Rest in peace, Ted Kennedy

Highly recommended: the National Journal’s compilation of several dozen tributes to Ted Kennedy, as his current and former staffers and other elected officials remember him.

Ted Kennedy has died of brain cancer:

But while the White House eluded his grasp, the longtime Massachusetts senator was considered one of the most effective legislators of the past few decades. Kennedy, who became known as the “lion of the Senate,” played major roles in passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, and was an outspoken liberal standard-bearer during a conservative-dominated era from the 1980s to the early 2000s. […]

Said Kennedy’s biographer, Adam Clymer: “He was probably best known for the ability to work with Republicans. The Republican Party raised hundreds of millions of dollars with direct appeal to protect the country from Ted Kennedy, but there was never a piece of legislation that he ever got passed without a major Republican ally.”

There’s much more detail about his life in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times obituaries. Norman Ornstein observed, “When you survey the impact of the Kennedys on American life and politics and policy, he will end up by far being the most significant.” Some may focus on his personal flaws, but he had a lot of demons to escape from, having had four of his older siblings die violently before his 40th birthday.

I appreciated Kennedy’s commitment to improving legal protections for so many disadvantaged people. I never met him, but I’ll always remember seeing him speak at a rally for John Kerry shortly before the 2004 caucuses. The Hoover High School gymnasium was packed, and Kennedy got the crowd going with humor and passion.

It’s sad that cancer prevented Kennedy from being more involved in the Senate health care deliberations this year. He would have been a voice for many of the reforms we need.

Even if Congress approves a health care bill, it will fall short of the universal coverage Kennedy advocated for most of his career. On the other hand, Kennedy famously regretted not reaching a health care compromise with President Richard Nixon in the early 70s. (Nixon was prepared to require employers to provide health insurance, while Kennedy wanted a single-payer type system.) While that compromise wouldn’t have helped everyone, we would have a lot fewer than 47 million uninsured Americans today if it had passed.

Massachusetts law requires a special election in the event of a U.S. Senate seat vacancy. Last month Kennedy asked Governor Deval Patrick and state legislators to amend the law to allow the governor to appoint a temporary replacement (who would not be able to compete in the special election) so that Massachusetts will not be lacking a vote when important legislation comes before the Senate this fall.

Share your thoughts and memories about Ted Kennedy in this thread.

UPDATE: I’m with Senator Tom Harkin: “We must now rededicate our efforts toward passing legislation to provide robust, quality health insurance coverage for all Americans.”

SECOND UPDATE: More reaction after the jump, including a video of Vice President Joe Biden.

Remarks by President Barack Obama:

    THE PRESIDENT:  I wanted to say a few words this morning about the passing of an extraordinary leader, Senator Edward Kennedy.

    Over the past several years, I’ve had the honor to call Teddy a colleague, a counselor, and a friend.  And even though we have known this day was coming for some time now, we awaited it with no small amount of dread.

    Since Teddy’s diagnosis last year, we’ve seen the courage with which he battled his illness.  And while these months have no doubt been difficult for him, they’ve also let him hear from people in every corner of our nation and from around the world just how much he meant to all of us.  His fight has given us the opportunity we were denied when his brothers John and Robert were taken from us:  the blessing of time to say thank you — and goodbye.

    The outpouring of love, gratitude, and fond memories to which we’ve all borne witness is a testament to the way this singular figure in American history touched so many lives.  His ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and reflected in millions of lives — in seniors who know new dignity, in families that know new opportunity, in children who know education’s promise, and in all who can pursue their dream in an America that is more equal and more just — including myself.

    The Kennedy name is synonymous with the Democratic Party.  And at times, Ted was the target of partisan campaign attacks.  But in the United States Senate, I can think of no one who engendered greater respect or affection from members of both sides of the aisle.  His seriousness of purpose was perpetually matched by humility, warmth, and good cheer.  He could passionately battle others and do so peerlessly on the Senate floor for the causes that he held dear, and yet still maintain warm friendships across party lines.

    And that’s one reason he became not only one of the greatest senators of our time, but one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy.

    His extraordinary life on this earth has come to an end.  And the extraordinary good that he did lives on.  For his family, he was a guardian.  For America, he was the defender of a dream.

    I spoke earlier this morning to Senator Kennedy’s beloved wife, Vicki, who was to the end such a wonderful source of encouragement and strength.  Our thoughts and prayers are with her, his children Kara, Edward, and Patrick; his stepchildren Curran and Caroline; the entire Kennedy family; decades’ worth of his staff; the people of Massachusetts; and all Americans who, like us, loved Ted Kennedy.

Statement from Governor Chet Culver:

   This is a very sad day for America. My prayers are with the Senator’s wife Vicki, his children, family members and all of those who loved him.

   Senator Kennedy was truly the lion and leader of the U.S. Senate, regardless of one’s party affiliation. His record of accomplishment is unmatched. Ted Kennedy was a kind and gentle public servant who cared passionately about people across the country and around the world, especially those without a voice. He fought every day for 47 years in the Senate to improve lives and help people achieve their hopes and dreams.

   On a personal note, my father was a dear friend of Ted’s for nearly 60 years. They were teammates on the football field as college freshmen in 1950. In addition, they served together in the U.S. Congress for 16 years. So, Mari and I were very fortunate to spend some wonderful times together with the Senator and his family. We will always cherish those memories and miss him a great deal.

   Senator Kennedy had a wonderful sense of humor, he was always there for his family and friends, and he had an unwavering faith and a generosity of spirit. These qualities and his record in public service will continue to serve as an example to all of us.

Statement from Senator Tom Harkin:

   Today my thoughts are with the Kennedy family as they mourn the loss of their father, grandfather, husband and patriarch. Their grief is shared by all of us in Congress who have lost a friend and role model. I personally was honored to serve with Ted Kennedy and call him my friend.

   In Ted, Americans had a staunch advocate for the rights worth protecting: ensuring a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, making sure that every kid has the education and opportunity they deserve and the cause of his life, access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans. I worked side-by-side with him to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act and will never forget his compassion for individuals with disabilities and the opportunity he gave me as a young senator to spearhead that legislation.

   As Congress continues its work on these and many other issues, we will remember Ted Kennedy every step of the way. The liberal lion no longer roams the halls of Congress, but his legacy remains.

   We must now rededicate our efforts toward passing legislation to provide robust, quality health insurance coverage for all Americans.

Statement from Senator Chuck Grassley:

“The United States Senate will never be the same without Ted Kennedy.  His presence was enormous.  He fought hard, debated intensely and worked tirelessly for what he thought was right.  Senator Kennedy and I had a different point of view on most every issue, but he was an ally like few others when he was on your side.  Senator Kennedy leaves a legacy as a public servant and policy maker, and my wife Barbara joins me in sending our deepest sympathy to his family.”

Statement from Congressman Bruce Braley:

“With the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy, our nation has lost a great leader.  Senator Kennedy fought for what he believed in and cared deeply for our country.  He never stopped fighting for working families and those less fortunate than himself.  Respected by leaders from both sides of the aisle and people from all walks of life, his tremendous legacy will live on in the Democratic Party and in the Senate,” said Rep. Bruce Braley.

Statement from Congressman Dave Loebsack:

“Ted Kennedy was an inspiration to us all, and his work has touched each and every American. Whether it was protecting workers by ensuring fair pay for a day’s work or crafting programs that make sure our children have the education and opportunities they deserve, Senator Kennedy always fought just and noble causes.

“In my office, we are lucky to have a former staff member from Senator Kennedy’s office, and her commitment and strength proudly reflect the ideals of a greater nation. In Congress, as we continue our work, we will remember Ted Kennedy and his lifelong dedication to the American people.”

Statement by National Security Advisor General James L. Jones:

As a young Senate Liaison officer during the early 1980’s, I had the opportunity to get to know Senator Edward Kennedy who was then a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Senator Kennedy and his staff were among some of the best supporters the Marine Corps ever had on Capitol Hill.  Despite his many responsibilities, he always made time for me on issues of importance to Marines and their families.  Always gracious and well informed, the Senator was instrumental in the passage of the landmark legislation known as Goldwater-Nichols and military pay reforms, which ushered in the most comprehensive reforms of our military and defense establishment since the end of World War II.

Senator Kennedy, among the many things he will be remembered for, deserves to be honored for his genuine care and compassion for our men and women in uniform – his tireless work and his voting record clearly supports this distinction.  While he never shied from challenging our senior military leadership during hundreds of committee hearings, he could always be counted on to be fair and open-minded in letting witnesses like me make our case to the committee and to the American people.  He contributed a great deal to my “Washington education”, and I’m sure he is most proud of the contributions many of his former staff members continue to make to our nation today.    

Statement from Iowa Democratic Party chair Michael Kiernan:

Sen. Edward Kennedy was a champion for those whose voices too often go unheard in American political life: people living in poverty, with disabilities, those without health care.  His spirit will live on in the work of millions across Iowa, the nation and the world.

Many Iowa Democrats, including myself, were first inspired to political action by the example of Sen. Kennedy and his family.

His personal courage and singular determination to achieve his goals, in the Senate and in life, stand as a shining example of the difference one person can make.  While he was a towering figure, he made each of us believe we had a contribution to make to the cause.   In that way, in Sen. Kennedy’s historic words: “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

On behalf of all Iowa Democrats, we extend our thoughts and prayers to the Kennedy family in this difficult time.

Transcript of Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks at the Department of Energy:



The Department of Energy

Washington, DC

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, Mr. Secretary, thank you and your staff for the privilege of being with you today on what, as I prepared last night, was to be a joyous occasion, announcing another step in the direction of energy independence.  And you said the President made a wise choice.  The wisest choice the President made was asking you to be — I mean that sincerely — to be the Secretary to the Department of Energy.  You’ve assembled a first-rate staff, and you’ve taken on a role that is going to be a — is going to, in large part, determine the success of these next three-and-a-half years, whether or not we make a genuine dent, genuine progress in moving toward an energy policy that can help America lead the world in the 21st century as it did in the 20th century.

    Some suggest we’re trying to do too much.  But my response is, is there any possibility of America leading the world in the 21st century without a radically altered energy policy?  It is not possible.  And that charge has been given to one of the most remarkable men to serve in a President’s Cabinet, a Nobel laureate who is as articulate as he is obviously bright, and a man who has assembled a staff that can corral the bureaucracy — and we’re all — deal with bureaucracy, we’re all part of it — in a way that I haven’t seen in awhile.

    And I had planned on speaking to the Clean Cities Program as one of the several initiatives we have to begin to reshape our energy policy.  But as if Teddy were here, as we would say in the Senate, if you’d excuse a point of personal privilege, I quite frankly think it’s — would be inappropriate for me to dwell too much on the initiative that we’re announcing today and not speak to my friend.

    My wife Jill, and my sons Beau and Hunter, and my daughter Ashley — and I don’t say that lightly, because they all knew Teddy, he did something personal and special for each one of them in their lives — truly, truly are distressed by his passing.  And our hearts go out to Teddy Jr., and Patrick and Kara, and Vicki, with whom I spoke this morning, and the whole Kennedy family.

    Teddy spent a lifetime working for a fair and more just America.  And for 36 years, I had the privilege of going to work every day and literally, not figuratively sitting next to him, and being witness to history.  Every single day the Senate was in session, I sat with him on the Senate floor in the same aisle.  I sat with him on the Judiciary Committee next — physically next to him.  And I sat with him in the caucuses.  And it was in that process, every day I was with him — and this is going to sound strange — but he restored my sense of idealism and my faith in the possibilities of what this country could do.

    He and I were talking after his diagnosis.  And I said, I think you’re the only other person I’ve met, who like me, is more optimistic, more enthusiastic, more idealistic, sees greater possibilities after 36 years than when we were elected.  He was 30 years-old when he was elected; I was 29 years-old.  And you’d think that would be the peak of our idealism.  But I genuinely feel more optimistic about the prospect for my country today than I did — I have been any time in my life.

    And it was infectious when you were with him.  You could see it, those of you who knew him and those of you who didn’t know him.  You could just see it in the nature of his debate, in the nature of his embrace, in the nature of how he every single day attacked these problems.  And, you know, he was never defeatist.  He never was petty — never was petty.  He was never small.  And in the process of his doing, he made everybody he worked with bigger — both his adversaries as well as his allies.

Don’t you find it remarkable that one of the most partisan, liberal men in the last century serving in the Senate had so many of his — so many of his foes embracing him, because they know he made them bigger, he made them more graceful by the way in which he conducted himself.

You know, he changed the circumstances of tens of millions of Americans — in the literal sense, literally — literally changed the circumstances.  He changed also another aspect of it as I observed about him — he changed not only the physical circumstance, he changed how they looked at themselves and how they looked at one another.  That’s a remarkable, remarkable contribution for any man or woman to make.  And for the hundreds, if not thousands, of us who got to know him personally, he actually — how can I say it — he altered our lives as well.

Through the grace of God and accident of history I was privileged to be one of those people and every important event in my adult life — as I look back this morning and talking to Vicki — every single one, he was there.  He was there to encourage, to counsel, to be empathetic, to lift up.  In 1972 I was a 29 year old kid with three weeks left to go in a campaign, him showing up at the Delaware Armory in the middle of what we called Little Italy — who had never voted nationally by a Democrat — I won by 3,100 votes and got 85 percent of the vote in that district, or something to that effect.  I literally would not be standing here were it not for Teddy Kennedy — not figuratively, this is not hyperbole — literally.

He was there — he stood with me when my wife and daughter were killed in an accident.  He was on the phone with me literally every day in the hospital, my two children were attempting, and, God willing, thankfully survived very serious injuries.  I’d turn around and there would be some specialist from Massachusetts, a doc I never even asked for, literally sitting in the room with me.

You know, it’s not just me that he affected like that — it’s hundreds upon hundreds of people.  I was talking to Vicki this morning and she said — she said, “He was ready to go, Joe, but we were not ready to let him go.”

He’s left a great void in our public life and a hole in the hearts of millions of Americans and hundreds of us who were affected by his personal touch throughout our lives.  People like me, who came to rely on him.  He was kind of like an anchor.  And unlike many important people in my 38 years I’ve had the privilege of knowing, the unique thing about Teddy was it was never about him.  It was always about you.  It was never about him.  It was people I admire, great women and men, at the end of the day gets down to being about them.  With Teddy it was never about him.

Well, today we lost a truly remarkable man.  To paraphrase Shakespeare:  I don’t think we shall ever see his like again.  I think the legacy he left is not just in the landmark legislation he passed, but in how he helped people look at themselves and look at one another.

I apologize for us not being able to go into more detail about the energy bill, but I just think for me, at least, it was inappropriate today.  And I’m sure there will be much more that will be said about my friend and your friend, but — he changed the political landscape for almost half a century.  I just hope — we say blithely, you know, we’ll remember what we did.  I just hope we’ll remember how he treated other people and how he made other people look at themselves and look at one another.  That will be the truly fundamental, unifying legacy of Teddy Kennedy’s life if that happens — and it will for a while, at least in the Senate.

Mr. Secretary, you and your staff are doing an incredible job.  I look forward to coming back at a happier moment when you are announcing even more consequential progress toward putting us back in a position where once again can control our own economic destiny.

Thank you all very, very much.  (Applause.)


Statement from the Sierra Club and its Massachusetts chapter:

“Senator Kennedy’s leadership, wisdom, and political skills were without equal,” said Massachusetts Sierra Club director James McCaffrey. “He was an environmental champion for decades, advocating for clean air and water legislation, and supporting mass transit and completing the North South Rail Link, which would get 55,000 cars off the road daily. The people who worked with him knew him well — and knew that his promises meant action.”

“Senator Kennedy was always a champion for progress and a better future for all of us,” said Carl Pope, Executive Director of Sierra Club. “He will be deeply missed by all who care about protecting America’s clean air, clean water and wild places. During his amazing life of public service, he consistently stood up for the public over corporate interest. He was a defender of low-income families fighting air and water pollution in their neighborhoods, and helped poor communities save money and energy with weatherization and home heating assistance programs. Senator Kennedy fought against giveaways for oil companies for decades and has been a founding supporter of better fuel economy standards for cars and trucks. He strongly supported economic stimulus through investment in renewable energy. We will work hard to follow-through on Ted Kennedy’s vision of a clean energy future that works for everyone.”

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