Schumer Misrepresents Robert Byrd In His Crusade To Break The Senate

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer Keeps Pointing To An Old Quote From Former Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd In An Attempt To Justify His Push To Break The Senate By Nuking The Filibuster, But He Has Taken Sen. Byrd Badly Out Of Context

Sen. Byrd: ‘Proponents Of The So-Called Nuclear Option Cite Several Instances In Which They Inaccurately Allege That I Blazed A Procedural Path Toward An Inappropriate Change In Senate Rules. They’re Dead Wrong – Dead Wrong’

THEN-SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D-WV), 2005: “The filibuster must go, they say. In my 53 years in Congress I have never seen a matter that came before the Congress, before the Senate, or the House as a matter of fact, that is so dangerous, so out of the mainstream, so radical as this one. … Proponents of the so-called nuclear option cite several instances in which they inaccurately allege that I blazed a procedural path toward an inappropriate change in Senate rules. They’re dead wrong – dead wrong. They draw analogies where none exist and create cockeyed comparisons that fail to withstand even the slightest intellectual scrutiny. ... But simply put, no action of mine ever denied a minority of the Senate a right to full debate on the final disposition of a measure or matter pending before the Senate. … Now, why can’t reasonable senators on both sides of the aisle act in the best interest of the Senate, in the best interest of the Constitution, and the best interest of the country by working together to find a way to avoid this procedural Armageddon?” (Sen. Byrd, Remarks at the Center for American Progress, 4/25/2005)

SEN. BYRD, 2005: “[O]pponents of free speech and debate claim that, during my tenure as Majority Leader in the United States Senate, I established precedents that now justify a proposal for a misguided attempt to end debate… by a simple majority vote, rather than by a three-fifths vote of all Senators duly chosen and sworn as required by paragraph two of Senate rule XXII. Their claims are false. Proponents of the so-called nuclear option cite several instances in which they inaccurately allege that I ‘blazed a procedural path’ toward an inappropriate change in Senate rules. They are dead wrong. Dead wrong. They draw analogies where none exist and create cock-eyed comparisons that fail to withstand even the slightest intellectual scrutiny. … Let me state, once again, that no action of mine cited by the proponents of the nuclear options has ever denied a minority in the Senate its right to full debate on the final disposition of a measure or matter pending before the Senate. The steps discussed here have all gone toward strengthening or enforcing Senate rules, or clarifying the application of Senate precedents--not undermining them. The Senate has been the last fortress of minority rights and freedom of speech in this republic for more than two centuries. I pray that senators will pause and reflect before ignoring that history and tradition in favor of the political priority of the movement.” (Sen. Byrd, Congressional Record, S3100-3103, 3/20/2005)


Nonetheless, Sen. Schumer Is Misrepresenting Sen. Byrd On Changing The Senate Rules

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): “The Senate must evolve, like it has many times before. The Senate was designed to evolve and has evolved many times in our history. As former Senator Robert Byrd famously said, Senate Rules ‘must be changed to reflect changed circumstances.’ Put more plainly by Senator Byrd, ‘Congress is not obliged to be bound by the dead hand of the past.’” (Sen. Schumer, Dear Colleague Letter, 1/3/2022)

  • SCHUMER: “The Senate always has. Robert C. Byrd, one of this chamber’s great traditionalists, acknowledged that Senate rules that seemed appropriate in the past ‘must be changed to reflect changed circumstances.’ Boy, oh, boy, do we have changed circumstances now … As times change and circumstances evolve, the Senate must follow suit of changed circumstances when necessary. So we are going to work towards that goal the coming weeks.” (Sen. Schumer, Remarks, 1/4/2022)

In The 1979 Speech Sen. Schumer Cites, Sen. Byrd Primarily Addressed Changing The Rules For Post-Cloture Filibusters

SEN. BYRD, 1979: “I am about to send to the desk a resolution which would change certain rules of the Senate. I will be speaking for a few minutes and Members may take it easy. But I would like to have their attention. I believe the time has come for the Senate to modify Senate rule XXII. At the present time, there is no Senate rule XXII, for all intents and purposes. Cloture may be invoked on a matter and, after having been invoked by 60 Senators-a constitutional three-fifths-that matter may be drawn out interminably by a single Senator, by two or three Senators, or by a larger group of Senators. They may offer dilatory motions and amendments in spite of the rule. They may call up 100 amendments, 200 amendments, 500 amendments, 1,000 amendments, any number of amendments. There is no rule providing for a second cloture motion to stop the kind of so- called debate.” (Sen. Byrd, Congressional Record, S143-145, 1/15/1979)

  • SEN. BYRD: “And so, Mr. President, I have come to the conclusion, after a lot of wrestling with my own conscience, that the time has come to do something about this situation. We live in the 20th century, and we live near the end of the 20th century. We are about to begin the 8th decade of the 20th century. I say to you that certain rules that were necessary in the 19th century, and in the early decades of this century must be changed to reflect changed circumstances.” (Sen. Byrd, Congressional Record, S143-145, 1/15/1979)
  • SEN. BYRD: “Now, ladies and gentlemen, my colleagues, this postcloture filibuster is the kind of thing that creates ill feelings and deep divisions in the Senate. It is fractious; it fragments the Senate, it fragments the party on either side of the aisle, and it makes the Senate a spectacle before the Nation. It is not in the national interest. So these are among the rules that I propose to modify, or to change.” (Sen. Byrd, Congressional Record, S143-145, 1/15/1979)
  • SEN. BYRD: “But the time will come when every Member of the Senate will rue the day that we did not change that rule XXII in such a way that these very divisive postcloture situations can be eliminated and the Senate can get on to work its will and serve the national interests. … So, I say to Senators again that the time has come to change the rules. I want to change them in an orderly fashion. I want a time agreement.” (Sen. Byrd, Congressional Record, S143-145, 1/15/1979)

In 2005, Sen. Byrd Defended His 1979 Resolution From Proponents Of The Nuclear Option: ‘No Proposal Of Mine In 1979 Restricted The Right Of Senators To Filibuster A Nominee Or A Piece Of Legislation Prior To The Invocation Of Cloture, Consistent With Rule XXII’

SEN. BYRD, 2005: “Simply put, no action of mine ever denied a minority of the Senate a right to full debate on the final disposition of a measure or matter pending before the Senate. Not in 1977, not in 1979, not in 1980, or in 1987--the dates cited by critics as grounds for the nuclear option. … January 15, 1979--Enforcing Rule XXII Against Improper Post-Cloture Delay: At the beginning of the new Congress in 1979, I, as Senate majority leader, introduced a resolution to make various changes to Senate rule XXII, the bulk of which addressed circumstances postcloture. Recently, on March 10, 2005, a Senator spoke on the Senate floor and stated that this resolution serves as a precedent for the nuclear option. However, my resolution served to enforce rule XXII, not to destroy it.” (Sen. Byrd, Congressional Record, S3100-3101, 3/20/2005)

  • SEN. BYRD: “As the minority leader in the Senate recognized at the time, the text of rule XXII provides explicitly that, once cloture is invoked, ‘no dilatory motion, or dilatory amendment, or amendment not germane shall be in order.’ Therefore, once Members vote to invoke cloture, dilatory amendments or actions are impermissible. No proposal of mine in 1979 restricted the right of Senators to filibuster a nominee or a piece of legislation prior to the invocation of cloture, consistent with Rule XXII of the Standing Rules of the Senate. And the position I took at the time enjoyed support on both sides of the aisle.” (Sen. Byrd, Congressional Record, S3101, 3/20/2005)

In Fact, Sen. Byrd’s 1979 Changes To Rule XXII, The Cloture Rules, Were Adopted On A Bipartisan Basis And Supported By The Leaders Of The Minority Party At The Time

SEN. BYRD, 2005: “My introduction of S. Res. 9 was influenced by the postcloture dilatory tactics that were suffered by the Senate during its consideration of the natural gas deregulation bill during the preceding Congress. My efforts in that regard were supported, on a bipartisan basis, by Minority Leader Howard Baker…” (Sen. Byrd, Congressional Record, S3100-3101, 3/20/2005)

In 1979, after several weeks of debate over Sen. Byrd’s S. Res. 9, the Senate adopted S. Res. 61, limiting the use of post-cloture debate, with the support of key Republicans. (S. Res. 61, 96th Congress; 1979 CQ Almanac, pp. 593-595)

  • The Senate voted 78-16 to adopt S. Res. 61 and then-Senate Republican Leader Howard Baker (R-TN) and then-Senate Republican Whip Ted Stevens (R-AK) voted for the change. (S.Res.61, Roll Call Vote #6: Adopted 78-16: R: 23-15; D: 55-1; 2/22/1979)

THEN-SENATE REPUBLICAN LEADER HOWARD BAKER (R-TN), 1979: “I point out, as I am sure most of our colleagues are aware and will recall, that in the case of the most recent post-cloture filibuster, it was the majority leader and the minority leader, with the distinguished occupant of the chair the Vice President, in the chair at the time, who managed to establish a line and series of precedents that created the possibility to at least accelerate the disposition of the controversy and conflict. The point of the matter is that this is not, nor has it been, a matter that is purely partisan in its character. … I share with the majority leader the belief that the post-cloture filibuster, a creature of fairly young age and recent development, is one that the Senate has not focused on adequately. I am prepared to do that and I want to do that. I believe we can do that.” (Sen. Baker, Congressional Record, S146-147, 1/15/1979)

SEN. TED STEVENS (R-AK), 1979: “I think that the majority leader has made the proper decision. We have been through the process that we have gone through now and jn a period of days reached the point where I am prepared to accept Senate Resolution 61, and I will vote for it…. We have worked hard and long. I think that it would be hard to record really the number of meetings that we have had both on and off the floor since we have convened. And we have made substantial changes in the resolution as it was originally presented. The resolution as it will be voted on in a few moments, as I have indicated, makes many substantial and positive changes in the existing rule XXII.” (Sen. Stevens, Congressional Record, S.3035, 2/22/1979)


Right Up To His Last Days In The Senate, Sen. Byrd Persistently Defended ‘The Senate’s Greatest Purpose--The Right To Extended, Or Even Unlimited, Debate’

Sen. Byrd: ‘I Recognize The Need For The Senate To Be Responsive To Changing Times… However, I Believe That Efforts To Change Or Reinterpret The Rules In Order To Facilitate Expeditious Action By A Simple Majority… Are Grossly Misguided’

February 23, 2010: SEN. BYRD: “I am sympathetic to frustrations about the Senate’s rules, but those frustrations are nothing new. I recognize the need for the Senate to be responsive to changing times, and have worked continually for necessary reforms aimed at modernizing this institution, using the prescribed Senate procedure for amending the rules. However, I believe that efforts to change or reinterpret the rules in order to facilitate expeditious action by a simple majority, while popular, are grossly misguided. While I welcome needed reform, we must always be mindful of our first responsibility to preserve the institution’s special purpose. The occasional abuse of the rules has been, at times, a painful side effect of what is otherwise the Senate’s greatest purpose--the right to extended, or even unlimited, debate.” (Sen. Byrd, Letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee, 2/23/2010)

Sen. Byrd: ‘I Oppose Cloture By A Simple Majority, Because It Would Immediately Destroy The Uniqueness Of This Institution’, Senators Must ‘Jealously Guard Against Efforts To Change Or Reinterpret The Senate Rules By A Simple Majority’

Sen. Byrd even defended the filibuster in testimony to the Senate Rules Committee in 2010, which was chaired at the time by Sen. Schumer. (U.S. Senate Rules And Administration Committee Hearings, 4/22/2010 & 5/19/2010)

April 22, 2010: SEN. BYRD: “We should remain open to change in the Senate rules, but not to the detriment of the institution’s character or purpose. … I oppose cloture by a simple majority, because it would immediately destroy the uniqueness of this institution. In the hands of a tyrannical majority and leadership, that kind of emasculation of the cloture rule would mean that minority rights would cease to exist in the U.S. Senate.” (Sen. Byrd, Statement to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, 4/22/2010)

  • SEN. BYRD: “If the Senate rules are being abused, it does not necessarily follow that the solution is to change the rules. … If rules are abused, and Senators exhaust the patience of their colleagues, such actions can invite draconian measures. But those measures themselves can, in the long run, be as detrimental to the role of the institution and to the rights of the American people as the abuse of the rules.” (Sen. Byrd, Statement to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, 4/22/2010)

May 19, 2010: SEN. BYRD: “Over the years, I have proposed a variety of improvements to Senate rules to achieve a more sensible balance allowing the majority to function while still protecting minority rights. I have supported eliminating debate on the motion to proceed to a matter (except for changes to the Senate rules), or limiting debate to a reasonable time on such motions, with Senators retaining the right to unlimited debate on the matter once it was before the Senate. I have authored several other proposals in the past, and I look forward to our committee work ahead as we carefully examine other suggested changes. The committee must, however, jealously guard against efforts to change or reinterpret the Senate rules by a simple majority, by circumventing Rule 22, where a two-thirds majority is required.” (Sen. Byrd, Statement to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, 5/19/2010)



Related Issues: Senate Rules, Senate Democrats