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President Byrd?

Byrd In assembling their 60-vote super-majority needed to proceed with healthcare reform, Democrats in the Senate had to secure the presence (such as it was) of Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.V.), who was wheeled into the chamber to cast his vote. Byrd is 92. “When he comes onto the floor and the members cheer and his face lights up, it just makes our day,”  Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) told the New York Times.

I wonder if Schumer would be so sunny if it were President Byrd being wheeled into the Oval Office. Yet as president pro tempore of the Senate, the nonagenarian former Ku Klux Klansman is third in line for the presidency. If a ceiling were to drop on Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi -- a scenario at the heart of the political thriller "The Man" -- Byrd would be plotting the U.S. response to terrorism and the burgeoning federal debt. Or not.

It's outrageous that Byrd is in the on-deck spot but two for the presidency. The issue isn't  age -- Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is 89 and his questions from the bench remain pointed and probing -- but infirmity. As the comparatively youthful (85) Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) delicately put it: "We see someone who is a giant and who is not as well as we would like to see him."

A ceiling isn't likely to drop on an Obama-Biden-Pelosi summit, but 9/11 shows that terrorists can target iconic government buildings. Their ultimate victory might be the installation in the Oval Office of a decrepit senator. So how did Byrd achieve this dubious distinction? Although the secretary of State used to be third in line, a law now on the books gives that spot to the president pro tem.

Whatever the wisdom of that rule -- I would argue that succession should remain in the executive branch -- seniority shouldn't determine who occupies that beauty spot. According to the Senate website: "In the early years, the Senate elected presidents pro tempore on a temporary basis, chosen for their personal characteristics, popularity, and reliability. Since the mid-20th century, it has been traditional for the Senate to elect the senior member of the majority party as president pro tempore."

This is a tradition that reflects pre-9/11 thinking. "President Harry Reid" doesn't trip lightly on the tongue, but "President Robert Byrd" is unthinkable.

Photo: Sen. Robert C. Byrd is wheeled to the Senate floor. Credit: Harry Hamburg / Associated Press

-- Michael McGough


Comments () | Archives (8)

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Senator Byrd is your poster boy for term limits.


Prima facie evidence for the need for term limits in the house and senate.


"Weekend at Bernie's" with Robert Commie Lib KKK Byrd...........Stand and cheer!!

Alexander Caragonne

Please...Give it a rest!!!


Term limits are perhaps the most anti-democratic thing we could possibly do. We already have de facto term limits; they are called elections. If the people of West Virginia want to be represented by Robert Byrd until he dies, let them. Who are we to decide for them? And why would anybody want to abridge someone's right to vote?

Besides, we have term limits for the legislature in California. How well has that worked out? All they do is ensure that the people with the most experience and clout in Sacramento (or Washington) are the special interests. Our representatives are termed out, and thus spend too much of their term preparing for their next office. To all the conservatives who want to see term limits used more extensively, do you want a government full of Jerry Browns? The man has held just about every constitutional position in the state.

Institute term limits and you'll rid our governments of any semblance of statesmanship. Like him or not, Robert Byrd is an expert on all things Senate. Take away West Virginians' right to vote for him and we'll have nothing but rookies running the show who don't know enough to get anything done, and won't be around long enough to invest themselves in any of our long-term problems.

Please give the term limits cry a rest.

Rick Gunter

Your reference to Senator Byrd being a former member of the Klan is really a cheap shot. It overlooks a lot of history, beginning with the fact that most of us do terrible things when we are young. Some of us do bad things when we are older, but give the guy a break. His time is fast running out and to bring all of this up shows that the writer was having a slow day and had nothing better to write about.


At his age, Senator Byrd still showes up to work day and night, and as long as the voters of his state continue to elect him, who are we to dismiss and complain about him. This is really a nasty and vitriolic piece on the Senator. So, he did belong to the Klu Klux Klan when he was young. We all have regrets and learn and grow from our mistakes as I am sure he has. Really cheap shot.

Hill Wonk

Is this what the LA Times has to offer??

This article was impractical, tasteless, and inane. Senator Byrd is a remarkable public servant. One of the few senators who act on behalf of his constituents before all all else.

The LA Times should be insulted by this article. I thought I would venture away from the Wash Post and NY Times, but it will be a while before i spend my time surfing this paper.

Good riddance McGough!



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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