Sen. Byrd Lies in Repose in His Beloved Senate

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WASHINGTON - Sen. Robert C. Byrd made his last appearance on the the floor of the U.S. Senate Thursday, which for 51 years echoed with his impassioned speeches and came to be the place he called home.

Byrd, who died Monday at age 92, was to lie in repose for six hours in the Senate chamber, his casket resting on the Lincoln Catafalque, a bier that was built for the coffin of Abraham Lincoln.

Byrd, who served longer than any other senator in history and became a guardian of the chamber's customs and traditions, will be the first person to lie in repose in the Senate since 1959.

That was the year Byrd, a fiddle-playing, states-rights Democrat from coal country in West Virginia, first entered the Senate after serving six years in the House. He went on to cast more than 18,000 votes and serve twice as Senate majority leader. At his death, he was president pro tempore of the Senate, third in line to the presidency behind Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Over the years, Byrd changed with the nation: The man who filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act for 14 hours came to support the creation of the Martin Luther King national holiday and supported Barack Obama in his bid to become the nation's first black president.

What didn't change were his commitment to lifting West Virginia out of poverty with billions of dollars in federal money and his defense of Congress, in particular the Senate, from what he considered encroachments by the executive branch.

An honor guard escorted his casket into the chamber, which will be closed to the public for about a half-hour while the family meets with members of Congress.

Byrd was famed for seeing to it that the Senate adhered to its rules, and one rule - that there be no TV cameras in the chamber when the Senate is not in session - will be in force Thursday. Print reporters will be able to witness the memorial once it is open to the public, but there will be no filming of the event.

The public galleries will be open until 3:45 p.m., when the casket will be carried from the Capitol to a hearse that will take it to Andrews Air Force Base for a flight to Charleston, W.Va.

There is to be a public viewing from 9 p.m. Thursday through 9 a.m. Friday in the rotunda of the state capitol in Charleston. After a memorial service Friday morning outside the capitol, to be attended by Obama, Biden and a large contingent of lawmakers from Washington, Byrd's body will be flown back to Andrews.

Private services are scheduled for Tuesday at Columbia Gardens Cemetery in Arlington, Va., where Byrd will be buried with his wife, Erma, who died in 2006 after almost 69 years of marriage.

It is fairly common for people of national import to lie in state or in honor in the Rotunda, the great hall in the center of the Capitol. Former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford were honored in the Rotunda in 2004 and early 2007, and civil rights leader Rosa Parks in 2005.

But while 45 people, including 19th-century Senate greats such as John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay and Charles Sumner, were commemorated on the Senate floor after their deaths, the last to lie in repose in the Senate was William Langer of North Dakota in 1959.

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

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