Robert Byrd dies: Reaction in Washington
By Matt DeLong
With news of the death of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) early Monday, Byrd's friends and colleagues in Washington are paying their respects to the longest-serving member in the history of the Senate. Here is a sampling.
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.
Byrd's fellow West Virginia Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller:
It has been my greatest privilege to serve with Robert C. Byrd in the United States Senate. I looked up to him, I fought next to him, and I am deeply saddened that he is gone. He leaves a void that simply can never be filled. But I am lifted by the knowledge of his deep and abiding faith in God, I have joy in the thought of him reunited with his dear Erma, and I am proud knowing that his moving life story and legacy of service and love for West Virginia will live on.
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.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.):
Robert Byrd's was one of the greatest minds the world has ever seen. From his graduation as valedictorian of his high school class at the age of 16 to his chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee until the age of 91, he mastered everything he touched with great thoughtfulness and skill. Throughout more than half a century of service in this body, and six more in the House, Senator Byrd never stopped fighting for the people of West Virginia and for Democratic principles. My thoughts, and those of the entire United States Senate, are with the Byrd family.
Robert Byrd was a Member of this nation's Congress for more than a quarter of the time it has existed, and longer than a quarter of today's sitting Senators and the President of the United States have been alive. The nine times the people of his state sent him to the Senate and the more than 18,500 votes he cast in its chamber will never be matched. His political career spanned a dozen presidencies and countless American advances and achievements. And throughout one of the longest political careers in history, no one ever defeated Robert Byrd in a single election.
The people of West Virginia have lost a dedicated public servant, and America has lost a great defender of its most precious traditions. He was the foremost guardian of the Senate's complex rules, procedures and customs, and as leader of both the majority and the minority caucuses in the Senate he knew better than most that legislation is the art of compromise.
By virtue of his endurance, Robert Byrd knew and worked with many of the greats of the United States Senate. Because of his enduring virtue, he will be remembered as one of them. Senator Byrd dedicated every single day of his Senate service to strengthening the institution, state and republic that he loved so dearly. There will never be another like him.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.):
Sen. Byrd combined a devotion to the U.S. 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. Generations of Americans will read the masterful history of the Senate he leaves behind, and they will also read about the remarkable life of Robert Carlyle Byrd.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.):
No Senator came to care more about the Constitution or to be a more effective defender of our constitutional government than the senior Senator from West Virginia. He was a senator's senator.
Others will speak of his records for time served in the Senate and in Congress and for the number of votes he cast. I know him as a mentor and a friend. I was honored to stand with him and fight against assaults on the Constitution and against an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq.
He was a self-educated man who learned much throughout his life and had much to teach us all. He was a symbol of West Virginia, he was an outstanding senator, and he was an extraordinary American.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.):
Day after day, Senator Byrd held forth on the floor of the Senate not just on the issues of the moment, but by providing an institutional and historical context for our deliberations. He was not just the President pro tempore of the Senate, he was also the Guardian of the Senate and our connection with the 'mystic cords of memory.' His distinctive voice elevated our contemporary debates and tied our work to the history of humankind. His knowledge of the Bible and of the classics was extraordinary and moving.
Former President Jimmy Carter:
Sen. Robert Byrd and his wife Erma were our personal friends, and 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.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
Senator Byrd took pride in his status as Congress' foremost scholar on the Constitution, on the Senate, and on the institutions of our democracy. He never hesitated to speak truth to power. He was a voice of reason during times of war and economic hardship. He was always a gentleman, capable of charming any friend or foe. And he always stood on principle, even when others did not.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.):
He was a great patriot. He loved the Senate, no doubt about it. I remembered how he railed against textbooks one time. He said they contained 'touch, feely twallow.'
Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.):
I had the good fortune of having the seat next to his in the Senate chamber, where I would sit for the last 25 years, receiving his wisdom and hearing the fascinating tales that Senator Byrd shared with all of us.
Senator Byrd was an iconic figure, who will be missed by the people of West Virginia, the Senate, and America. 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. A copy of the Constitution he gave me many years ago still sits in my pocket every day.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska):
A giant of the Senate, he was a staunch protector of its constitutional role and prerogatives and always kept a copy of the United States Constitution in his breast pocket, closest to his heart. A son of the depression, growing up in impoverished Appalachia, he understood and empathized with the isolation and third world conditions that plagued our Alaska Native people of rural Alaska. Because of his long standing relationship with Ted Stevens on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Byrd came to know and understand the needs of our state. Our Denali Commission is closely modeled on the Appalachian Regional Commission, which Senator Byrd championed during his decades of service to our Nation.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton:
Robert Byrd led by the power of his example, and he made all of us who had the honor of serving as his colleagues better public servants and better citizens.
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.):
He was a defender of the Constitution, a champion of the Senate. He was West Virginia'a greatest ally, her faithful son, a source of tremendous pride, and our Big Daddy. He was a mentor, a teacher, a leader, a constant source of inspiration.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.)
The United States Senate has lost an icon, and the people of West Virginia a beloved son who was woven into the very fabric of our state. Senator Byrds mastery of the Senate will be remembered for the ages, but those who knew him best realize his legacy will be one of love for the West Virginians he served for nearly 57 years.
Gov. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.):
Sen. Byrd was a fearless fighter for the Constitution, his beloved state and its great people. He made a significant mark as a member of Congress in both our state's and the nation's history. His accomplishments and contributions will define history for eternity.
Rick Thompson, West Virginia speaker of the House (D):
Senator Byrds passing is an unspeakable loss, first and foremost to West Virginia, but also to Congress and the country as a whole. He is a giant in the United States Senate, for his unmatched dedication to public service, incredible Constitutional scholarship and above all, his reverence and respect for the democratic process. He is the most important public servant in West Virginias history our states biggest advocate and protector.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.):
Senator Byrd was the keeper of the flame here in the Senate. He believed in the Senate as an institution. He believed in the constitutional role of the Senate not to be a rubber stamp for the president and he believed fiercely in his state and his constituents there.
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.):
Senator Byrd carried a copy of our Constitution close to his heart every day. It was a constant reminder of his life's mission to honor the values which gave us this great nation.
No one in the history of the Senate could match Byrd's thunderous oratory; his sense of history; his determination to teach every President the limits of his power and his lifelong passion to fight for West Virginia.
Daniel Webster, set another chair at Heaven's table, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia has arrived.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.):
In the annals of Senate history, Robert C. Byrd was one of the last and one of the best of the old school. I had the privilege to hear him at one of his last appearances when he came before the Senate Rules Committee to discourse on the filibuster just one month ago. As always, his statement was passionate, erudite, balanced and electrified the room. It's a moment no one who was there will forget. No member knew the Senate rules better or loved the body more than Robert C. Byrd. We miss him already.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.):
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.
Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.):
They really don't make them like him anymore.
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.):
The laws of the United States and the rules of the Senate would not be what they are without Robert Byrd's skill and his strong desire to do what was right for his nation. His working knowledge of the Senate and its procedures will be missed. Senator Byrd leaves with us a legacy of service that bore witness to some of the great changes which have come to redefine our nation. He was a tenacious defender and advocate for the working class, as well as an astute and thoughtful voice.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), via Twitter:
Bob byrd's passing is the end of an era in the senateHe and ted kennedy were the two lions of the senate and now both are gone
Byrd's four volume history of the senate will remain a monumental achievementHis toughness and determination were the stuff of legends
Colleen Kelly, president of the National Treasury Employees Union:
Over the course of his long and extraordinary career he was a steadfast supporter of our nation's federal employees. Sen. Byrd respected and championed all those throughout the government who carried out its essential missions. He had a great regard for public service and the federal employees who dedicate their careers to serving our country. He understood that all Americans depended on their daily efforts and he worked hard to ensure that federal workers had the tools and resources they needed to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.
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