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Byrd Returns to Capitol to Pay Tribute to Kennedy

Ailing Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) returned to the Capitol on Thursday to join his Senate colleagues in paying tribute to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

In his first floor speech in months, Byrd, who has been in ill health, remembered the “towering figure— who served 46 years with him in the Senate.

“He believed that life was a contact sport, but that it should never be played without joy,— Byrd said.

“We were the oddest of couples,— Byrd, 91, recalled, but with a shared love of history, poetry and even dogs, the two became a close pair. Kennedy died on Aug. 25 at age 77 after a battle with brain cancer.

“By habit, I immediately look for Ted Kennedy when I enter this chamber,— Byrd said.

Byrd has been mostly absent from the chamber since June, when he was hospitalized and later developed a staph infection.

Thursday’s speeches were part of a week of tributes to the late Senator. The chamber held a moment of silence on Tuesday, and later passed a resolution honoring him.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) remembered drinking “Chardonnay shooters— with Kennedy when she was a new Senator and one of the chamber’s only females. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said his “gregariousness was legendary,— and hailed his voracious reading habits. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said “it was amazing to watch him work.—

“He was one of the best legislators in modern American history because he had such a light touch,— Baucus said.

Earlier Thursday, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) shared fond stories of their close friend.

Dodd, who earlier this year stepped in for Kennedy to move a health care reform bill through the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, noted the tributes won’t end this week.

If Congress passes a health care reform package, Dodd said Kennedy’s memory will truly be honored.

“I propose we affix the Kennedy name, not just as a monument to the things that the three Senators Kennedy have done, but to the spirit of compassion and compromise, fierce advocacy and tender friendship, that Teddy embodied perhaps more than any other Senator of our time,— Dodd said.

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