Byrd Overcomes Health, Weather to Cast Vote for Final Senate Health Care Bill

Dec 24, 2009 10:19am

ABC News' Kristina Wong reports: Despite his fragile health and the freezing Washington, D.C. weather, Sen. Robert Byrd, the 92-year-old Democrat from West Virginia and the longest-serving senator, made yet another appearance this week at the Capitol to cast his vote for the final Senate health care reform bill.

Arriving early this morning at the Capitol via wheelchair, Byrd jubilantly waved hello to reporters on his way in.

As he cast his vote, he waved his finger in the air, and shouted, “Mr. President, this is for my friend Ted Kennedy. Aye!”

Since being hospitalized for six weeks earlier this year for a staph infection, Byrd has only come to the Senate for crucial votes, often to break Republican obstructionist tactics. Yet over the past week, he has shown up for every vote, including two of them at 1 a.m. and one in the middle of a blizzard. 

On Wednesday afternoon, Byrd was wheeled onto the Senate floor to help provide Senate Democrats the 60 votes needed to end debate on the health care reform bill, in order to meet President Obama’s deadline of Christmas Day.

At a triumphant press conference Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., paid tribute to Byrd, pointing out that without Byrd's vote, the health care reform bill would not pass.

“This is a strong man,” Reid said, “One of the most remarkable human beings I have ever met.” 

Byrd’s most recent visits to the Capitol have been wrought with emotion, from himself and his colleagues, who have welcomed him with applause, standing ovations and earlier this fall, a special resolution honoring his service as the longest serving member of the Senate.

Moved by the resolution, Byrd wept openly on the Senate floor, thanking his colleagues, and his deceased wife of 68 years, Erma.

Byrd is the president pro tempore of the Senate, placing him third in line of presidential succession. 

ABC News' Jonathan Karl and Brian Hartman contributed to this report.

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