Longest-Serving Senator Gives Obama a History Lesson

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Senator Robert C. Byrd, whose career in the Senate has spanned five decades, advised President Obama this week to keep in check the powers of members of the White House staff to prevent an erosion of the “Constitutional system of checks and balances.”

In a letter, Mr. Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat, drew examples from the Republican administrations of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush to drive home his concerns.

He suggested that the president’s creation of offices of health care reform, urban affairs and energy and climate change policy within the White House could undermine the role of cabinet secretaries.

“I am concerned about the relationship between these new White House positions and their executive branch counterparts,” Mr. Byrd wrote in the letter dated Feb 23. “Too often, I have seen these lines of authority and responsibility become tangled and blurred, sometimes purposely, to shield information and to obscure the decision-making process.”

Mr. Byrd pointed out what he viewed as Henry Kissinger’s outsized role in shaping the foreign policy of the Nixon Administration as an assistant to the president on the National Security Council and, more recently, to Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who as deputy national security adviser to President Bush, coordinated Iraq and Afghanistan policy from the White House.

“At the worst, White House staff have taken direction and control of programmatic areas that are the statutory responsibility of Senate-confirmed officials,” he wrote, and added: “In too many instances, White House staff have been allowed to inhibit openness and transparency, and reduce accountability.”

Mr. Obama recently named New York Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrión Jr, to head the White House Office of Urban Affairs. And the president previously selected Carol M. Browner, the director of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration, to serve as his coordinator for energy and climate policy.

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