Obama, others pay tribute to 'liberal lion'

A somber President Barack Obama called Sen. Edward Kennedy a “colleague, counselor and friend” as tributes to the late senator streamed in from around the country and the world.

ADVERTISEMENT
Obama said the nation had seen the “passing of an extraordinary leader” whose name was “synonymous with the Democratic Party” in comments Wednesday morning from his vacation retreat in Martha’s Vineyard.

He said he had spoken to Kennedy’s wife, Victoria, but there were no indications that Obama had visited the Kennedy compound at nearby Hyannisport.

Kennedy (D-Mass.) lent establishment credibility to Obama by endorsing him during the 2008 Democratic primary, when the future president was battling Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for his party’s nomination. His endorsement of Obama was considered a critical turning point in the Democratic primary battle, though it wasn’t enough for Obama to win Massachusetts’s primary.

Already ailing, Kennedy one year ago Wednesday day stood up in Denver to offer an emotional tribute to Obama at the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

Longtime political allies and opponents of Kennedy joined the president in offering tributes to Kennedy’s leadership.

“I'm not sure America has ever had a greater Senator, but I know for certain that no one has had a greater friend than I and so many others did in Ted Kennedy,” said Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who has helmed the Senate Health Committee, the first panel to approve healthcare legislation this year, in Kennedy’s absence. Dodd now stands ready to assume the chairmanship from his longtime friend.

Vice President Joe Biden, who served with Kennedy in the Senate for decades, fought back tears Wednesday while talking about his former colleague.

“Today we lost a truly remarkable man,” said a choked-up Biden in remarks Wednesday morning. “To paraphrase Shakespeare, I don't think we shall ever see his like again.”

Some called on Congress to move healthcare reform in the wake of Kennedy’s passing, including Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and the Service Employees International Union.

Conservatives for Patients’ Rights (CPR), a group that has aired ads against Democratic healthcare reform proposals, announced on Wednesday that it would suspend its campaign in the wake of Kennedy’s death.

“We know the debate will continue - a debate Senator Kennedy embraced with vigor - and we look forward to engaging in the debate in the months ahead,” the group said in a statement.

Those who have disagreed with Kennedy over the years said political differences didn’t get in the way of friendship or respect.

“While we didn't see eye-to-eye on many political issues through the years, I always respected his steadfast public service,” said former President George W. Bush, who presented Kennedy with a Bush Award for Public Service in 2003.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) was one of several Republicans who worked closely with Kennedy on healthcare and other issues.

“Today America lost a great elder statesman, a committed public servant and leader of the Senate. And today I lost a treasured friend,” Hatch said. “Many have come before, and many will come after, but Ted Kennedy’s name will always be remembered as someone who lived and breathed the United States Senate and the work completed within its chamber.”

Nancy Reagan, whose husband President Ronald Reagan tussled with Kennedy on numerous legislative issues throughout the 1980s, said she thought of him as a personal friend. President Reagan died from Alzheimer's disease, for which Kennedy had long fought to fund research.
 
“Given our political differences, people are sometimes surprised by how close Ronnie and I have been to the Kennedy family," Reagan said in a statement. "In recent years, Ted and I found our common ground in stem cell research, and I considered him an ally and a dear friend. I will miss him.”

Testaments to Kennedy also came from the House, including from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

“Rooted in his deep patriotism, his abiding faith and his deep concern for the least among us, no one has done more than Sen. Kennedy to educate our children, care for our seniors and ensure equality for all Americans,” Pelosi said.

Tributes to Kennedy have also come from outside the United States.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told MSNBC that Kennedy was an inspiration throughout the world, and said he remembered the senator’s work on bringing peace to Northern Ireland.

“He was a great icon for people not just in America but throughout the world,” Blair said.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose wife Maria Shriver was the daughter of Eunice Shriver, Kennedy's sister who died just last week, released a statement that said he and Shriver were "immensely saddened by the passing of Uncle Teddy."

“He was known to the world as the 'Lion of the Senate,' a champion of social justice and a political icon,” Schwarzenegger said. “Most importantly, he was the rock of our family: a loving husband, father, brother and uncle. He was a man of great faith and character.”

This story was posted at 4 a.m. and updated at 11:09 a.m.