Kennedy and the GOP: A marriage of mutual respect

Despite his affinity for liberal policymaking, Republicans on Capitol Hill greatly admired Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

“He’s a legislator’s legislator,” Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) told The Hill last May, immediately after Kennedy’s diagnosis of brain cancer. “At the end of the day, he wants to legislate, he understands how, and he understands compromise. And it’s worth talking about because it shows how people with drastically different points of view can come together.”

ADVERTISEMENT
In April, The Hill conducted a survey of all sitting senators to ask which member of the opposing party they most enjoyed working with. The most common answer among Republicans was Kennedy, being specifically mentioned by Kyl, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Kit Bond of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

“I’d love to co-sponsor every piece of legislation with Ted Kennedy,” Burr said at the time. “When Ted says he’s going to do something, he’s committed to it.”

Kennedy’s 47 years in the Senate began as his brother, Democrat John F. Kennedy, was president and were marked by a legislative record of liberalism long and prominent enough to earn him his “Liberal Lion” moniker. Republican Party leaders even used him as a fundraising tool for years in races across the country.

In the Senate itself, though, the Massachusetts senator was mostly known by Republicans for his bipartisanship — for diligent, patient and consistent reaching across the aisle to find common ground on the country’s most pressing concerns. Eventually, some of the chamber’s most conservative Republicans, from Alan Simpson of Wyoming to Hatch to Kyl, came to discover that while Kennedy may have had the heart of a liberal, he possessed the mind of a pragmatist.

Republican leaders such as Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee recalled that Kennedy was known for reaching out since his earliest days in Congress. Alexander came to Congress in 1967 as an aide to then-Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee and worked with Kennedy near the end of his first term.

“I’ve known and worked with him for 40 years. He’s results-oriented. He takes his positions, but he sits down and gets results,” Alexander said last May.

In recent years, examples of Kennedy’s bipartisan efforts included teaming up with Kansas Republican Nancy Kassebaum on healthcare in 1996, with President George W. Bush on education reform in 2001, and on unsuccessful attempts with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other Republicans to pass immigration reform in the 110th and 111th Congresses.

More in Blog Briefing Room

GOP: 300K jobs a month 'should be the norm'

Read more »