What they’re saying about Robert Byrd

U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., Congress’ longest-serving member ever, died early this morning at age 92.

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif:

Barbara Boxer“The Senate has lost a giant and America has lost a real fighter for our working families.

“Robert Byrd’s eloquence during his amazing tenure in the Senate will forever be a testament to his deep reverence for the Constitution and the importance of preserving the American dream, which he lived.

“I will always be grateful for Senator Byrd’s strong support for California – especially when our state was suffering through natural disasters – as well as his deep conviction to bring our troops home from Iraq.”

From U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

“This is a very sad day. Robert C. Byrd was one of the true legends of United States political history and his passing is an enormous loss. I offer my heartfelt condolences to his two daughters, Mona Fatemi and Marjorie Moore; to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren; and to the people of West Virginia.

“Senator Byrd represented the State of West Virginia in the United States Senate for 51 years, and also served six years in the House of Representatives. He very much loved the Senate, and was its longest serving member. His scholarly insights on the Senate’s history, customs and sometimes intricate rules were second to none. And he was a staunch defender of the prerogatives of the three equal branches of government. Senator Byrd, like the nation he represented, changed and evolved over the nine decades of his lifetime.

“Senator Byrd was well-known for his booming, fiery speeches on the floor of the Senate, but he was also a sensitive man who cherished his friends and colleagues, especially the late Ted Kennedy. He was also fond of classical history and poetry, and frequently interspersed his remarks with passages of ancient political philosophers or poetic verse.

“I shall perhaps remember Senator Byrd best for his ardent devotion to and consummate knowledge of the Constitution of the United States. I also had the privilege of serving with him on the Senate Appropriations Committee for many years.

“This nation owes Senator Byrd a great debt of gratitude for his tremendous service. I know that I will very much miss his indomitable spirit, insightful guidance, and intense commitment to the Senate.”

More, after the jump…

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on the Senate floor this morning:

“I too would like to say a few words about our departed colleague.

“The first thing to say is that we’re sorry — first and foremost, to the family but also to the staff of Senator Byrd, for their loss.

“The next thing to say is that it’s a sad day for the United States Senate.

“More than anyone else in any of our lifetimes, Bob Byrd embodied the Senate. He not only wrote the book on it, he was a living repository of its rules, its customs, and its prerogatives. So it would be a mistake to think that Senator Byrd became synonymous with the Senate simply because he served in it longer than anybody else. Rather, it was a fitting coincidence that a man who cherished and knew this place so well would become its longest serving member.

“And yet it’s probably true that he’ll be remembered above all for his longevity.

“Everyone seems to have a different way of communicating just how long a time he spent here. For me, it’s enough to note that Robert Byrd had already spent nearly twenty years serving in elected office in West Virginia and in the House of Representatives before he was elected to the U.S. Senate — during the Eisenhower administration.

“And over the years, he would walk the floor with four future presidents, four of the 12 he would serve alongside in a 57-year career in Congress. I won’t enumerate all the legislative records Senator Byrd held. But I would venture to say that the figure that probably made him proudest of all was the nearly 70-years of marriage he spent with a coal miner’s daughter named Erma.

“If he was synonymous with the Senate, he was no less synonymous with West Virginia. Here’s how popular Robert Byrd was in his home state: In the year Robert Byrd was first elected to the U.S. Senate, 1958, he won with 59 percent of the vote — a margin that most people around here would consider a landslide. In a record nine Senate elections, it was the smallest margin of victory he would ever get.

“Members will offer tributes of their own in the coming days.

“I’ll just close with this. Last year, in becoming the longest serving member of Congress in history, Senator Byrd surpassed another legendary figure, Carl Hayden of Arizona. Hayden was known to many as the ‘Silent Senator’ — a phrase few would use to describe Senator Byrd.

“But what the two men shared was a devotion to the United States and, in particular, to the legislative branch of our government, which the founders envisioned and established as coequal with the other two.

“A few years ago, Senator Byrd’s official portrait was unveiled at an event in the Old Senate Chamber. And I think that portrait pretty well sums up the image Senator Byrd wanted to leave of himself. It’s the image of a dignified man, in the classical mold, supported by three things: the Bible, the U.S. Constitution, and his wife. A lot of people looked at Senator Byrd’s record-long tenure in Congress, his immense knowledge of poetry, history, and the Senate, and wondered where he got the strength. With this painting, he gave us the answer. He showed us the anchors.

“As I noted at that ceremony, Senator Byrd once wrote that if the question was whether to be loved or respected, he always chose to be respected. Yet his real accomplishment is that, in the end, he managed to be both.

“So I join my colleagues, my fellow Americans, the people of West Virginia, and the Byrd family today in remembering our colleague. We’ll surely miss him.”

From President Barack Obama:

“I was saddened to hear this morning that the people of West Virginia have lost a true champion, the United States Senate has lost a venerable institution, and America has lost a voice of principle and reason with the passing of Robert C. Byrd.

“Senator Byrd’s story was uniquely American. He was born into wrenching poverty, but educated himself to become an authoritative scholar, respected leader, and unparalleled champion of our Constitution. He scaled the summit of power, but his mind never strayed from the people of his beloved West Virginia. He had the courage to stand firm in his principles, but also the courage to change over time.

“He was as much a part of the Senate as the marble busts that line its chamber and its corridors. His profound passion for that body and its role and responsibilities was as evident behind closed doors as it was in the stemwinders he peppered with history. He held the deepest respect of members of both parties, and he was generous with his time and advice, something I appreciated greatly as a young senator.

“We take solace in the fact that he is reunited with his wife of nearly 69 years, Erma; and our thoughts and prayers are with their daughters, their grandchildren and great grandchildren, and all the people of West Virginia who loved Robert C. Byrd.”

From U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano:

“I was saddened to learn of the passing of Senator Robert Byrd, who was one of the U.S. Senate’s great leaders. Working with Senator Byrd during his tenure as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Homeland Security has been an honor. His extraordinary record of service and his commitment to the people of West Virginia and our country have left a mark upon the history of our nation. He will be truly missed.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    Every time I see that airbrushed soft-focus high school graduation photo of Baba Booboo, it makes me want to lose my breakfast.

  • BHO

    I think it’s worthwhile to further note Democratic Senator Byrd’s membership in the KKK:

    West Virginia’s Democratic Senator Robert Byrd was a recruiter for the Klan while in his 20s and 30s, rising to the title of Kleagle and Exalted Cyclops of his local chapter. After leaving the group, Byrd spoke in favor of the Klan during his early political career. Though he claimed to have left the organization in 1943, Byrd wrote a letter in 1946 to the group’s Imperial Wizard stating “The Klan is needed today as never before, and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia.” Byrd defended the Klan in his 1958 U.S. Senate campaign when he was 41 years old.