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West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd makes history, serving in Congress longer than anyone, ever

November 18, 2009 |  9:28 am

Senator Robert Byrd on the Senate floor on his record breaking day of congressional longevity 11-18-09 C-SPAN

(UPDATE: 2:02 p. Pacific. A photo of a celebratory Sen. Byrd on the Senate floor minutes ago this afternoon has been added to this item above, courtesy of C-SPAN.)

Ever since Jan. 3, 1953, Robert Carlyle Byrd has represented West Virginia in Congress, first in the House, then in the Senate. If you're counting, that's 56 years, 10 months and 16 days.

Today he became the longest-serving member of Congress, eclipsing Carl Hayden, who represented Arizona from 1912, when the state joined the Union, until he retired in 1968. Hayden was known as the silent senator, so reluctant to speak that The Times once said of him, "No man in Senate history has wielded more influence with less oratory."

No one would make that claim about Byrd, known for his speeches on the history of the Senate, often delivered to an empty chamber, a 2-million-word extravaganza that is now available in printed form.

A lifelong Democrat who filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights bill, Byrd has since recanted his stance against equal rights for African Americans and called his membership as a young man in the Ku Klux Klan "the greatest mistake I ever made."

Known as "the champion of earmarks," Byrd has been in the Senate so long that many of the buildings and institutions in West Virginia are named for him. And because of his seniority, Byrd is now third in line in presidential succession -- behind Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The ailing Byrd, who turned 92 on Friday, spends much of his time these days at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. But on the Senate floor today, colleagues saluted him for his longevity.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid likened him to New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig, who played in 2,130 consecutive baseball games, a record later topped by the Baltimore Orioles' Cal Ripken Jr..

"Throughout history, forecasters have sentenced themselves to ridicule for prematurely assuming a skyscraper's height would never be topped, for promising an invention’s ingenuity would never be outdone," Reid said."Even so, I am willing to risk predicting that many of the records set by Sen. Robert Byrd will never be matched."

-- Johanna Neuman

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Related:

Sen. Robert Byrd becomes longest-serving lawmaker in congressional history

Photo: C-SPAN
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