The West Virginia lawmaker died peacefully at a hospital in Fairfax,
Virginia, the spokesman says. The cause of death was not immediately
Longest-serving US lawmaker Robert Byrd
dies, aged 92
Senator Byrd was elected to the House of
Representatives in 1952, becoming a senator seven years later. As a young
man, Mr. Byrd was for a brief period a member of the white supremacist
group the Ku Klux Klan and also joined Southern Democrats in an
unsuccessful filibuster against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He later
apologized for both actions, saying that intolerance had no place in
America. In his later years as a senator, Robert Byrd became a champion of
civil rights. He was also an outspoken opponent of the Iraq war and warned
against a build-up of US troops in Afghanistan, winning a record ninth
term in the Senate in 2006.
His death is not expected to change the Democrats' current majority in the
Senate. West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin, a Democrat, is expected to
appoint a Democrat to serve the remainder of Mr. Byrd's current six-year
term, which expires in 2012, Reuters reports.
W. Bush's favorite Democrat"
Sen. Byrd's most controversial action
in the Senate was his decision to support the conviction of President Bill
Clinton at his impeachment trial and to use his influence to persuade
other Democrats to do likewise. Byrd's efforts led to the defection of a
coalition of Democratic conservatives and self-described "independents,"
among them Ben Nelson of Colorado and Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut
from the embattled President's side, making possible Mr. Clinton's
conviction, by a margin of one vote, on Feb. 16, 1999. Mr. Clinton thus
became the first U.S. president ever removed from office via impeachment.
(In 1868, Andrew Johnson-the only other president ever impeached and like
Clinton a Democrat facing a Republican Congress-was acquitted by one vote.
Richard Nixon, facing impeachment, resigned instead.)
Bitterness over the impeachment would affect the 2000 election. Senator
Lieberman would be repudiated in his state's Democratic primary and would
win another Senate term only by running as an independent with substantial
aid from the Republican Party, which actually provided more funds to his
campaign than to that of its own nominee for his seat. President Gore
would spend much of the campaign fending off Republican efforts to impeach
him as well. GOP opposition to Gore was sufficiently powerful to prevent
the confirmation of anyone to replace Gore as VP, meaning that if he, too,
had been removed from office, the Republican speaker of the House, Dennis
Hastert, would have succeeded to the presidency, the first time in U.S.
history the office had changed partisan hands without an intervening
election. (The closest parallel would have been that of Andrew Johnson, a
Democrat, had run with President Abraham Lincoln on a Union ticket in
1864.) Lieberman, running as a Republican in 2006, having joined the GOP
after an unsuccessful attempt to mend fences with the Democrats and run
for that party's 2004 presidential nomination, would lose to Democratic
challenger Ned Lamont in a race whose most memorable commercial would be
nicknamed "Hop, Frog," featuring Sen. Lieberman as a frog leaping among
lily pads labeled "D", ""I" and "R".
Byrd, by contrast, would survive relatively unscathed, calmly enduring his
being tagged by both parties as "George W. Bush's favorite Democrat" after
Bush's narrow victory over President Gore and running-mate Sen. Patrick
Leahy of Vermont. In the evenly divided Senate which emerged from that
election, he would wield extraordinary power due to his combination of
seniority and personal influence. As recently as 2009 he was a senior
Democrat on the powerful Appropriations Committee.