Sen. Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) has died at the age of 92 in a Washington-area hospital.
Byrd, a former Ku Klux Klan leader who became a fierce advocate for West Virginia, one of the Senate’s most liberal members and a vehement opponent of the Iraq war, was not among the 95 best friends of the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. Senate.
But that didn’t stop him from winning the respect of colleagues in both parties who recognized his unmatched understanding of the legislative process and his ability to reach out to political adversaries.
His status as a “venerable institution,” as President Obama said this morning, meant that pro-Israel forces generally avoided attacking him in the way they have attacked others who vocally opposed their agenda.
At various times Byrd, the longest serving senator in history, expressed support for cutting Israel’s big U.S. aid allotment, voted against or refused to sign resolutions and letters endorsed by pro-Israel groups and expressed contempt for Israeli government policies.
Byrd was a member of the unofficial “Hall of Fame” of politicians liked by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, a publication consistently hostile to Israeli policies.
But Byrd was also a master legislative tactician who effectively served the needs of one of the nation’s poorer states, and over the years he become one of the Senate’s most influential leaders. Today’s Politico reports that his absence could put the pending Wall Street and banking reform bill in jeopardy.