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November 8, 2008
Robert Byrd to step down from Appropriations Chair
The self described "Conscience of the Senate" has been shunted to the sidelines by Harry Reid and will lose the powerful Appropriations Committee chair:
Mr. Byrd, who will be 91 this month, is a revered figure in the Senate but has had a series of health problems and hospitalizations in recent months. His Democratic colleagues increasingly feared that he was no longer up to the task of running the Senate's most powerful committee on a daily basis.
Persuading him to step aside, however, presented a delicate task, and any effort to remove him forcibly, which would have required a vote by the Democratic caucus, could well have failed.
In the end, though, Mr. Byrd spared the majority leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, from having to raise the issue. Without so much as requesting a meeting, Mr. Byrd, who served as majority leader himself for a dozen years, gave Mr. Reid 15 minutes' notice before issuing a statement on Friday afternoon relinquishing his post.
Mr. Byrd said that the time had come for new leadership, and that he would turn over the reins of the Appropriations Committee to Senator Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, who is next in line and who turned 84 in September. Mr. Byrd will remain a member of the committee and will continue to serve as the Senate's president pro tempore.
I am not at all certain that Byrd left all that voluntarily. A trusted go-between might have carried Reid's message that the jig was up and that unless Byrd wanted to be humiliated by being voted out by the Caucus, he should step down.
And what's with naming Inouye as a replacement? Can't the Democrats find someone a little younger than 84? No disrespect intended to the Hawaiian senator who is a geniune war hero, having fought with great distinction with the all-Japanese regiment formed after Pearl Harbor. But these are going to be very difficult times and there has to be someone with almost as much experience who isn't superannuated.