Sen. Robert Byrd Becomes Longest-Serving Member of Congress Today

Nov 18, 2009 6:29pm

ABC News’ Kristina Wong reports: Today Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia became the longest-serving member of Congress, at over 56 years and 320 days.

The record was previously held by Sen. Carl Hayden, who served 56 years and 319 days in both the House and Senate.

This afternoon, the Senate passed a special resolution to commemorate Byrd’s service. Byrd, who is in fragile health, received a standing ovation by his mostly Democratic colleagues in attendance.

Watch video of Sen. Byrd speaking on the Senate floor HERE.

“Today also celebrates the great people of the great and mighty state of West Virginia who have honored me by repeatedly placing their faith in me," Byrd said. "Because of those wonderful people in West Virginia, this foster son of an impoverished coal miner from the great hills of southern west Virginia has had the opportunity to walk with kings, to meet with prime ministers and to debate the president."

"I have had the privilege not only to witness but also to participate in the great panorama of history, from the apex of the cold war to the collapse the collapse of the Soviet Union, from my opposition to the 1964 civil rights act to my part in securing the funds for the building of the memorial to Martin Luther King," Byrd said, referencing his one-time opposition to civil rights laws and brief KKK membership in the 1940s.

"From my support for the war in Vietnam to my opposition to President George W. Bush’s war with Iraq," he continued, "I have served with so many fine Senators in the congress and have loved every precious minute of it."

Pointing to the ceiling, Byrd thanked “an Almighty God” for having an opportunity to serve West Virginia and the nation. The 91-year-old senator began to choke up as he spoke of his beloved wife Erma, who died in 2006.

“My only regret is that my dear wife Erma is not here to enjoy this moment with me," Byrd said, wiping away tears.

"But I know, yes I do, that she is smiling down from heaven and reminding me not to get a big head,” Byrd added, prompting chuckling in the chamber. 

Byrd turns 92 on Friday.

ABC’s Jon Karl and Cullen Dirner contributed to this report.

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