Monitor Breakfast with Robert Byrd

Senator Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia on possible war with Iraq, and relations between the White House and Congress

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Robert C. Byrd, (D) of West Virginia is the longest-serving member now in the US Senate.

This is Senator Byrd's 17th appearance with the Monitor breakfast group - but the first since December of 1987. Having served in the House from 1952 to 1958, Senator Byrd has completed 50 years in Congress. If he wins reelection in 2006, he will become the longest serving senator in American history in February 2007.

On Bush administration foreign policy:

"This administration has put this country on a bull-headed rush to war without regard for the implication such unilateral action will have on America's relationship with other nations."

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On whether the public will rally to the president if he calls for war:

"I don't think he has spoken with clarity. I think the American people are confused. Yes, they will temporarily at least have a kind of rally, to any president, certainly, if there is war.

"But in this instance I do not think the American people have an understanding of why we are going to war. The American people need clarity. They need to know why are we going. What is the evidence? It hasn't been shown. ...to me there is a very eerie stillness over the land and on Capitol Hill with respect to informing the people.

"Reality is going to set in and when it does, although the president may get a bump upward, when that reality really sets in, the American people are not going to support this effort unless there is real reason to believe Hussein is in a position to strike this country and that an attack on this country is imminent."

On what he calls an expanding cloak of secrecy on war on terrorism:

"Congress has been complicit and in my 50 years in Washington I have only seen this cloak of secrecy as it is twice, in particular in the Nixon administration and now in this administration.

"Congress has been cowed to the point that it doesn't do its oversight work as it should. It doesn't seem to offer resistance to the efforts to push this country into war with a clear manifestation that there is imminent danger of attack on this country. I have been amazed at the cowardice on the part of some of our members - well intentioned - but they just are cowed. They are finding out more and more about the secrecy. This is an administration that likes to work out of the White House, is very secretive, and I am concerned about the Homeland Security department that civil rights of people - we are already seeing it when American citizens are being put in the brig and without being allowed to even talk with a lawyer. I think we had better wake up or we will find we have lost the war at home and we have lost the freedom and liberties guaranteed to the American people by the Constitution."

Bush father and son compared:

"I found the older Bush to be much easier to work with, more open, not as partisan."

How Congress has changed during his time in Washington:

"Overall, the members of Congress are not as dedicated with respect to the Constitution as when I came here. I am amazed and I am greatly troubled by the fact we are not debating this [the possibility of war]. Nobody is saying a word about it. No one is saying a word about this war. We are just going along with it. There is no resistance to it. I think war and peace ought to be debated and that is the forum, the foremost upper body in the world today, the United States Senate. You don't hear a peep out of it."

On relations between this White House and Congress:

"I have never seen in my 50 years under any administration such an unwillingness really to work with the Congress."

On his relations with this president:

"It seems that when I go [to the White House] I get steamed up a little bit. I talked about the appropriations process and the Constitution. And [President Bush] said "you mesmerized me," but I don't notice any change."

On whether he should provoke a debate in the Senate on the possibility of war with Iraq:

"I want to hear the president, I want to hear him and he needs to speak with clarity, he needs to clear up some of the inconsistencies, someone mentioned one here with regard to Iraq on the one hand and North Korea on the other.

"He needs to clearly present the evidence as to why the American people are about to send their boys and girls ....why they are going to have their treasure go across the sea and spend their blood. The president may be lucky - I hope he will be lucky - it seems he is bent on war and has been from the beginning. I hope he will go back to the United Nations and get another resolution. He needs world opinion. He needs this to be more than a unilateral [effort]. What major powers are with this administration?

"I want to hear what he has to say. I hope he will be clear and I hope he will let the American people know what he plans to do. I hope he has considered the cost of this in money, in blood, in world opinion. We have the image of our country being a bully and that is too bad."

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