Griffs Notes 4/13/07

Normally, I’m not saddened by Senate Appropriations Committee hearings. But Thursday’s subcommittee hearing on the pet foods dilemma was not only a saddening subject, but also a glimpse of the future of one of my favorite members of Congress – Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

He’s been called the “Conscience of the Senate,” and his fiery speeches complete with the trademark waving of his copy of the Constitution have become an icon on Capitol Hill. Quite possibly, he may be the most eloquent orator in the history of the Senate. And he’d be well deserving of that title considering he has been at it longer than anyone.

At 90, Sen. Byrd is the longest-serving and oldest member of the United States Congress. But unfortunately, as the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, we saw a man who had great difficulty holding it together at yesterday’s hearing. As of late, his speeches often wander aimlessly and his benign tremors make it almost impossible to hold a speech on paper.

Thus at a hearing to determine the conditions that caused the pet food crisis and how to prevent another future occurrence, Byrd lovingly told us about his late wife’s cute dog, “Trouble.”

Undeniably, Sen. Byrd demonstrated that he is a dog lover – yet another reason why I like him so much. But here’s how Byrd opened his remarks at the horror of his junior colleagues Dick Durbin and Herb Kohl:

"All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the lord God made them all.” I didn’t write that poem…

Then he quickly made an awkward transition into telling us about his beloved Shih Tzu.

There is a unique, special relationship between pets, like my little dog. She is a shih tzu. They were lap dogs. They were trained to be lap dogs in the palace in Tibet, China. And they are really lap dogs. And I have a little dog is a shih tzu. And my wife, who is no longer here -- she is here, but she's no longer here where you can see her -- her name was Erma -- she saw this little dog coming one day, and she said, "Here comes trouble." And that has been my little dog's name ever since.

But it didn’t stop there. Sen. Byrd went on to explain that he has since renamed his furry best friend.

Now, I call her Baby… I don't have the little dog with me here today, but she's a shih tzu. She sleeps on my bed. She goes with me to the Senate, rides in the car with me. She stays in my office. When somebody comes into the office, she rises and comes over and greets them. Goes on about her business and gets back on the couch. That is Baby. That is my wife's dog, Trouble.

Beginning to realize that the room was becoming uncomfortable by his lack of coherence, Byrd made light of his age and suggested he’d run again for another term.

I'm not getting ready for any reelection right now. I will run in 2012, the Lord willing. That's all between you and me. But I am the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, for the audience to know. I've been a senator for 49 years. And the Lord willing, next year I will be a senator, and I will have been a senator, if the Lord's will, 50 years, if I live (inaudible).

By the end, Byrd realizes that he has talked too much about his dog “Baby.”

I do love pets. My little dog is not here with me, Baby. My little dog Trouble is not here with me. But I love pets. And I'm speaking right now with the indulgence of the chairman and the ranking member, and I know I am talking and talking too long. But I am the chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the Senate. I am here today. I am imposing on the chairman. I have asked a question and I have got some others, and I will put these in the record and you say we will take care of them. Now, thank you all.

KOHL: Thank you, Senator Byrd.

BYRD: You hear him? He is telling me to leave.


I dreaded the day that we’d have to bid farewell to the good Senator from West Virginia. But after Thursday’s hearing, it would appear that he is in no condition to serve as a United States Senator – let alone the President pro Tempore (third in line to the presidency behind VP Cheney and Speaker Pelosi).

Let’s hope the Senator goes out with a memorable farewell speech ala Lou Gehrig or Ronald Reagan – and save us all from watching his demise.

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