Following the death of 92-year-old Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia early Monday, Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye was sworn in as the Senate president pro tempore, a largely ceremonial position long held by Sen. Byrd.
“My heart is heavy with sadness following the passing of a dear friend, Robert C. Byrd, Senator from West Virginia,” Inouye said in a statement issued Monday afternoon. “We have been friends for nearly 50 years and I am overcome with memories. Nearly 48 years ago, Senator Byrd was one of the first to greet me in the chamber of the United States Senate. Since that first moment of friendship we have worked together on many projects. And since those early days, I have called him, ‘my leader.’ He was my mentor.”
By tradition, the president pro tem position is filled by the senior member of the majority party and ranks third in line of succession to the presidency. While the duties entail presiding over the Senate in the absence of the vice president, in reality that job is typically rotated among more junior members of the Senate. The position entitles to take over as president, following the vice president and the speaker of the House.
Now the longest-serving Democrat in the Senate, Inouye, 85, was first elected to the Senate in 1962.
After his swearing in, Inouye presided over the floor as senators spoke about Byrd. He was escorted into the Senate by Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii.
Calling him a “Senator’s Senator,” Inouye lauded Byrd’s accomplishments and said he fought tirelessly to improve the lives of working families in West Virginia.
“We shared the belief that we must provide for the people who trust us to represent their communities in Washington,” Inouye remarked. “I owe much to my leader, Senator Byrd. He will forever have my gratitude and respect and I will miss him dearly. My thoughts and prayers are with the Byrd family during this difficult time.”