Kennedy Makes Brief Appearance for Stimulus Vote
By Ben Pershing
The economic stimulus measure cleared a key procedural hurdle tonight, as the Senate voted, 61-36, to invoke cloture and pave the way for a vote on final passage tomorrow. The bill cleared the 60-vote requirement to proceed with one to spare, and one of those "aye" votes came from ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).
Kennedy, who has been undergoing treatment for brain cancer since being diagnosed with the disease nine months ago, was last seen in the Capitol on Inauguration Day. He collapsed during a post-swearing-in luncheon and suffered from a seizure, prompting much concern among his colleagues. His doctors later released a statement saying his collapse was brought on by "simple fatigue."
The Massachusetts senator did not appear fatigued tonight. He walked into the Senate chamber alongside Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) a few minutes after the vote began. Kennedy moved deliberately but with purpose, leaning on a cane as he stopped to chat amiably with Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) as well as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Kennedy signaled his "aye" vote and shared a laugh with a Senate clerk, then walked quickly out of the chamber about a minute after he entered. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) followed him out the door, presumably to say hello.
"I'm doing well," Kennedy told reporters
after exiting on his way into the chamber, according to his office. "Doing well, looking forward to this period of time. 600,000 jobs have been lost in the last month and hundreds of thousands of American families have been hurt by the failure of taking action on the health of the American families. And it's time that we take action now. I think President Obama has demonstrated his strong commitment to making progress on these important issues. And I look forward to being a part of the team."
It turns out that Kennedy's vote was the 61st in favor of proceeding, not the 60th, and his presence was not a secret. So Kennedy's return was not quite as consequential as his appearance in the chamber last July to vote to proceed on a Medicare bill.
But his arrival today was one of the few eagerly awaited moments of a vote that otherwise went exactly as predicted. Everyone who had been expected to vote for the compromise stimulus measure voted for it, and everyone expected to vote no did so. Every Democrat and both the chamber's Independents voted "aye," along with Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Arlen Specter (Pa.). The only Senators who did not record votes were Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who is Obama's choice for Commerce secretary, and John Cornyn (R-Texas).
UPDATE 8:15 p.m. ET: Where was Cornyn tonight? His spokesman, Kevin McLaughlin would say only that "he was in New York for long-standing commitments" and that Cornyn has made his opposition to the measure clear. We don't know exactly what he was doing in New York, but it's worth remembering that Cornyn chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee and so spends a lot of time raising money.
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