During the major struggle for passage of the Panama Canal Treaties, in the late 1970s, Senator Baker, then Senate Minority Leader, worked closely with Senator Byrd on this controversial legislation. Senator Byrd wrote in his autobiography “The passage of the Canal Treaties was a victory that could not have been achieved without the strong support of Minority Leader Howard Baker.” [Byrd, Child of the Appalachian Coal Fields, 385]. Both men were highly criticized in their home states and nationally for passage of the Panama Canal Treaties. But they risked the wrath of the voters for something they felt was in the national interest. Some West Virginians called Byrd a traitor and a communist for supporting the treaties and in Baker’s case it may have cost him his party’s nomination for president in 1980.
When Senator Baker became Majority Leader in 1981, Byrd became Minority Leader. Both men, whether representing the majority or the minority, often worked together on legislation. Even when they did not see eye to eye on matters before the Senate they conducted Senate business with great civility and parliamentary skill.