By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Paul G. Kirk Jr. (D-Mass.) was sworn in Friday to the Senate seat previously held for nearly five decades by Edward M. Kennedy.
Vice President Biden gave the oath of office to Kirk, telling him at the end, "Congratulations, Senator."
The ceremony marked the final step in a month-long process set in motion by Kennedy's death on Aug. 25. Democratic luminaries and Kennedy family members watched Kirk -- a close family friend and senior staff member to Kennedy in the 1970s -- recite the oath of office.
Kennedy's son, Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.), stood at the podium alongside Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Later, he called the ceremony "bittersweet."
In the first row of the gallery sat Vicki Kennedy, the late senator's wife, who burst into tears and hugged Gail Kirk, the new senator's wife, upon Biden's salutation. Sitting with the two spouses were Edward M. Kennedy Jr. and Kara Kennedy, the late senator's other two children, and their stepbrother, Curran Raclin.
Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) ushered Kirk down the aisle to meet Biden. The first senators to congratulate Kirk were Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Afterward, Kirk told reporters he was experiencing "a combination of emotions," including the "profound absence of a friend," but also a "full understanding of his devotion and understanding of public service."
Asked whether he would play a role in the health-care debate, Kirk said, "I hope I can. I'm aware that I'm the freshman in the class."
Staff writer Jason Horowitz contributed to this report.