CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Joe Manchin does not expect to start searching for a successor to U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd until after the longest-serving senator in history is laid to rest next week.
Manchin said he's instead focused on comforting Byrd's family and staff, and preparing the West Virginia memorial scheduled for Friday for the iconic figure who died Monday at 92 after years of frail health.
"Wednesday will be soon enough to start,'' Manchin told The Associated Press referring to next week. "I'm not thinking about starting the process until after Tuesday. Otherwise, I think it would be so disrespectful.''
Byrd will be interred next Tuesday alongside his wife of nearly 69 years, Erma, in Arlington, Va. A grandson is also buried at that cemetery, near the senator's Beltway residence. The governor said he and First Lady Gayle Manchin plan to attend.
Byrd's body will lie in repose in the U.S. Senate chamber Thursday and will then be flown to Charleston. Following a procession through the city, the body will lie in repose in the well of the Capitol rotunda overnight Thursday. A memorial service at the Capitol's north steps is scheduled to follow late Friday morning.
"This is about letting the people of West Virginia have some closure,'' Manchin said of the memorial plans. "This is a celebration as much as it is us mourning. It's a celebration for a life that was unparalleled. We are going to have something befitting this man.''
But the lingering vacancy affects the Democrats' slim Senate majority, and possibly the fate of some pending legislation. Byrd, for instance, was among 61 senators to vote for that chamber's version of the proposed overhaul of U.S. financial regulations. His death throws further into doubt the prospects for the House-Senate compromise of that measure, sought by the Obama administration.
West Virginia has not had an open Senate seat since 1984, when voters chose then-Gov. Jay Rockefeller to succeed a retiring Sen. Jennings Randolph.