Don’t Flip the Byrd

Congressional Republicans have been crucifying Sen. Robert Byrd for flip-flopping on the need to vote on the articles of impeachment. On The News Hour With Jim Lehrer on Jan. 12, Byrd said, “I want to see us reach that judgment up or down on those articles.” This week, however, Byrd offered a motion to dismiss the trial without voting on the articles because, as he put it in a Jan. 22 press release, “lengthening this trial will only prolong and deepen the divisive, bitter, and polarizing effect that this sorry affair has visited upon our nation.” Appearing on CNN afterward, Sen. John Chafee said, “I’m surprised. Senator Byrd, just ten days before….he’d said in the McNeil-Lehrer Show [sic] and I quote, ‘I want to see us reach that judgment, up or down on those articles.’ I don’t know what in the ten days caused him to change his mind.” Sen. Mitch McConnell made the identical point on Fox, and added: “I was quite disappointed in Senator Byrd. I think it did a lot of damage to his reputation as Mr. Institution to suggest that this case end on dismissal.”

Chatterbox has three things to say about this line of attack.

  1. It is unwise to urge Sen. Robert Byrd, who is such a procedural fussbudget that he once got laptops banned from the Senate floor, to be more of a procedural fussbudget.

  2. The Republicans have been saying all along that rather than prejudge the case, senators should sit through the trial and then make up their minds. Let’s see: The trial began on Jan. 14. Byrd and the other senators listened to the prosecution and defense present their respective cases for six days. When they were done, Byrd announced his judgment that the case should be dismissed. So when Chafee and other Republicans wondered on Jan. 24 what could possibly have changed Byrd’s mind over the preceding 10 days, they seemed to be ignoring the possibility that it could be the trial. Chatterbox is willing to consider the possibility that the trial didn’t really change any minds in the Senate. But if that’s true, why keep up the pretense that senators should approach the case as jurors?

  3. Although Byrd has changed his mind about the need to vote on the articles, he has always been leery of calling witnesses. Here is the exchange between Byrd and interviewer Margaret Warner from the Jan. 12 Lehrer show:

Warner: Can I ask you about a couple of issues that have come up–first of all witnesses–do you think–do you personally think witnesses will probably be needed?

Byrd: Presently, I don’t think so because we have a massive record. We have sworn testimony. It hasn’t been subjected to cross-examination, but there’s a great amount of material there that we need to study, and I think we could reach a judgment on the articles in the final analysis without witnesses. I want to see us reach that judgment up or down on those articles.

William Saletan and Timothy Noah