Senate Colleagues Remember Ted Kennedy
In the aftermath of Sen. Edward Kennedy's (D-Mass.) death, the Washington Post set about collecting memorable anecdotes about Kennedy from his current and former colleagues in the Senate. Some of the anecdotes below came in response to our requests, others are culled from speeches and official statements.
Evan Bayh (D-Ind.)
I'll never forget one of my earliest experiences in the Senate -- the first impeachment trial of a president in over 100 years. There were no rules. It was intensely partisan and political. Who was respected enough to broker a way forward? It was Ted Kennedy who hammered out the agreement of how the Senate should proceed.
In 1972 I was a 29 year old kid with three weeks left to go in a campaign. He showed up at the Delaware Armory in the middle of what we called Little Italy -- that had never voted nationally for a Democrat. I won by 3,100 votes and got 85 percent of the vote in that district, or something to that effect. I literally would not be standing here were it not for Teddy Kennedy -- not figuratively, this is not hyperbole -- literally.
He was there -- he stood with me when my wife and daughter were killed in an accident. He was on the phone with me literally every day in the hospital, [where] my two children were attempting, and, God willing, thankfully, to survive very serious injuries. I'd turn around and there would be some specialist from Massachusetts, a doc I never even asked for, literally sitting in the room with me.
Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.)
Senator Ted Kennedy and I had a strained relationship, probably dating back to the 1960 West Virginia primary, [where] I campaigned against his brother, and … [it] was further strained by the 1971 contest for Senate Democratic Whip, in which I unexpectedly defeated him.
But, after I became Senate Majority Leader in 1977, our friendship began to warm. We developed a good, cooperative working relationship. Ted Kennedy became one of my most loyal supporters. ... Ted not only had the skills of an outstanding legislator, he had the courage and determination to stand with me on some very controversial issues of the period.
It was during the Reagan years that we really began to work closely together. ... We developed an admiration for each other’s abilities and that made a close friendship possible. ... During these years, I came to love him as a true friend as well as a great senator. The feeling must have been somewhat mutual. When my late, beloved wife Erma and I were celebrating our 63rd wedding anniversary at the Greenbriar, I was surprised and delighted to find that my good friend, Senator Kennedy, had sent us a bouquet of 63 beautiful red roses in honor of the event.
Judd Gregg (R-N.H.)
I guess the most memorable things [were] mostly around his sense of humor. … When were negotiating the No Child Left Behind bill, we did most of the negotiations in the top floor of the Capitol in his hideaway, and he’d always bring Splash his dog along, and the dog was great because it always distracted everybody and gave everybody something to talk about. It would just sit on his lap while the discussions were going on.
Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.)
Ted was in many ways a mentor for me. … He was with me in an early stage of my first race in 1982. I had been a contributor to his campaign, and he came down to New Jersey, we had a rally in Newark. I knew it wasn’t my popularity that turned out 5,000 people. And the warmth with which he was received in Newark was overpowering. I thought at first about what kind of magic it takes to achieve that status but I was immediately humbled by my nervousness. Ted got the crowd shouting and excited… and it established our friendship.
Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
For 35 years in the Senate Ted Kennedy was a close friend as he led on issues from education to health care. We often talked of the bond of the New England Irish and spoke again of this when we traveled to Pope John Paul II's funeral together.
Richard Lugar (R-Ind.)
Ted wrote to me on March 27, 2003, "Warmest congratulations on the historic occasion of your 10,000th Roll Call vote in the Senate. While we've not always been on the same side of those 10,000 votes, I am proud to have been here with you while you cast them. I'm sorry that I missed the celebration in honor of this great occasion. You deserve 10,000 such events to honor all you have done in the Senate. Vicki and I send our warmest wishes to you and Charlene."
I replied to him, "You have long been a member of the 10,000 vote club and I deeply appreciate your note recognizing my entry into the group. As I watched the vigor and passion of your work, day to day, I know that I have a good mentor in discovering a great way to proceed in the post-10,000 vote aftermath."
Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)
When I first came to the United States Senate I was filled with conservative fire in my belly and an itch to take on any and everyone who stood in my way, including Ted Kennedy. As I began working within the confines of my office I soon found out that while we almost always disagreed on most issues, once in a while we could actually get together and find the common ground, which is essential in passing legislation.
For almost two decades we alternated as Chairman and Ranking Members of the Senate Labor Committee, now called the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. During this time we were able to come together in a bipartisan fashion to craft some of this nation's most important health legislation.
Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
McConnell, who was an intern in the office of Sen. John Sherman Cooper (R-Ky.) in the summer of 1964, when Kennedy was in his second year in the chamber, recalled Kennedy's visit to the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville on April 3, 2006, a classic moment of Kennedy using personal graciousness to win over a political opponent
Kennedy gave a presidential-quality address to Louisville students and scholars. He charmed both the students and me by recalling Cooper's allegiance on some issues with John F. Kennedy and his opposition to McCarthyism in the early 1950s. "Senator Cooper was a giant. I only wish he hadn’t inspired his young aide Mitch McConnell to work so hard to build the Republican Party here," Kennedy said.
He then presented the McConnell Center with a rare photo of his brother, while president, standing with Cooper, and he included an inscription that read, in part: "I know how much President Kennedy admired John Sherman Cooper in the Senate, and so did I. Mitch McConnell is part of that great Kentucky tradition of public service, and it’s a privilege to serve with him today (not that we always agree on the issues!)."
The public view of Kennedy's stem-winding speeches sometimes shielded a private side of what he was really like. He really had a first-class personality. If he was red in the face and screaming on the Senate floor, it was an act.
Jack Reed (D-R.I.)
One of the memories I have is just his kindness to everyone and his thoughtfulness. … It was done in a way not to gain public notoriety. It became most evident when every year on July 4th he would sail his boat up to Newport and take Sen. Claiborne Pell [D-R.I.] for a boat ride, and they’d get together and have a wonderful meal. … This was without any fanfare. This was just one old friend making sure he was visiting another friend.
Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.)
Ted Kennedy was a principled liberal and a passionate Democrat, but neither of those commitments stopped him from repeatedly forming bipartisan coalitions with Republicans because his greatest commitment was to get things done. And he got big things done even when it seemed most difficult.
That was the case with the adoption of national education reform. ... It started with at least four different . . . initiatives: one from President Bush, another from Senator Kennedy, a third from Senator Judd Gregg and a group of Senate conservative Republicans, and a fourth from Senator Evan Bayh and me and a group of Senate moderate Democrats.
At the beginning, it was hard to see common ground. But Kennedy began to talk to all of us, and so did the Bush White House. Ted was clear that his foremost goals were to improve the quality of education for America's poorest children and to increase funding for the schools they attended. Through hard work, long meetings, occasional outbursts at Ted's best tenor octaves, and frequent bursts of his great, room-filling laughter, he brought us to common ground to adopt the most significant bipartisan domestic policy accomplishment of the Bush administration -- the No Child Left Behind Act.
I watched Ted Kennedy as a true Master of the Senate, who knew when to stand and advocate and when to sit and negotiate. In that fight for education reform, he didn't get everything he wanted and he didn't stop everything he didn't want. But he got some great things that mattered a lot to America's poorest children. He was willing to compromise for the cause, and that is the cause and the course that we who are privileged to serve in Congress must never let die.
Max Baucus (D-Mont.)
I have two favorite stories about Ted, and coincidentally they are linked. While I wasn't there in person, in 1960, Ted came to my home state of Montana to campaign for his brother Jack. He went to a town in eastern Montana, Miles City, that has a renowned bucking horse sale. A lot of folks don't know, but the bucking horse sale is one of the biggest events in Montana. But when Ted got there he went to the pavilion and there wasn't anybody around. So he grabbed a person walking by and asked where all the people were. "Down at the bronc riding" the person said. So Ted went down to the Bronc riding area, and somebody challenged him to get on. And sure enough, he jumped on the bronc and had a pretty decent ride. Well, somebody snapped a photo of him.
And just a few years ago, I was home in Montana visiting my mother and she mentioned that she had written Ted about something. And Ted wrote her back. Soon they were regular pen pals. I remember I went on the Senate floor once and Ted came over to me and said "Hey Max, I am actually just writing a letter to your mother." Well, as a present for my mom, Ted ended up signing the photo of him on the Bronc at the bucking horse sale all those years ago and giving it to her. To this day, my mom now proudly hangs it in her home.
Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)
Senator Kennedy always had to watch his weight and at the regular Tuesday Democratic caucus luncheons would pass up the lunch and bring a canned diet drink instead. Senator Kennedy and I usually sat next to each other at these luncheons and would sometimes talk about efforts to keep off weight and how difficult it was to forgo a nice lunch.
One Tuesday as Senator Kennedy sat down with his canned diet drink and I sat down with the lunch that was being served, Senator Kennedy mentioned to me that I looked like I might be putting on a little weight myself, which I acknowledged I probably was. The following Tuesday when I showed up for the luncheon there, at my regular seat, instead of the normal lunch that was being served sat a low cal diet drink. At the next seat sat Senator Kennedy who was smiling broadly as he sipped from his own low cal liquid lunch.