Senator Robert Byrd Elected Majority Leader

From 1977 to 1989 Byrd was the leader of the Senate Democrats, serving as majority leader from 1977 to 1981 and 1987 to 1989

Mr. Kennedy did not pay much more attention to details than Mr. Long had, and Mr. Byrd continued to do much of the whip’s work. He described their relationship as “enmity.” In 1971 he set out to line up the votes to surprise Mr. Kennedy and oust him. With a deathbed proxy from Mr. Russell, he won, 31 to 24.

Six years later, in January 1977, Mr. Byrd was elected majority leader, replacing Mr. Mansfield, who had retired.

Among the toughest legislation Congress handled soon afterward was the pair of treaties that would shift control of the Panama Canal and the Canal Zone to Panama from the United States.

Four years later, he chose to run against the incumbent majority whip, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts.

In a shocking upset, the workhorse beat the showhorse, and Senator Byrd was positioned to move up to the number one position, which he did in 1977 when Senator Mike Mansfield, Democrat of Montana, gave up the majority leader position.

After years as Democrats' frequent floor leader, Byrd replaced Sen. Mike Mansfield of Montana as majority leader in 1977, serving until 1981, when Democrats lost control of the chamber. He was the Democratic leader with the chamber under Republican control until 1987, when he became majority leader again until 1989. He was replaced by Sen. George Mitchell, D-Maine after stepping down to become Appropriations Chairman.