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Senate Tribute to Robert C. Byrd on Casting His 15,000th Vote

| June 28, 2010

Almost as old as the Roman Republic.

On May 5, 1998, Robert C. Byrd, the Democratic senator from West Virginia since beating Chapman Revercomb in 1958, cast his 15,000 vote in the U.S. Senate, almost 3,000 more than the record he had broken eight years earlier. The following is a tribute to Byrd, never before published (except in the unread pages of the Congressional Record), from the floor of the Senate. Byrd died this morning, June 28, at 3 a.m. He was 92.

Mr. LOTT. Mr. President, Senator Daschle and I both want to join in once again commending and recognizing the tremendous record that Senator Byrd of West Virginia has made to the U.S. Senate. Senator Byrd just cast his 15,000th vote–15,000th vote.

(Applause, Senators rising.)

He continues to hold the Senate record of total number of votes cast.  Therefore, out of the 1,843 Senators past and present, he is No. 1 in total number of votes cast. He broke the record when he cast his 12,134th vote on April 27, 1990. As an aside, Senator Thurmond is No. 2 on the all-time list at 14,863 votes.

These Senators set a torrid pace that the rest of us probably would not even want to try to replicate.

Thank you, Senator Byrd, for the example and the tremendous record you have set.

Mr. DASCHLE. Mr. President, on behalf of colleagues, both Republican and Democrat, I, too, rise to congratulate our distinguished colleague on this remarkable achievement.

Just to remind Senators, Senator Byrd began building this unsurpassed record more than 39 years ago. On January 8, 1959, Senator Byrd cast his first vote in the U.S. Senate. Fittingly, it was a vote on Senate procedure. On April 27, 1990, Senator Byrd cast his 12,134 vote, earning him the record for greatest number of rollcall votes in Senate history. On July 27, 1995, he became the first Senator in history to cast 14,000 votes, and now he has built on his record number of rollcall votes to be the first person in Senate history to cast 15,000 votes.

To place this record in some historical context, Senator Byrd cast the first of his 15,000 votes with Senators John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson here in the chamber with him. When he cast his first vote, Hawaii had not yet become a State, and the United States had not yet put a man in space.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this record is Senator Byrd’s lifetime attendance record. Over 39 plus years, Senator Byrd has stood in this well or voted from his chair on 98.7 percent of the votes cast.  Every one of my colleagues knows the day-to-day pressures of Senate life. We all attend countless hearings and meetings with constituents.  We travel thousands of miles to our States and within our States and sometimes attend overseas fact-finding missions like the one just returned from Bosnia. Sometimes these commitments do not match the uncertain schedule of the Senate.

But for more than 39 years, Senator Byrd has managed to run the Senate as Majority Leader. He has chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee. He has studied and written volumes on the history of the Senate.

He has earned his place as the unrivaled expert on Senate rules. And he has become perhaps the most popular political figure in West Virginia history, all while making nearly 99 out of 100 rollcall votes on the Senate floor.

Not just votes on important treaties or landmark legislation, but countless Monday and Friday votes and late night rollcalls on routine procedural motions.

Mr. President, future historians will write about Senator Byrd’s remarkable impact on this chamber as an orator, a parliamentary expert, a Senate historian, a legislative tactician, and a remarkable leader.  He has achieved a number of records in both West Virginia and Senate history. He has held more legislative offices than anyone else in the history of his State. He is the longest-serving Senator in the history of his State. And he has held more leadership positions in the U.S.  Senate than any other Senator in history.

For all his grand achievements, Senator Byrd has performed the most basic requirement of a Senator more times than any other Senator in history. But we recognize and respect the senior Senator from West Virginia for the quality as well as the quantity of his service in the Senate.

During his 15,000 Senate votes, Senator Byrd has been here observing history, participating in history, and now occupies an important new place in the history of this institution.

Again, I commend him. I yield the floor.

Mr. BYRD addressed the Chair.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from West Virginia is recognized.  Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, I trust that my colleagues will indulge me just for a few minutes. I thank the majority leader and the minority leader. I am grateful to the two leaders, Mr. President, for their generous expressions of praise and affection. I thank all of my colleagues for the many courtesies that they have extended to me over these, now going on, 40 years in this body.

Majorian, who became Emperor of the West in 457 A.D., referred to himself as “a prince who still glories in the name of ‘Senator.”” That is the way I feel about it. I am grateful to the good people of West Virginia for trusting me with this honor for nearly 40 years now.  I carry this title with great pride.

Sometimes my constituents say to me, “Do you ever get used to it?” as they look about this marvelous building, and the truth of the matter is that I haven’t gotten used to it. Each time I walk through these doors, I feel a sense of great pride in being a Member of the United States Senate, and a sense of satisfaction in knowing that I have tried to do my best, and that the people of West Virginia have recognized that, and that they have continually shown their faith and confidence in me.

There have only been 1,843 men and women who have graced these desks, and those in the old Senate Chamber down the hall, those on the floor below, those in Philadelphia, and those in New York City where the first Senate met in 1789–1,843 Senators.

These 15,000 votes that we have just heard about, if we allow 15 minutes per vote, and if we allow the average number of 148 days per session, as has been the case over the past 10 years, and allowing for 8-hour days, it would require constant consecutive votes expanding over 3 years and 24 days to cast these 15,000 votes, back to back, doing nothing other than voting. Three years and 24 days. I am thankful for the opportunity to have cast these votes.

But it isn’t the number of votes that really counts so much; it is the substance of each vote and the quality of judgment that is brought to bear in reaching a decision thereon. There have been a few votes that I regret having cast. But, in regard to the overwhelming majority of votes, I would not change them if I had the opportunity to do so.  And so I trust that I can help other Senators from day-to-day to feel great pride in their having been selected by the people of their States to serve in this great body. It is the highest legislative office in the land. I do not consider a Senator as someone who serves under any President. Senators serve with Presidents. The Presidency is the highest office in the executive branch. I respect the Presidency always, whether the holder of the office is a Democrat or Republican.  But a United States Senator has no superior in any other office of Government. That is the way we should feel about it. After all, this Senate is the pillar upon which the Constitution really rests, because it was on July 16, 1787, when the Great Compromise occurred, and out of that compromise came the United States Senate—the forum of the States.  It is the only forum in the Nation in which the States themselves are recognized on the basis of equality. And each Senator is fortunate that his or her constituents have chosen him or her to represent them in this great forum of the States.

The other night I was proud to look around and see all Senators sitting in their seats as they arose to answer the rollcall. After that rollcall was announced, several Senators came to me and expressed the fact that they had been greatly impressed by the dignity and the performance of the Senate as it voted on that occasion, which was a great occasion, an outstanding one. But I suppose that what touched me most was afterward, when I started to leave the Chamber, a number of these pages came up to me and one said, “Gee, that was cool”; another said, “that was great.” Still another said, “I couldn’t keep the tears from rolling down my cheek as I watched the Senators cast their votes.” The pages were genuinely touched by the dignity and performance of the Senate on that day.

The people of the United States watch this Senate every day. They see us if we are milling around in the well. Legislators in State legislatures are accustomed to voting from their seats. Many of you have been members of the State legislatures. So have I. Those members remain in their seats and they vote there.

We may sometimes forget that the world is watching us. But the people in whom sovereignty resides are watching. They see us.  As the premier legislative body of the Nation, it seems to me that we should all take great pride in this institution and realize that we are the people who, perhaps more than any others in Government, set the standards. Who else sets the standards? Where have all our heroes gone?  Babe Ruth used to be my hero. Lou Gehrig was my hero. In 1927, Babe Ruth broke his previous record with 60 home runs. But where do our young people go now to find their heroes? Back in my days the baseball players didn’t spit in the face of the umpire, or choke the coach. We looked up to those athletes. We had our heroes. Perhaps we Senators can fill the place of heroes for our young people so they can have someone to whom they can look and emulate.

I am proud of all of my colleagues. I have often remarked about the high intelligence of the Members of the Senate. I hope we will be reinspired to serve with high purpose knowing that we have no particular right to this office except the fact that the people of our States trust us for a limited time with it. And, in that limited time, it is my desire that we do our best, and that we set a high standard of performance so that the American people will regain their confidence in government.

If I might be pardoned for taking a few more minutes, Pyrrhus was a great Greek general. Hannibal said that he was one of the three greatest generals of all time—Pyrrhus. He defeated the Romans at the Battle of Heraclea in 280 B.C., and he paid a great price, from which we get the term “a Pyrrhic victory.” He knew he was going to have to fight the Romans again because they weren’t conquered, by any means. So Pyrrhus sent Cineas, the philosopher, to the Roman Senate. And Cineas went with jewelry, and exquisite robes and other gifts, hoping to corrupt the Roman Senate, and, persuade the Romans to become an ally of his.

After Cineas had observed the Roman Senate, he reported to Pyrrhus that the Roman Senate was no mere gathering of venal politicians, no haphazard council of mediocre men, but in dignity and statesmanship, veritably it was an assemblage of kings.

About 175 years later, Jugurtha, a Numidian prince, came to Rome and connived in the assassination of a Roman leader. He was ordered to leave Rome. He walked through the gates of Rome and upon several occasions paused to look back. Suddenly, he exclaimed, “Yonder is a city that is up for sale, and its days are numbered if it finds a buyer.” The Roman Senate had deteriorated to that extent in one and three quarters centuries.

I don’t believe this Senate’s days are numbered. But it is going to depend upon the Members of the body—not the number of votes that they will cast but the quality of the Senators, their high purpose, their dedication.

I salute my colleagues and thank them for all of their kindnesses to me.

Now I am off to my second 15,000.

As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “The rule of joy and the law of duty seem to me all one.”

(Applause, Senators rising.)

Mr. LAUTENBERG. Mr. President, while Senator Byrd is here, I would like to take this opportunity to make just a few remarks, daring to venture into the lion’s den because of the eloquence that Senator Byrd brings to his thought and to his speech.

I have been a long-time admirer of Senator Byrd. I have been here 16 years. As I looked around the room, I noted that there were only six others who had been here as long as I have, which gives me a relative senior status, although the Chamber wasn’t filled, and I regret that it wasn’t because I know that everybody responds the same way as I do when Senator Byrd speaks. You always learn something of quite an incredible nature, and we are always in awe of his intellect and his memory.  I will never forget my earliest days here when I went in to visit Senator Byrd because I was anxious to serve on the Appropriations Committee. And Senator Byrd gave me a treatise on English kings, reaching back, I think, somewhere before William the Conqueror. I am not going to try to duplicate anything that Senator Byrd said by way of recall, but I remember that that was in the 1000s, I guess. And I listened while Senator Byrd talked about Ethelberht and all of those, and how each one succeeded the other and how each one died and how long each one served. I walked out shaking my head, and I said, “What is there about this man that enables him to remember so much for such a long period of time?”

Senator Byrd cast his 15,000th vote this day, and he is our Babe Ruth, there is no doubt about that, having accomplished things that none other before him ever accomplished. But it is not just the votes.  As the Senator said, it is the quality; it is the kind of votes that we are casting.

I asked Senator Byrd before he stood up to make his remarks did he have any regrets. And he repeated publicly what he said to me privately—there were a few. But I think he probably remembers darned near every vote that he has cast. He certainly remembers those that were of major magnitude.

There are a few of us in this room, Senator Byrd, who are not going to cast 15,000 votes. I would like to do it, but I may have to do it from some place on high. Not only do we treasure Senator Byrd’s presence here, but for me one of the great honors of having served in this body, and I consider it a tremendous honor; I come from immigrant parents. They came early in the century as little children, but their aspirations were limited, never suspecting, though always believing that it could happen to their son, that I would have the distinction of serving in this body.

Senator Byrd reminds us that only 1,840-some have ever served here since the founding of this country. And when I opened my desk top, I saw that one of the names in there was Truman, Missouri, and wherever I moved, Senator Byrd, I have always taken that desk with me. So there is so much honor and so much grace that falls our way, but one of the great honors for me has been to serve with you, Senator Byrd, master of all about the Senate. I don’t think anyone ever loved the body with the same depth of interest, not just affection, as Senator Byrd has shown us in his years here. It is always an uplifting experience to listen to Senator Byrd talk about the Senate and to bring us to our dignity by asking us once in a while to sit down and cast our vote from our seats.  It is for me, relatively seasoned, a refresher about the dignity of this body and the removal from the squabble and the hostility that sometimes has occasion to rise here. It doesn’t make it any less of a distinction or a privilege to serve here, but every now and then, Senator Byrd, I thank you for bringing us back to our senses about where we are in this great Nation of ours and how fortunate we are to have known one another.

But you, Senator Byrd, have, I think—I come out of the computer business—probably been a model for those who wanted to construct a computer that would have vast memory, quick response, and developed intelligence, not artificial at all but real, and I salute you on this 15,000th vote to say that I know, for as long as I serve in this body, you will continue to inspire and encourage all of us, and I thank you for the contribution you have made to the country and to me as well.  I yield the floor.

Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, I thank the distinguished Senator from New Jersey for his overly gracious and more than charitable remarks. I am grateful for them. I hope that he will never have cause to have a second thought about what he has just said. I hope that I can justify his faith and his confidence and his high estimation of me and my work here. May I say that I won’t ever forget his kind words. I am grateful for them. I am glad to be in the Senate with Senator Lautenberg. He has been my friend, he is my friend, and he will always be my friend.  I thank the Senator very much.

Mr. LOTT. Mr. President, may I say thank you again, Senator Byrd, for your vote and for your comments. They are always very enlightening.

Mr. BYRD. I thank the Senator.

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2 Responses for “Senate Tribute to Robert C. Byrd on Casting His 15,000th Vote”

  1. NortonSmitty says:

    If we had 100 more of him the Senate might not be the joke it is today.

  2. Bob K says:

    Yes, just think how proud America could be if ALL of it’s Senators were former Ku Klux Klan members.

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