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."
September 10, 2009; 12:34 PM ET
Categories: Health Reform , Senate
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