Sen. Byrd breaks congressional longevity record

By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 19, 2009; A03

In his almost six decades on Capitol Hill, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) has broken nearly every legislative record that anyone bothers to count. On Wednesday, two days shy of his 92nd birthday, Byrd reached yet another milestone: He became the longest-serving member of Congress.

Byrd already had the title of longest-serving senator, achieving that distinction in 2006, but now he also holds the record for combined service in the House and Senate, surpassing Carl Hayden (D), a former senator and House member from Arizona. Wednesday marked Byrd's 20,774th day -- just under 57 years -- since he was sworn into the House in January 1953. Byrd spent six years in that chamber and the last 50 in the Senate.

Byrd's colleagues set aside time Wednesday morning to pay tribute to him on the Senate floor.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) predicted that many of Byrd's numerous records "will never be matched," including that he has cast more than 18,500 votes, that he is "the only senator who has ever been elected to nine full terms in the body" and that he has "held the most leadership positions in Senate history."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) used Byrd's own words to praise his work ethic.

"Robert Byrd once said that what is sometimes considered to be the result of genius is more the result of persistence, perseverance and hard work," McConnell said. "To be a good senator, he said, one has to work at it. And now, longer than anyone else in our history, he's lived by those words."

Coping with myriad health problems, Byrd has rarely appeared on the Senate floor this year. But he did make it to the chamber Wednesday to see his colleagues pass a resolution honoring his career.

"Today is much more than a commemoration of the length of service of one U.S. senator," Byrd said. "Today also celebrates the great people of the great state of West Virginia, who have honored me by repeatedly placing their faith in me.

"Because of those wonderful people," he added, "this foster son of an impoverished coal miner from the hills of southern West Virginia has had the opportunity to walk with kings, meet with prime ministers and debate with presidents. I have had the privilege not only to witness but also to participate in the panorama of history."

Byrd added later, "I am grateful, simply grateful, for having had an opportunity to serve my state and our great nation."

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