WASHINGTON – On his 20,774th day on the job, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., on Wednesday became the U.S. Capitol’s longest-serving lawmaker. And the 91-year-old, who was honored with a standing ovation, told his colleagues that “I’ve loved every precious minute.”
Slowed by age and health problems, Byrd isn’t as strong a presence in the Senate as he once was. But he remains a political institution. Some fellow congressional members were not even born when Byrd entered the House on Jan. 3, 1953. He joined the Senate six years later.
Byrd’s home state held a celebration Wednesday in front of his statue in the state Capitol. And Gov. Joe Manchin designated Nov. 18 Robert C. Byrd Day.
Byrd belonged to the Ku Klux Klan during the 1940s, a membership he later said he regretted, and joined other Southerners in filibustering against major civil rights legislation during the 1960s. But he noted Wednesday that he has worked to secure funds for building the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington. Last year, he endorsed Barack Obama for president.
A fierce guardian of congressional prerogatives, Byrd is a former Senate majority leader legendary for his oratory, his mastery of the chamber’s arcane traditions and rules, and for pushing through projects for his home state.
The previous record for service in the House and Senate combined was held by Carl Hayden, D-Ariz., who served from 1912 until 1969.