West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd has died at 92, of as-yet-unreported causes, after a career in the Senate that spanned more than 50 years. He’ll be remembered for being an expert in and protector of the Senate’s often complex rules and traditions, as an unabashed and successful breadwinner for his state, and even for his gradual shift on civil rights over the course of his life he went from being a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the forties and voting against the 1964 Civil Rights Act to supporting Barack Obama for president in 2008.
As uncomfortable as it is to talk about the politics of his death, the fact is that Byrd’s absence could delay passage of the revised financial-reform legislation that the House and Senate agreed to on Friday. Without all four GOP votes it received when it first passed in the Senate, the bill would not have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, and Scott Brown, one of those Republican votes, appears to be on the fence. According to West Virginia law, Byrd’s replacement will be appointed by Democratic governor Joe Manchin, so while the makeup of the Senate won’t change, financial reform may have to wait until that appointment takes place.