Longtime Sen. Robert Bird Dies at Age 92

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Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, the fiery orator best known for bringing home federal money for his West Virginia constituents, died early Monday morning at Inova Hospital in Fairfax, Va. He was 92.

Flags at the Capitol, White House and across West Virginia flew at half staff in honor of the senator.

Byrd was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1952 and to the Senate in 1959. During almost six decades in Congress, he cast more than 18,000 votes -- leaving behind a record as the longest-serving lawmaker in U.S. history.

"It has been my greatest privilege to serve with Robert C. Byrd in the United States Senate," Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., said in a statement Monday. "I looked up to him, I fought next to him and I am deeply saddened that he is gone."

With his extensive knowledge of complex Senate rules and as the longtime chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which oversees one-third of the $3 trillion federal budget, Byrd could be formidable in his exercise of power.

"Bob is a living encyclopedia, and legislative graveyards are filled with the bones of those who underestimated him," former House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas, once said in remarks Byrd later displayed in his office.

"I have tangled with him. He usually wins," former Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., recalled.

Still, Byrd's long, illustrious career was not without blemish.

He was raised in the coal-mining region of southern West Virginia. When he was 24, he joined the Ku Klux Klan and was soon after elected leader of his local chapter.

Byrd also joined with other southern and border state Democrats to unsuccessfully filibuster the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

He later apologized for both actions.

Byrd was the majority whip in 1971 and from 1977 to 1989, he was the leader of the Senate Democrats.

He was famous for steering federal dollars to West Virginia and became known as the "king of pork."

"Well, you know, you'll see that in my obit," Byrd once said. '"He was in the Klan and he was the king of pork.' You watch."

Byrd sometimes showed an independent streak. He voted against the articles of impeachment against former President Bill Clinton, but he was the only Democrat to vote for the censure of the president.

When former President George W. Bush asked Congress for authority to use force against Iraq in 2002, most Democratic senators supported the war. Byrd did not.

"Why is war being dealt with not as a last resort but as a first resort?" he asked.

For 69 of his years, Byrd was married to his high school sweetheart, Erma, who died in 2006.

"She was the guiding light for me," Byrd said after her death.

Byrd once vowed to serve, "until I no longer have any breath in me"-- and he did just that.

"He was our protector, I mean if you want to look at it that way," a West Virginian woman said of Byrd after his death. "He loved West Virginia and West Virginians loved him."

West Virginia's governor says he hasn't decided on Byrd's replacement.

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A CBN News veteran, Dale Hurd has reported extensively from Western Europe, as well as China, Russia, and Central and South America.  Since 9/11, Dale has reported in depth on various aspects of the global war on terror in the United States and Europe.  Follow Dale on Twitter @HurdontheWeb and "like" him at Facebook.com/DaleHurdNews.