Federal Relations

June 28, 2010

Senator Robert Byrd, 1917-2010

Early this morning, US Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) passed away at a hospital in Virginia.  Byrd was 92.  

Byrd, who was first elected to the Senate in 1958, was President Pro Tem, a largely ceremonial post but one that put him third in succession to the presidency.  On November 18th of this year, his 20,774th day of service in Congress, Byrd reached a milestone as the longest-serving lawmaker in Congressional history.  He had previously held the title of the longest-serving US Senator.

With the Senator’s death, West Virginia GovernorJoe Manchin (D) must select an interim replacement.  A West Virginia law appears to state that the replacement will likely hold the seat for the remainder of the late senator’s record ninth term, through 2012.  For that reason, Byrd’s death would not impact the partisan makeup of the Senate, nor would it directly impact the pending 2010 elections.  However, there is some ambiguity in the law that has left some election experts questioning the what should happen with the seat.

The Senator’s passing may cause a slight shake-up with Senate Appropriations Committee members.  Byrd has been the second senior member of that committee, behind Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), and the Chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee.  Depending on who replaces Byrd as chair of that subcommittee, it could cause a small round of musical chairs with other subcommittee chair positions.  I don’t expect any shocking changes, and the Democrats may not make any permanent changes until after the mid-term elections in November. 

As an observer of Congress, I will miss Senator Byrd’s eloquent floor speeches and the way he was able to make his political points using both West Virginia and US historical references.  I didn’t always agree with him, but I certainly respected his point of view — and I almost always learned something new from him.  Thank you Senator Byrd and may you rest in peace.