The death of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), arguably the Senate’s most accomplished legislator, has left his grieving colleagues questioning whether a deeply divided Congress can continue his legacy of bipartisan compromise on issues ranging from a health care overhaul to immigration reform.
During his more than 46 years in the Senate, Kennedy, who died Tuesday after a yearlong fight with brain cancer, developed a reputation not only as a fierce partisan warrior but as one of the chamber’s greatest legislators. Despite his liberal leanings, Kennedy often crossed political and ideological divides to craft compromises on some of the most difficult issues of the day.
Indeed, despite their deep philosophical differences, Republicans on Wednesday provided some of the most poignant praise for their late colleague.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), one of Kennedy’s closest friends in the Senate, lamented his Democratic colleague’s death. Hatch and Kennedy collaborated on numerous legislative endeavors over the years, including health care issues.
“When I first came to the United States Senate I was filled with conservative fire in my belly and an itch to take on any and everyone who stood in my way, including Ted Kennedy. As I began working within the confines of my office I soon found out that while we almost always disagreed on most issues, once in a while we could actually get together and find the common ground, which is essential in passing legislation,— said Hatch, a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
“In the current climate of today’s United States Senate it is rare to find opportunities where both sides can come together and work in the middle to craft a solution for our country’s problems. Ted Kennedy, with all of his ideological verbosity and idealism was a rare person who at times could put aside differences and look for common solutions. Not many ever got to see that side of him, but as peers and colleagues we were able to share some of those moments,— Hatch said.
Likewise, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who like Hatch served on the HELP panel with Kennedy, praised the Massachusetts Senator’s legislative acumen.
“Today America lost an extraordinary leader, a legendary political force, and the patriarch of one of the greatest families in American history. … In the Senate, Ted and I had a remarkable working relationship, and a friendship I will always cherish. We served on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, alternating as chairman and ranking member as the party majorities switched. During this time Ted was always willing to not only reach across the aisle, but had the unique ability to pull people together to get things done, with both substance and a great sense of humor. He was undoubtedly one of the single most effective Senators in this history of our country and the impact of his loss will be felt far beyond the halls of Washington or the streets of Hyannis Port. Where his booming voice once echoed through the Senate, there will now be a resounding echo from this great loss, but his memory will never leave us,— Gregg said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called Kennedy “one of the giants of American political life, a longtime Senate colleague, and a friend.—
Even House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) praised Kennedy. “Ted Kennedy was my friend. While there were few political issues on which he and I agreed, our relationship was never disagreeable, and was always marked by good humor, hard work, and a desire to find common ground,— Boehner said in a statement.
Democrats also were effusive in their tributes to Kennedy. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) issued a statement early Wednesday morning saying: “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.—
Reid added: “Because of Ted Kennedy, more young children could afford to become healthy. More young adults could afford to become students. More of our oldest citizens and our poorest citizens could get the care they need to live longer, fuller lives. More minorities, women and immigrants could realize the rights our founding documents promised them. And more Americans could be proud of their country. … The liberal lion’s mighty roar may now fall silent, but his dream shall never die.—
Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who like Kennedy has spent much of the last year suffering health problems, urged his colleagues to put an end to partisan fighting over health care reform in honor of Kennedy. Kennedy was the chairman of the HELP panel, and deemed health care reform “the cause of my lifetime.—
“In his honor and as a tribute to his commitment to his ideals, let us stop the shouting and name calling and have a civilized debate on health care reform which I hope, when legislation has been signed into law, will bear his name for his commitment to insuring the health of every American,— Byrd said in a statement, while Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), called Kennedy the best Senator to serve in the chamber.
“No words can ever do justice to this irrepressible, larger-than-life presence who was simply the best — the best Senator, the best advocate you could ever hope for, the best colleague, and the best person to stand by your side in the toughest of times. He faced the last challenge of his life with the same grace, courage, and determination with which he fought for the causes and principles he held so dear. He taught us how to fight, how to laugh, how to treat each other, and how to turn idealism into action, and in these last 14 months he taught us much more about how to live life, sailing into the wind one last time,— Kerry said.
Kennedy’s closest friend in the Senate, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who took the helm of the HELP Committee’s health care talks in Kennedy’s absence, hailed him as a hero. “I will always remember Teddy as the ultimate example for all of us who seek to serve, a hero for those Americans in the shadow of life who so desperately needed one. He worked tirelessly to lift Americans out of poverty, advance the cause of civil rights, and provide opportunity to all. He fought to the very end for the cause of his life — ensuring that all Americans have the health care they need,— Dodd said.
In a statement, Kennedy’s family expressed its grief and thanked the public for its outpouring of support.
“We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever,— the Massachusetts Democrat’s family said in a statement. “We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all. He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it. He always believed that our best days were still ahead, but it’s hard to imagine any of them without him.—
Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.