Washington, DC—Nevada Senator Harry Reid made the following remarks on the Senate floor this afternoon about the late Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia. Senator Byrd passed away earlier this morning. Below are Senator Reid’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Our Senate family grieves today alongside the Byrd family over the loss of one of the most dedicated Americans ever to serve his country, one of the most devoted men ever to serve his state and one of the most distinguished Senators ever to serve in this body.
“Robert Byrd’s mind was among the greatest the world has ever seen. From his graduation as valedictorian of his high school class at the age of 16 to his death this morning as the Senate’s President Pro Tempore at age of 92, he mastered everything he touched with great thoughtfulness and skill.
“He could drive from Washington to West Virginia and back again, reciting classic poetry the entire time, and not repeat the same poem twice.
“He could list the entire reign of the British Monarchy – including names, spellings and years – without consulting a single note.
“He twice read the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover, from A to Z.
“He was the only American to earn his law degree while serving as a Member of Congress.
“The list goes on and on. His thirst for knowledge was simply without equal. Senator Byrd once observed that the longer he lived, the better he understood how precious a gift was our time on this Earth.
“‘As you get older,’ he said, ‘you see time running out. It is irretrievable and irreversible. But one should never retire from learning and growth.’
“Robert Byrd never retired from anything. He served in the Senate for more than half a century and in the House for six more years, and dedicated every last one of those days to strengthening the state and nation that he loved so dearly.
“He never once stopped fighting for the good people of West Virginia and for principles in our founding documents. He was forever faithful to his constituents, his Constitution and his country.
“He stood up for what in his heart he felt was right – and when he was wrong, he was wise enough to admit as much.
“Senator Byrd’s ambition was legendary. He took his oath in this chamber on January 3, 1959, the same day Alaska became our 49th State. He told the Charleston Gazette newspaper in that freshman year, ‘If I live long enough, I would like to be Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.’ Thirty years later, he was – and then lived and served for 21 more.
“His legislative accomplishments are many, and those achievements fortify his incomparable legacy. But he is perhaps best known in this chamber as the foremost guardian of the Senate’s complex rules, procedures and customs.
“He did not concern himself with such precision as a pastime or a mere hobby. He did so because of the unyielding respect he had for the Senate – a reverence the Senate always returned to him, and now to his memory.
“With Robert Byrd’s passing, America has lost its strongest defender of its most precious traditions. It now falls to each of us to keep that flame alight.
“Throughout one of the longest political careers in history, no one in West Virginia ever defeated Robert Byrd in a single election. In Washington, his fellow Democrats twice elected him to lead us when we were in the majority and once more in the minority. Having seen both sides, he knew better than most that legislation is the art of compromise.
“Many years ago – in this chamber where he served longer than any other American – Senator Byrd taught a heartfelt history lesson to guide our future. It was a lesson about both the Constitution and this institution. He said: ‘This very charter of government under which we live was created in a spirit of compromise and mutual concession. And it is only in that spirit that a continuance of this charter of government can be prolonged and sustained.’
“In his tenure he saw partisanship and bipartisanship, war and peace, recession and recovery. His perspective and legacy are invaluable to the way we carry ourselves as United States Senators.
“So it is instructive that the man who served the longest and saw the most concluded that we must work together as partners, not partisans, for the good of our states and our country.
“Senator Byrd often reminded us that United States Senate is still the anchor of the Republic. Well, Robert Byrd was the anchor of the Senate. There will never be another like him.
“He was a Member of this nation’s Congress for more than a quarter of the time it has existed, and longer than a quarter of today’s sitting Senators and the President of the United States have been alive.
“His political career spanned countless American advances and achievements. A dozen men called the Oval Office his own while Senator Byrd called the Capitol building his office – and he would be the first to remind you that those two branches are equal in the eyes of the Constitution.
“The nine times the people of his state sent him to the Senate and the more than 18,500 votes he cast here will never be matched.
“As you, I and each of us fortunate enough to be here has the privilege of knowing first-hand, it was an incomparable honor to serve with and learn from this giant.
“By virtue of his endurance, Robert Byrd knew and worked with many of the greats of the United States Senate. Because of his enduring virtue, he will forever be remembered as one of them.”