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Kennedy Still Absent From Capitol

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) has yet to return to the Senate two weeks after suffering a seizure at President Barack Obama’s Inauguration Day luncheon.

And Senators and aides said Tuesday that while Kennedy continues to work and has been in touch with his colleagues, it remains unclear when he plans to reappear on Capitol Hill.

“Sen. Kennedy is going to come back. He just needs to get the health care he needs,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), one of Kennedy’s closest friends, said this week.

Kennedy, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in May, suffered a seizure during the Jan. 20 inaugural luncheon. The nine-term Senator was rushed to Washington Hospital Center, where he spent the night. He has not made any public appearances on the Hill since then.

Although he has not been present for the floor debates and daily press conferences, a Kennedy aide noted that the Massachusetts lawmaker continues to manage his legislative duties.

“He remains very involved with Senate business, particularly as it relates to health care reform and Cabinet nominees before his committee,” the Kennedy aide said. “He’s been working the phone aggressively and will be participating in meetings by video conference.”

The aide also noted that Kennedy is “doing very well” and is “continuing his treatment and physical rehabilitation in a warmer climate.”

In the two weeks since Kennedy has been gone, the Senate passed and the president signed an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, a major priority for Kennedy.

Kennedy also has been absent from the controversy surrounding former Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s (D-S.D.) nomination to lead the Health and Human Services Department. Daschle withdrew his nomination on Tuesday after it was revealed that he owed more than $100,000 in back taxes. With Daschle out as Obama’s pick for HHS secretary, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions panel, which Kennedy heads, will have to hold yet another confirmation hearing when a new nominee is named.

Kennedy presided over Daschle’s confirmation hearing on Jan. 8 and two additional confirmation hearings prior to his Jan. 20 seizure. Among them was the nomination of Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) to head the Labor Department. The HELP Committee has yet to vote on Solis’ nomination.

Despite some Republican opposition to her selection, Hatch said the delay also likely stems from Kennedy’s absence

“It’s a tough committee to delegate at best, and especially in these circumstances,” Hatch said.

“We’ve got to get the committee moving, and I think he will,” Hatch added. “But we miss him.”

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