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Senators Pay Tribute to Kennedy

By Ben Pershing
The morning after President Obama ended his address to a joint session of Congress with an emotional recollection of Sen. Edward Kennedy's (D-Mass.) commitment to health-care reform, Senators filed onto the chamber floor Thursday to pay tribute to their late colleague.

Kennedy passed away last month after a bout with brain cancer and 47 years in the Senate, during which he carved out a place as one of the most consequential legislators in modern history. Because his death came during the congressional recess, some of Kennedy's colleagues didn't have the chance to pay their formal respects until this morning. One by one, they did.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Mass.) said that when Kennedy first spoke on the Senate floor more than four decades earlier, "He said young senators should learn, and not teach. But who can list all that we learned from his leadership?

"It was the thrill of my lifetime to work with Ted Kennedy. He was a friend, the model of public service and an American icon."

"His secret weapon was simply this -- people liked him," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Like many Republicans, McConnell said he and Kennedy agreed on little but always maintained a strong and respectful relationship. And McConnell credited the late lawmaker with providing "some of the best theater" the Senate had seen.

The tributes Thursday held special resonance because of what had occurred across the Capitol the previous night. During his joint address, Obama recounted that the ailing Kennedy had written him a letter in May, delivered after his death, expressing confidence that health-care reform -- "the great unfinished business of our society" -- would pass on Obama's watch.

Looking on were several members of the Kennedy clan: His widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, was a guest of first lady Michelle Obama. One of the late senator's sons, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), watched with his fellow House members while the other two children, Kara and Ted Jr., were guests of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Many Democrats hope that Kennedy's calls during his last days for passage of health-care reform will help drive the legislative process forward, though his presence in the chamber has been sorely missed during the debate.

"On many occasions in the Senate, he was the indispensable man," said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), one of Kennedy's closest friends agreed: "The Senate is a lesser place without him here."

"Ted Kennedy was a champion for ordinary Americans. For those who struggled. For those who did not have a champion," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). "It was a privilege to serve alongside such a public servant."

Senators actually began paying tribute to Kennedy on the floor earlier this week. All along, Kennedy's desk in the chamber has sat empty. It has been draped with black velvet cloth. A vase of white roses sits atop the desk, as does a copy of a favorite Kennedy poem by Robert Frost, "The Road Less Traveled."

"Mr. President," Reid said when he first returned to the Senate Tuesday. "I have to acknowledge that as I came into the chamber this afternoon, I came upon Senator Kennedy's desk, which is covered with the traditional black velvet, with the flowers and his favorite poem on the desk. I read the poem and a tear came to my eye."

By Ben Pershing  |  September 10, 2009; 12:34 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform , Senate  
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Comments

Maybe instead of tributes, they should look at all the things that have not been accomplished in the last 25 years. Immigration is a joke. Our emergency rooms are flooded with uninsured and illegals. Our banking system is a joke. Our Senators have conflicts of interest and there is no accountability. Maybe you all should just do your jobs and hold each other to basic standards for once. What a pathetic lot you are.

Posted by: RobMc1 | September 10, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

That Teddy - what a guy! Such a compassionate Catholic. Yes, he was outspoken in his demand to have unlimited abortion become a right. Sure the Church views abortion as murder - but isn't one murder just about the same as any other? Mary Jo Kopechne (July 26, 1940 – July 18, 1969).

Posted by: GuyThompto1 | September 10, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

It pains me to read the venomous comments just posted here, so characteristic of the current vicious political climate that afflicts our great country - intensely partisan, mean-spirited and small-minded. The article speaks of colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, honoring a long life of service; a life spent fighting for civil rights and for social justice, for the little guy. I wish you could have seen the outpouring of affection for the man - genuine bipartisan affection - at his wake and at his funeral. May God grant us such another.

Posted by: hibbard16 | September 10, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

I missed seeing Teddy last night during the speech. He was always so recognizable. During President Obama's talking about the letter he received from the Senator I saw how hard it was for Mrs. Kennedy to keep her composure. I can't begin to know how difficult this has been for her and the children. Even though they had time to prepare for his death, he was so much larger than life that there is a huge vacuum in life now.

Posted by: mishanti2 | September 10, 2009 5:44 PM | Report abuse

God bless you, Senator Kennedy, and thank you.

Posted by: bschratwieser | September 10, 2009 6:38 PM | Report abuse

Is it not amazing that blind ideology will cause people to spew such venom toward the late Senator Kennedy? These "kind", "caring", "pro-life" "Christians" are actually practicing that which they accuse Kennedy of being. As these "patriotic pillars" of society continue to be the champions of the red, white and blue the rest of us should be very wary. Ted Kennedy did more to forge compromise and bridge the divide between the aisles than any other Senator in the last century. That's fact. And it is something that causes those on the Far Right to sink to the most unpatriotic, un-Christian, cruel levels. They are an embarrassment to Christianity as well as mainstream America and they are the very reason why so many in the Muslim world are skeptical of Christians. Collectively they are the Torquemada of our time. If the Republican Party is to ever return as a viable party, it must begin by an Inquisition-like purge of the demagogues who control the party. The GOP needs good, faithful servants to come back to the fold like Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island. They need an infusion of new blood with the energy of Meghan McCain and the wisdom of Olympia Snowe.

Though Democrats are hesitant to begin censure proceedings against Congressman Wilson of South Carolina, I say that voters across this country should call their members of Congress and demand that a motion of censure be introduced. And within Congressman Wilson's district there must be a less volatile Republican who has the will and courage to stand up against this zealot and take him down. The 2010 Election Cycle demands the advent of the GOP purge. It's time for those who are reasonable Republicans to protest at every state GOP convention, the Southern Republican Leadership Conference and the National GOP Convention.

And, finally, it's time fhisthe ultra right exile and reclaim his mantle as a maverick. He has served this country far too long and honorably to end his career on a sour note. As we owe John McCain a debt of gratitude for his service, he owes an apology to his more moderate supporters. He still has an opportunity to go down in history as one of our greatest political leaders regardless of the mess he created when he chose Sarah Palin as the worst running mate in the history of this Union.

Posted by: deLIBERnATION | September 11, 2009 12:36 AM | Report abuse

Is it not amazing that blind ideology will cause people to spew such venom toward the late Senator Kennedy? These "kind", "caring", "pro-life" "Christians" are actually practicing that which they accuse Kennedy of being. As these "patriotic pillars" of society continue to be the champions of the red, white and blue the rest of us should be very wary. Ted Kennedy did more to forge compromise and bridge the divide between the aisles than any other Senator in the last century. That's fact. And it is something that causes those on the Far Right to sink to the most unpatriotic, un-Christian, cruel levels. They are an embarrassment to Christianity as well as mainstream America and they are the very reason why so many in the Muslim world are skeptical of Christians. Collectively they are the Torquemada of our time. If the Republican Party is to ever return as a viable party, it must begin by an Inquisition-like purge of the demagogues who control the party. The GOP needs good, faithful servants to come back to the fold like Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island. They need an infusion of new blood with the energy of Meghan McCain and the wisdom of Olympia Snowe.

Though Democrats are hesitant to begin censure proceedings against Congressman Wilson of South Carolina, I say that voters across this country should call their members of Congress and demand that a motion of censure be introduced. And within Congressman Wilson's district there must be a less volatile Republican who has the will and courage to stand up against this zealot and take him down. The 2010 Election Cycle demands the advent of the GOP purge. It's time for those who are reasonable Republicans to protest at every state GOP convention, the Southern Republican Leadership Conference and the National GOP Convention.

And, finally, it's time John McCain abdicates his throne of the ultra right realm and reclaim his mantle as a maverick. He has served this country far too long and honorably to end his career on a sour note. As we owe John McCain a debt of gratitude for his service, he owes an apology to his more moderate supporters. He still has an opportunity to go down in history as one of our greatest political leaders regardless of the mess he created when he chose Sarah Palin as the worst running mate in the history of this Union.

Posted by: deLIBERnATION | September 11, 2009 12:37 AM | Report abuse

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