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Sen. Robert Byrd: It Is Not Unpatriotic To Ask Questions

to index of Iraq debate
Mr. BYRD. As a member of the Rules Committee on which sit the distinguished Senator from Virginia, Mr. Warner, and our chairman, Mr. Dodd from Connecticut, I have asked the chairman to yield to compliment him. I want to compliment him, and I do compliment the chairman for his patience, for his dogged determination, and for his far-seeing vision in pursuing and pressing on to the end this cause for which he has been studying, speaking, and fighting for so long. It has an importance that goes far beyond the surface. This, we often hear, is a democracy. It is a Republic. We say that clearly each time we "pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands." We have democratic principles under a republican form of government. There you are. It is a republican form of government.

The importance of encouraging and persuading and leading the citizens of the country to vote -- what a great duty it is of each citizen to vote his or her sentiments. And what a sad commentary on this Republic, whose people have been so far blessed beyond the peoples of any other nation, and then to think that so few, relatively speaking, of the American people bother -- bother -- to go to the polls and exercise their duty at the polls. It is a sad commentary on the American people. We take this duty loosely, and we take advantage of this right in a very cavalier fashion.

The Senator from Connecticut has performed an extremely important service to the people of this country today and to future generations, by his stick-to-itiveness, by his incessant application of his enormous talents to bring to fruition the completion of this work on which he has been engaged for so long. It is not the kind of work such as the work we do on some other measures. It is kind of a dry subject when one stops to think about it. It is kind of like the rules of the Senate. They are dry, there are no headlines in them, but how important the rules of the Senate are.

It is that way with this piece of legislation that our dear friend has so long labored in the vineyard to bring to fruition. I compliment him. I salute him. He has performed an immeasurable service to the people of this country; whatever we can do to bring about a greater focus and a greater application of the people's views when it is election time because, after all, that helps to mold the character of this country and to present the image of this country as a nation.

I wish it were possible to say that 80 or 85 or 90 percent of the people in this country turn out and vote. What a great victory that would be for this Republic and for the principles of democracy.

I not only salute this man, I say thank you to the distinguished senior Senator from Connecticut. He is my candidate for President. Throw your hat in the ring.

There has to be a little levity. Even the wisest will stop for a moment to smile, laugh a little, be a little jovial. But this is a tremendous victory; as a member of the committee on which this great man serves, I am proud to serve on that committee.

On another subject which has been injected here, no Senator should have to stand in a party caucus and defend this Constitution. No Senator should have to stand in a party caucus and refer to this document.

We have rubber spines, rubber legs, and we do not have backbones
This is a time when we must return to the language and the spirit of this Constitution. All too often I hear the leaders of this Nation in both parties refer to this document or that document or what this person said or that person said, but very seldom do I hear on the television talk shows on Sundays and other days of the week, seldom, relatively speaking, do I hear them base their position on the Constitution of the United States.

As I have witnessed the tides that ebb and flow on the world stage over these 50 years, all the more have I come to believe that the Constitution is the principal mast to which we should rope ourselves in order to put wax in our ears to the siren calls that will lead us astray from what the Constitution says.

The Constitution very clearly says in a nonambiguous sentence, the Congress shall have power to declare war. I am very pained to see a Congress, most of the leaders of which say we should pass this resolution, meaning S.J. Res. 46. We should pass it now, pass it here, get it behind us before the election. Get it behind us.

We are not going to get this issue behind us. Say what you will. It is front and center. Why? Because the Bush administration has made this issue front and center in these last few days before the election.

Why did they not make homeland security front and center? Because that would not have shifted the national perspective and focus away from the domestic issues which also are important. But to turn the emphasis to Iraq shifts the emphasis of the debate away from homeland security, shifts the emphasis of debate away from domestic issues, shifts it to a foreign scene and a foreign stage and a foreign field of action. So our eyes have been averted from what we should be watching, and that is homeland security, the defense of this country. Homeland security, protecting this country right here against attack, subtle attacks -- it may be individual attacks, it may come in the form of an attack by one person or two or a group of six, as we saw in New York recently when the FBI arrested a cell of six individuals who were from Yemen. They are American citizens, but they were originally from Yemen. The FBI arrested them. The FBI did not have to have any Department of Homeland Security to bring that about.

The people who are on the front line securing this country, securing you and me, securing the people of this country every day, every night, every hour of every day, every hour of every night are on the line now. They are out there on the borders. They are out there in the ports of entry. They are out there working day and night as we saw when the FBI did its work.

Here just before an election, our eyes taken away from the education needs of this country, away from the security needs of this country, away from the questions that involve the health of our citizens, away from the veterans of this country. This issue has been shifted away so that our eyes temporarily are distracted and we are looking in another direction.

Where are we looking? We are looking at Iraq. Yet there is nothing new in the evidence.

I have asked the Director of the CIA on two different occasions: What is different? Do not tell me anything about policy; we will make the policy. But tell me what there is by way of intelligence where you are the expert? What is there that is new today, that you know today that you did not know 3 months ago or 6 months ago? What is it that is so new, so compelling that all of a sudden, after we heard all this business to the effect there is no plan on the President's desk? I asked that question of the Secretary of State: What is it that is new? I have asked that question of the Secretary of Defense. What does he say? The thing that is new is September 11. That is not so new; that is over 365 days old. So what is there that is new that requires us to make this fateful, far-reaching decision before the election?

There is nothing new. They have known it for 3 months, 6 months. A lot of it they have known for years.

This is a fateful decision, and the decision ought to be made here, and this Congress ought not turn this fateful determination, this decision, over to any President, any one man, because, as James Madison said, the trust and the temptation are too great for any one man.

Oh, that Madison were here today. Oh, that Madison could speak today. We would hear him say: The trust and the temptation are too great for any one man. Hear his voice as it rolls across the decades of history.

Here we are today; we have rubber spines, rubber legs, and we do not have backbones. This branch of Government, under the Constitution, is the branch consisting of the immediately-elected representatives of the people, and under the Constitution it is to declare war.

The Framers were very wise when they determined that these two matters -- the decision to go to war and the making of war -- should be in two different places. The decision, the determination to declare war, should flow from this branch, the people's branch, and the matter of making war should be in the hands of a unified commander, the Commander in Chief.

What are we doing? In my view, if we accept this resolution as it is written, we are saying both of these vital functions would be placed in the hands of one man. And what did Madison say? He said: The trust and the temptation are too great for any one man.

The public must tell Congress what they think
I say to those people out there who are watching through the electric lenses, let the leadership of this Congress know, tell the leadership of this Congress, urge the leadership of this Congress, to put aside this fateful decision which may affect the blood and the lives of our sons and daughters, put it aside until after the election so that our representatives in both Houses can make a determination in an atmosphere that is not so supercharged with politics. Let them come back after the election. They are getting paid for all the days of the year. Bring them back then. Let them make a decision when they are not distracted by politics, by an election. Tell the leadership of this Congress. Let them hear you.

You do not have to worry where I stand. I am telling you now. I am stating my position now. Tell the leadership of this country, both Houses: Hold up, wait, listen, ask questions, debate, and wait until politics can be shoved aside. Wait until after the election. Tell the leadership this affects your blood, your treasury, your son, your daughter, your grandson. Let them know in no uncertain terms. Tell them. They will hear you.

I am proud to say that our leader on this side of the aisle has not yet made a final determination, I do not think. He has not joined with the leadership in the other body that went like lambs to the slaughter following after the President.

I respect the President of the United States. We should work with him, and we should support him when we can. But remember what Madison said: The trust and the temptation are too great for any one man.

We elected representatives of the people are not supposed to follow any President, whether he is a Democrat or Republican, meekly and without question. I do not believe there is a Republican in this body who knows me well who would believe for a moment, if we had a Democratic President today, I would not be saying exactly what I am saying right now.

I took the position against our President on the line item veto. I did not go along with President Clinton because he supported the line item veto. Nor would I go with any President in this more fateful matter, this question of peace or war, if they were a Democrat. I am standing where the Constitution says I should stand.

There is no king in the American scheme of things. There is no place for kings in our constitutional system. But there is a place for men. When I say "men," of course, I am speaking of men and women, but when the Constitution was written it was only men.

There is no place for weakness. There is no place for wishy- washiness. There is only a place for steadfastness and a place for supreme dedication to the Constitution of the United States, for every word that is in it, and to stand by the spirit with which it speaks. We cannot stand by that spirit and just go along. The people want a political party that stands for something. They want men and women in office who stand for them. They do not want men and women in office who just go along because their party goes along or because the President goes along. They want men and women who think for themselves and who keep in mind that they are sent here by the people who cannot speak on this floor but who expect us to speak.

That is where I stand. That is where I am going to stand always and forever. As long as I live and have the privilege of representing the people of the State of West Virginia, that is exactly where I am going to be, regardless of where any President is. If I differ with him, I will say so, and I differ with this President on this issue.

I do not think there is any new evidence that compels us to vote on this resolution before we go home. Oh, they say we need to get it behind us. We cannot get this issue behind us. We can vote for this resolution, but that will not get the issue behind us. The President will have us back on that question every day until the election is over, and he can do that. He has the bully pulpit. Do not think for a moment this issue is going to be put behind us before this election is over.

Another thing we will not get behind us is the record of where we stand, the record of where I stand, the record of where he or she stands. We will not get that behind us. That will be there engraved in stone, in marble, and in bronze, until the Lord comes home. Until kingdom come, it will be there. You cannot efface it. You cannot erase it. It is there.

I intend to let my record stand. I do not intend to put a blemish on it by walking away from the Constitution in this fateful hour.

There are questions to be asked. What is going to happen to Israel? What is going to happen to the people of Israel? What is going to happen to the Palestinians? What are the ramifications of going to war in a preemptive strike, which this Constitution does not represent and does not allow? What are the ramifications around the globe? What is the image of the United States then going to be: A nation that is a rogue nation, that is determined to wipe out other nations with a preemptive strike? And what will happen if we deliver a preemptive strike? Will other nations be encouraged to do the same? What will be the cost? How many men and women do we expect will become casualties if this country goes to war in a preemptive strike against Iraq? What is going to be the cost in dollars?

The President's economic advisor says: Oh, $100 billion or $200 billion. He says that is nothing, $100 billion. That is nothing. Even $9 billion has been a stumbling block and a bone in the craw of this administration when it comes to appropriations bills. All that has kept us from having agreements on appropriations bills is $9 billion.

What is going to be the price tag? What is it going to cost in terms of homeland security? Might we expect other terroristic acts if we launch a preemptive strike? How can we be sure we will not be subject to preemptive strikes of terrorists? What will be the cost? What is likely to happen on our borders? Are we going to have to maintain greater vigilance in our ports? What is going to happen to the needs of veterans? What is going to happen to the needs of education? What is this going to do to the American pocketbook? What is it going to do to the deficits?

There are these and many more questions. They ought to be questioned. It is not unpatriotic to ask.




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Albion Monitor October 4 2002 (

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