Accessibility links

Breaking News

US Senator Marks Milestone


Senator Robert Byrd has become the longest-serving senator in U.S. history. VOA's Deborah Tate has a profile of the 88-year-old West Virginia Democrat, who has been a vocal critic of the Bush administration and its handling of the Iraq war.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist Monday led the tribute to the chamber's longest-serving member ever:

"Today, Robert C. Byrd, the senior senator from West Virginia, becomes the longest-serving senator in the history of the United States," said Bill Frist. "Today he will have served 17,327 days in office, and outlasted 1,885 senators who have graced this chamber since 1789. He has cast more votes than any other senator."

Byrd's record surpasses that of the late South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond.

Byrd was first elected to the Senate in 1958 after serving six years in the House of Representatives.

He is one of the most respected voices in Congress and a staunch defender of the U.S. Constitution.

Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, offered this observation:

"For Senator Byrd, noble purposes are foremost as his motive and objective," said Dick Durbin. "He does not take the easy road, and he does not pander."

Byrd has become one of the most vocal critics of the Bush administration - particularly its decision to invade Iraq. He says of all the votes he cast in the Senate, the one he is most proud of is his vote to oppose giving President Bush authority to use military action against Iraq.

Just months after the war began, when Congress was considering an administration request for $87 billion in emergency funding for reconstruction in Iraq, Byrd called on the administration to detail how it planned to end its involvement in that country.

"The $87 billion in this appropriations bill provides the wherewithal for the United States to stay the course in Iraq, when what we badly need is a course correction," said Robert Byrd. "The President owes the American people an exit strategy for Iraq, and it is time for the President to deliver."

Byrd does not hesitate to sharply criticize the administration when he believes administration officials are not adequately informing lawmakers about its plans in Iraq or the war on terrorism.

"I see arrogance and disdain for Congress," he said. "I see misplaced bravado and an unwillingness to admit mistakes."

Byrd has served in a variety of leadership positions while in the Senate, including majority and minority Leader. He has been chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, of which he is now the ranking Democrat.

The West Virginia Democrat says the biggest regret of his career is his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the law that brought down barriers to black Americans.

He briefly was a member of the Ku Klux Klan when he was in his 20's, something he later called a youthful mistake.

Although the 88-year-old senator walks with two canes, he shows little sign of slowing down. He is running for an unprecedented ninth term in November congressional elections, and is expected to win the contest against Republican businessman John Raese.

Byrd recently told an interviewer that if he could live another 100 years, he would like to continue serving in the Senate because he loves it so much.