By J. Taylor Rushing and Reid Wilson - 06/15/09 04:20 PM EDT
One month after being hospitalized for an infection, Sen. Robert Byrd’s office announced Monday that the senator is starting physical therapy and will soon be released.
Byrd (D-W.Va.), 91, “has begun a round of physical therapy in anticipation of being released from the hospital in the near future,” said a statement from Byrd’s office. The statement said Byrd’s spirits are “extremely high” but that he will not be back in the Senate this week.
The senator has asked Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) to oversee the markup of the Homeland Security appropriations bill on Wednesday. Byrd would normally handle the task in his role as a subcommittee chairman.
“The need to move forward with this bill is critical,” Byrd said in the statement. “It is imperative that Congress provide the resources necessary to protect our nation’s homeland.
“For years, the Bush budgets for homeland security were filled with smoke and mirrors, not real security enhancements. This homeland security funding bill will propose a 7% increase over last years funding [sic]. This year the Committee will be sure that the Department of Homeland Security has ample funding to better secure our borders, ports and transportation systems; enforce our immigration laws; prepare for and respond to natural disasters; address the drug cartel violence along the Southwest border; and allow DHS to be nimble and proactive in responding to evolving threats.”
A report over the weekend from the Charleston Gazette suggested Byrd may be in worse health than is publicly known. A political columnist at the paper wrote that Gov. Joe Manchin (D) and Nick Casey, the West Virginia Democratic Party chairman, held a conference call last week with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to discuss contingencies if Byrd doesn't return.
Reid said Monday that he had spoken to Manchin about Byrd's health, but said there is no contingency plan for Byrd's seat if he is unable to return.
"We've acknowledged he's sick, that's the size of it," Reid said.
A spokesman for Manchin was not immediately available. An e-mail and a call to Casey went unreturned.
Reid's office also declined to comment on when Byrd would return to the Senate. Earlier this year, Democrats engineered a behind-the-scenes move to ease Byrd from the top slot at the Appropriations Committee, replacing him with Inouye, as Byrd's health declined.
This story was corrected at 5:51 p.m.