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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Senator Edward Kennedy Has Died

Aired August 26, 2009 - 01:21   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DON RIDDELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: CNN TODAY continues with breaking news, coming to you out of the United States, and that is that the legendary and long time Democratic Senator Teddy Kennedy has died. We have just received word of that.

Teddy Kennedy was of course a member of the Kennedy political dynasty, really, in the United States. He was the brother of President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy, both of them, as you'll recall, were assasinated. And Teddy Kennedy is one of only 6 senators in US history that served for more than 40 years. He really made a very successful career in the senate and was a very, very key figure in the Democratic Party.

But specifically you may recall, last year he played a very important role in the Democratic nomination process when he came out and backed the then Senator Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination. That was a huge boost to the now President Barack Obama, a very very important contribution from the Kennedy family there,

He really was, in later years, the spokesman for the Kennedy family and was in office right up until his death. He was seen on the public scene even very recently during the reform debates over the social heaalth reform in the United States. His health has been suffering of late, we know that he suffered seizures during 2008 and it was actually announced in May of last year that he have a malignant brain tumor. But despite that, he was able to continue serving in office.

Let's cross now to Dana Bash, who has been looking back at the glittering career of Teddy Kennedy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: We first met him as the kid brother to Jack and Bobby, and yet Edward, Teddy, was the survivor, the one we watched grow old, evolve into the patriarch and struggle with the challenge and burden of carrying the Kennedy torch.

Edward Moore Kennedy was born February 22nd, 1932, the last of Joe and Rose Kennedy's 9 children. His first prominent role in the family business of politics came at age 30. JFK was elected president and Teddy kept his senate seat in the family.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The President of the United States is dead.

BASH: He was 31 when he said goodbye to Jack. Five years later in 1968, another assasination, another goodbye, Bobby this time. Often invoking his brothers, Ted Kennedy turned to make his mark in the senate in the '60s and '70s, a proud liberal, champion of voting rights and civil rights. In 1980, he set his sights on the White House, but perhaps the most haunting of his personal demons, Chappaquiddick 11 years earlier, would block his path.

EDWARD KENNEDY: I regard as indefensible, the fact that I did not report the accident to the police immediately.

BASH: In 1969, Kennedy drove his car off the Chappaquiddick bridge, and 19 year old Mary Jo Kopechne, a former aide of brother Robert, drowned. Ted Kennedy fled the scene. It was a character stain he could not overcome. He would lose his bid to beat President Carter, but he promised to carry on in one of his most famous speeches.

KENNEDY: The work goes on, the cause endures, the hopes still lives and the dream shall never die.

BASH: He would not be President but he would master the senate and make his mark on government policy.

KENNEDY: If we really care about work, about families, about children, and the future, we will vote for an increase in the minimum wage for all workers.

BASH: Fighting for workers' rights, leading on education, and healthcare reform...

KENNEDY: It's morally right; it's what this nation is all about.

BASH: ...and immigration reform.

KENNEDY: Si se puede. Si se puede.

JOHN MCCAIN: I described Senator Kennedy as the last lion in the senate. That's my view because he remains the single most effective member of the senate if you want to get results.

BASH: To get those results, liberal Kennedy learned the art of compromise, sometimes angering fellow Democrats by partnering with ardent consevatives.

ORRIN HATCH, U.S. SENATE REPUBLICAN: Even though we fight each other most of the time -- and those are knock-down, drag-out battles -- I have to say there are very few people in my lifetime that I have more respect and now a reverence for than that Senator Kennedy.

BASH: All too often, it fell to Uncle Teddy, the patriarch, to steer the family throught trials and tragedy. The death of Jackie Onassis, a more painful goodbye to JFK Jr. and the dreams of Camelot. His hunch and shuffle, the legacy of a brush with death in the 1960 -- a plane crash that broke his back and caused constant pain. He brought some pain on himself. Dogged by too much drinking, a messy divorce, Kennedy was frequent fodder for tabloids. But he remarried, carried on added to his policy accomplishments.

BUSH: I've come to admire him. He is a smart, capable senator. You want him on your side, I can tell you that. BASH: And he stepped, once again, into presidential politics, bypassing Hillary Clinton and harkening back to brother Jack's call for a new generation of leadership.

KENNEDY: I'm proud to stand with them here today and offer my help, offer my voice, offer my energy, my commitment to make Barack Obama the next president of the United States.

BASH: Just 5 months later, he had a seizure, followed by a grim diagnosis: a malignant brain tumor. Still, with great drama, he made it to the Democratic convention to pass the torch.

KENNEDY: The hope rises again and the dream lives on.

BASH: He ignored his doctors and when needed, he came back to his beloved senate.

KENNEDY: I look forward to being a part of the team.

BASH: He made a dramatic appearance in the White House Summit on Healthcare Reform.

KENNEDY: I'm looking forward to being a foot soldier in this undertaking. This time we will not fail.

BASH: He never stopped looking forward and never lost that trademark smile. Until the end, the survivor. Dana Bash, CNN Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RIDDELL: We're now looking at live pictures of the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, where Edward Kennedy died a short time ago. We're hearing that he died at home at the age of 77 following a lengthy battle with brain cancer.

And, we've also just received a statement from the Kennedy family which reads, "Edward M. Kennedy, the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply, died late Tuesday night at home at Hyannis Port. 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. 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. He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it. He always believed that our best days are still ahead, but it is hard to imagine any of them without him."

Just to recap: the legendary Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy has died at his home at the age of 77.

Let's bring in CNN's political expert, Ed Henry. Ed, your thoughts at this time.

ED HENRY, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly a huge blow to the country, because this is somebody who has been at the forefront of American politics for several decades now. As Dana Bash was reporting about, you know, the Kennedy political dynasty has really had a larger impact in any other family probably in American political history. And particularly for Democrats in the United States.

I mean, this is somebody who, you know, sort of passed the torch literally from his brothers, John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama. This is the person who endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton just the year and a half or so ago. And it was sort of a pivotal moment for Barack Obama, when many Democratic luminaries were sitting on the sidelines, thinking that Hillary Clinton was going to be the next president of the United States.

When Ted Kennedy decided that he was going to put all his chips in and he was going to put his own reputation at stake to stand up for Barack Obama, that was a pivotal moment in the Obama campaign.

And I think it's just one of many landmark moments where, if you go back over the last 30, 40 years, every single health care bill, education reform bill, every major labor legislation in the United States, has had the mark of Ted Kennedy.

And I think the most remarkable part of his death right at this moment is the fact that it comes in the middle of a major debate in the United States over health care reform, which has been his pet cause since he entered the Senate in 1962.

And I think that President Obama has clearly felt Senator Kennedy's loss, even before his death, in terms of him being on the sidelines for the last several months. It was sort of a major, major blow to President Obama's efforts to reform health care not having Ted Kennedy at the forefront of that debate.

And I think now obviously is going to be a very painful moment for the president and many others in the country because this is a rather remarkable moment.

DON RIDDELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: It's decades, of course, since the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy but, as you say, Teddy Kennedy really carried the torch for the family on right up until the present day.

But is his death now -- does this mark the end of an era?

HENRY: It really does because, as you pointed out, while around the world most people when they hear Kennedy name, you know, they think about John F. Kennedy, they think about Robert Kennedy, who, while they had a major impact, their political lives were very short, tragically, because of their assassination.

And Ted Kennedy is, as Dana pointed out, the survivor. He was the one who, while his brothers got most of the attention and all the books written about them, it was Ted Kennedy who was in the Senate for well over 40 years, sort of playing out the battles and finishing many of the fights that his brothers started, whether it's on civil rights, whether it's on education, health, many of the issues that I mentioned.

And so, it clearly is the end of an era because while there are many -- his children, his nieces and nephews who are still very active in American public life, whether in politics or non-profits and the like, this is just a major passing and just end of a huge era.

And let's not forget it happens about a week or 10 days after Senator Kennedy's sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver passed away as well.

And so, it really does have the feelings of a real end of an era right now.

RIDDELL: And Ed, it really is testament to his standing in U.S. politics and his influence within U.S. politics that a couple of years ago, he was given a reported $8 million to publish his memoirs, which are due to be published next year.

What sort of read would you expect that to be?

HENRY: Well, I think that any of his memoirs and whatever is going to be published posthumously is just a going to be a remarkable walk through American and international political affairs for the last four, five decades.

I mean, you could go back even beyond his brothers, his father Joseph Kennedy, of course, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, and run-up to World War II.

And Ted Kennedy had spoke many times about, you know, growing up as a child and going over the England with his father and seeing World War II, and right through, you know, Vietnam War, which Ted Kennedy was in the middle of trying to stop as United States senator on to the Iraq. You know, first the Gulf war and then the more recent Iraq that's still going.

You know, Ted Kennedy right up into his dying days was, you know, fighting George W. Bush on the Iraq war and he was saying it was time to pull the U.S. troops out.

So, basically, every major international event and then, of course, as I mentioned, every domestic even in the United States -- on health care, education and the like, Ted Kennedy was at the forefront of it.

So his memoirs published posthumously are going to be rather remarkable walk through some of the most amazing moments in world history, not just American history.

That's the kind of impact, I think, his death is going to have. It's going to be felt around the world, not just in the United States.

RIDDELL: OK. Ed, stay on the line, if you will, but we're going to bring in John King as well.

John King is currently on assignment in Oklahoma.

And, John, let's just talk about the passing, obviously, of Edward Kennedy. And he was in the public light pretty much right up until his dying day, wasn't he?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF U.S. CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): He certainly was. As a young man, he lived in the shadows of his two brothers, President John Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy, as you've been discussing.

And then he was the survivor in the Kennedy family and Ed and Dana have both noted. The man had not only eulogized his brothers, but eulogized so many in his family, including his nephew, John F. Kennedy Jr.

He was always the unifying force of the family when there was a challenge, and, too often in the Kennedy family, when there was a tragedy. And he was a legendary figure in American politics and a legendary figure I grew up in Massachusetts, and the Kennedy name was the gold standard in politics in Massachusetts.

And this is a generational passing, as Ed noted. His sister, Eunice, dying as well. The Kennedy family has had such a giant stand on American politics and on American life. And it is a generational passing as well as an individual passing.

And the fact that he had been on the sidelines in what could be the most important debate in his lifetime - the fight for health care reform -- was a sign of how debilitating this cancer was in his final years.

And he was also a flawed character. And that would be part of the -- of the history and the analysis, now that he had passed. He was a public figure who had tragedy in his own life, and in more recent years, it was remarkable when he remarried his wife Vicki, who was by his side at the end here and who changed him in the last decade of his life without a doubt. That will be part of the story as well.

And as you show this picture of the young Kennedy brothers, it is a reminder of the Camelot era, as what we call it in U.S. politics.

And in more recent years, while the Clinton name or the Bush name have been the two big family names in American politics, we are reminded on this sad evening that the Kennedy name for a longer and for an entire generation and more was the brand name in American politics, the best known brand name in American politics for quite some time.

RIDDELL: And, John, for quite sometime he has been battling health issues. We've been talking about the malignant brain tumor. He even, you know, had a seizure on the day of President Barack Obama's inauguration. But despite all of that, he kept battling on. He remained in office. He remained a very, very hard worker.

Do you get the sense that that's partly because, you know, he was -- he was the last of the Kennedy era and he wanted to keep it going? Or was it just because he loved the job so much?

KING: It was both of those things. He was a man who loved to legislate. He was -- if you go back to the last days of the Cold War and when we had a politics in the United States that was, you know, divided between liberals and conservatives, the conservatives wrote fund-raising letters and they raised money off Teddy Kennedy, the liberal, the anti-war liberal.

And yet, they were the same conservatives who would come to him when they wanted to negotiate compromise on legislation, because as much as he was a liberal firebrand and the liberal lion was his nickname in the United States, he was also someone people turned to. George W. Bush turned to him, as Ed noted, on education and for a major Medicare prescription drug benefit in the United States.

In more recent years, he worked with George W. Bush, the Republican president, and John McCain, last Republican nominee for president and a member of the United State Senate, on the very emotional issue of immigration reform in the United States, and missing in recent months from the health care debate without a doubt.

You have heard it from his Democratic colleagues and from Republicans saying that perhaps the tone of the health care debate in the United States right now would be somewhat less partisan or perhaps there would be better efforts behind the scenes, because he was a man who loved to legislate and, despite his liberal principles, knew that the way to get things done was to compromise and make deals.

That was his brand in American politics. And that is something that beyond the Kennedy name is sorely missed in Washington these days. It is a much more partisan town than it was at the heyday of Teddy Kennedy's legislative career.

RIDDELL: All right, John, thanks for the time being. But please remain on the line if you will.

We're going to bring in Dan Lothian now as well. He's actually in Massachusetts at the moment. Dan's covering the President's -- Barack Obama's vacation there currently.

Dan, your reaction to the news?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, a couple of things first of all come to mind. I mean, I was in Boston at the time when Senator Kennedy first was ill down on Cape Cod and we were out on the street just talking to people in the Boston area.

And a couple of things that everyone would say is that here was this senator who wasn't here to, you know, benefit himself or help out the wealthy but really everything that he did and he poured his time and career into was to benefit the poor and senior citizens.

And I remember as I was walking around on the streets in downtown Boston, just trying to get someone who would say, perhaps, something else, you know, like what else do you remember about Senator Kennedy as he was in the hospital. And there were a lot of questions at the time about what had happened to him. He had suffered a stroke or what it might have been down on the Cape.

And everyone, time and time again, would say here is someone who really cared about senior citizens and about the poor. And that's one thing.

And the other thing was that I was always sort of taken aback by how he just was a fighter. And even after, you know, the prospects were not that good, he came out and said he was going to fight on. And he did. Then he would, you know, this goes back to a question you asked just a few minutes ago about how he was in the public on to the end.

Right after he came out of the hospital in Boston, I remember he headed back down to the cape. This was after his surgery, or after he was, you know, in the hospital here in Boston. And he went back down to the cape, and there were a lot of questions about whether or not he would go back out on the water. He loved to sail. And he was always out on the water.

And there was a special regatta that's taking place in every single year. So, you know, they were very clear of everyone who was around him and even his medical doctors that Senator Kennedy probably would not be going out on a sailing boat so quickly after being diagnosed with brain cancer. And we were all reporting this.

Well, this is going to be the year that he will miss the regatta. But you know what? He didn't stay off that boat. There he was. He didn't win, but in a way he did, because he did compete in this regatta, something that he had done time and time again.

And, you know, he never stayed off the boat. Any moment that he could get free, he was out on that boat. If he felt well enough, he would get out on the boat. You know, we see that picture of Senator Kennedy out on the water. That's another thing that he loved to do.

RIDDELL: If you are just tuning in to us here on CNN, we're reporting the news that the legendary Democratic senator in the United States, Edward Kennedy, has died at his home at the age of 77. We're speaking to our political correspondents and editors in the United States, John King, Ed Henry and Dan Lothian.

And, Dan, let's just return to you.

As the obituaries are now being prepared, is it possible to separate Teddy Kennedy from the Kennedy story, or is it all kind of one big story rolled into one?

LOTHIAN: Well, it's going to be very difficult to separate. I mean, certainly, as Senator Kennedy has his own story of what he has done for his state. The money he has brought to Massachusetts. And, again, going back to what I said, what he has done for sort of the less -- you know, the people who are hurting the most in communities. But, certainly, he is part of that Kennedy mystique.

He was always the face in recent years whenever there was tragedy in the Kennedy family, whenever there are funerals. He was always sort of the strong one with they are supporting the widow, supporting, you know, the other family members who were going through a difficult time. He always seemed so strong. And that is something that I don't think you can separate. He is, you know, a Kennedy. At the end of the day that's what he is. And you can look at what he has done on Capitol Hill. You can look at what he has done right here in the State of Massachusetts, but you can't separate that from the Kennedy mystique.

RIDDELL: Dan, you're actually in Massachusetts at the moment covering the President Barack Obama's vacation.

In many ways Teddy Kennedy helped make Obama's presidency.

How do you think he'll be taking the news right now?

LOTHIAN: Well, I can only imagine that this is a major blow to Barack Obama. Yes, he did. I mean, look back during the campaign when Senator Ted Kennedy, some would have thought would have been endorsing Hillary Clinton, who was looked at, you know, the front runner in the campaign at the time; had all of the Democratic money; had all of the Democratic support. And so, it was sort of a given that the Kennedy's would have -- Senator Kennedy would have stepped behind Hillary Clinton at the time. But he, instead, ended up supporting Barack Obama. And that was a major turning point in Barack Obama's campaign. And this was very important for the president.

There was a lot of, as we were coming here to Martha's Vineyard, you know, there were a lot of rumors circulating as to whether or not President Obama would go over and meet with Senator Kennedy. In fact, there were some reports circulating that he would be over there yesterday, but the Obama team has said time and time again, that, no, there is nothing. It had not been set up. There was no such meeting. But I can only imagine that this is very, very difficult news for Mr. Obama, because certainly he has to credit at least in part, Senator Ted Kennedy for the job that he now has.

RIDDELL: OK. Dan Lothian, thanks very much for your comments. Let's return now to Ed Henry.

And, Ed, the Kennedy's really are regarded pretty much as royalty. They're almost regarded as a royal family within the United States. What will be the national reaction to his passing, do you think?

HENRY: Oh, I think you're going to see several days of mourning in the United States. I think there has already been talk about the senator lying in state, in the United States Capitol. The possibility that he would also be at the Kennedy Presidential Library, as well in Massachusetts. I think all those plans obviously are being worked out by the family. But people close to the family say that they have been planning this for some time, unfortunately, because of the tragic nature of the malignant brain tumor, and how they've been trying to come to grips with this in recent months.

And I think that you're going to see several days of mourning in the United States because I think there are going to be a lot of people who want to pay their respects to Senator Kennedy because as you've been noting, as John King was noting, you know, this is the end of an era. And there are going to be people, many generations of Americans, who are going to want to pay their last respects to them in person. And I think we'll see that in Washington, Massachusetts and all around the country.

RIDDELL: OK, Ed, thanks very much.

Let's cross over now to Adam Reiss. He is a CNN producer. And he is actually on the scene at the moment right with those live pictures that you're watching now. These are live pictures of the exterior of the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port in Massachusetts.

And, Adam, how would you describe the mood where you are?

ADAM REISS, CNN PRODUCER (via telephone): Don, it's, obviously, it's very late at night. What you're looking at is a picture looking down Marchant Avenue. If it were daylight, you would see the beautiful Kennedy compound. It's a compound made up of several houses. It's been home to the Kennedys for generations. There's a home there for the late Joe P. Kennedy, the patriarch of the family. Ted Kennedy, the former president, and obviously, Robert Kennedy.

Ted has been here for months, and there has been anticipation that this day would come and it has. We are awaiting the van that went in to take away the senator's body. Just hours ago, I was here and you would have never known that this situation was about to happen. There were children riding around on their bikes. It's really a Norman Rockwell scene here. Huck Finn type of a place. Beautiful, beautiful beaches.

People were walking around in their bare feet, and just a lovely place to be. And this is where he wanted to be at the end of his life. He could sit on the back porch and look out to the glistening ocean and beautiful sailboats, and he loved to sail. He apparently was unable to sail in his last days, partly due to the heavy wind, but, again, this is a beautiful place. And, as you know, it's been home to the Kennedys for generations. And this day has finally come and family members are starting to gather.

The police have set up a cordon around the home and the compound. And, as you know, the family just suffered a loss several weeks ago. Eunice Shriver Kennedy. And so, they're getting ready to bury one of their own once again.

RIDDELL: If you're just joining us, the legendary Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy, Teddy Kennedy as he was better known, has died at home at the age of 77. He was battling some pretty serious health issues over the last year. He had several seizures following the diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor.

The family have released a statement a short time ago saying that "Edward M. Kennedy, the husband, father, grand father, brother and uncle we loved so deeply died Tuesday at home in Hyannis Port. We have lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our life. But the inspiration of his faith, optimism and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever."

Let's just return to Adam now. He is at the scene in Hyannis Port.

And, Adam, what do you think the local reaction to this will be? Of course, the Kennedys really for the last 50 years, the last half century have been so key within U.S. politics, but specifically in Massachusetts, in the Boston area.

Can you find anybody in that part of the world who has a bad word to say about the Kennedys?

REISS: Not around here at least in Hyannis and Hyannis Port. They are such a part of the fabric of this community. And there are so many of them for generations. You know, there were in Senator Kennedy's generation there were nine. And you know Robert Kennedy had 11 children. So it was a place always teeming with children. Just a great place to be.

You remember the pictures of then-President Kennedy landing the Marine 1 chopper on the grounds of the Kennedy compound, and all the children running to greet him and it's just -- it's been a place for the children for so many generations. We did see several of the Kennedys in the last couple days, regular sightings of Ethyl Kennedy, the late Robert Kennedy's wife. The Kennedy daughters were here. Obviously, the whole Kennedy family had gathered just weeks ago for Eunice Shriver Kennedy's funeral.

And as I said, they're really part of the fabric of the community. They are so engrained here in so many parts of what goes on here in the community and in town. And you can always see them walking around town at the local coffee shop or at the local restaurant or going to the beach. Obviously, they are big sailors and they play a big role out on the water. But it is a sad day, not only for the Kennedy family, today, but for this local area of Hyannis and Hyannis Port as well. And you can bet there will be a lot of grieving tomorrow.

RIDDELL: And, Adam, you've touched upon the fact that it really is a huge family. But do you see this, perhaps, though, as the end of an era with regard to the Kennedy's involvement in U.S. politics?

REISS: Well, you see, you still have Patrick Kennedy and you do see a lot of the younger generation getting involved in various philanthropic activities. But whether they will be entering the political realm, that's for us yet to see. It's possible that this could spur one of the family members to enter politics. But we'll have to see.

RIDDELL: All right, Adam Reiss.

Adam has been speaking to us from the scene, as you can see there the exterior of the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. And we can only imagine the mourning that is taking place within those walls at the moment following the death of Senator Edward Kennedy who died following a year-long battle against brain cancer. He passed away at home at the age of 77.

Let's bring back in John King at the moment.

John, of course, you've been covering U.S. politics for many years.

What do you think is going to be the reaction to this, and really, the next step?

KING (via telephone): Well, there will be a collective, I think, deep breath, and first reflecting on the career and legacy of Senator Kennedy and generationally on his brothers and his family, his generation of the family, if you will.

It is remarkable to think when we talk about Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and we talk about him in the context of President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, it was 41 years ago, in 1968. More than four decades have passed since the assassination of his brother, Robert. And as Senator Kennedy said when he ran for president in 1980, a failed effort to take the Democratic nomination from then president of the United States Jimmy Carter. He gave this famous speech at the Democratic National Convention in which he said the dream would never die. And that was his mission.

He believed that his mission in the Senate and in his failed quest for the presidency was to carry the torch that his brother, John Kennedy, talked about when he was inaugurated as president of the United States. When he said the torch had been passed to a new generation of Americans. He viewed that as his mission. His debt to his, both of his brothers who were killed by assassin's bullets.

And it is remarkable to think that for 41 years, he was the survivor of the brothers who were pushed by their father and molded by their father to get involved in American politics and to seek the highest office in the land.

And the question, now, generationally is as Adam just noted, his son, Patrick, is a congressman. And you see him in the pictures there. Barack Obama, Caroline Kennedy, who thought about entering politics last year. And Patrick Kennedy, who is just off the screen as you watch these pictures. He is a congressman from the state of Rhode Island. And he, himself, has had personal troubles in recent years, but he now will be the Kennedy in the Congress, and it will be interesting to watch what happens in Massachusetts politics because Senator Edward Kennedy in that state. Republicans tried every six years to make a run at him, rarely was there any prospect of getting anywhere close to him.

Massachusetts is a Democratic state that has had occasional Republican governors. And it will be fascinating to watch both in his home and beloved state of Massachusetts what happens now, as the question of who will succeed Senator Edward M. Kennedy, his race in Massachusetts?

And, of course, in Washington, they're all ready was a vacuum. He was missing in the big debates of his time, this past year. The biggest, of course, which was the health care reform debate. And it sounds almost out of place to discuss it at this moment, just in the hour after we have learned of his passing.

But his president, Barack Obama and his party will have to decide how to move forward knowing now that they are not only without his vote, but they're without his passion. And this was the moral cause of his life, was to try to bring health care to all Americans. And that debate continues in the United States. It is a very difficult political challenge for the president of the United States right now. And on this night he has lost, perhaps, the voice of his greatest ally in that fight.

RIDDELL: It's incredible to think that Edward Kennedy has been in the Senate since 1962. Back when his brother, John F. Kennedy, was actually the president, and he served longer than all but two other senators in history. And over the decades, Kennedy really put his imprint on every major piece of social legislation to clear the Congress.

I'm just going to bring you now reaction from the office of Nancy Reagan, of course, the wife of President Ronald Reagan, who was a Republican. The statement says, "Given our political differences, people are sometimes surprised by how close Ronny and I have been to the Kennedy family. But Ronny and Ted could always find common ground, and they had great respect for one another. In recent years, Ted and I found common ground in stem cell research. And I considered him an ally and a dear friend. I will miss him." Nancy goes on, "My heart goes out to Vicki and the entire Kennedy family."

And, John, on that note, I just wonder if you could speculate what you think the response of the Republican Party will be. Of course, the Democrats and the Republicans don't often have very nice things to say about each other. But how will the Republicans regard Edward Kennedy's passing?

KING: I think they will issue statements very much in the context and in the spirit of what you just read from Nancy Reagan. And they will say that they had differences with Senator Kennedy, ideological and philosophical differences, policy differences, but they found him to be someone who fought for what he believed in and someone whose word was good. That was the greatest thing you would hear about Ted Kennedy in the halls of Congress.

If you asked people who were negotiating with him on the most emotional, the most difficult issues, Don, back to the days of the '60s, when you said voting rights, civil rights, women's rights, labor issues and the rights of unionized workers and the minimum wage, and onto health care, and immigration reform.

The key issues in health care, pretty elderly, Medicare, prescription drugs. Teddy Kennedy negotiated with people who were very much opposed to him, but they always trusted him in the negotiations. If he gave you his word it was good, and you knew he wanted to compromise to get things done.

And you will see he had fierce critics in American politics. But you will see an outpouring and overwhelming outpouring of support, because he was someone who had a great passion for what he did. And he was respected, respected across the aisles.

And one more quick point to the Nancy Reagan statement. Washington has changed not for the better in the last 25 years. And that it's become such a polarized partisan place. American politics has become very polarized. And Ted Kennedy is from the generation, where if you were having a disagreement with Ronald Reagan or with the first President Bush, George H.W. Bush or a Republican before that, they would fight in public during the day, but then often retire. And then they'll have a cocktail in the evening and try to work out their differences. Try to find -- is there 80 percent of this we can agree on and set aside the 20 percent we disagree on?

And that era, that era is sorely missing in Washington now. And I think that is what Nancy Regan was reflecting on in that statement, because Ted Kennedy and Ronald Reagan in public agreed on very little, but they were two men who respected each other. Ted Kennedy very much respected the sway, the connection that Ronald Reagan had with the American people. And they were able to set aside their ideological differences and work on things when they thought it was in the common good of the American people.

RIDDELL: John, hold that thought there just for a moment. I'm going to come back to you in a moment. Because I want to get your thoughts on where the health care reform debate is going to go from this point without one of Barack Obama's closest allies. So I'll come back to you for your thoughts on that in just a moment.

We just received a statement from the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid who says, "The Kennedy family and Senate family have together lost a patriarch. My thoughts and those of the entire United States Senate are with Vicki, Senator Kennedy's children, his many nieces and nephews and his entire family. It was the thrill of my lifetime to work with Ted Kennedy. He was a friend, the model of public service and an American icon. As we mourn his loss, we rededicate ourselves to the causes for which he so dutifully dedicated his life. Senator Kennedy's legacy stands with the greatest, the most devoted, the most patriotic men and women to ever serve in these halls. Because of Ted Kennedy, more young children could afford to become healthy, more young adults could afford to become student. More of our oldest citizens and our poorest citizens could get the care they needed to live longer, fuller lives. More minorities, women and immigrants could realize the rights our found documents promised them. And more Americans could be proud of their country.