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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.

“You can go down the list and see the things that matter to him,” the source said. “More and more of his world is changing, and probably not for the best. So these events have wakened the sleeping giant.”

Byrd isn’t new to the idea of being replaced. At the beginning of the 111th Congress — under pressure from some Senate Democrats who didn’t believe he was still up to the job — Byrd voluntarily gave up the Appropriations gavel to his longtime friend Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). He still serves as Senate President Pro Tempore, a position that puts him third in line of succession to the presidency.

Even though Byrd no longer sits atop the Appropriations panel, he seems to know when it’s time to be heard. During last week’s Rules hearing, Byrd took to the microphone to discourage his colleagues from doing away with the filibuster.

“Over the years, I have proposed a variety of improvements to Senate rules to achieve a more sensible balance allowing the majority to function while still protecting minority rights,” he told colleagues. “For example, I have supported eliminating debate on the motion to proceed to a matter (except for changes to Senate rules) or limiting debate to a reasonable time on such motions, with Senators retaining the right to unlimited debate on the matter once before the Senate.”

In a statement, Schumer called Byrd “the leading authority on the rules and traditions of the Senate” and noted the significance of his attendance.

Byrd’s recent Senate participation hasn’t gone unnoticed, but neither have his absences. He missed a crucial procedural vote last month that if successful would have allowed Democrats to kick off debate on financial regulatory reform. Yet Byrd has participated in many of this year’s high-profile floor votes. He cast a vote March 25 in favor of the Senate’s health care bill and afterward could be seen on the floor clasping hands with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

In a statement Monday, the Nevada Democrat said of Byrd: “He has been there whenever we have needed him, including every vote, no matter the hour, on historic health reform legislation.”

On Nov. 18, 2009, Byrd became the longest-serving lawmaker in history. But even at 92, Byrd is still shy of becoming the oldest serving Member. That distinction still belongs to the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who retired in 2002 at age 100.

“Sen. Byrd remains active and engaged,” Harkin said. “I know he’s frail, but he’s sharp as ever.”

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