Kennedy’s Death Starts to Hit Home in the Capitol

Posted September 4, 2009 at 5:50pm

Though Sen. Edward Kennedy’s last foray into the Capitol may have been in late April, it wasn’t until Aug. 26 that it became clear the Senate’s “liberal lion— would never again walk through the swinging doors of the venerable chamber.

But as the Senate returns today for the first time since the revered Massachusetts Democrat’s death from brain cancer, Kennedy’s absence may be more acutely felt, as staffers and Senators come to grips with the realization that they will never again hear his thunderous floor speeches echoing through the halls outside the chamber, never clasp his meaty hand in the hallway while sharing a boisterous laugh, nor glimpse his ruddy face as he lobs a ball for one of his ubiquitous Portuguese water dogs in Upper Senate Park.

Kennedy’s story comprises a half-century of Senate history, and the end of his tale has been made even more poignant by the fact that the 77-year-old lawmaker died in the midst of an epic Congressional battle over his career-long goal of restructuring of the nation’s health care system.

“We will return to our work in Teddy’s Senate,— Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said at his friend and colleague’s memorial service. “The blistering days of August will be replaced, I pray, by the cooler days of September. And we will prevail in a way Teddy won so many victories for our nation — by listening to each other, by respecting each other and the seriousness of the institution to which we belong and where Teddy earned an immortal place in American history.—

Working Strategically Until the End

As he waged a 15-month battle with cancer, Kennedy’s public appearances were rare but dramatic. He remained secluded in Massachusetts and Florida for most of his recovery, but he received a hero’s welcome at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver and made a surprise appearance on the Senate floor in February to provide a crucial vote for the economic stimulus package. He also took breaks from his cancer treatment to vote on cherished issues such as a national service initiative — which was renamed in his honor — and to combat financial fraud. And shortly after his diagnosis in May 2008, he was hailed as a hero for returning in July 2008 to cast the deciding vote on a crucial Medicare bill.