Robert Carlyle Byrd (born November 20, 1917 in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina), a Democrat, is West Virginia's senior United States Senator. As of 2006, he is the longest-serving current member of the U.S. Congress, having served in the United States House of Representatives from January 3, 1953, until he entered the Senate on January 3, 1959. Including his time as a West Virginia state legislator from 1947 to 1953, Byrd has served as an elected official for over 60 years and has never lost an election. At 88, Byrd is the oldest member of Congress. Some call Byrd a "walking encyclopedia" on the history of both the American and Roman senates. Byrd was married to his high school sweetheart Erma Ora James Byrd for 68 years until her death on March 26, 2006.
As the longest-serving Democrat in the Senate, Byrd was president pro tempore of the Senate from 1989 until the Republicans won control of the Senate in 1995. When the Senate was evenly split between parties after 2000 elections, Byrd was president pro tempore again briefly in 2001, when outgoing Vice President Al Gore's tiebreaking vote temporarily gave the Democrats a majority. He stepped down when George W. Bush took office as president, and Vice President Dick Cheney's tiebreaking vote gave the Republicans a majority. He served as president pro tem again from June 2001 until Republicans retook the Senate in January 2003; after Senator Jim Jeffords resigned from the Republican Party, giving control to the Democrats. It was at this time that Byrd became the first Democrat in the line of succession to the U.S. Presidency. Byrd has served as a member of the Appropriations Committee since his first Senate term, and chaired the committee while serving as president pro tempore. He is currently the ranking Democrat on the committee. Byrd also serves as President pro tempore emeritus of the Senate Democratic caucus.
Byrd is currently serving his eighth six-year term in the Senate, which ends on January 3, 2007. He will become the longest serving Senator in American history on June 12, 2006, passing Strom Thurmond of South Carolina with 17,327 days of service in the upper body of the Congress . He already holds the record for the longest unbroken tenure in the Senate (Thurmond served 48 years, but stepped down from April to November 1956). Byrd announced on September 27, 2005 at the State House in Charleston that he is running for a historic ninth term in 2006. Should he be re-elected and continue to serve through 2011, he will pass Carl Hayden of Arizona, who served 57 years, as the longest-serving member of both houses of Congress. If Byrd wins reelection and serves the full term, he will have served 60 years and he will be 96 years of age at that time, which would make him the second oldest senator in US history. Byrd has cast a total of 17,649 votes as of May 24, 2006 - -far and away the most of any senator in United States history.