LA congresswomen reflect on passing of Robert Byrd

U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) asks a question during a hearing before the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee May 20, 2010 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) asks a question during a hearing before the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee May 20, 2010 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images

U.S. Senator Robert Byrd has spent his last day in Washington, D.C. His flag-draped casket lay in a place of honor on the Senate floor, where he spent more than half a century representing the state of West Virginia. Byrd’s colleagues recalled a long career that wasn’t always on the side of angels.

As a young man, Robert Byrd was a recruiter for the Ku Klux Klan. But Democratic Congresswoman Diane Watson says Byrd “saw the light.”

"In the ‘60s," she says, "he voted against all of the Civil Rights legislation. He said in his last days that was the most regrettable period of his life. But what else did he know? He grew up in that kind of atmosphere. But being here, he learned so much about the potential of this nation. And he regretted the past."

In his later years, colleagues described Byrd as “the conscience of the Senate.” But his skill at directing federal dollars to West Virginia earned him another nickname: “King of Pork.”

Democrat Jane Harman was one of many colleagues — from both sides of the aisle — who stopped by the Senate chamber to pay respects to Byrd. The congresswoman from El Segundo said it was somehow appropriate that Senator Byrd died so close to the nation’s birthday.

She said America's had some "extraordinary figures in it who served for a time, and were born and died here."

"It’s a passage," said Harman. "And I think July 4th is a holiday when you kind of contemplate – where I kind of contemplate - where this country came from, where it’s going, who’s been part of it, who’s no longer here."

Harman pointed out that two American presidents – John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – died on the 4th of July.

Byrd was 92 years old when he died on Monday. President Obama and Vice President Biden plan to attend Senator Byrd's funeral tomorrow in West Virginia.

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