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Mikulski mourns her mentor, Bob Byrd

Barbara A. Mikulski, who honed her style as a bring-home-the-bacon senator with wise advice from Sen. Robert C. Byrd, mourned her long-time mentor's death early today at age 92.

"Today is a sad day for America, for West Virginia and for the U.S. Senate. Senator Byrd was an icon who had five loves – for his country, for the Constitution, for the Senate, for the people of West Virginia and for his beloved wife Erma," said the Maryland Democrat. Byrd's wife of nearly 69 years died in 2006 at age 88.

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"Senator Byrd was a mentor and a teacher. I was the first Democratic woman elected to the Senate in her own right. He took me under his wing and taught me the rules of the Senate. He knew the rules and he know how to rule," Mikulski continued in a prepared statement.

"He said to stay loyal to the country and to the Constitution. From the first day he wanted me to succeed. He had the style and the manner of another era. That could teach us a few lessons today. He stood for citizenship and for his country, not partisanship and petty politics. If you love the Senate, you love Bob Byrd."

His death moves Mikulski up to 4th in seniority on the influential Appropriations committee, which oversees spending, and advances her to 16th in overall Senate length of service. She is running again this year and is a heavy favorite to win re-election.

It was not immediately clear whether there might be a major shuffling of Appropriations subcommittee chairmanships as a result of Byrd's demise. He headed the Homeland Security panel, on which Mikulski serves. She is third in seniority on that committee, behind Daniel Inouye, who chairs the full committee, and Patrick Leahy, who chairs the State, Foreign Operations subcommittee.

More likely any wholesale changes would await the outcome of the 2010 elections. Of course, speculation about musical subcommittee chairs among Appropriations Democrats would become pointless if Republicans regain control of the Senate in the 2010 midterms, which would put them in charge next January.

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