Feb. 9, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Byrd Shows He’s Still Got Some Fight Left

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Sen. Robert Byrd is far from a regular presence in the halls of the Capitol, but he’s emerged in recent days to fight for a few of his top priorities.

Appearing fragile and speaking with a tremor, 92-year-old Sen. Robert Byrd spoke for 15 minutes at last week’s Rules and Administration Committee hearing on filibuster reform. Taking his perch on the dais with the help of a staffer and a wheelchair, the West Virginia Democrat delivered a prepared statement to a room of onlookers who seemed to hang on every word.

“It was a hallowed moment that those of us who were there will not soon forget,” Rules Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) later said.

The sight was indeed a rare one for the aging Byrd.

The longest-serving Member’s participation in the chamber has waned in recent years, and particularly in recent months. So far this Congress, he’s voted just 46 percent of the time, his appearances on the floor and in hearing rooms are few and he speaks publicly far less often. Even his colleagues have little or no contact with him.

“I just think he had a couple of bad hits health-wise, but he’s back now,” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said. “I think he’s going to be engaged for as long as he can be.”

It was just one year ago that Byrd was hospitalized for six and a half weeks with a staph infection. And while Byrd’s recovered now, he no longer enjoys the high profile that he once did.

Yet with so many of his priorities driving the news cycle — the mining disaster in West Virginia last month, efforts by Senate Democrats to revamp long-standing floor procedures and a push by President Barack Obama for line-item veto power — Byrd has started to re-emerge.

Last week it was the hearing on filibuster changes; then on Monday, the West Virginia Democrat attacked Obama for seeking great authority to slash spending.

“Congress has the Constitutional authority over the power of the purse and I am not in favor of yet another attempt at a power grab by a Chief Executive,” he said in a statement.

Byrd, a former Appropriations Committee chairman, has long championed Congress’ power of the purse, and on that front he is likely to continue putting up a fight. He won an additional $22 million in the upcoming war supplemental for mine safety in the wake of the West Virginia tragedy and is working with Harkin and others on broader mine safety legislation.

In an e-mail, Jesse Jacobs, Byrd’s spokesman, characterized his boss’s recent activities this way: “It is absolutely fantastic that like spring he is reenergized and reinvigorated.”

One source attributed Byrd’s re-engagement to the events around him. Byrd was saddened by the retirement of House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and witnessed the recent primary defeat of home-state colleague Rep. Alan Mollohan (D). This source noted that Byrd takes it personally when he witnesses veteran colleagues being replaced by younger, reform-minded lawmakers.

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