Tales of the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s contempt for the line-item veto and his love of funding home-state projects regaled mourners on the steps of the West Virginia Capitol on Friday.
“Transplanted in Washington, his heart remained here in West Virginia, in a place that shaped him by the people he loved,” President Barack Obama said. “His heart belonged to you, making life better here was his only agenda.”
Byrd, who in his youth was a Ku Klux Klan member, made history by endorsing Obama for president in 2008. Obama recalled Byrd telling him, “There are things that I regret from my youth,” but that he evolved as the times did.
“Like the Constitution he tucked in his pocket, Robert Byrd represented a capacity to change,” Obama said.
The ceremony, held on a sunny Appalachian day just before the July Fourth holiday, was decidedly more upbeat than the somber Capitol Hill remembrance Thursday. Speakers noted Byrd’s love of poetry, the history of the British monarchy, the fiddle that he taught himself to play and the state that he represented in Congress for 57 years.
Others to speak at the ceremony were West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D), Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Vice President Joseph Biden.
Byrd’s body will be brought back to Washington, D.C., for a public funeral Tuesday at the Memorial Baptist Church in Arlington, Va.