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Byrd Watching

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) chaired an important Appropriations Committee hearing yesterday on the Iraq supplemental bill, with onlookers paying as much or more attention to the ailing 90-year-old's performance in the chair as to the underlying issue of war funding.

Byrd's failing health and ability to continue to hold the reins of one of the most important committees on Capitol Hill have been the subject of intense scrutiny, including last Friday's Player of the Week item (and a story in Wednesday's Post).

The reviews are in, and they are decidedly mixed. The Politico, in a story by longtime appropriations maven David Rogers, described Byrd as "weak but defiant," in delivering "a carefully scripted but brave, even boffo, performance." Rogers suggests "this window could also serve as an opportunity for Byrd to seize the initiative and even cede the gavel, perhaps, to Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who has been loyal to him for years in the Democratic leadership and on the committee. It would be a historic, Byrd-like step to take."

Roll Call (subscription required) said Byrd's performance "appeared to be good enough to meet his colleagues' expectations, ensuring his survival as chairman, at least for the near term." The Hill -- under the banner headline "Byrd tells critics: 'Shut up'" -- reported that Byrd "took control of his own narrative" and "for the time being silenced critics who say he's no longer fit to serve as chairman." (As for the "shut up" quote, that was Byrd's response after the hearing when a reporter asked him what message he had for said critics.)

Wednesday's hearing may well have bought Byrd some time. His colleagues have been extraordinarily leery of calling for his ouster, and he appears to have done well enough not to make his continued chairmanship a glaring problem for the party leadership. At the same time, as Rogers suggests in his Politico story, Byrd's performance could also provide him with the perfect opportunity to go out on his own terms, with his dignity and pride intact.

By Ben Pershing  |  April 17, 2008; 11:37 AM ET
Categories:  Hearing Watch , Purse Strings , Senate  
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