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Robert Byrd

robert byrd, robert byrd kkk grand dragon
Robert Carlyle "Bob" Byrd born Cornelius Calvin Sale, Jr; November 20, 1917 – June 28, 2010 was a United States Senator from West Virginia A member of the Democratic Party, Byrd served as a US Representative from 1953 until 1959 and as a US Senator from 1959 to 2010 He was the longest-serving US Senator and, at the time of his death, the longest-serving member in the history of the United States Congress In June 2013, his record was surpassed by US Representative John Dingell of Michigan, though Byrd is the longest-serving Senator Byrd is also the only West Virginian to have served in both houses of the state legislature and both houses of Congress

Byrd served in the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1947 to 1950, and the West Virginia State Senate from 1950 to 1952 Initially elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1952, Byrd served there for six years before being elected to the Senate in 1958 He rose to become one of the Senate's most powerful members, serving as secretary of the Senate Democratic Caucus from 1967 to 1971 and—after defeating his longtime colleague, Ted Kennedy—as Senate Majority Whip from 1971 to 1977 Byrd led the Democratic caucus as Senate Majority Leader from 1977 to 1981 and 1987 to 1989, and as Senate Minority Leader from 1981 to 1987 From 1989 to 2010 he served as the President pro tempore of the United States Senate when the Democratic Party had a majority, and as President pro tempore emeritus during periods of Republican majority beginning in 2001 As President pro tempore, he was third in the line of presidential succession, behind the Vice President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives He also served as the Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations from 1989 to 1995, 2001 to 2003, and 2007 to 2009, giving him extraordinary influence over federal spending

Byrd's seniority and leadership of the Appropriations Committee enabled him to steer a great deal of federal money toward projects in West Virginia Critics derided his efforts as pork barrel spending, while Byrd argued that the many federal projects he worked to bring to West Virginia represented progress for the people of his state He filibustered against the 1964 Civil Rights Act and supported the Vietnam War, but later renounced racism and segregation, and spoke in opposition to the Iraq War Renowned for his knowledge of Senate precedent and parliamentary procedure, Byrd wrote a four-volume history of the Senate in later life

Near the end of his life, Byrd was in declining health and was hospitalized several times He died on June 28, 2010, and was buried at Columbia Gardens Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia


  • 1 Background
    • 11 Marriage
      • 111 Children
    • 12 Ku Klux Klan
  • 2 Early career
    • 21 Continued education
  • 3 Congressional service
    • 31 Public service records
    • 32 Committee assignments
    • 33 Filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
    • 34 Leadership roles
      • 341 Appropriations Committee
      • 342 Parliamentary expertise
      • 343 President pro tempore
    • 35 Scholarships and TAH History Grants
    • 36 Senate historian
    • 37 Final-term Senate highlights
  • 4 Political views
    • 41 Race
    • 42 Clinton impeachment
    • 43 LGBT rights
    • 44 Abortion
    • 45 George W Bush era
      • 451 Iraq War
      • 452 Gang of 14
    • 46 Other votes
    • 47 Ratings groups
  • 5 Health issues and death
    • 51 Reaction to death
  • 6 In popular culture
  • 7 Published writing
  • 8 Robert C Byrd Center for Legislative Studies
  • 9 See also
  • 10 References
  • 11 Further reading
  • 12 External links


Byrd's mother, Ada Mae Kirby Sen Byrd, his wife, Erma, and dog, Trouble

Robert Byrd was born on November 20, 1917 as Cornelius Calvin Sale, Jr in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, to Cornelius Calvin Sale Sr and his wife Ada Mae Kirby When he was ten months old, his mother died in the 1918 flu pandemic In accordance with his mother's wishes, his father dispersed their children among relatives Calvin Jr was adopted by his aunt and uncle, Titus and Vlurma Byrd, who changed his name to Robert Carlyle Byrd and raised him in the coal-mining region of southern West Virginia

Byrd was valedictorian at Mark Twain High School in Tams, West Virginia


On May 29, 1936, Byrd married Erma Ora James June 12, 1917 – March 25, 2006 who was born to a coal mining family in Floyd County, Virginia Her family moved to Raleigh County, West Virginia, where she met Byrd when they attended the same high school


Robert Byrd had two children, Mona Byrd Fatemi and Marjorie Byrd Moore; two sons-in-law, Mohammad Fatemi and Jon Moore; six grandchildren, Erik Byrd Fatemi, Mona Byrd Moore Pearson, Darius Fatemi, Mary Anne Moore Clarkson, Fredrik Fatemi, and Jon Michael Moore died in an automobile accident in the 1980s; and seven great-grandchildren, Caroline Byrd Fatemi, Emma James Clarkson, Kathryn James Fatemi, Hannah Byrd Clarkson, Michael Yoo Fatemi, Anna Cristina Fatemi, and James Matthew Fatemi

Ku Klux Klan

In the early 1940s, Byrd recruited 150 of his friends and associates to create a new chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in Sophia, West Virginia

According to Byrd, a Klan official told him, "You have a talent for leadership, Bob  The country needs young men like you in the leadership of the nation" Byrd later recalled, "Suddenly lights flashed in my mind! Someone important had recognized my abilities! I was only 23 or 24 years old, and the thought of a political career had never really hit me But strike me that night, it did" Byrd became a recruiter and leader of his chapter When it came time to elect the top officer Exalted Cyclops in the local Klan unit, Byrd won unanimously

In December 1944, Byrd wrote to segregationist Mississippi Senator Theodore G Bilbo:

I shall never fight in the armed forces with a negro by my side  Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds

— Robert C Byrd, in a letter to Sen Theodore Bilbo D-MS, 1944

In 1946, Byrd wrote a letter to a Grand Wizard stating, "The Klan is needed today as never before, and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia and in every state in the nation" However, when running for the United States House of Representatives in 1952, he announced "After about a year, I became disinterested, quit paying my dues, and dropped my membership in the organization During the nine years that have followed, I have never been interested in the Klan" He said he had joined the Klan because he felt it offered excitement and was anti-communist

In 1997, Byrd told an interviewer he would encourage young people to become involved in politics but also warned, "Be sure you avoid the Ku Klux Klan Don't get that albatross around your neck Once you've made that mistake, you inhibit your operations in the political arena" In his last autobiography, Byrd explained that he was a KKK member because he "was sorely afflicted with tunnel vision — a jejune and immature outlook — seeing only what I wanted to see because I thought the Klan could provide an outlet for my talents and ambitions" Byrd also said, in 2005, "I know now I was wrong Intolerance had no place in America I apologized a thousand times  and I don't mind apologizing over and over again I can't erase what happened"

Early career

Byrd worked as a gas station attendant, a grocery store clerk, a shipyard welder during World War II, and a butcher before he won a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1946, representing Raleigh County from 1947 to 1950 Byrd became a local celebrity after a radio station in Beckley began broadcasting his "fiery fundamentalist lessons" In 1950, he was elected to the West Virginia Senate, where he served from 1951 to 1952

In 1951, Byrd was among the official witnesses of the execution of Harry Burdette and Fred Painter, which was the first use of the electric chair in West Virginia In 1965 the state abolished capital punishment, with the last execution having occurred in 1959

Continued education

Early in his career Byrd attended Beckley College, Concord College, Morris Harvey College, Marshall College, and George Washington University Law School, and joined the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity

Byrd began night classes at American University Washington College of Law in 1953, while a member of the United States House of Representatives He received his JD cum laude a decade later, by which time he was a US Senator President John F Kennedy spoke at the commencement ceremony on June 10, 1963 and presented the graduates their diplomas, including Byrd Byrd completed law school in an era when undergraduate degrees were not a requirement He later decided to complete his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science, and in 1994 he graduated summa cum laude from Marshall University

Congressional service

In 1952, Byrd was elected to the United States House of Representatives for West Virginia's 6th congressional district, succeeding E H Hedrick, who retired from the House to make an unsuccessful run for the Democratic nomination for Governor Byrd was re-elected to the House twice, serving from January 3, 1953 to January 3, 1959 Byrd defeated Republican incumbent W Chapman Revercomb for the United States Senate in 1958 Revercomb's record supporting civil rights had become an issue, playing in Byrd's favor Byrd was re-elected to the Senate eight times He was West Virginia's junior senator for his first four terms; his colleague from 1959 to 1985 was Jennings Randolph, who had been elected on the same day as Byrd's first election in a special election to fill the seat of the late Senator Matthew Neely

While Byrd faced some vigorous Republican opposition in his career, his last serious electoral opposition occurred in 1982 when he was challenged by freshman Congressman Cleve Benedict Despite his tremendous popularity in the state, Byrd ran unopposed only once, in 1976 On three other occasions – in 1970, 1994 and 2000 – he won all 55 of West Virginia's counties In his re-election bid in 2000, he won all but seven precincts Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, the daughter of one of Byrd's longtime foes, former governor Arch Moore, Jr, briefly considered a challenge to Byrd in 2006 but decided against it Capito's district covered much of the territory Byrd represented in Congress

In the 1960 Democratic presidential election primaries, Byrd – a close Senate ally of Lyndon B Johnson – endorsed and campaigned for Hubert Humphrey over front-runner John F Kennedy in the state's crucial primary However, Kennedy won the state's primary and eventually the general election

Public service records

Byrd early in his Senate career

Byrd was elected to a record ninth consecutive full Senate term on November 7, 2006 He became the longest-serving senator in American history on June 12, 2006, surpassing Strom Thurmond of South Carolina with 17,327 days of service On November 18, 2009, Byrd became the longest-serving member in congressional history, with 56 years, 320 days of combined service in the House and Senate, passing Carl Hayden of Arizona Previously, Byrd had held the record for the longest unbroken tenure in the Senate Thurmond resigned during his first term and was re-elected seven months later He is the only senator ever to serve more than 50 years Including his tenure as a state legislator from 1947 to 1953, Byrd's service on the political front exceeded 60 continuous years Byrd, who never lost an election, cast his 18,000th vote on June 21, 2007, the most of any senator in history John Dingell broke Byrd's record as longest-serving member of Congress on June 7, 2013

Upon the death of former Florida Senator George Smathers on January 20, 2007, Byrd became the last living United States Senator from the 1950s

Having taken part in the admission of Alaska and Hawaii to the union, Byrd was the last surviving senator to have voted on a bill granting statehood to a US territory At the time of Byrd's death, fourteen sitting or former members of the Senate had not been born when Byrd's tenure in the Senate began, President Barack Obama among them

Committee assignments

These are the committee assignments for Sen Byrd's 9th and final term

  • Committee on Appropriations
    • Subcommittee on Defense
    • Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
    • Subcommittee on Homeland Security Chairman
    • Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
    • Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs
    • Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies
  • Committee on Armed Services
    • Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities
    • Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support
    • Subcommittee on Strategic Forces
  • Committee on the Budget
  • Committee on Rules and Administration

Filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Majority Whip Byrd meeting with President Gerald Ford

Byrd was a member of the wing of the Democratic Party that opposed desegregation and civil rights imposed by the federal government However, despite his early career in the KKK, Byrd was linked to such senators as John C Stennis, J William Fulbright and George Smathers, who based their segregationist positions on their view of states' rights in contrast to senators like James Eastland, who held a reputation as a committed racist

Byrd joined with Democratic senators to filibuster the Civil Rights Act of 1964, personally filibustering the bill for 14 hours, a move he later said he regretted Despite an 83-day filibuster in the Senate, both parties in Congress voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Act, and President Johnson signed the bill into law Byrd also opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 but voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1968 In 2005, Byrd told The Washington Post that his membership in the Baptist church led to a change in his views In the opinion of one reviewer, Byrd, like other Southern and border-state Democrats, came to realize that he would have to temper "his blatantly segregationist views" and move to the Democratic Party mainstream if he wanted to play a role nationally

Leadership roles

Drawer of the Senate desk used by Democratic leaders, including Byrd

Byrd served in the Senate Democratic leadership He succeeded George Smathers as secretary of the Senate Democratic Conference from 1967 to 1971 He unseated Ted Kennedy in 1971 to become majority whip, or the second highest-ranking Democrat, until 1977 Smathers recalled that, "Ted was off playing While Ted was away at Christmas, down in the islands, floating around having a good time with some of his friends, male and female, here was Bob up here calling on the phone 'I want to do this, and would you help me' He had it all committed so that when Teddy got back to town, Teddy didn't know what hit him, but it was already all over That was Lyndon Johnson's style Bob Byrd learned that from watching Lyndon Johnson" Byrd himself had told Smathers that " I have never in my life played a game of cards I have never in my life had a golf club in my hand I have never in life hit a tennis ball I have—believe it or not—never thrown a line over to catch a fish I don't do any of those things I have only had to work all my life And every time you told me about swimming, I don't know how to swim"

In 1976, Byrd was the "favorite son" Presidential candidate in West Virginia's primary His easy victory gave him control of the delegation to the Democratic National Convention Byrd had the inside track as majority whip but focused most of his time running for majority leader, more so than for re-election to the Senate, as he was virtually unopposed for his fourth term By the time the vote for majority leader came, his lead was so secure that his lone rival, Minnesota's Hubert Humphrey, withdrew before the balloting took place From 1977 to 1989 Byrd was the leader of the Senate Democrats, serving as majority leader from 1977 to 1981 and 1987 to 1989, and as minority leader from 1981 to 1987

President pro tempore Byrd and House Speaker Dennis Hastert presided over a special joint session following the September 11, 2001, attacks Here President Bush shakes hands with Byrd

Appropriations Committee

Byrd was well known for steering federal dollars to West Virginia, one of the country's poorest states He was called the "King of Pork" by Citizens Against Government Waste After becoming chair of the Appropriations Committee in 1989, Byrd set a goal securing a total of $1 billion for public works in the state He passed that mark in 1991, and funds for highways, dams, educational institutions and federal agency offices flowed unabated over the course of his membership More than 30 existing or pending federal projects bear his name He commented on his reputation for attaining funds for projects in West Virginia in August 2006, when he called himself "Big Daddy" at the dedication for the Robert C Byrd Biotechnology Science Center Examples of this ability to claim funds and projects for his state include the Federal Bureau of Investigation's repository for computerized fingerprint records as well as several United States Coast Guard computing and office facilities

Parliamentary expertise

Byrd also was known for using his knowledge of parliamentary procedure Byrd frustrated Republicans with his encyclopedic knowledge of the inner workings of the Senate, particularly prior to the Reagan Revolution From 1977 to 1979 he was described as "performing a procedural tap dance around the minority, outmaneuvering Republicans with his mastery of the Senate's arcane rules" In 1988, majority leader Byrd moved a call of the Senate, which was adopted by the majority present, in order to have the Sergeant-at-Arms arrest members not in attendance One member Robert Packwood, R-Oregon was escorted back to the chamber by the Sergeant-at-Arms in order to obtain a quorum

President pro tempore

As the longest-serving Democratic senator, Byrd served as President pro tempore four times when his party was in the majority: from 1989 until the Republicans won control of the Senate in 1995; for 17 days in early 2001, when the Senate was evenly split between parties and outgoing Vice President Al Gore broke the tie in favor of the Democrats; when the Democrats regained the majority in June 2001 after Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont left the Republican Party to become an independent; and again from 2007 to his death in 2010, as a result of the 2006 Senate elections In this capacity, Byrd was third in the line of presidential succession at the time of his death, behind Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Scholarships and TAH History Grants

In 1969, Byrd launched a Scholastic Recognition Award; he also began to present a savings bond to valedictorians from high schools—public and private—in West Virginia In 1985 Congress approved the nation's only merit-based scholarship program funded through the US Department of Education, a program which Congress later named in Byrd's honor The Robert C Byrd Honors Scholarship Program initially comprised a one-year, $1,500 award to students with "outstanding academic achievement" who had been accepted at a college or university In 1993, the program began providing four-year scholarships

In 2002 Byrd secured unanimous approval for a major national initiative to strengthen the teaching of "traditional American history" in K-12 public schools The Department of Education competitively awards $50 to $120 million a year to school districts in amounts of about $500,000 to $1 million The money goes to teacher training programs that are geared to improving the knowledge of history teachers The Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011 eliminated funding for the Robert C Byrd Honors Scholarship Program

Senate historian

Byrd and Dr Richard Baker, the Senate historian

Television cameras were first introduced to the House of Representatives on March 19, 1979, by C-SPAN Unsatisfied that Americans only saw Congress as the House of Representatives, Byrd and others pushed to televise Senate proceedings to prevent the Senate from becoming the "invisible branch" of government, succeeding in June 1986

To help introduce the public to the inner workings of the legislative process, Byrd launched a series of one hundred speeches based on his examination of the Roman Republic and the intent of the Framers Byrd published a four-volume series on Senate history: The Senate: 1789–1989: Addresses on the History of the Senate The first volume won the Henry Adams Prize of the Society for History in the Federal Government as "an outstanding contribution to research in the history of the Federal Government" He also published The Senate of the Roman Republic: Addresses on the History of Roman Constitutionalism

In 2004, Byrd received the American Historical Association's first Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Award for Civil Service; in 2007, Byrd received the Friend of History Award from the Organization of American Historians Both awards honor individuals outside the academy who have made a significant contribution to the writing and/or presentation of history In 2014, The Byrd Center for Legislative Studies began assessing the archiving of Senator Byrd's electronic correspondence and floor speeches in order to preserve these documents and make them available to the wider community

Final-term Senate highlights

Speech by Senator Byrd made to US Senate following the indictment of Michael Vick on federal dog fighting charges The Dalai Lama receiving a Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 From left: Tenzin Gyatso, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate President pro tempore Robert Byrd and US President George W Bush

On July 19, 2007, Byrd gave a 25-minute speech in the Senate against dog fighting, in response to the indictment of football player Michael Vick In recognition of the speech, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals named Byrd their 2007 Person of the Year

For 2007, Byrd was deemed the fourteenth-most powerful senator, as well as the twelfth-most powerful Democratic senator

Byrd with farmers from West Virginia

On May 19, 2008, Byrd endorsed Barack Obama D-Illinois One week after the West Virginia Democratic Primary, in which Hillary Clinton defeated Obama by 41 to 32 per cent, Byrd said, "Barack Obama is a noble-hearted patriot and humble Christian, and he has my full faith and support" When asked in October 2008 about the possibility that the issue of race would influence West Virginia voters, as Obama is an African-American, Byrd replied, "Those days are gone Gone!" Obama lost West Virginia by 13% but won the election

On January 26, 2009, Byrd was one of three Democrats to vote against the confirmation of Timothy Geithner as United States Secretary of the Treasury along with Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Tom Harkin of Iowa

On February 26, 2009, Byrd was one of two Democrats to vote against the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2009, which if it had become law would have added a voting seat in the United States House of Representatives for the District of Columbia and add a seat for Utah, explaining that he supported the intent of the legislation, but regarded it as an attempt to solve with legislation an issue which required resolution with a Constitutional amendment Democrat Max Baucus of Montana also cast a "nay" vote

Although his health was poor, Byrd was present for every crucial vote during the December 2009 Senatorial healthcare debate; his vote was necessary so Democrats could obtain cloture to break a Republican filibuster At the final vote on December 24, 2009, Byrd referenced recently deceased Senator Ted Kennedy, a devoted proponent, when casting his vote: "Mr President, this is for my friend Ted Kennedy! Aye!"

Political views


Portrait of Byrd as Majority Leader

Byrd initially compiled a mixed record on the subjects of race relations and desegregation While he had been a Ku Klux Klan member and initially voted against civil rights legislation, in 1959 he hired one of the Capitol's first black congressional aides, and he also took steps to integrate the United States Capitol Police for the first time since Reconstruction Beginning in the 1970s, Byrd explicitly renounced his earlier views favoring racial segregation Byrd said that he regretted filibustering and voting against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and would change it if he had the opportunity He said joining the KKK was "the greatest mistake I ever made" Byrd also said that his views changed dramatically after his teenage grandson was killed in a 1982 traffic accident, which put him in a deep emotional valley "The death of my grandson caused me to stop and think," said Byrd, adding he came to realize that African-Americans love their children as much as he does his During debate in 1983 over the passage of the law creating the Martin Luther King Jr Day holiday, which some conservatives opposed, Byrd grasped the symbolism of the day and its significance to his legacy, telling members of his staff "I'm the only one in the Senate who must vote for this bill"

Byrd was the only senator to vote against confirming both Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Court, the only two African-American nominees In Marshall's case, Byrd asked FBI Director J Edgar Hoover to look into the possibility that Marshall had either connections to communists or a communist past With respect to Thomas, Byrd stated that he was offended by Thomas' use of the phrase "high-tech lynching of uppity blacks" in his defense and that he was "offended by the injection of racism" into the hearing He called Thomas' comments a "diversionary tactic" and said "I thought we were past that stage" Regarding Anita Hill's sexual harassment charges against Thomas, Byrd supported Hill Byrd joined 45 other Democrats in voting against confirming Thomas to the Supreme Court

In a March 4, 2001 interview with Tony Snow, Byrd said of race relations:

They're much, much better than they've ever been in my life-time  I think we talk about race too much I think those problems are largely behind us  I just think we talk so much about it that we help to create somewhat of an illusion I think we try to have good will My old mom told me, 'Robert, you can't go to heaven if you hate anybody' We practice that There are white niggers I've seen a lot of white niggers in my time, if you want to use that word We just need to work together to make our country a better country, and I'd just as soon quit talking about it so much

Byrd's use of the term "white nigger" created immediate controversy When asked about it, Byrd responded,

I apologize for the characterization I used on this program  The phrase dates back to my boyhood and has no place in today's society  In my attempt to articulate strongly held feelings, I may have offended people

For the 2003–2004 session, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People NAACP rated Byrd's voting record as being 100% in line with the NAACP's position on the thirty-three Senate bills they evaluated Sixteen other senators received that rating In June 2005, Byrd proposed an additional $10,000,000 in federal funding for the Martin Luther King, Jr National Memorial in Washington, DC, remarking that, "With the passage of time, we have come to learn that his Dream was the American Dream, and few ever expressed it more eloquently" Upon news of his death, the NAACP released a statement praising Byrd, saying that he "became a champion for civil rights and liberties" and "came to consistently support the NAACP civil rights agenda"

Clinton impeachment

Byrd initially said that the impeachment proceedings against Clinton should be taken seriously Although he harshly criticized any attempt to make light of the allegations, he made the motion to dismiss the charges and effectively end the matter Even though he voted against both articles of impeachment, he was the sole Democrat to vote to censure Clinton

LGBT rights

Byrd strongly opposed Clinton's 1993 efforts to allow gays to serve in the military and supported efforts to limit gay marriage In 1996, before the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act, he said, "The drive for same-sex marriage is, in effect, an effort to make a sneak attack on society by encoding this aberrant behavior in legal form before society itself has decided it should be legal Let us defend the oldest institution, the institution of marriage between male and female as set forth in the Holy Bible"

Despite his previous position, he later stated his opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment and argued that it was unnecessary because the states already had the power to ban gay marriages However, when the amendment came to the Senate floor, he was one of the two Democratic senators who voted in favor of cloture


In 1995, Byrd voted against a ban on intact dilation and extraction, a late-term abortion procedure typically referred to by its opponents as "partial-birth abortion" In 2003, however, he voted for the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which prohibits intact dilation and extraction Byrd also voted against the 2004 Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which recognizes a "child in utero" as a legal victim if he or she is injured or killed during the commission of a crime of violence

George W Bush era

Byrd praised the nomination of John G Roberts to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court created by the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist Likewise, Byrd supported the confirmation of Samuel Alito to replace retiring Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

Like most Democrats, Byrd opposed Bush's tax cuts and his proposals to change the Social Security program

Byrd opposed the 2002 Homeland Security Act, which created the Department of Homeland Security, stating that the bill ceded too much authority to the executive branch

He also led the opposition to Bush's bid to win back the power to negotiate trade deals that Congress cannot amend, but lost overwhelmingly In the 108th Congress, however, Byrd won his party's top seat on the new Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee

In July 2004, Byrd released the New York Times best-selling book Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency, which criticized the Bush presidency and the war in Iraq

Iraq War

Byrd with Secretary of Defense-designate Robert Gates, November 30, 2006 Byrd with then-Lieutenant General David Petraeus, January 23, 2007

Byrd led a filibuster against the resolution granting President George W Bush broad power to wage a "preemptive" war against Iraq, but he could not get even a majority of his own party to vote against cloture

Byrd was one of the Senate's most outspoken critics of the 2003 invasion of Iraq

Byrd anticipated the difficulty of fighting an insurgency in Iraq, stating on March 13, 2003,

If the United States leads the charge to war in the Persian Gulf, we may get lucky and achieve a rapid victory But then we will face a second war: a war to win the peace in Iraq This war will last many years and will surely cost hundreds of billions of dollars In light of this enormous task, it would be a great mistake to expect that this will be a replay of the 1991 war The stakes are much higher in this conflict

On March 19, 2003, when Bush ordered the invasion after receiving congressional approval, Byrd said,

Today I weep for my country I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper The image of America has changed Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination

Byrd also criticized Bush for his speech declaring the "end of major combat operations" in Iraq, which Bush made on the USS Abraham Lincoln Byrd stated on the Senate floor,

I do not begrudge his salute to America's warriors aboard the carrier Lincoln, for they have performed bravely and skillfully, as have their countrymen still in Iraq But I do question the motives of a deskbound president who assumes the garb of a warrior for the purposes of a speech

On October 17, 2003, Byrd delivered a speech expressing his concerns about the future of the nation and his unequivocal antipathy to Bush's policies Referencing the Hans Christian Andersen children's tale The Emperor's New Clothes, Byrd said of the president: "the emperor has no clothes" Byrd further lamented the "sheep-like" behavior of the "cowed Members of this Senate" and called on them to oppose the continuation of a "war based on falsehoods"

Byrd accused the Bush administration of stifling dissent:

The right to ask questions, debate, and dissent is under attack The drums of war are beaten ever louder in an attempt to drown out those who speak of our predicament in stark terms Even in the Senate, our history and tradition of being the world's greatest deliberative body is being snubbed This huge spending bill—$87 billion—has been rushed through this chamber in just one month There were just three open hearings by the Senate Appropriations Committee on $87 billion—$87 for every minute since Jesus Christ was born—$87 billion without a single outside witness called to challenge the administration's line

Of the more than 18,000 votes he cast as a senator, Byrd said he was proudest of his vote against the Iraq war resolution Byrd also voted to tie a timetable for troop withdrawal to war funding

Gang of 14

On May 23, 2005, Byrd was one of 14 senators who became known as the "Gang of 14" to forge a compromise on the judicial filibuster, thus securing up and down votes for many judicial nominees and ending the threat of the so-called nuclear option that would have eliminated the filibuster entirely Under the agreement, the senators retained the power to filibuster a judicial nominee in only an "extraordinary circumstance" It ensured that the appellate court nominees Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen and William Pryor would receive votes by the full Senate

Other votes

Byrd opposed the Flag Desecration Amendment, saying that, while he wanted to protect the American flag, he believed that amending the Constitution "is not the most expeditious way to protect this revered symbol of our Republic" As an alternative, Byrd cosponsored the Flag Protection Act of 2005 S 1370, a bill to prohibit destruction or desecration of the flag by anyone trying to incite violence or causing a breach of the peace, or who steals, damages, or destroys a flag on federal property, whether owned by the federal government or a private group or individual—can be imprisoned, fined or both The bill did not pass

In 2009, Byrd was one of three Democrats to oppose the confirmation of Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner After missing nearly two months while in hospital, Byrd returned to the Senate floor on July 21 to vote against the elimination of funding for the F-22 fighter plane

Ratings groups

Byrd received a 65% vote rating from the League of Conservation Voters for his support of environmentally friendly legislation Additionally, he received a "liberal" rating of 655% by the National Journal—higher than six other Democratic senators

In 2006, Byrd received a 67% rating from the American Civil Liberties Union for supporting rights-related legislation

Health issues and death

Byrd had an essential tremor; he was eventually confined to a wheelchair His health declined through 2008, including several hospital admissions

On January 20, 2009, Senator Ted Kennedy suffered a seizure during Barack Obama's inaugural luncheon and was taken away in an ambulance Byrd, seated at the same table, became distraught and was himself removed to his office Byrd's office reported that he was fine On May 18, Byrd was admitted to the hospital after experiencing a fever due to a "minor infection", prolonged by a staphylococcus aureus infection Byrd was released on June 30, 2009

Byrd's final hospital stay began on June 27, 2010, at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax County, Virginia He died at approximately 3 am EDT the next day at age 92 from natural causes

United States President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin and members of Congress attended the memorial service for Byrd at the State Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, on July 2, 2010

Vice President Joe Biden recalled Byrd's standing in the rain with him as Biden buried his daughter when Biden had just been elected to the Senate He called Byrd "a tough, compassionate, and outspoken leader and dedicated above all else to making life better for the people of the Mountain State" President Barack Obama said, "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" Senator Jay Rockefeller, who had served with Byrd since 1985, said, "I looked up to him, I fought next to him, and I am deeply saddened that he is gone" Former President Jimmy Carter noted, "He was my closest and most valuable adviser while I served as president I respected him and attempted in every way to remain in his good graces He was a giant among legislators, and was courageous in espousing controversial issues"

On July 1, 2010, Byrd lay in repose on the Lincoln Catafalque in the Senate chamber of the United States Capitol, becoming the first Senator to do so since his first year in the Senate, 1959 Byrd was then flown to Charleston, West Virginia, where he lay in repose in the Lower Rotunda of the West Virginia State Capitol

A funeral was held on July 2, 2010, on the grounds of the State Capitol where Byrd was eulogized by President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Governor Joe Manchin, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Senator Jay Rockefeller, Congressman Nick Rahall, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, and former President Bill Clinton After the funeral services in Charleston, his body was returned to Arlington, Virginia, for funeral services on July 6, 2010, at Memorial Baptist Church After the funeral in Arlington, Byrd was buried next to his wife Erma at Columbia Gardens Cemetery in Arlington, although family members have stated that both the senator and Mrs Byrd will be reinterred somewhere in West Virginia once a site is determined

The song "Take Me Home, Country Roads" was played at the end of the funeral in a bluegrass fashion as his casket was being carried back up the stairs and into the West Virginia State Capitol Building

On September 30, 2010, Congress appropriated $193,400 to be paid equally among Byrd's children and grandchildren, representing the salary he would have earned in the next fiscal year, a common practice when members of Congress die in office

Grave of Byrd and his wife, Erma

Reaction to death

Multiple political figures issued statements following Byrd's death:

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “It is almost impossible to imagine the United States Senate without Robert Byrd He was not just its longest serving member, he was its heart and soul From my first day in the Senate, I sought out his guidance, and he was always generous with his time and his wisdom,”
  • Vice President of the United States and therefore President of the Senate Joe Biden: "A very close friend of mine, one of my mentors, a guy who was there when I was a 29-year-old kid being sworn into the United States Senate Shortly thereafter, a guy who stood in the rain, in the pouring rain, freezing rain outside a church as I buried my daughter and my wife before I got sworn in We lost the dean of the United States Senate, but also the state of West Virginia lost its most fierce advocate and, as I said, I lost a dear friend
  • Democratic Senator Chris Dodd: He never stopped growing as a public official, and was a man who learned from his mistakes He was more than a friend and colleague He was a mentor to me and literally hundreds of legislators with whom he served over the past five decades
  • Republican Senator Lindsey Graham: Senator Byrd was a valuable ally and worthy opponent He will be viewed by history as one of the giants of the Senate
  • Republican Senator Orrin Hatch: On the issues, we were frequent opponents, but he was always gracious both in victory and defeat This is a man who earned his law degree while serving in the Senate, and who had a prodigious knowledge of ancient and modern history
  • President Barack Obama: 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
  • Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell: Senator Byrd combined a devotion to the US Constitution with a deep learning of history to defend the interests of his state and the traditions of the Senate We will remember him for his fighter's spirit, his abiding faith, and for the many times he recalled the Senate to its purposes
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Throughout his historic career in the House and Senate, he never stopped working to improve the lives of the people of West Virginia While some simply bore witness to history, Senator Byrd shaped it and strove to build a brighter future for us all
  • Fellow Democratic Senator from West Virginia Jay Rockefeller: Senator Byrd came from humble beginnings in the southern coalfields, was raised by hard-working West Virginians, and triumphantly rose to the heights of power in America But he never forgot where he came from nor who he represented, and he never abused that power for his own gain

In popular culture

Byrd had a prominent role in the 2008 Warner Bros documentary Body of War directed by Phil Donahue The film chronicles the life of Tomas Young, paralyzed from the chest down after a sniper shot him as he was riding in a vehicle in Iraq Several long clips of Byrd show him passionately arguing against authorizing the use of force in Iraq Later in the movie, Byrd has a one-on-one interview with Tomas Young in Byrd's Senate office, followed by a shot of Byrd walking beside the wheelchair-bound Young as they leave the Capitol

A fictionalized version of Byrd, then the Senate Majority Leader, was a character in the Jeffrey Archer novel Shall We Tell the President

Byrd was an avid fiddle player for most of his life, starting in his teens when he played in various square dance bands Once he entered politics, his fiddling skills attracted attention and won votes In 1978 when Byrd was Majority Leader, he recorded an album called US Senator Robert Byrd: Mountain Fiddler County, 1978 Byrd was accompanied by Country Gentlemen Doyle Lawson, James Bailey, and Spider Gilliam Most of the LP consists of bluegrass music Byrd covers "Don't Let Your Sweet Love Die," a Zeke Manners song, and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" He had performed at the Kennedy Center, on the Grand Ole Opry and on Hee Haw He occasionally took a break from Senate business to entertain audiences with his fiddle He stopped playing in 1982 when the symptoms of a benign essential tremor had begun to affect the use of his hands

Byrd appeared in the Civil War movie Gods and Generals in 2003 along with former Virginia senator George Allen Both played Confederate States officers

The Creekdippers album Political Manifest features a song entitled 'Senator Byrd Speech' in honor of Senator Robert C Byrd

Published writing

  • 1989 The Senate, 1789–1989, Vol 1: Addresses on the History of the United States Senate ISBN 0-16-006391-4
  • 1991 The Senate, 1789–1989, Vol 2: Addresses on the History of the United States Senate ISBN 0-16-006405-8
  • 1993 The Senate, 1789–1989: Historical Statistics, 1789–1992, Vol 4 ISBN 0-16-063256-0
  • 1995 The Senate, 1789–1989: Classic Speeches, 1830–1993, Vol 3 ISBN 0-16-063257-9
  • 1995 Senate of the Roman Republic: Addresses on the History of Roman Constitutionalism ISBN 0-16-058996-7
  • 2004 Losing America: Confronting A Reckless and Arrogant Presidency ISBN 0-393-05942-1
  • 2004 We Stand Passively Mute: Senator Robert C Byrd's Iraq Speeches ISBN 0-9755749-0-6
  • 2005 Robert C Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields ISBN 1-933202-00-9
  • 2008 Letter to a New President: Commonsense Lessons for our Next Leader ISBN 0-312-38302-9

Robert C Byrd Center for Legislative Studies

In 2002, the Robert C Byrd Center for Legislative Studies CLS was opened on the campus of Shepherd University Adjoining the University's Ruth Scarborough Library, the CLS "advances representative democracy by promoting a better understanding of the United States Congress and the Constitution through programs and research that engage citizens" The CLS is an archival research facility, housing the papers of Senator Robert C Byrd in addition to the papers of Congressmen Harley O Staggers, Sr and Harley O Staggers, Jr, and Scot Faulkner, the first Chief Administrative Officer of the United States House of Representatives The CLS is a founding institution of the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress, "an independent alliance of organizations and institutions which promote the study of the US Congress"

See also

  • Government of the United States portal
  • Biography portal
  • Byrd Rule
  • List of places named after Robert Byrd
  • List of members of the United States Congress by longevity of service


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Further reading

  • Corbin, David A The Last Great Senator: Robert C Byrd’s Encounters with Eleven US Presidents Dulles: Potomac, 2012 365 pp
  • Carlson, Peter "Robert Byrd Consorts With a KKK Grand Dragon," American History 2011 46#3 pp 18–19

External links

Find more aboutRobert Byrdat Wikipedia's sister projects
  • Media from Commons
  • Texts from Wikisource
  • Biography at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • Financial information federal office at the Federal Election Commission
  • Robert C Byrd Congressional Papers Collection
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
  • Collected news and commentary at The New York Times
  • Profile at SourceWatch
  • Robert C Byrd Honors Scholarship Program
  • Booknotes interview with Byrd on The Senate: 1789–1989, June 18, 1989
  • Byrd gives a speech at Marshall University on YouTube
  • Sen Byrd Remembered for "Principle and Honor" – video by Democracy Now!
  • Robert Byrd at Findagrave
  • "Senate web site" Archived from the original on August 22, 2008 
  • Memorial Addresses and Other Tributes, Held in the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States Together With Memorial Services in Honor of Robert C Byrd, Late a Senator from West Virginia, One Hundred Eleventh Congress, Second Session
  • If This Is the Senate's Soul  Michael Grunwald, The Washington Post, June 18, 2006
  • A Senator's Shame Eric Pianin, The Washington Post, June 19, 2005
  • The United States Senate designates Robert Byrd as President Pro Tempore Emeritus of the United States Senate The Library of Congress THOMAS, January 15, 2003

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