WASHINGTON — Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., 90, the longest-serving senator in history, announced Friday he is stepping down as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, one of the most powerful panels on Capitol Hill.
Byrd — whose penchant for steering billions of dollars to his state made him a legend at home and in the Senate — will relinquish his gavel under pressure from Democratic leaders who believe he has become too frail to continue in such an important job.
Byrd cited the victory of President-elect Barack Obama, D-Ill., as the moment that caused him to recognize the need for new leadership at the committee, which doles out more than $1 trillion a year in federal spending.
“A new day has dawned in Washington, and that is a good thing. For my part, I believe that it is time for a new day at the top of the Senate Appropriations Committee,” Byrd said.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, 84, the second-ranking Democrat on the panel for decades, is expected to succeed Byrd as chairman.
Byrd, who turns 91 on Nov. 20, was hospitalized last February after a fall in his home. He suffers from a noticeable tremor that, aides say, is common among people his age.
At times he has let colleagues on the committee run hearings and negotiations. He has been unable to perform a host of duties that come with his chairmanship and his status as president pro tempore of the Senate, which places him behind the vice president and House speaker in the line of presidential succession.
Byrd did not address whether he would remain as president pro tempore.