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Longest Serving U.S. Senator, Robert Byrd, Dies

  • Deborah Tate

Senator Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat and the longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate, has died at the age of 92.

The Democrat, who holds a record for the longest service in the Senate and the longest overall service in the bicameral Congress, rose to occupy several influential positions. He also was one of the staunchest critics of the Iraq war.

Senator Robert Byrd was a presence on Capitol Hill for more than a half century. He was as passionate about his home state of West Virginia as he was about working at the U.S. Capitol.

"Hello. What a great day for West Virginia," remarked Senator Byrd. "It's a beautiful state, isn't it? Hi folks. This is the greatest building in the world. It matches the Taj Mahal, the other great buildings around the world."

During his later years


As U.S. soldiers fought an increasingly controversial war in Iraq, the senator was an outspoken critic of the conflict.

"This entire adventure in Iraq has been based on propaganda and manipulation," he said.

As the influential chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he had a prominent platform on which to criticize the cost of the Iraq war.

"The cost of the war has spiraled to $149 billion," said Senator Byrd. "That's $149.00 for every minute since Jesus Christ was born and the White House is on the verge of asking Congress for another 80 billion dollars."

In 2006, Byrd was elected to an unprecedented ninth consecutive term in the Senate and became the longest-serving senator in U.S. history. He cast more votes in Congress than any U.S. lawmaker.

He was twice elected Senate Majority Leader and twice elected Senate President pro tempore, the third in line of succession for the presidency after the Vice President and the Speaker of the House.

Senator Byrd considered himself a staunch defender of the U.S. Constitution – a copy of which was always in his pocket, and a champion of civil liberties.

But there was a brief period of his life that he was not proud of. In his 2005 autobiography he recalls his time in the white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan, when he was a young man.

He was reluctant to talk about it publicly.

"I'm ashamed," Senator Byrd said.

Byrd also said he regretted opposing civil rights legislation during the 1950's and '60s' when many fought to win full civil and voting rights for Africans Americans.

Although Byrd apologized for his earlier positions on racial matters, he had no regrets about his efforts to channel federal dollars to his home state. He defended the more than one billion dollars in federal funding he sent to West Virginia one of the most impoverished states. The money paid for buildings, institutions and roads, many that now bear his name - projects that critics argue amount to wasteful spending, or "pork".

"Well, you know, you'll see that in my obituary," Senator Byrd said. "'He was in the Klan, and he was the pork king.' You watch."

Speaking to tourists in the Capitol several years ago, Byrd expressed a debt of gratitude to the residents of his state for allowing him to serve for so long in the Senate he so loves.

"All the credit goes to the people of West Virginia," Senator Byrd said. "They showed confidence in me over all these long years, the wonderful people of West Virginia. See you. Bye."

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