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Sen. Robert Byrd (D - WV), dead after 51 years in Senate

June 28, 2010 - by Moshe Bildner

Senator Robert Byrd (D – WV) died today, ending the longest running career in the history of the US Congress. Byrd was 92 years old.

Byrd’s career in Congress was famously marked by his ideological transformation, as well as his incredible longevity. 

Byrd first entered national politics in 1953, being elected to the House of Representatives, representing West Virginia’s 6th district.  Not atypical for a southern Democrat at the time, Byrd was a deeply conservative, segregationist politician.  He was even for a brief time a prominent member of the local Ku Klux Klan.  Though Byrd would later apologize profusely for this affiliation, his time in the Klan would shadow his career for decades to come.   

In 1959, having served three terms in the House, Byrd was elected to the US Senate.  With time, his views mellowed, and Byrd eventually became something of a liberal leader in the Senate.  Famously, Byrd led opposition in the Senate to try to prevent the war in Iraq. 

Byrd was re-elected eight consecutive times, a new record for the Senate.  In that time, he filled an impressive list of positions, including President pro tempore of the Senate, Majority Whip, Minority Leader, Majority Leader, and Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. At the time of his death, Byrd was by far the longest serving member of Congress, serving well over 56 years (exactly 20,996 days) in Congress. 

Byrd’s last vote was cast on June 17, 2010, when he joined 54 other Democratic (and 2 independent) Senators to reject S.Amdt.4376, a Republican amendment to HR 4213, the unemployment extension bill currently stalled in Congress. Byrd had cast over 18,600 votes in the Senate.

Under West Virginia law, the Governor may appoint a replacement to serve out the remainder of Byrd’s ninth term. It is not known who will be selected.

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