Monday, June 28, 2010

REMEMBERING SEN. BYRD, who passed around 3 a.m., at age 92 -- Wall Street reform could be delayed -- Kagan: public servant v. politician

“Robert Byrd dies at 92,” by Martin Kady II: “The Senate has lost one of its legends with the death of Robert C. Byrd, an orphan child who married a coal miner’s daughter and rose from the hollows of West Virginia coal country to become the longest serving senator in U.S. history. He died around 3 a.m. Monday after being admitted to the hospital last week for dehydration, yet his condition worsened over the weekend and he became critically ill. Byrd was 92. ‘I am saddened that the family of U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., tearfully announces the passing of the longest serving member of Congress in U.S. history,’ Byrd’s office said in a statement sent to the media around 5:15 a.m. Monday. Byrd was a living representation of the U.S. Senate and all of its traditions, quirks and rules, a guardian of a realm that so few understood. Byrd spent 50 years in the Senate, outlasting nine U.S. presidents as his Democratic Party slipped in and out of the majority over the past five decades.

“It’s not a stretch to say Byrd wrote the book on the U.S. Senate — he authored a four-volume history of the upper chamber — which is why so many of his younger, more energetic colleagues continued to defer to him when it came to Senate rules and procedures. Byrd had been hospitalized on and off over the past two years, including an extended hospitalization back in March. He was rarely seen in the Senate in recent months, yet he made it to several key floor votes over the past year. Byrd’s death, nearly a year after the passing of Sen. Ted Kennedy, represents the end of an era for the Senate. If Kennedy was the lion of the Senate and an icon in American politics, Byrd was more of the ultimate Senate insider, leveraging his knowledge of the chamber and his seniority to push legislation that benefited his home state.

“Byrd held virtually every major leadership post in the Senate, but he is perhaps best known for running the Appropriations Committee, which helped him build a reputation for funneling federal money to projects in his economically depressed home state of West Virginia. Anyone who has driven the scenic byways of West Virginia, visited the state’s national parks or stopped by the federal courthouse in Charleston, W.Va., has borne witness to his power — Byrd’s name is everywhere. Last January, Senate Democratic leaders gently nudged Byrd out of the Appropriations chairmanship, realizing he did not have the stamina to run the high energy, powerful committee. Byrd’s 50 years in the Senate broke the record previously held by another legend, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.

“Byrd had grown frail in recent years, but when he was able to muster the energy and keep his shaking hand at bay, he could still deliver the type of stemwinder speech that made him a hero of the impoverished coal country folk who first delivered him to office in 1952 as a House member from Southern West Virginia. While younger senators — meaning those in their 60s — relied on staff-written speeches and colorful pie charts on the Senate floor, Byrd could quote Thoreau, Madison and Corinthians virtually by memory. … Byrd always carried a pocket version of the U.S. Constitution in his suit pocket and liberally quoted the Bible — a trait that seemed downright quaint in the cynical political culture that drives modern Washington.”