Leahy: Kennedy Was A Senator's Senator
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Senator Kennedy served in the U.S. Senate for 46 years. That made him the third-longest-serving member in the Senate's history. Many of his colleagues worked closely with him for years, even decades and he had lifelong friendships from both parties. One was Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who joined us on the phone from Vermont.
Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): Marcelle and I are at our home in Vermont and really it's filled with grief today for Vicki Kennedy and all the Kennedy family. And it's almost a cliche to say it's the passing of an era but it is and it's a very sad one.
MONTAGNE: Have you spoken this morning with any of your colleagues in the Senate to hear what they're saying?
Sen. LEAHY: With some of the comments that they're making - during the past few weeks, several of us have talked. We've had at least one United States senator here visiting at the house, and I've talked with others. I think we all knew this was coming. It was obvious that we would probably not see Ted again. And you have mixed feelings there. You have the sense of history. I served with him for 35 years and just counted on his advice, his guidance, every day.
The reaction I got from both Republican senators and Democratic senators was a feeling of real sadness that he would be leaving and - because we know that this was a senator's senator. There are very few others who could even begin to match him.
MONTAGNE: When you say that - and that's what - some version of that has been said all morning about Senator Kennedy, as somebody who won't come again. Can you give us an example of, say, a moment in the Senate that…
Sen. LEAHY: I think it is many, many moments when he will come in and he'd have legislation and then people would say, oh, let me look at that. And pretty soon both Republicans and Democrats would be meeting with him. There's no major piece of legislation in the area of civil rights or health care or education that was really going to pass unless we knew that he was heavily involved. And he had the ability to bring members of both parties together.
I recall once in a meeting with President Reagan, you think - million miles apart - and President Reagan said, you know, Ted, if we didn't have you we wouldn't get this done. And I know today that Mrs. Reagan issued a statement speaking about the friendship that existed there.
MONTAGNE: You know, you speak about getting something done. Health care was a really important issue for Senator Kennedy. What might his death mean for the health care legislation?
Sen. LEAHY: I don't know. It - let's look in the other way. If he was there healthy, he would be the leader, he'd be the champion, he'd be the person everybody would be revolving around. I know that Chris Dodd and Ken Conrad and others are working very, very hard on this. They've talked a lot over the past couple of months with Senator Kennedy. But having him there would be so much more important. I think John McCain says it well the other day, in saying that it is far more difficult without him there.
MONTAGNE: Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat from Vermont and long-time friend of Senator Edward Kennedy who died late last night. Thank you very much for joining us.
Sen. LEAHY: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: And our White House correspondent Don Gonyea is still with us.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And Don, when I listen to - Senator Leahy says I don't know what the impact of the death is going to be on health care legislation, but he also, in recalling Kennedy's impacts, said a bill was not going to pass unless he was heavily involved.
DON GONYEA: It is impossible to really quantify what his absence has meant. And you don't hear the White House, you know, bemoaning the fact, oh, we wish we had Senator Kennedy there, though clearly they wish he had been healthy through all of this. But they have lost a powerful advocate on this and any number of issues.
INSKEEP: Don, thanks very much.
GONYEA: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Once again, NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea speaking with us on this morning when we have learned that Senator Edward Kennedy has died at the age of 77, after battling brain cancer. We'll continue to bring you more news as we learn it.
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