Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., seems to be enjoying his current role as one of the most powerful members of the Senate. From time to time, he has invoked the legacy of his predecessor, Robert C. Byrd.
Byrd rose from the most humble of beginnings in the West Virginia coalfields to become a dominant force in the Senate. Byrd transformed himself from an uneducated KKK member when he entered the House into a revered constitutional law expert. Byrd, who wrote and passed hundreds of bills, transformed the Appalachian highway system and helped make massive infrastructure projects happen.
The legacy of Robert C. Byrd is a story of redemption and truly a marvel of modern American politics.
I had the fortunate pleasure of spending 20 minutes or so in private conversation with Byrd back near the end of the George W. Bush administration during a chance meeting at Yeager Airport.
I thanked him for defending the Constitution from the attacks of the Bush administration.
His countenance swiftly changed from “politician meeting constituent” to that of a teenager relishing in having met the love of his life. Beaming at me, he said the Constitution was the most dear thing to him and that he always kept it near his heart. He reached into his jacket’s breast pocket and pulled out a small, red leather booklet. He said his staff knew how deeply he loved the Constitution and had given him this bound copy. It was his most prized possession.
Byrd used the provisions of the Constitution and the rules of the Senate to get things done. So far, Manchin seems to be more intent on using these tools to block nominations and proposed laws. I fear that Manchin’s Senate legacy will be more akin to that of grim conspirator Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.