President Pro Tempore Byrd Dies At 92

By now you likely know that Senator Robert Byrd passed away this morning. Other than pointing you to this article on West Virginia’s strange succession laws, I don’t have much to add to the news, but it would feel wrong not to mark it in some way. The natural death of a 92 year old man is never a tragedy, but our thoughts and condolences are with his family, friends, and colleagues today.

Byrd, who was raised in coal country and lost his mother when he was just one, was the longest serving Member in Congressional history and perhaps the greatest master of Parliamentarian rules in the country. The man served in the Senate for so long that when I gave tours of the Capitol Building as a Senate intern in 2008, I mentioned him by name at three points along the way: at an exhibit of an old-school subway car, the amendment room, and the Appropriations suite. No other Senator mattered along the tour that way – when you serve for that long, you become a part of the building itself.

I always admire a man who can admit his mistakes, and his was a doozy: he joined the Ku Klux Klan in 1942. But to his credit, he was renouncing it as early as 1952, well before membership in the Klan was a liability in a place like West Virginia and well before national civil rights laws were passed. Of course, a renouncement isn’t a denouncement – that would come much later, but come it did. “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.” And, "My only explanation for the entire episode is that I 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.” Those were Byrd’s words in 2005. He didn’t need to say them; he did not face a serious re-election challenge in 2006. They were heart felt.

Here is part two of his floor speech regarding the Iraq War, from 2003.

Tags: Robert Byrd, West Virginia, Senate, Iraq, KKK (all tags)

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