Sen. Robert Byrd Talks with Alan Colmes

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This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," Mar. 10, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: The Senate is currently in a heated battle over the so-called "nuclear" option that some are proposing over President Bush's judicial nominees. It would mean forcing an up-or-down vote on the nominees rather than allowing for debate and filibuster. Earlier today, I went to Capitol Hill and sat down with a central figure in the debate, the always outspoken senior senator from West Virginia, Robert Byrd (search).


COLMES: Thank you so much for having us in your office here today.

U.S. SEN. ROBERT BYRD, D-W.VA.: Thank you. Thank you for coming.

COLMES: I just had the privilege of seeing you speak on the Senate floor. And you spoke about freedom. And you spoke about dissent. And you spoke about the importance of the minority to be heard. What does that mean in the context of today's Democratic Party versus the Republican Party, and how the parties are interacting in today's Senate?

BYRD: There's nothing partisan about this subject. When you talk about the "nuclear" option (search), they're really talking about the freedom to dissent, freedom of speech in the Senate, freedom to debate. They are speaking for the minority. That's what the Senate is about.

It's the last bastion of minority rights, where a minority can be heard, where a minority can stand on its feet, one individual if necessary, and speak until he falls into the dust. And the president is all wrong when he maintains that a nominee should have an up-or-down vote. The Constitution doesn't say that. The Constitution doesn't say that that nominee shall have any vote at all. There doesn't have to even be a vote.

COLMES: You quoted historian Alan Bullock who wrote about Hitler's dictatorship resting on the foundation of a single law, the enabling act. The Republicans kind of went crazy and said, oh, you compared Bush to Hitler, you compared him to the Nazis, you invoked Hitler on the floor of the Senate. What did they misunderstand about that?

BYRD: I invoked history. I was putting it as a historian. What is this all about? I pay no attention to the flies, the gnats, the little bug bites. I keep my eyes on the ball. This is about freedom of speech. Men have lived and died for and shed their blood for centuries for that right to speak, to speak out, to speak out against the king, as it were.

COLMES: Is there less tolerance now for dissent than there has been since you have been in the Senate?

BYRD: There is, much more so.

COLMES: Less than ever than since you've...

BYRD: I have never seen anything like it. I've never seen anything...

COLMES: Why is that?

BYRD: People are being so polarized. The country is so polarized by politics.

COLMES: Have Democrats not done a good enough job standing up, our fellow Democrats, for these issues? They voted to go with the president in terms of the war in Iraq, giving him the authority to make that decision. They voted in many respects to fund the $87 billion that they kept mocking John Kerry (search) about, much of that money not yet even having been spent?

BYRD: Both parties have failed to some degree. We Democrats have not stood up. The Senate was mute. I made a speech about how the Senate was mute just before we invaded Iraq. I am very much ashamed, as a matter of fact, of my Senate by the fact that it did not stand up, it did not ask questions, it did not take a position.

It handed everything to a president, by way of using the military forces of this country where he would, when he would, how he would, as long as it was connected with Iraq. And that's a blotch upon this country and the Senate. And I'm sorry for that, having been a servant of the people in the United States Senate now for 47 years. I was very, very ashamed of this great body because it failed to take a stand for the right.

COLMES: Today you spoke about Senator George W. Norris (search) from Nebraska. And you talked about how he suffered merciless abuse.


BYRD: This Nebraskan from the heart of America suffered merciless abuse, vicious invective and public scorn.


COLMES: You have taken measureless abuse. Your detractors, whenever they talk about you, they love to mention the KKK (search) and your membership. Does that anger you?

BYRD: No. No. That is but a memory and a sad one. And I have said so. And I have apologized for it. And that's all I can do.

COLMES: It doesn't get you angry, doesn't get under your skin that they love to bring that up every time they mention Senator Robert Byrd?

BYRD: No, it doesn't. I tell you frankly, I have done my best to do the right thing. The people of West Virginia know that. They know the history. And they put it aside. They continue to return me. I was wrong, as many young men are wrong today, even when they join groups. That's all in the past.

COLMES: What changed you? What enabled your thinking to progress? What changed you as a man?

BYRD: Time, reflection, and the teachings of the Bible, the sermon on the mount. My wife and I, we're born-again Christians. That's term you hear a lot about. Well, we are indeed born-again Christians. We were baptized in the Old Church Yard at a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Baptist Church in 1946. That's 59 years ago. That changed my thinking in many ways. And as time goes on, as experience has its impact, as the years come and go, we all ripen and change, I hope for the better, and I think I have.


COLMES: Lots more still to cover with Senator Byrd, including his talk about his latest controversial interview with FOX News where he — a few years ago — used the "N" word. You don't want to miss that.


HANNITY: As we continue on "Hannity & Colmes," I'm Sean Hannity from San Diego tonight.

Now, here is more of Alan's exclusive interview with Senator Robert Byrd.


COLMES: You spoke a moment ago about being born-again. And it's not something politicians have always talked about. Do Democrats need to talk more about faith, their personal spiritual beliefs?

BYRD: Well, I have always spoken about religion. I grew up, thank God, in the home of two wonderful Christian people. And they didn't wear it on their sleeve. They didn't make a big hoop-de-doo about it. They were not of the Christian right or the Christian left.

I think that people, Democrats and Republicans, or whatever, independents or whatever, should strive to work together, to cooperate with one another, to make this Constitution work, and to defend it.

COLMES: You have a book out, it's coming out in paperback, "Losing America," subtitled "Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency." You have some very harsh words for President Bush in this book. How does he rank among the pantheon of presidents?

BYRD: Well, I have mixed feelings about President Bush, as I have had with every president with whom I served. And I have served with, not under, 11 presidents. I have liked some better than others.

I was very impressed with Mr. Bush when he made his first Inaugural Speech. He referred to the bible. And in a private conversation with me and with Ted Stevens, Mr. Bush, it seemed to me, would be a person who would be temperate, who would work with, who would not be overly partisan, and who would recognize separation of powers as set forth in the Constitution.

I have had some problems along that line with Mr. Bush. I was very much for him when he sought to go after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. I thought that was the right thing to do. And I was for him in that war and I am still with him in that war — with him in that war.

But in the war which he started without provocation by another country, that was a war in which we invaded another country, when that country did not pose an imminent threat to our own country.

COLMES: Republicans now are — want to undo more than a quarter of the president's tax cuts, Republicans. Is there dissension in the ranks among Republicans about what this president is doing?

BYRD: I suppose there is, and there seems to be. I think there should be because the president is not always right. No president is always right. And this president is very wrong in some things.

We talk about a huge budget deficit. And one of the central factors in the budget deficits today is that tax cut, which was rammed through the United States Senate and the House. And the president was wrong in that. He was wrong in taking us into Iraq. And the American people, now I think are finally coming to understand that.

COLMES: Who would you like to see the Democrats put up going forward in 2008?

BYRD: I would like to see somebody who can talk the people's language and tell the truth. It's refreshing to hear someone who is candid.

COLMES: When you did an interview with Tony Snow on our network a few years ago, and you were talking about your mother and what she had taught you...


BYRD: There are white niggers. I have seen a lot of white niggers in my time, if you want to use that word.


COLMES: ... that's not a word you would normally use, I guess. And I knew you were trying to make a point, where that word means ignorance. Is there a misunderstanding about what that word really means?

BYRD: Well, I have heard many people use it. I have heard black leaders use it. I've heard white leaders use it. I meant nothing by that except as you were saying. That's another one of those things that come and go. I don't dwell on them. I try not to live too much in the past.

COLMES: You just cast your 17,187th vote on the floor of the Senate. But who is counting? That's some record, huh?

BYRD: A roll call attendance record of 98.7 percent over a period of now 47 years. My goal is to continue serving the people of the nation and the people of West Virginia as long as I can be effective and be of service.

COLMES: Will you run in 2006?

BYRD: I certainly am thinking strongly about it.

COLMES: That sounds like a yes to me.

BYRD: Yes. We're not here today to make any announcements. What we are here for is to state the truth about what's happening in the United States Senate and to your constitutional right of freedom of speech. This is my way of serving my country.


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