Republicans and Democrats joined ranks today to mourn the death of Senator Robert C. Byrd, putting aside any past differences to remember him as an individual unmatched in his passion for and dedication to the legislative body he served in for half a century.
"He was as much a part of the Senate as the marble busts that line its chamber and its corridors," President Obama said in a statement. "His profound passion for that body and its role and responsibilities was as evident behind closed doors as it was in the stemwinders he peppered with history. He held the deepest respect of members of both parties, and he was generous with his time and advice, something I appreciated greatly as a young senator."
During his 51-year career, Byrd, dubbed the "dean of the Senate," served under a dozen presidents and became the longest serving member in Senate history. He came to be a highly-respected figure among his colleagues, many of whom sought him out as an adviser.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who worked with Byrd as senator of New York, called him a "true American original, my friend and mentor."
She continued: "I will remember him most for a heartfelt comment he made to me in the dark days following 9/11, when my state of New York was reeling and we were scrambling to provide support and relief. 'Think of me as the third senator from New York,' he said. And he meant it. Thanks to the leadership of Senator Byrd, who chaired the Appropriations Committee, New Yorkers got the help they needed."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) shared a similar reflection of Byrd in a speech he made on behalf of the Senate.
"This good man could drive from his home here in Washington to West Virginia and back, it takes eight hours, he could recite poetry for eight hours and never recite the same poem twice," Reid said. "...Each of us are fortunate enough to be here, we have the privilege of knowing firsthand it was an incomparable honor to serve with and learn from this giant."
Vice President Joe Biden remembered Byrd as "a guy who was there when I was a 29-year-old kid being sworn into the United States Senate [and] shortly thereafter; a guy who stood in the rain, in a pouring rain, freezing rain outside a church as I buried my daughter and my wife before I got sworn in."
In his younger years Byrd was briefly a member of the Ku Klux Klan and tried to stop the Civil Rights Act. He later apologized for his actions, saying intolerance has no place in America.
In recognition of this, Senator Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) said during Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan'stoday that "the thing that we all need to remember about Senator Byrd is that all of us are choosing to judge him by his complete career. And history will judge him by his complete career, not one moment in time."
He added: "He was a worthy ally and a very good opponent when it came to the Senate."
Each senator on the Judiciary Committee took the time to reflect on Byrd's death during their opening remarks at Kagan's hearing today.
More reaction to Byrd's death:
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV): "It has been my greatest privilege to serve with Robert C. Byrd in the United States Senate. I looked up to him, I fought next to him, and I am deeply saddened that he is gone. He leaves a void that simply can never be filled."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY): "Sen. Byrd combined a devotion to the U.S. Constitution with a deep learning of history to defend the interests of his state and the traditions of the Senate. We will remember him for his fighter's spirit, his abiding faith, and for the many times he recalled the Senate to its purposes."
Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii): "Nearly 48 years ago Senator Byrd was one of the first to greet me in the chamber of the United States Senate. Since that first moment of friendship we have worked together on many projects. And since those early days, I have called him, 'my leader.'"
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV): "Whether he is remembered as the young man who played the fiddle or the elder statesman that carried a copy of the Constitution in the pocket next to his heart, Robert Byrd touched the lives of countless West Virginians."
Sen. John Kerry, (D-Mass.): "Leader Byrd took the time to meet with all the freshmen individually, listened to us, helped us with our Committee assignments, and took particular care to instruct us on something we'd thought very little about: our responsibility to be caretakers of the institution. He helped us see a bigger picture about this place."