Thousands bid goodbye to Sen. Kennedy at Capitol

Sen. Edward Kennedy returned to the United States Capitol for a final time on Saturday as hundreds of former staffers bid his flag-draped coffin farewell.

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Kennedy and dozens of mourners packed into five buses arrived at the Capitol in a motorcade for a short ceremony. There, they met members of Congress past and present and Kennedy's current and former staffers, who lined the Senate steps. Capitol police officers said the crowd numbered more than one thousand.

Behind an informal police barrier, some estimates suggested another 4,000 or more packed the East Senate lawn, occasionally breaking into spontaneous renditions of "God Bless America."

Nearly five dozen members of Congress attended Kennedy's funeral in Roxbury, Mass., earlier Saturday, and at the Capitol, several more turned out to pay their last respects.

Sens. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Reps. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), John Dingell (D-Mich.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), John Lewis (D-Ga.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) were among those on the stairs.

Former Rep. Norm Mineta (D-Calif.), who later served as Commerce Secretary and Transportation Secretary, and ex-Sen. Chuck Robb (D-Va.) also paid their respects.

House Chaplain Daniel Coughlin told Vicki Kennedy the gathered mourners were there to offer what support they could.

"Here we are to pray for you, offer our sympathy, and to thank you," Coughlin said. After a brief prayer, Samuel Bonds, choral director at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, led a verse of "America the Beautiful."

Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), who rode in the hearse with his father's body, joined brother Teddy to thank staffers for their work over a 46-year Senate career. His father's goal, Patrick said, was to legislate well, and he hoped staffers felt their long hours and hard work had paid off through any of a number of legislative accomplishments.

"That's the legacy he would want you to feel good about," Kennedy told his father's former staffers.

With that, the hearse pulled out, en route to Kennedy's final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery. The procession was running more than two hours late, the motorcade moving slowly down Constitution Avenue. Thousands of people lined the route, which took the procession past the Lincoln Memorial and toward the eternal flame that celebrates Kennedy's older brothers.

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