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Robert Byrd to Set Congressional Longevity Record

By tomorrow, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a Democrat from West Virginia, will have the honor of being the longest-serving member of Congress ever, breaking the record set by former senator Carl Hayden.

Politico reports that Byrd, who is 91, has now officially served 20,774 days -- or 56 years, ten and a half months -- in Congress. Byrd was elected to the Senate in 1959 after serving three two-year terms in the House of Representatives, and has since been reelected eight times. He accomplished a unique feat by earning a law degree while in Congress, graduating in 1963; and he is President pro tempore of the Senate, making him third in the line of presidential succession behind Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"On Nov. 18, a West Virginian breaks all records and makes history," West Virginia governor Joe Manchin said in a recent news release. "Sen. Byrd sets the gold standard for what it means to be an outstanding public official, and next week he will reach a historic national milestone for length of service."

Byrd has attracted significant attention throughout his time in Washington for his controversial background, his efforts to further West Virginia's economic development and his record-setting career longevity. Between 1995 and 2006, Byrd sent more than $1 billion West Virginia's way, and most of the $215 million in federal funds given to the state during fiscal 2008 was a result of his work, according to the Charleston Gazette. The Gazette also reports that he was the first candidate to win all 55 counties in one West Virginia election- an accomplishment that he has since repeated twice.

The senator's controversial history includes former ties to the Klu Klux Klan, and at one point he strongly advocated segregationist policies, as Politico reports. Over time, however, Byrd's positions have become increasingly moderate on racial issues, and he has emerged as something of a hero for liberals. In 2008, he endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential nomination fight.

Most recently, however, Byrd's failing health has become a source of concern for Democrats who need his vote to help pass their proposed health care bill. The Hill reports that the senator, who has lately been in and out of hospitals, has missed more than 130 roll call votes so far this year.

Since Senate Republicans have indicated that they plan to vote against the proposed legislation as a group, Democrats will need to band together in order to reach the 60 votes necessary for the measure to pass.

Byrd, however, does not seem worried.

"I have strived to provide the people of West Virginia the best representation possible each of the 20,774 days which I have served in the Congress of the United States," he said in an official statement to USA Today. "The only way for me to close on this historic day is to say that I look forward to serving you for the next 56 years and 320 days!"

On Friday, Byrd will turn 92.

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