Staph infection prolongs Sen. Byrd's hospital stay

June 01, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sen. Robert C. Byrd, who has served in the Senate longer than anyone in history, has developed a staph infection that has prolonged his stay in a Washington-area hospital.

Byrd's office said the West Virginia Democrat, hospitalized more than two weeks ago for an earlier infection, was being treated with antibiotics and was responding well. Staph infections differ in severity depending on the site of infection, but are more of a threat to people with weakened immune systems and underlying chronic illnesses.

Byrd, 91, has become increasingly frail in recent years and moves about in a wheelchair. Renowned for his oratory, he now reads his speeches, sometimes with difficulty.

Byrd, first elected to the Senate in 1958, in 2006 was re-elected for a record ninth six-year term. Last November he stepped down as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, but he remains the Senate's president pro tempore, a largely symbolic post reserved for the longest-serving member of the Senate. That puts him third in line of presidential succession after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.


In June, 2006, Byrd surpassed the Senate longevity record of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C. But that year also appeared to mark a turning point in his previously vigorous health after the death of his wife of 69 years, Erma.

The white-maned senator is regarded as a throwback to an older generation of senators because of his insistence on following Senate rules and his inclination to give long speeches, often with references to the Roman Senate.

He is also famed for his ability, as a former Senate majority leader and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, to direct millions of dollars to West Virginia for roads, buildings and economic development projects.

Byrd also represents many of the changes the country in general has undergone over the last half-century. In his youth he joined the Ku Klux Klan and he participated in an unsuccessful filibuster of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

He has since apologized for both acts, acknowledging that he was wrong and stressing that intolerance has no place in America.

During the administration of President George W. Bush he became a champion of liberal groups because of his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq. He endorsed Barack Obama in his effort to win the Democrats' presidential nomination.

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