Fallout from senator's battle with Treasury secretary continues

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Sunday that senators had a responsibility to act "appropriately" when interrogating witnesses--an apparent admonition to Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who engaged in a harsh exchange with Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill at a Budget Committee hearing last week.

Lott was asked on "Fox News Sunday" about Byrd's treatment of O'Neill. Byrd scolded O'Neill for questioning congressional prerogatives and procedures, and faulted the administration's budget plan for including a political cartoon.

At one point, he told O'Neill: "You probably should have had a good study course in American history before you came here. And you've been in this town one year. I've been in this town 50 years. With all respect to you, you're not Alexander Hamilton." Hamilton was the first Treasury secretary.

Asked about Byrd's conduct, Lott responded: "I thought the whole exchange was somewhat strange and bizarre ... Look, senators have a right to ask questions of witnesses and to be aggressive in [their] questioning, but we also are elected officials to the United States Senate. We need to always make sure that we conduct ourselves appropriately and project a positive image and that, you know, we're courteous in the way we treat our witnesses."

During a later appearance on CNN's "Late Edition," Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., defended Byrd.

"I think he was powerful in his presentation, and I don't fault him at all," said Daschle. "I think that he, like every other senator, has a right to express himself, and he did it, I think, with extreme appreciation of his role as a senator from the Budget Committee just this week."