Video: Goodbye to a King of Capitol Hill

  1. Transcript of: Goodbye to a King of Capitol Hill

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor (Venice, Louisiana): He started in Congress when the world was a different place, and he was a different man. First in the House , then the Senate , an institution he served longer and likely knew better than anyone else ever. Senator Robert Carlyle Byrd , Democrat of West Virginia , died early this morning at the age of 92. Our own Kelly O'Donnell takes a look at his life.

    KELLY O'DONNELL reporting: Today, this sign of respect marked Robert Byrd 's unmatched place in American history .

    Vice President JOE BIDEN: We lost the dean of the United States Senate , but also the state of West Virginia lost its most fierce advocate.

    O'DONNELL: A record 57 years in Congress , sworn in a senator the day Alaska became a state.

    Senator ROBERT BYRD: Being a United States senator is the highest public office that this country can give. Presidents come and presidents go, but senators don't fade away.

    O'DONNELL: His Senate career spanned 11 presidents. Eleven days ago he cast the last of 20,000 votes.

    Sen. BYRD: Speak loudly! Can you hear me ?

    O'DONNELL: A master of Senate rules , history and oration.

    Sen. BYRD: There's a day of reckoning coming, and it isn't far off.

    O'DONNELL: From flowery to audacious...

    Sen. BYRD: Man, you're looking at big daddy . Big daddy !

    O'DONNELL: ...his name is all over West Virginia for the billions in federal money he delivered to one of the poorest states. Raised in foster care and desperate poverty himself, he knew hardship.

    Sen. BYRD: Hello!

    O'DONNELL: Byrd's politics changed dramatically with the times. Once a member of the Ku Klux Klan turned advocate for civil rights. He supported the Vietnam War and opposed the war in Iraq .

    Sen. BYRD: Invading a country without our having been provoked, that was unconstitutional in my book.

    O'DONNELL: Senate work gave him comfort after the loss of a grandson and his wife. That famed fiddle playing kept Robert Byrd close to home. Kelly O'Donnell , NBC News , the Capitol .

Image: Robert C. Byrd
Carl Fleischhauer  /  AP
In a 1977 photo provided by County Records, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-WV, posed in front of the capitol building with his fiddle.
updated 6/29/2010 4:45:57 PM ET 2010-06-29T20:45:57

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, the longest-serving senator in history, often told his colleagues that he loved them, but he loved the Senate more. Fittingly, that's where Washington will bid him farewell on Thursday, when his body will lie in repose before returning home to West Virginia for a public funeral.

Byrd's final appearance on the Senate floor, where he became famous for soaring oratory and record-setting speeches, will be as historic as the senator himself. A senator's casket last lay in repose there in 1959, the year Byrd joined the chamber. He was the longest-serving member of Congress ever and was third in line to the presidency.

Byrd died early Monday at 92 after being hospitalized for dehydration, his office said. Few outside his family had known of his condition.

From Washington to Byrd's beloved West Virginia, lawmakers, aides, law enforcement officials and journalists spent much of Tuesday on preparations for the event. The Senate was expected to approve a resolution to allow Byrd's casket to lie in repose within the chamber.

Byrd's journey to his final resting place near his wife, Erma, stretches from Washington to Charleston, W.Va., to Arlington, Va., for burial on Tuesday.

Byrd's office said the hearse carrying the senator's casket will arrive at the Senate steps at 9:45 a.m. on Thursday, where an honor guard will carry it into the Senate chamber. There, it will be placed on the same catafalque built to support President Abraham Lincoln's coffin and has been used for those of Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Ronald Reagan and others.

At 10:15 a.m. the public galleries above the Senate floor will be opened for viewing while Byrd's family receives members of the House and Senate. Chaplain Barry Black will offer prayer at 10:30 a.m., according to the schedule.

Six hours after the casket's arrival, Byrd will leave the Senate for the last time. A hearse will take it to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland for a flight to Charleston.

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin's office said Byrd's body will lie in repose in the state capitol's Rotunda from 9 p.m. Thursday to 9 a.m. Friday. The public will be permitted to pay respects to Byrd during the 12-hour viewing.

Back in Washington, there is ample precedent for memorial ceremonies in the Senate chamber, but none has occurred since North Dakota Republican William Langer's funeral in 1959, according to the Senate Historian's Office.

Including Langer, 46 senators have lain in repose in the Senate chamber. One additional funeral, the first, was held there for a New Yorker who never was a senator: George Clinton, Thomas Jefferson's second vice president, lay in repose on April 21, 1812.

Others include South Carolina's John C. Calhoun in 1850, Kentucky's Henry Clay in 1852 and Wisconsin's Joseph McCarthy in 1957.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Timeline: The life and times of Robert Byrd

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., died on June 28.

Kara Kearns,


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