Robert Byrd

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Robert Byrd
Byrd formal smile highres.jpg
U.S. Senator from West Virginia
From: January 3, 1959 - June 28, 2010
PredecessorW. Chapman Revercomb
SuccessorCarte Goodwin
U.S. Representative from West Virginia's 6th District
From: January 3, 1953 – January 3, 1959
PredecessorE.H. Hedrick
SuccessorJohn M. Slack, Jr.
Information
Party Democrat
Spouse(s) Erma Ora Byrd (deceased)
Religion Baptist

Robert Carlyle Byrd, 20 November, 1917 - 28 June, 2010, was a Democratic Senator from West Virginia. He was the oldest member of Congress at his death at age 92, President pro tempore of the US Senate, and was the longest-serving Senator in history, having been first elected in 1958.

Byrd twice held the position of Senate Democratic Leader, was a crucial 60th vote in holding a filibuster-proof Senate in 2009, and remained a Democratic Party legend and icon until the end. He was third in line to the Presidency behind Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

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Klan Membership

Byrd first joined the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s and attained the rank of Exalted Cyclops, the leader of the local chapter of the organization.[1] He repeatedly expressed his desire for the Klan to expand to its previous size and power, once remarking in a letter that "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." [2]

Byrd commented on the 1945 controversy raging over the idea of racially integrating the military. In his book When Jim Crow Met John Bull, Graham Smith referred to a letter written that year by Byrd, when he was 28 years old, to segregationist Senator Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi, in which Byrd vowed never to fight:

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.

He had earlier written Bilbo:

I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side

By the 1950s, he was no longer publicly involved with the Ku Klux Klan. In recent years Byrd has made public statements about poor choices he made, and like Strom Thurmond, (who at one time ran on a segregationist platform) says he regrets being involved with the group. However, he was involved in a controversy in 2001 over his use of a racial epithet as part of a metaphor during an interview on race relations by Tony Snow. [3]

Congressional Service

Byrd was elected as a member of the United States House of Representatives in 1952 for the 6th district of West Virginia, succeeding E.H. Hedrick, who had decided to step down to run for Governor of West Virginia. Byrd was reelected to the House twice. In 1958, he was elected to the United States Senate, defeating the Republican incumbent W. Chapman Revercomb. He has been reelected eight times. For his first four terms, Byrd was West Virginia's junior senator. This was because his colleague from 1959 to 1985, Jennings Randolph, had been elected on the same day in a special election to fill the seat of the late Senator Matthew Neely.

While Byrd faced vigorous Republican opposition in the past, he has not faced truly serious opposition since freshman congressman Cleve Benedict ran against him in 1982. He has since won by comfortable margins. Despite his tremendous popularity in the state, he has only run unopposed once, in 1976. On two other occasions — in 1994 and 2000 — he carried all 55 of West Virginia's counties. In his reelection bid in 2000, he won all but seven of West Virginia's precincts. Shelley Moore Capito, a Congresswoman and the daughter of one of Byrd's longtime foes—former Governor Arch Moore, Jr.—briefly weighed a challenge to Byrd in 2006, but decided against it.

In the 1960 Presidential election primaries, Byrd, a close Senate ally of Lyndon B. Johnson, tried and failed to derail the Democratic front-runner and ultimately successful candidate John F. Kennedy in the crucial West Virginia primary.

On November 7, 2006, Byrd was elected to an unprecedented ninth consecutive term in the Senate. 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.[4] Previously, he already held the record for the longest unbroken tenure in the Senate (Thurmond served 48 years in total, but vacated the office between April and November of 1956). Counting his tenure as a West Virginia state legislator from 1947 to 1953, Byrd has served as an elected official for almost 60 years and never lost an election. Byrd has cast a total of 17,745 votes as of September 13, 2006 — the most of any senator in history. Upon the death of Senator George Smathers of Florida on January 20, 2007 — Byrd became the last living United States Senator from the 1950s.[5] This means that not only has Byrd outlived every other Senator who had seniority over him, but he is the only person to ever have remained in the Senate the entire time while doing it. He is on pace to pass Carl Hayden of Arizona as the longest-serving member of Congress (House and Senate tenure combined) in American history sometime in early 2010. Byrd is the last remaining Senator to have voted on a statehood bill and has served longer in the Senate than eight of his colleagues have been alive (those being Bob Casey, Jr., Amy Klobuchar, Blanche Lincoln, John Thune, David Vitter, Barack Obama, Mark Pryor, and John E. Sununu).

Byrd was, at his death, the chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations. Byrd was first appointed to the committee by then-Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson when he first entered the Senate in 1959. Since 1989, he has been the committee's top Democrat and has chaired the committee when the Democrats have control of the Senate. Byrd is also a member of the Committee on Armed Services, the Committee on Rules and Administration and the Committee on the Budget.

In 2007, after serving in the Senate for nearly 50 years, and holding several prominent Committee chairmanships and Leadership posts, as Appropriations Chairman in the 110th Congress, Byrd finally required Democratic staff on his committee to provide him with a detailed disclosure of any direct or indirect conflicts of interest they may have as a result of actions taken by the panel. [6]

Filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Byrd joined with other Southern and border state Democrats to filibuster the Civil Rights Act of 1964, personally filibustering the bill for 14 hours — a move he now says he regrets.[7] 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.[8] He 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, along with 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.

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