Senator Kennedy Unique Force In Nation's Capitol

Funeral services for Senator Edward Kennedy will be held in Boston on Saturday. Later, Kennedy's motorcade will stop at the U.S. Capitol for a brief prayer. Kennedy called Massachusetts his home, but Washington D.C. was just as much his home. The senator made his mark on the nation's capital with his hard work on issues and his force of personality.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Ted Kennedy called Massachusetts his home, but was also at home in the nation's Capitol, where he served well over 40 years in the United States Senate. Tomorrow, he returns to Washington one last time. He'll be buried just across the river at Arlington National Cemetery.

NPR's Juan Williams is following the story. Juan, good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I want to talk a little bit about Ted Kennedy's influence in Washington, which was seen, he was on television screens, his name was on legislation. But also, unseen, there were people on his staff who he grew, nurtured and he spread them throughout the government. What was happening there?

WILLIAMS: It's a tremendous story of Ted Kennedy's influence in American politics, but specifically in Washington, D.C., Steve. This is someone who nurtured his staff.

And if you look at the people who have come out of Ted Kennedy's office, it's people who are continually the power brokers in Washington, D.C. And here I'm talking about everybody from Stephen Breyer who sits on the Supremem Court to someone like a Ken Feinberg who was in charge of the September 11th Victims Fund that does compensation work for the Obama administration, Melody Barnes who now runs the Obama Domestic Policy Council. But also, even extends over to the lobbying side of Washington, D.C., people like Tony Podesta, Nick Allard. Podesta runs the Podesta Group, Allard, Patton Boggs.

These are people who were nurtured, introduced, led through political legislation by Ted Kennedy, shown how the ropes work and who stayed in touch with because he was such a personal nurturing force in their lives. And so, what it constitutes is Ted Kennedy left a big stamp on Washington, D.C.

INSKEEP: Let me understand that a little better. Because, as you know, from living in Washington, one, there are a lot of politicians who do this, who spread their influence through the people that they spread through the government. But what was it about Ted Kennedy and the way he worked with people that made him stand out?

WILLIAMS: Ted Kennedy was obviously an expert in terms of the ways of the U.S. Senate. He had been there obviously almost 50 years. And so, he knew the legislative process, the parliamentary aspect of it. But he was also an expert when it came to issues like health care, immigration. He had that high level of expertise and he relied, to a large extent, on his staff, even on things like Supreme Court nominations in the Judiciary Committee.

So it gave this people a high level of expertise, put them in the public spotlight because Ted Kennedy was willing to share it. He had no sense of jealousy of his staff or need for more attention. He was a celebrity already. So he was willing to share, include them in meetings, make introductions, connections for them that really set him apart from other senators.

INSKEEP: You know, it's interesting in the last months of his life when Kennedy was not healthy enough to participate in the health care debate, his staff was still said to be deeply involved.

WILLIAMS: Very deeply involved. In fact, Senator Chris Dodd who really was representing Ted Kennedy then in much of this discussion was relying on Ted Kennedy's staff as well as his own. But Ted Kennedy's staff was still a force even though the senator was not there.

INSKEEP: Now, Ted Kennedy, we mentioned, will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. President Obama will deliver the eulogy. And I suppose we could say he has a tough act to follow because of the great eulogies that have been delivered over the years by Senator Kennedy himself.

WILLIAMS: It really is an incredible list. I - my mind, you know, I start right away with what happened with John F. Kennedy Jr., where Ted Kennedy ended by saying that, you know, we dare to think about this John Kennedy - he called him this John Kennedy - combing gray hair with his beloved Caroline by his side. And he talked about how, you know, he was lost that night but we are awake for him even now. Just beautiful language.

Or you think back to how he spoke about his own mother, Rose Kennedy, and said, you know, she had gone to God, she is home and here I'm quoting, he says, "At this very moment, she is happily presiding at a heavenly table with both her Joes, Jack, Kathleen, Bobby and David." He just had this wonderful, obviously powerful voice. But it was his presence and his sense of deep grief from all the tragedies that he had suffered that made him one of the great eulogist of his time.

INSKEEP: And now others will try to find words for him. Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR News analyst Juan Williams.

(Soundbite of music)

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.