The Senate’s Elder Statesman | Pundits in the Pockets of the White House | BushSpeak

The Senior Senator—At the age of 87, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) is reported to be preparing for election to his ninth six-year term in what its members like to call the “upper body.” Byrd began his Congressional career in 1952 with four years in the “lower body” and moved from the House of Representatives to the Senate in 1958.

If re-elected in 2006, Byrd, who has served 46 years in the Senate, would surpass the record set by the late Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC). In several ways he already has. Thurmond’s 47 years and five months made him the record holder for the longest time served. But geezership made him an ineffective, physically and mentally crippled figure, until his death in retirement in 2003. Converted at the end to more reasonable views, Thurmond had been a flaming, openly racist right-winger. Byrd will have spent 52 years in the Senate if he serves another term.

In the liberal-conservative vote ratings compiled by the non-partisan Washington magazineThe National Journal, Byrd comes out with one of the highest liberal scores among the 100 senators, nearly matched by the junior Democratic senator from West Virginia, Jay Rockefeller, age 67, a former two-term Mountain State governor. Byrd voted against the congressional authorization of the invasion of Iraq.

Although West Virginia has been trending Republican—President Bush carried it in 2000 and 2004—Byrd won his last re-election, in 2000, with 79 percent of the vote. As the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, he maneuvered millions of dollars in federal aid to a state with a declining number of unionized coal miners and steel-industry workers.

The Press Mess—It keeps swelling, and smelling. First there was the discovery by USA Todaythat the African-American columnist and cable-TV commentator Armstrong Williams had taken a $240,000 payoff from the Department of Education—taxpayer money—to promote the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind program.

Then the Washington Post found that the Bushies had paid a semi-syndicated columnist, Maggie Gallagher, $41,500 in taxpayer dollars to promote the president’s sexual abstinence program.
USA Today found another columnist payoff. This one was for $10,000, which the Department of Health and Human Services gave to Michael McManus to puff up the president’s no-sex-before-marriage gospel.

We were then treated to the discovery that a partisan-sounding, pro-G.O.P. questioner at a series of White House news conferences had been granted an official White House press pass two years ago under the fake name of “Jeff Gannon” of Talon News.

He turned out to be one James Guckert, not a creditable journalist but a propagandist fronting for a Texas Republican website, GOPUSA.com. His White House press pass was belatedly canceled.

But not canceled yet are the threats of prison time for two fully accredited reporters who have refused to reveal before a federal grand jury who told them about the identity of the covert CIA agent Valerie Plame, who is the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson irked the Bush White House by challenging the president’s bogus claim, in his 2003 State of the Union address, that Saddam Hussein had sought to buy uranium ore from Niger.

The columnist Robert Novak was also told about Plame’s identity, and he published it, causing a furor. Time magazine’s White House correspondent, Matthew Cooper, and Judith Miller, a New York Times reporter, sat on the Valerie Plame information when it was given to them and didn’t put it in print. For refusing to reveal who told them about Plame, they face 18 months in prison each unless the Supreme Court rules otherwise. No one seems to be going after Novak.

Get It?—“This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. And having said that, all options are on the table.”

All options? What table? The above are the absurdly contradictory words of President Bush during a news conference in February at a meeting of NATO and the European Union in Brussels. Go figure. Our European friends can’t.