Sen. Ted Kennedy, Last Surviving Kennedy Son, Dies

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Senator Ted Kennedy has died. He was 77, and had been battling brain cancer. For nearly a half-century, Kennedy was a steadfast champion of the working class and the poor, a powerful voice on health care, civil rights, and war and peace.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

This morning, we're remembering the life of Senator Edward Kennedy, whose family announced his death overnight. When he was elected to the Senate in 1962, he was following in the path of his brother, who'd just been elected president. In 2008, Senator Kennedy offered a key endorsement to a candidate for president, Barack Obama.

Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): With Barack Obama and for you and for me, our country will be committed to his cause. The work begins anew. The hope rises again, and the dream lives on.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

INSKEEP: During Senator Kennedy's long career, his own bid for the White House was derailed, but he found a different calling. One of his biographers says Kennedy authored so much legislation over so many years, that he affected the country more than either of his famous brothers.

MONTAGNE: Today, the leader of Senate Democrats, Harry Reid, said the Senate has, quote, "lost our patriarch."

INSKEEP: Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said: Today, I lost a treasured friend. He described Kennedy as a great elder statesman who lived and breathed the United States Senate.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports on Edward Kennedy's political life.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Senator Edward Kennedy was the last surviving son of Joseph and Rose, the patriarch and matriarch of the storied Kennedy clan. His eldest brother, Joe, died in a high-risk bombing mission in World War II. His brothers John and Robert were killed by assassin's bullets. Edward, known by pretty much everyone as Ted, had an early brush with death of his own, surviving a 1964 plane crash that broke his back and left him with a limp. Ted Kennedy was elected to the Senate in 1962 to fill out his brother John's term. The seat had been held two years by a family friend until the youngest Kennedy reached the constitutional age of 30 to run on his own. His status in the family dynasty won him quick attention in Washington, including an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press."

(Soundbite of TV show, "Meet the Press")

Unidentified Man: If I'm not mistaken, your brother, the president of the United States, has taken a contrary view that federal aid to parochial schools is unconstitutional. I wonder if you'd discuss that for a moment.

Sen. KENNEDY: Well, I'm delighted to express my opinion, Mr. Klorman(ph).

Unidentified Man: Is it fair to say, then, that you are in disagreement with the president?

Sen. KENNEDY: No, you have to make that assertion. I'm delighted to answer in any way that I possibly can any question which you might direct on my position on aid education.

NAYLOR: The '60s were a time of deep tragedy for Ted Kennedy - the assassination of John in 1963 and Robert in 1968. Ted Kennedy eulogized Bobby at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York.

Sen. KENNEDY: My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life. To be remembered simply as a good and decent man who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.

NAYLOR: An effort to draft the youngest Kennedy for the White House was short lived at the Democratic convention of 1968, and his presidential aspirations were dealt a blow a year later when in July of 1969, his car went off a small bridge on the Massachusetts island of Chappaquiddick. Kennedy swam to safety, leaving behind the young woman who was a passenger in his car. The woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, a campaign worker, drowned. Kennedy later called his actions indefensible. He was found guilty of leaving the scene of an accident, but his sentence was suspended and he remained popular in Massachusetts, where he was reelected to the Senate the next year.

In 1980, Kennedy finally did run for president, challenging the Democratic incumbent, Jimmy Carter. It was a difficult time for the nation. Gas prices, unemployment and interest rates were all high, and Americans were being held hostage in Iran. But Kennedy had trouble articulating his reasons for running, famously stumbling in an interview with broadcaster Roger Mudd.

(Soundbite of television newscast)

Mr. ROGER MUDD (Correspondent, CBS News): Why do you want to be president?

Sen. KENNEDY: Well, I'm - were I to make the announcement to run, the reasons that I would run is because I have a great belief in this country that it is -has more natural resources than any nation of the world. It has the greatest educated population in the world, the greatest technology of any country in the world, the greatest capacity for innovation in the world and the greatest political system in the world.

NAYLOR: But while he came up short as a presidential candidate, Ted Kennedy became an icon in the Senate. He served 46 years, longer than anyone in history but Robert Byrd and Strom Thurmond. He was the chamber's leading liberal voice and immersed himself particularly in health care and labor issues. Among the legislation he helped pass were the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program, job training programs and AmeriCorps. Earlier, he chaired the Judiciary Committee, where he defended abortion rights and helped lead the opposition to President Reagan's nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court.

Later, in a 2005 NPR interview, he railed against attempts by Congressional Republicans to amend the Constitution.

Sen. KENNEDY: We're going to do a constitutional amendment on flag burning. Flag burning? That's a problem for working families that are concerned about gas prices, that are concerned about the prescription drug program, that are concerned about the cost of tuition as they're looking for their kids going to college, concerned about their jobs, concerned about the collapse of our pension system - flag burning.

NAYLOR: In 2001, Kennedy worked with President George W. Bush on the No Child Left Behind education bill, but he and the president soon parted ways. Kennedy was an early opponent of the war of Iraq, voting against the 2002 resolution authorizing U.S. troops and calling it George Bush's Vietnam. He also opposed Mr. Bush's tax cuts and his Supreme Court nominees: John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

Yet, as partisan as he could be, Kennedy was also known for his partnerships and friendships he forged with Senate Republicans: Utah's Orrin Hatch, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Mike Enzi of Wyoming and John McCain of Arizona. The immigration bill Kennedy and McCain co-sponsored failed in 2007, despite another Kennedy trademark: his thunderous oratory on the Senate floor.

Sen. KENNEDY: It was in this chamber a number of years ago that we knocked down the great walls of discrimination on the basis of race, that we knocked down the walls of discrimination on the basis of religion. Here in the Senate, we were part of the march for progress, and today we are called on again.

NAYLOR: While Kennedy made just one run for the presidency himself, he was an influential voice in national party politics. In 2004, he campaigned extensively for a fellow Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry's bid for the party's nomination and helped steered the Democratic Convention to Boston. In 2008, he made a key and somewhat surprising endorsement of then candidate Barack Obama.

Sen. KENNEDY: I'll support the candidate who inspires me, who inspires all of us, who can lift our vision and summon our hopes and renew our belief that our country's best days are still to come.

(Soundbite of cheers)

Sen. KENNEDY: I've found that candidate, and I think you have, too.

(Soundbite of cheers)

NAYLOR: In the 1960s, Hubert Humphrey was dubbed the Happy Warrior for his exuberant campaigning, but the nickname would have fit Ted Kennedy, as well. He was passionate about his beliefs, a tireless worker for his causes, and he loved fighting the good fight.

In 1980, after Jimmy Carter was re-nominated for president, Kennedy addressed the Democratic Convention. He was talking about his campaign, but his words are an apt summation of his life.

Sen. KENNEDY: For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

(Soundbite of cheers)

NAYLOR: Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

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Ted Kennedy, Senate's Liberal Lion, Dies

Sen. Kennedy listens during the closing session of the White House's forum on health care in March. i

Sen. Edward Kennedy listens during the closing session of the White House's forum on health care in March. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Sen. Kennedy listens during the closing session of the White House's forum on health care in March.

Sen. Edward Kennedy listens during the closing session of the White House's forum on health care in March.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts — the scion of an American political dynasty who became an iconic liberal legislator — died Tuesday night of complications related to a cancerous brain tumor. The 77-year-old Democratic lawmaker was surrounded by family members at his home in the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod.

He will lie in repose at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston beginning Thursday. President Obama will give the eulogy at his funeral Saturday in Boston, and then the senator's body will be flown to Washington for burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Kennedy's malignant brain tumor was diagnosed in May 2008, after a seizure struck him while at home on the Cape. He underwent a lengthy surgery in June 2008. Aided by cancer treatments, he returned to his work in the Senate late in 2008, pushing for an overhaul of the nation's health care system and promoting legislation giving the FDA regulatory powers over tobacco products.

In Depth

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"We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever," said a statement released by the Kennedy family early Wednesday. "We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all."

President Obama said that he and his wife were "heartbroken" by the news of Kennedy's death. "I valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of events, he always had time for a new colleague," the president said in a statement issued on Martha's Vineyard, where the Obama family is vacationing. "I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the presidency. And even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I've profited as president from his encouragement and wisdom."

Timeline: A Life Of Service

Kennedy Family Photograph Collection

Funeral Mass

Hear full audio of the service at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Roxbury, Mass.

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Obama said "an important chapter in our history has come to an end," noting that Kennedy had played an important role in "virtually every major piece of legislation" for decades.

Kennedy had hoped to be at the center of this year's debate over a landmark bill remaking the American health care system. Even after suffering a seizure on Inauguration Day, he again returned to work. He took part in early legislative skirmishes on behalf of the new president — whose nomination for the White House he had given a boost with an early endorsement. But as his illness advanced, Kennedy was unable to take the gavel when the Senate committee he chaired took up the bill in June.

Universally known as Teddy, Kennedy had served in the Senate since 1962, making him the third-longest-serving senator in history.

Staunch Liberal

In nearly a half-century in office, Kennedy was known as a champion of liberal causes and a defender of the Senate's traditions. While he served briefly as the Senate's majority whip (the second-most-powerful position) in his first full term, Kennedy lost that job to Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia in 1971. He did not return to the formal leadership thereafter.

Orrin Hatch's Song About Kennedy

Hatch composed lyrics for 'Headed Home' after Kennedy was diagnosed with brain cancer. The song is performed by Tony Middleton.

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Instead, Kennedy made his mark with legislative work, earning a reputation as a formidable negotiator as well as a fierce floor fighter. His committee assignments included Labor and Human Resources, Judiciary, and Armed Services. He was chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the 1970s and later shifted to the gavel he held this year on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Over the years, he saw the agenda of the Senate change from the civil rights debates of 1964 to the war in Vietnam to Watergate to the struggles against Democratic President Jimmy Carter and Republican President Ronald Reagan. As a member and later chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he participated in the confirmation proceedings for every member of the current Supreme Court except Justice Sonia Sotomayor, from Justice John Paul Stevens in 1975 to Justice Samuel Alito in 2006. (He left the committee at the end of 2008 and did not participate in the hearings on Sotomayor's nomination.)

Kennedy had been seen as an inevitable presidential candidate almost from the time he was old enough to run, following in the footsteps of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963, and their brother, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated while running for president in 1968.

But an early grab for the brass ring, expected in 1972, was scuttled after Kennedy drove off a bridge at Chappaquiddick Island, Mass., in July 1969. The young woman who was with him, an aide named Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned. Though charged with leaving the scene of the accident, his two-month sentence was suspended and he was not punished further. But Kennedy never entirely escaped the incident's shadow.

When he did run for president in 1980, it was as an intraparty challenger to Carter, the incumbent. Kennedy saw Carter as squandering an opportunity for progressives to guide the nation, but Democratic primary voters gave the nomination to Carter. Although Kennedy initially positioned himself for another try in 1988, he took himself out of the running early.

The Kennedy Message

March 1980: Sen. Edward Kennedy with his wife, Joan, and children Teddy and Kara i

March 1980: Sen. Edward Kennedy speaks after beating President Carter in the New York and Connecticut presidential primaries. Keystone/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Keystone/Getty Images
March 1980: Sen. Edward Kennedy with his wife, Joan, and children Teddy and Kara

March 1980: Sen. Edward Kennedy speaks after beating President Carter in the New York and Connecticut presidential primaries.

Keystone/Getty Images

After his presidential hopes ended at the 1980 Democratic Convention, Kennedy talked about the future of his party:

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In a 2006 interview with NPR's Andrea Seabrook, Kennedy talked about the priorities of Congress:

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A Political Dynasty

Attraction to the pinnacles of power had made the Kennedy family the best-known political dynasty of its era.

Its patriarch, Joseph P. Kennedy, was a Wall Street financier and political power broker who served as the first chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and then as ambassador to Great Britain. The eldest of his sons bore his name and was killed in World War II. Teddy was the fourth son — and last of nine children. He was born to the elder Kennedy and his wife, Rose, in 1932, the year Franklin D. Roosevelt won his first term as president.

The youngest Kennedy graduated from Milton Academy in 1950 but was dismissed from Harvard the following year for having another student take a Spanish exam in his stead. He enlisted in the Army during the Korean War and was sent to Europe.

In 1953, he was readmitted to Harvard, graduating in 1956. He received his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1959 and, after working as coordinator of Western states for his brother's presidential campaign in 1960, became an assistant district attorney in Suffolk County, Mass.

That job was just a holding pattern. Bay State Democrats could scarcely wait to move the president's telegenic and well-spoken brother into statewide office — specifically, the Senate seat the president had vacated. But the younger Kennedy first had to turn 30 to meet the constitutional age requirement, and the party had a family friend, Benjamin A. Smith, hold the seat as an appointee for two years. In November 1962, Kennedy was elected to finish out the two remaining years in his brother's term.

A Key Figure In The Senate

Kennedy's early years in the Senate were marked by ambition and strong commitment to his brothers' causes and the Great Society programs of President Lyndon Johnson.

The Kennedy Legacy

Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Sen. Edward Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy in 1962 i

1962: Attorney General Robert Kennedy (1925-1968), Sen. Edward Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) talk while seated behind a desk in a 1962 photograph. Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Sen. Edward Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy in 1962

1962: Attorney General Robert Kennedy (1925-1968), Sen. Edward Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) talk while seated behind a desk in a 1962 photograph.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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He was an advocate for labor unions and a higher minimum wage. He was involved in the civil rights and voting rights debates at mid-decade, and he pressed for an expanded role for the government in health care. He supported the creation of Medicare in 1965 and of a national system of neighborhood health care centers as part of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1966.

In the 1970s, Kennedy continued to press a national approach to health care and health insurance, negotiating with Presidents Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter but never reaching the agreement he wanted on systemic change.

Although he came up short as a presidential candidate in 1980, Kennedy redirected his energies and became a legend in the Senate. He immersed himself more than ever in health care and labor issues. Among the legislation he helped to pass were the Family and Medical Leave Act, the WIC nutrition program, job training programs and AmeriCorps.

As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Kennedy defended abortion rights and helped lead the effort that denied confirmation to President Reagan's Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in 1987. Schools were also a Kennedy focus, and in 2001 he worked with newly elected Republican President George W. Bush to pass the "No Child Left Behind" education program, helping win substantial increases in federal education spending.

But the two soon parted ways. Kennedy was an early and outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq, voting against the 2002 resolution authorizing the invasion and calling it George Bush's Vietnam. He also opposed Bush's tax cuts — as well as Bush's Supreme Court nominees, Alito and John Roberts.

Yet as partisan as he could be, Kennedy also was known for the partnerships and friendships he forged with Senate Republicans. Utah's Orrin Hatch, Sam Brownback of Kansas and Mike Enzi of Wyoming all worked closely with Kennedy on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Kennedy was also known to work easily with the GOP's 2008 presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona. The immigration bill that Kennedy and McCain co-sponsored in 2007 had the support of President Bush, but it could not overcome objections from Senate Republicans.

Clashing with Bush

President Obama and others clap for Sen. Kennedy at the White House forum on health care reform. i

March 2009: Kennedy receives a standing ovation from President Obama and others as he arrives at the White House's forum on health care reform. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
President Obama and others clap for Sen. Kennedy at the White House forum on health care reform.

March 2009: Kennedy receives a standing ovation from President Obama and others as he arrives at the White House's forum on health care reform.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Speaking on the floor of the Senate, Kennedy evoked some of the battles he had voted on in that chamber in earlier decades.

"It was in this chamber a number of years ago that we knocked down the great walls of discrimination on the basis of race, that we knocked down the walls of discrimination on the basis of religion," he said. "Here in this Senate, we were part of the march for progress, and today we are called on again."

Leader Among Democrats

While Kennedy made just one run for the presidency, he was an influential voice in national party politics for decades. In 2004, he campaigned extensively for fellow Massachusetts Democrat Sen. John Kerry's bid for the party's nomination and helped steer the Democratic National Convention to Boston.

In 2008, Kennedy made a timely and somewhat surprising endorsement of one of his Senate colleagues, Barack Obama, over another, Hillary Clinton. Having Kennedy in his corner helped candidate Obama cement his hold on the party's liberal bloc and paved the way to his nomination.

Kennedy Memorial Service

Hear full audio of the service for Kennedy held at the JFK library in Boston.

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Kennedy had three children with his first wife, Joan; the couple divorced in 1982. He also had two stepchildren with his second wife, Victoria Reggie, a Washington attorney he married in 1992. His son Patrick J. Kennedy represents the 1st Congressional District of Rhode Island.

Kennedy was passionate about his beliefs, a tireless worker for his causes, and he loved fighting the good fight.

In 1980, having failed in his challenge to Carter, Kennedy addressed the Democratic National Convention. He was talking about his campaign, but his words are an apt summation of his life:

"For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

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