ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports:
Senators today woke up to learn of the loss of one of their
most revered colleagues, West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, the
longest-serving member of Congress in history.
“Robert C. Byrd was the anchor of the Senate. There will
never be another like him,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a speech
on the Senate floor this afternoon.
Gushed Reid: “Robert Byrd’s mind was among the greatest the
world has ever seen.”
The lawmakers gathered in a moment of silence for Byrd, his
desk covered by a black drape and flowers.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, the 85-year old Hawaii Democrat, was
then sworn in as the new Senate Pro Tempore. After Byrd, Inouye is the
second-longest serving senator in history. The Senator Pro Tempore is third in
line for the presidency after the Vice President and the Speaker of the House.
For many lawmakers today was a chance to celebrate Byrd’s
life, to tell their favorite stories about a man who served on Capitol Hill for
over half a century.
Reid ran down an array of examples of Byrd’s “stunning”
memory, such as when he recited the list of British monarchs and when he
recalled the exact amount of time Robinson Crusoe spent stranded on an island.
“He will forever be remembered as one of the giants,” said
the Nevada senator.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also sang Byrd’s
“More than anyone else in our lifetime Robert Byrd wrote the
book on the US Senate,” McConnell said.
“I am profoundly saddened that he is gone,” said Byrd’s
West Virginia colleague Sen. Jay Rockefeller. “I think that he leaves a
void that probably cannot be filled.”
The Senate’s number-two, Democrat Dick Durbin, heralded Byrd’s
famous lively and poetic speeches on the floor of the chamber.
“No one in the history of the Senate could match Byrd’s
thunderous oratory; his sense of history; his determination to teach every
President the limits of his power and his lifelong passion to fight for West Virginia,”
Durbin said in a statement.
“Daniel Webster, set another chair at Heaven’s table, Robert
C. Byrd of West Virginia has arrived,” Durbin said, referencing the famous
senator from Massachusetts during the Antebellum Period in the early to mid
Across Capitol Hill on Monday numerous senators also kicked
off their opening statements at the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of
Elena Kagan by remembering Byrd.
“No senator came to care more about the Constitution and be
a more effective defender of our constitutional government than the senior
senator from West Virginia,” said Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy.
“In many ways, he was the keeper of the Senate flame, the fiercest defender of
the Senate’s constitutional role and prerogatives.”
Byrd served as a senator for over half a century, from
January 3, 1959, until his death at 3am Monday morning. When he first took
office that day, Hawaii was not yet a state and President Barack Obama had not
yet been born.