitution's 
     Framers never intended for the Senate to function like the 
     House of Representatives. That fact is immediately apparent 
     when one considers the length of a Senate term and the 
     staggered nature of Senate terms. The Senate was intended to 
     be a continuing body. By subjecting only one-third of the 
     Senate's membership to reelection every two years, the 
     Constitution's framers ensured that two-thirds of the 
     membership would always carry over from one Congress to the 
     next to give the Senate an enduring stability.
       The Senate and, therefore, Senators were intended to take 
     the long view and to be able

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     to resist, if need be, the passions of the often intemperate 
     House. Few, if any, upper chambers in the history of the 
     western world have possessed the Senate's absolute right to 
     unlimited debate and to amend or block legislation passed by 
     a lower House.
       Looking back over a period of 208 years, it becomes obvious 
     that the Senate was intended to be significantly different 
     from the House in other ways as well. The Constitutional 
     Framers gave the Senate the unique executive powers of 
     providing advice and consent to presidential nominations and 
     to treaties, and the sole power to try and to remove 
     impeached officers of the government. In the case of 
     treaties, the Senate, with its longer terms, and its ability 
     to develop expertise through the device of being a continuing 
     body, has often performed invaluable service.
       I have said that as long as the Senate retains the power to 
     amend and the power of unlimited debate, the liberties of the 
     people will remain secure.
       The Senate was intended to be a forum for open and free 
     debate and for the protection of political minorities. I have 
     led the majority and I have led the minority, and I can tell 
     you that there is nothing that makes one fully appreciate the 
     Senate's special role as the protector of minority interests 
     like being in the minority. Since the Republican Party was 
     created in 1854, the Senate has changed hands 14 times, so 
     each party has had the opportunity to appreciate first-hand 
     the Senate's role as guardian of minority rights. But, almost 
     from its earliest years the Senate has insisted upon its 
     members' right to virtually unlimited debate.
       When the Senate reluctantly adopted a cloture rule in 1917, 
     it made the closing of debate very difficult to achieve by 
     requiring a super majority and by permitting extended post-
     cloture debate. This deference to minority views sharply 
     distinguishes the Senate from the majoritarian House of 
     Representatives. The Framers recognized that a minority can 
     be right and that a majority can be wrong. They recognized 
     that the Senate should be a true deliberative body--a forum 
     in which to slow the passions of the House, hold them up to 
     the light, examine them, and, thru informed debate, educate 
     the public. The Senate is the proverbial saucer intended to 
     cool the cup of coffee from the House. It is the one place in 
     the whole government where the minority is guaranteed a 
     public airing of its views. Woodrow Wilson observed that the 
     Senate's informing function was as important as its 
     legislating function, and now, with televised Senate debate, 
     its informing function plays an even larger and more critical 
     role in the life of our nation.
       Many a mind has been changed by an impassioned plea from 
     the minority side. Important flaws in otherwise good 
     legislation have been detected by discerning minority members 
     engaged in thorough debate, and important compromise which 
     has worked to the great benefit of our nation has been forged 
     by an intransigent member determined to filibuster until his 
     views were accommodated or at least seriously considered.
       The Senate is often soundly castigated for its 
     inefficiency, but in fact, it was never intended to be 
     efficient. Its purpose was and is to examine, consider, 
     protect, and to be a totally independent source of wisdom and 
     judgment on the actions of the lower house and on the 
     executive. As such, the Senate is the central pillar of our 
     Constitutional system. I hope that you, as new members will 
     study the Senate in its institutional context because that is 
     the best way to understand your personal role as a United 
     States Senator. Your responsibilities are heavy. Understand 
     them, live up to them, and strive to take the long view as 
     you exercise your duties. This will not always be easy.
       The pressures on you will, at times, be enormous. You will 
     have to formulate policies, grapple with issues, serve the 
     constituents in your state, and cope with the media. A 
     Senator's attention today is fractured beyond belief. 
     Committee meetings, breaking news, fundraising, all of these 
     will demand your attention, not to mention personal and 
     family responsibilities. But, somehow, amidst all the noise 
     and confusion, you must find the time to reflect, to study, 
     to read, and, especially, to understand the absolutely 
     critically important institutional role of the Senate.
       May I suggest that you start by carefully reading the 
     Constitution and the Federalist papers. In a few weeks, you 
     will stand on the platform behind me and take an oath to 
     support and defend the Constitution of the United States 
     against all enemies, foreign and domestic; to bear true faith 
     and allegiance to the same; and take this obligation freely, 
     without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and to 
     well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on 
     which you are about to enter: So help you God.''
       Note especially the first 22 words, ``I do solemnly swear 
     that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United 
     States against all enemies foreign and domestic . . .''
       In order to live up to that solemn oath, one must clearly 
     understand the deliberately established inherent tensions 
     between the 3 branches, commonly called the checks and 
     balances, and separation of powers which the framers so 
     carefully crafted. I carry a copy of the Constitution in my 
     shirt pocket. I have studied it carefully, read and reread 
     its articles, marveled at its genius, its beauty, its 
     symmetry, and its meticulous balance, and learned something 
     new each time that I partook of its timeless wisdom. Nothing 
     will help you to fully grasp the Senate's critical role in 
     the balance of powers like a thorough reading of the 
     Constitution and the Federalist papers.
       Now I would like to turn for a moment to the human side of 
     the Senate, the relationship among Senators, and the way that 
     even that faced of service here is, to a degree, governed by 
     the constitution and the Senate's rules.
       The requirement for super majority votes in approving 
     treaties, involving cloture, removing impeached federal 
     officers, and overriding vetoes, plus the need for unanimous 
     consent before the Senate can even proceed in many instances, 
     makes bipartisanship and comity necessary if members wish to 
     accomplish much of anything. Realize this. The campaign is 
     over. You are here to be a Senator. Not much happens in this 
     body without cooperation between the two parties.
       In this now 208-year-old institution, the positions of 
     majority and minority leaders have existed for less than 80 
     years. Although the positions have evolved significantly 
     within the past half century, still, the only really 
     substantive prerogative the leaders possess is the right of 
     first recognition before any other member of their respective 
     parties who might wish to speak on the Senate Floor.
       Those of you who have served in the House will now have to 
     forget about such things as the Committee of the Whole, 
     closed rules, and germaneness, except when cloture has been 
     invoked, and become well acquainted with the workings of 
     unanimous consent agreements. Those of you who took the 
     trouble to learn Deschler's Procedure will now need to set 
     that aside and turn in earnest to Riddick's Senate Procedure.
       Senators can lose the Floor for transgressing the rules. 
     Personal attacks on other members or other blatantly 
     injudicious comments are unacceptable in the Senate. Again to 
     encourage a cooling of passions, and to promote a calm 
     examination of substance, Senators address each other through 
     the Presiding Officer and in the third person. Civility is 
     essential here for pragmatic reasons as well as for public 
     consumption. It is difficult to project the image of a 
     statesmanlike, intelligent, public servant, attempting to 
     inform the public and examine issues, if one is behaving and 
     speaking in a manner more appropriate to a pool room brawl 
     than to United States Senate debate. You will also find that 
     overly zealous attacks on other members or on their states 
     are always extremely counterproductive, and that you will 
     usually be repaid in kind.
       Let us strive for dignity. When you rise to speak on this 
     Senate Floor, you will be following in the tradition of such 
     men as Calhoun, Clay, and Webster. You will be standing in 
     the place of such Senators as Edmund Ross (KS) and Peter Van 
     Winkle (WEST VIRGINIA), 1868, who voted against their party 
     to save the institution of the presidency during the Andrew 
     Johnson impeachment trial.
       Debate on the Senate Floor demands thought, careful 
     preparation and some familiarity with Senate Rules if we are 
     to engage in thoughtful and informed debate. Additionally, 
     informed debate helps the American people have a better 
     understanding of the complicated problems which besiege them 
     in their own lives. Simply put, the Senate cannot inform 
     American citizens without extensive debate on those very 
     issues.
       We were not elected to raise money for our own reelections. 
     We were not elected to see how many press releases or TV 
     appearances we could stack up. We were not elected to set up 
     staff empires by serving on every committee in sight. We need 
     to concentrate,  focus, debate, inform, and, I hope, engage 
     the public, and thereby forge consensus and direction. 
     Once we engage each other and the public intellectually, 
     the tough choices will be easier.
       I thank each of you for your time and attention and I 
     congratulate each of you on your selection to fill a seat in 
     this August body. Service in this body is a supreme honor. It 
     is also a burden and a serious responsibility. Members' lives 
     become open for inspection sand are used as examples for 
     other citizens to emulate. A Senator must really be much more 
     than hardworking, much more than conscientious, much more 
     than dutiful. A Senator must reach for noble qualities--
     honor, total dedication, self-discipline, extreme 
     selflessness, exemplary patriotism, sober judgment, and 
     intellectual honesty. The Senate is more important than any 
     one or all of us--more important than I am; more important 
     than the majority and minority leaders; more important than 
     all 100 of us; more important than all of the 1,843 men and 
     women who have served in this body since 1789. Each of us has 
     a solemn responsibility to remember that, and to remember it 
     often.
       Let me leave you with the words of the last paragraph of 
     Volume II, of The Senate: 1789-1989: ``Originally consisting 
     of only twenty-two members, the Senate had grown to a 
     membership of ninety-eight by the time I was sworn in as a 
     new senator in January 1959. After two hundred years, it is 
     still the anchor of the Republic, the morning and evening 
     star in the American constitutional constellation. It has had 
     its giants and its little men, its Websters and its Bilbos, 
     its Calhouns and its McCarthys. It has been the stage of high 
     drama, of comedy and of tragedy, and its players have been 
     the great and the near-great, those who think they are great, 
     and those who will never be great. It has weathered the 
     storms of adversity withstood the barbs of cynics and the 
     attacks of

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     critics, and provided stability and strength to the nation 
     during periods of civil strife and uncertainty, panics and 
     depressions. In war and in peace, it has been the sure refuge 
     and protector of the rights of the states and of a political 
     minority. And, today, the Senate still stands--the great 
     forum of constitutional American liberty!''

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