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Kennedy Has Malignant Brain Tumor
Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said, "I have described Ted Kennedy as the last lion in the Senate, and I have held that view because he remains the single most effective member of the Senate."
An aide said Kennedy watched some of the tributes from his colleagues and was "overwhelmed." Hundreds of phone calls, 19 bouquets and more than 2,500 e-mails reached Kennedy's office. King Abdullah II of Jordan sent an orchid. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown sent a get-well note, as did actors Glenn Close and Martin Sheen, rock musician Don Henley, Nancy Reagan, and Al Gore, according to a Kennedy staff member, who requested anonymity out of respect for the family's privacy.
Always a lightning rod for conservatives outside the Capitol, Kennedy's stature in the Senate can hardly be overstated. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took to the chamber floor to call him "one of the most important figures to serve in this body in its history."
Kennedy's fingerprints can be found on landmark legislation on civil rights, bilingual and special education, and immigration; on laws that guarantee health care for poor children; and on the composition of the Supreme Court. He has gone into battle with McCain for tobacco control and a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but he has fought fiercely with McCain and other Republicans over the Iraq war, civil liberties and labor policies.
Kennedy, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has oversight of most social legislation, from health care to the minimum wage. He has also chaired the Judiciary Committee and helped oversee Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
"We just don't feel like going on. He is the center of the Senate, the heart, mind and soul. Just pray," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Kennedy was elected in 1962 to fill the seat once held by his brother John -- who two years earlier was elected president -- and faced just one tough reelection fight, in 1994, against Mitt Romney, who would be elected Massachusetts governor in 2002.
He now trails only Byrd and the late Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) in years served in the Senate. Last August, he cast his 15,000th vote, something only Byrd and Thurmond had done before him.
Not known to focus on such milestones, Kennedy was unaware of the achievement until staff members called him several weeks later while he was vacationing on Cape Cod.
If Kennedy were to become so ill that he is forced to vacate his Senate seat, Massachusetts would use its complicated new law of succession. The measure was instituted in 2004, when state Democrats feared that the Republican governor -- Romney -- would appoint a GOP senator if Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) defeated Bush in that year's presidential election.
The law did away with gubernatorial appointments, the method most states use to fill Senate vacancies, and established a special election to be held 145 to 160 days after a vacancy occurs.
When Kerry seemed on the verge of winning the presidency, several members of the Massachusetts House delegation positioned themselves for his Senate seat. Among those considered to have been eyeing it were former congressman Joseph Kennedy (D), a son of Robert F. Kennedy; he still has more than $2 million in leftover campaign funds.
Staff writer Rob Stein contributed to this report.