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UPDATED: Sen. Robert Byrd, 90, hospitalized again

June 3, 2008 | 12:23 am

The longest-serving senator in U.S. history was hospitalized again Monday night. (UPDATE: Aides now say the senator will remain in the hospital in Fairfax, Va., for several days.)

It's the third time in the last five months that the 90-year-old Democrat, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, has been hospitalized. This time the reason given to the Associated Press was lethargy and sluggishness.

West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd is the longest serving senator in U.S. history and was hospitalized tonight for the third time in recent weeks

The senator began feeling ill after a 5:30 p.m. Senate vote, went home and then to the hospital, where he had a fever. In March, he was admitted for a reaction to an antibiotic and a week before that for a fall at his home.

Colleagues have noticed that Byrd, who entered the Senate in 1958, has become increasingly frail and emotional since the death two years ago of his wife of 69 years, Erma. There have been whispers, well out of his earshot, that he might not be strong enough to remain chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee.

In an oddly-timed endorsement last month, Byrd signed on with the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama six days after his state's primary voters overwhelmingly rejected the Illinois senator in favor of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

The current party balance of power in the Senate is 49 Democrats and 49 Republicans with two independents who usually vote Democratic. Although a departure by Byrd would reduce Democrat control to 50-49, the governor of West Virginia, Joe Manchin III, would be expected to name a fellow Democrat to fill a vacancy.

Although George W. Bush won West Virginia twice, Republicans have not controlled the state's governorship since Cecil Underwood's term ended in 2001.

-- Andrew Malcolm

Photo: Associated Press / Lauren Victoria Burke