Statement of the President on the Passing of Senator Byrd

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I was saddened to hear this morning that the people of West Virginia have lost a true champion, the United States Senate has lost a venerable institution, and America has lost a voice of principle and reason with the passing of Robert C. Byrd.

Senator Byrd’s story was uniquely American.  He was born into wrenching poverty, but educated himself to become an authoritative scholar, respected leader, and unparalleled champion of our Constitution.  He scaled the summit of power, but his mind never strayed from the people of his beloved West Virginia.  He had the courage to stand firm in his principles, but also the courage to change over time.

He was as much a part of the Senate as the marble busts that line its chamber and its corridors.  His profound passion for that body and its role and responsibilities was as evident behind closed doors as it was in the stemwinders he peppered with history.  He held the deepest respect of members of both parties, and he was generous with his time and advice, something I appreciated greatly as a young senator.

We take solace in the fact that he is reunited with his wife of nearly 69 years, Erma; and our thoughts and prayers are with their daughters, their grandchildren and great grandchildren, and all the people of West Virginia who loved Robert C. Byrd.


  1. Dave says:

    Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia

    “It has been my greatest privilege to serve with Robert C. Byrd in the United States Senate. I looked up to him, I fought next to him, and I am deeply saddened that he is gone. He leaves a void that simply can never be filled. But I am lifted by the knowledge of his deep and abiding faith in God, I have joy in the thought of him reunited with his dear (late wife) Erma, and I am proud knowing that his moving life story and legacy of service and love for West Virginia will live on.

    Senator Byrd came from humble beginnings in the southern coalfields, was raised by hard-working West Virginians, and triumphantly rose to the heights of power in America. But he never forgot where he came from nor who he represented, and he never abused that power for his own gain.”

  2. Dave says:

    U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell

    “Sen. Byrd combined a devotion to the U.S. Constitution with a deep learning of history to defend the interests of his state and the traditions of the Senate. We will remember him for his fighter’s spirit, his abiding faith,
    and for the many times he recalled the Senate to its purposes…. We are glad to know that Senator Byrd and his beloved Erma are reunited. We extend our deepest sympathies to the entire Byrd family.”

  3. Dave says:

    Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont

    “No senator came to care more about the Constitution or to be a more effective defender of our constitutional government than the senior senator from West Virginia. He was a senator’s senator…. I know him as a mentor and a friend. I was honored to stand with him and fight against assaults on the Constitution and against an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq.

    He was a self-educated man who learned much throughout his life and had much to teach us all. He was a symbol of West Virginia, he was an outstanding senator, and he was extraordinary American.”

  4. Dave says:

    Sen Harry Reid (D-NV)

    There will never be another like him.”

    “By virtue of his endurance, Robert Byrd knew and worked with many of the greats of the United States Senate,” Mr. Reid said. “Because of his enduring virtue, he will be remembered as one of them. Senator Byrd dedicated every single day of his Senate service to strengthening the institution, state and republic that he loved so dearly.”

  5. Dave says:

    Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)

    “No one in the history of the Senate could match Byrd’s thunderous oratory; his sense of history; his determination to teach every president the limits of his power; and his lifelong passion to fight for West Virginia,” Mr. Durbin wrote.

    “Daniel Webster, set another chair at heaven’s table,” he added. “Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia has arrived.”

  6. Dave says:

    Sen. Chris Dodd ( D-Conneticut)

    A great guardian of this institution, he will be remembered as a fierce defender of the Constitution and the Senate’s role in our democracy.

  7. Dave says:

    Remarks of Vice President Joe Biden as released by the White House

    “As we used to say in my years in the Senate, if you’ll excuse a point of personal privilege here for a moment, a very close friend of mine, one of my mentors – a guy who was there when I was a 29-year-old kid being sworn into the United States Senate shortly thereafter; a guy who stood in the rain, in a pouring rain, freezing rain outside a church as I buried my daughter and my wife before I got sworn in, Robert C. Byrd. He passed away today. He was the – we lost the dean of the United States Senate, but also the state of West Virginia lost its most fierce advocate and, as I said, I lost a dear friend.

    “Throughout his 51 years, the longest tenure of any member in Congress in the history of the United States, Robert C. Byrd was a tough, compassionate, and outspoken leader and dedicated above all else to making life better for the people of the mountain state – his state, the state of West Virginia. He never lost sight of home. He may have spent half a century in Washington. But there’s a guy – if anybody wondered – he never, never, never, never took his eye of his beloved mountain state. And we shall not – to paraphrase the poet – we shall not see his like again. And the Senate is a lesser place for his going.”

  8. Dave says:

    Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

    “Sen. Robert Byrd has served our country as a member of the U.S. Congress for nearly sixty years. His knowledge of the Senate’s history and his attention to the institution’s rules and procedures is unrivalled. He’s reminded all of us of the Senate’s roles and responsibilities as defined by the Constitution and the importance of the body to the checks and balances our Founders designed.

    “Sen. Byrd overcame great hardship as a child, graduated high school as valedictorian at the age of 16, and worked a number of jobs before being elected to public office. Even though he rose to so many influential positions in Congress, he never forgot about working people. West Virginia has lost a tireless advocate – a Senator who fought for his constituents each day.”

  9. Dave says:

    Speaker of The House Nancy Pelosi

    Senator Robert Byrd’s extraordinary life has been shaped by service to his state, love of his country, and commitment to the common good. Throughout his historic career in the House and Senate, he never stopped working to improve the lives of the people of West Virginia. While some simply bore witness to history, Senator Byrd shaped it – and strove to build a brighter future for us all.

    His story was the true embodiment of the American dream. An orphan at a young age, Senator Byrd refused to allow his circumstances to limit the reach of his potential, his ability, or his drive to succeed. He educated himself, worked as a butcher and a welder, and sought political office to give back to his community and his neighbors. In doing so, he would ultimately make America a better place for every American.

    Senator Byrd took pride in his status as Congress’ foremost scholar on the Constitution, on the Senate, and on the institutions of our democracy. He never hesitated to speak truth to power. He was a voice of reason during times of war and economic hardship. He was always a gentleman, capable of charming any friend or foe. And he always stood on principle, even when others did not.

    Senator Byrd has gone home to be with his beloved Erma Mae. We hope it is a comfort to the Byrd family that so many join them in grieving their loss at this sad time.