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Interview With Robert F. Kennedy Jr.; Interview With Senator Mary Landrieu

Aired August 30, 2009 - 12:00   ET



KING (voice-over): The lion of the Senate is laid to rest. Thousands of mourners turn out to pay their respects to Senator Edward Kennedy, a man who fought passionately and pragmatically in the Senate for nearly half a century.

DODD: John Fitzgerald Kennedy inspired our America. Robert Kennedy challenged our America. And our Teddy changed America.

HATCH: People have called Teddy and me the odd couple, which was certainly true.

KING: Two of Senator Kennedy's closest friends, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut share their personal memories.

Plus, Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington on the post-Kennedy health care debate in the Congress.

And my exclusive interview with the late senator's nephew, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

And in our "American Dispatch," the Kennedy connection to Boston sports dynasty. I talked to the president and CEO of the Red Sox, Larry Lucchino.

Four years now since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu gets the last word.

This is the "State of the union" report for Sunday, August 30.

A champion for those who had none; a man who never stopped trying to right wrongs; and someone who wasn't perfect, but believed in redemption -- just a few of the sentiments expressed at the funeral of Senator Edward Kennedy in Boston yesterday.

President Obama led the nation in saying goodbye to the 77-year- old senator, who was laid to rest near his brothers John and Robert at Arlington National Cemetery.

Here with their reflections on the senator's life and his work, two of his closest colleagues, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, who joins us by telephone. And Senator Dodd, let me begin with you. You and Senator Hatch had the great privilege, the honor you called it, of eulogizing your friend at the memorial service Friday night. You waved as you pulled up. I saw you were still scribbling notes, edits on your speech. Talk about the moment. You've given so many speeches in your life. What made this one unique?

DODD: Well, John, first of all, thanks for doing this. But what makes it difficult is that it's so personal. I mean, these are -- how do you express in eight or 10 minutes -- I tried to keep it brief -- and how do you capture 30 years of friendship in eight minutes? And particularly someone who the relationship goes far beyond just the personal. Obviously, I sat next to him for almost 25 years in that Health Education Labor Committee. We were partners in policy, great friends personally. Got to know his children, his family, (inaudible). And so, trying to capture all of that, in a sense, is one of the hardest things you'll ever have to do.

KING: And so, Senator Hatch, as you put this together, what did you have to leave out that you wanted to say about your friend? HATCH: Well, there were a lot of things that I left out because you only had so much time. But it was a privilege to be able to be there and be with Vicki and the family.

I was there when, you know, he called me out in California to tell me that he was going to marry Vicki. And the only reason he called me then, I asked him, why are you doing this? Because I was in a middle of a great big speech. And he said, well, her young daughter was in grade school and was bragging to the teacher that her mother was going to marry Ted Kennedy, and he said the teacher was married to a Washington Post reporter, so he wanted to tell me before it appeared in the Post. And we had that kind of a friendship.

We were called the odd couple. I'm conservative, and he was the leading liberal champion in the Senate. And we used to get into some tremendous rows, but in the end, we were able to put together some of the most important health care bills and other bills in history.

KING: And Senator Dodd, if you read the op-ed pages and have conversations with people involved in politics, who cover politics, the word soul comes up a lot. People saying the Democratic Party has lost its soul. Do you agree with that assessment? And if that is the case, sir, how does one replace its soul?

DODD: Well, no, you don't lose your soul, and Teddy would be the first to say so. As he said in his -- when he gave that incredible eulogy of his brother Bobby, you know, you don't enlarge someone in death more than he was in life.

Teddy was pragmatic and practical. He believed in the fundamental principles of the Democratic Party, he did so passionately. He also had a strong pragmatic sense, you move forward. And obviously, we've lost a great champion in all of this. But he would take umbrage, he'd be annoyed if he thought Democrats were somehow going to retreat here as the party of his choice back because he was no longer with us. He'd expect us to get up this morning, to get battling, decide what we needed to do, sit down with our friends on the other side, like Orrin and I have over the years on many issues together, and try to work things out, respecting each other. That's what the Senate is all about, and get the job done. We don't have a luxury here of sitting back and sort of engaging and wallowing in our own grief. We've got to get up and get moving.

One of the great attributes of Teddy was, one, his likability. People liked him. But also his ability to overcome adversity. You heard President Obama yesterday talk about it. What he'd been through -- 16 by the time he'd lost two siblings. Two of his brothers taken from him with great violence. Been through his own personal difficulties, with physical problems and the like. But he got up after every single one of those challenges and went back to work, and decided we've given so much time in this life, do the very best you can. And that's what we're supposed to do.

So we haven't lost our soul at all. In fact, it's been enhanced by his presence, and by invoking his memory these days, we'll do a better job. And I think Orrin and I will get back next week in the Senate, and we've got to roll up our sleeves and go to work and do what Teddy would've done, and get this health care matter behind us.

KING: And as we look to see what comes next, when I was up there seeing old friends in Massachusetts politics, Senator Hatch, they say it is increasingly likely the legislature will change the law and allow the governor to make an interim appointment before the special election.

If there is that opportunity for an interim appointment, three or four months, the opportunity for a temporary senator to cast Teddy's last votes -- she has said no, Vicki has said no, she is not interested -- but if that moment opened, would you call her up and say, maybe you should consider this?

HATCH: Sure, I think Vicki ought to be considered. She's a very brilliant lawyer. She's a very solid individual. She certainly made a difference in Ted's life, let me tell you. And I have nothing but great respect for her.

You know, it's interesting to be on with Senator Dodd, who was I think Senator Kennedy's greatest Democrat friend. I consider myself his best Republican friend. And Chris and I -- we have been able to work together, as Teddy and I used to work together.

But it's going to take a lot of work, because, you know, many of the so-called progressives in the Democratic Party are insisting on this public or Washington, government-run plan. And the vast majority of people out there in the public, they don't want that. They're scared to death knowing that Medicare is $38 trillion in unfunded liability as we sit here, and that in order to get that public plan and pay for it, they're going to take $400 million to $500 million out of Medicare. I mean, that's crazy. And so a lot of people are very concerned with what's going on in Washington right now, especially in health care. And you can see there are people from all walks of life. It isn't just people that don't like Democrats, from all walks of life. KING: Senator Dodd, we're going to talk more about the policy of health care as we move on, but on the question of Vicki Kennedy, you know her very well, you had dinner with them up there. You were one of the few people who saw the senator in the final weeks. If the interim appointment becomes a reality, that possibility, would you call her up and say reconsider? You could come and cast your husband's final votes?

DODD: Well, we talk frequently, and you know, whatever Vicki wants to do, I'm in her corner. She knows that. And she's expressed to me her own sort of reluctance to do that, but she could change her mind. If she did, I'm for it. I think she'd be great. I think Orrin is right. She brings talent and ability to it, and to fill that spot I think is something the people of Massachusetts would welcome. We could certainly use her in the Senate. But I leave that up to her. She's got a lot on her mind right now, and frankly, I'll leave it up to her decision-making process. I know talking with her children and talking with Teddy and Kara and Patrick and others, they'll come to the right decision. Whatever she thinks is best, I'm for. KING: Senator Dodd, you are on the ballot next year, and at this point -- it is still early -- it looks like you may have a tough race on your hand. And among your allies is now your late friend, Senator Edward M. Kennedy. He produced -- he was part of an ad for your campaign, and we want to share it now with our viewers.


KENNEDY: Quality health care as a fundamental right for all Americans has been the cause of my life. And Chris Dodd has been my closest ally in this fight. Today more than ever, we have a real opportunity to bring health care reform to Connecticut and all across America. And I believe that with Chris Dodd's leadership, our families will finally have accessible, affordable health care.

DODD: I'm Chris Dodd and I approve this message.


KING: It's striking to watch that in the context of the events of the past few days, Senator, but it's a powerful appeal from your friend, Senator Kennedy.

Will you continue to run that ad as you seek reelection in Connecticut?

DODD: I don't know, John. But thanks for running it. I haven't heard it in a while. I don't know. We're not talking about that today. This is a time to talk about Teddy, remember him and his contribution, and what we need to do to get back on track again. I'll leave politics to next year.

KING: Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, thanks for being with us this morning as we're discussing the health care issue. Senator Kennedy called it the cause of his life.

So will this acrimonious debate over health care reform give way to his spirit of bipartisanship? When the Congress returns, we'll talk it over. Senator Orrin Hatch is staying with us, and we'll be joined by Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington state, next.



HATCH: He said -- Orrin, he said, what else did I agree to last night?


HATCH: I start telling these things, my eyes start to water, my nose starts to run. It's just a mess, I'll tell you.


KING: We're back with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, whom you just saw right there, and joining us is Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington State.

Senator Hatch, that was part of your tribute to Senator Kennedy, and you were talking about a deal you cut with him late one night after perhaps he had had an extra drink or two, and you came to you the next day wanting to check his notes against your notes.

You came to Washington, you talked about it in your speech, you ran a campaign saying "send me to Washington to fight Teddy Kennedy." When was it, what was the moment where you said, you know, this guy isn't exactly what I thought?

HATCH: Well, we both lived up to it. We fought each other all the time. But he was willing to compromise, he was willing to come to the center. And many times, like in the CHIP bill, it was center- right. And I found it very -- but you know, there were certain things he wouldn't compromise on no matter what you did, and we just fought knock-down, drag-out battles.

But you know, it was a privilege to serve with him. He was a great senator. He was the leading Democrat, leading liberal in the Congress, and probably over the last 50 years, the leading liberal in the Congress, and I had to take that into consideration. You had to take into consideration my conservative politics, as well.

KING: If you look, Senator Cantwell, you're a more junior member of the Senate, but if you look at your entry in the "Almanac of American Politics," it says this. "As a child, Cantwell observed politics firsthand as her father dispensed advice to the union members, laborers, and politicians who stopped by to talk politics. During her father's stint as an aide to Congressman Andrew Jacobs, she woke one morning to the laughter of Ted Kennedy downstairs." Take us back.

SEN. MARIA CANTWELL (D), WASHINGTON: That's right. During the -- his brother's presidential campaign, Ted Kennedy came to my house, as a young girl, to thank everybody who had been participating and campaigning on behalf of his brother.

And literally, I didn't believe that he was in our house, and you know, went to school the next day and everybody at the Catholic school that I went to was talking about how Ted Kennedy had come to the Cantwell home. So it was a great honor.

KING: And so his voice has been missing this past year and especially these past few months from the issue he cared most about, the debate about health care reform. And we've all heard in the eulogies and in the reflections on, well, could it be different now that he has passed? Will there be a new mood of bipartisanship?

The president's point person on this issue is the health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. She put it this way.


KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: The best possible legacy is to pass health reform this year and have a bill that President Obama could sign. And hopefully at every step along the way, they'll ask themselves, what would Teddy do? (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What would Teddy do?

CANTWELL: Well, that was the magic of Senator Kennedy, because he had the faith of the party loyalists, and they knew that he would always fight for them. And so when he went across the aisle to cut a deal with Orrin Hatch, as he did on the children's health care initiative, or other policy, people knew that that was the best deal that could be cut.

But I think right now, we still need to have this debate about the high cost of health care. And what everybody in America wants to know is what are we going to do to control the cost?

I mean, we can talk about the uninsured, but those who have insurance want to know about what both Democrats and Republicans are going to do to keep health care costs down, because premiums going up 120 percent again in the next 10 years is just unsustainable.

KING: Is there any chance -- despite the passing of your friend, is there any chance that a bill with a public option is going to pass the United States Senate?

HATCH: I really don't think so.

But let me tell you, you know, you're talking about one-sixth of the American economy. And a lot of people don't seem to realize that. And you're talking about having the federal government take control of health care when Medicare is $38 trillion in unfunded liability, and going higher. Where you're going to triple -- you're going to triple the budget deficit in 10 years, double it in five years or even less.

And you know, when they talk about $1 trillion, they don't even -- most of this doesn't even trigger in under the Democrats' plans until after the next election in 2013. The only fair way to do it is take it 10 years from there and it's always $2 trillion to $2.5 trillion on top of $2.5 trillion -- $2 trillion national budget for health care now, and that's what they don't tell you.

And then you add the public plan on to that, or what I call the Washington-controlled government plan, that's what's got people all over this country concerned. Because they know, once they do that, you're going to get into all kinds of other problems, including rationing, that Democrats hate to talk about. But that's what's going to happen.

And -- and our senior citizens are scared to death.

KING: Independent Joe Lieberman, who is a -- you know, caucuses with the Democrats, was here last week and he said, not the way he would prefer it, but he believes, given the political climate, given the deficit numbers, that everyone should call a time-out and do this incrementally, pass a bill first that deals with the biggest problems in the system, and prove -- that the Democratic Party should prove we are bending the health care cost curve; now you can trust us when we come back to do the other things like universal coverage and a public option.

Is that the way to go, maybe, in this political environment?

CANTWELL: Well, you're not going to get an argument about bending the cost curve from me, because my state almost subsidizes the rest of the health care system because we're so efficient and the rest of the country delivers more inefficient care.

But the bottom line is, is that health care costs, which, right now, are about a third of our federal budget, are going to double if we do nothing.

So doing nothing and thinking that we're going to get out of this expense is not really an option. So coming to the table and saying, how can we deliver lower-cost health care is critical to the equation.

And so I think getting true competition into the system and giving consumers choice is what the Democrats and Republicans should be joining ranks on.

HATCH: Well, Senator Cantwell and I have done -- we've worked on very important legislation together, and I intend to work with her a lot further in the future.

But the best way to get the costs down, it seems to me -- and you made the point that you have a pretty darn good state, as far as health care is concerned. Utah is one of the exemplary states.

I believe we ought to have 50 state laboratories testing all of these various health care things, and then we can pick and choose from the 50 states. KING: Let me call a quick time-out here. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with senators Hatch and Cantwell, including discussing the attorney general's controversial decision to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Bush-era CIA interrogations.

But first, another reflection on the life and legacy of Senator Edward Kennedy from a voice we rarely hear. Stephen Breyer once worked for Senator Kennedy up on Capitol Hill. Now he's an associate justice to the U.S. Supreme Court.

I talked to him exclusively at the memorial service in Boston.


STEPHEN G. BREYER, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE, U.S. SUPREME COURT: I'm grateful because he helped me give something good that I have to give, maybe. He found that in me and let me help him help other people.

But there are millions and millions of people all over the country whom he tried to help and whom he did help. And when they see the ceremony, that will remind them that they're grateful too. And that's why you're seeing these thousands of people.




TEDDY KENNEDY JR., SON OF EDWARD M. KENNEDY: He lived to be a grandfather. And knowing what my cousins have been through, I feel grateful that I have had my father as long as I did. He even taught me some of life's harder lessons, such as how to like Republicans.



KING: We're back with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell.

That was Teddy Kennedy Jr. speaking at the funeral mass in Boston yesterday, a remarkable speech by the son of Senator Kennedy.

One last point before we move on, on this health care issue. And I want to just show our viewers some of the Sunday papers.

This is the Boston Herald here: "He's Gone Home Now," a touching farewell to Senator Kennedy back home in Boston.

We've all talked about what he might have done, what would he do now, how he would negotiate. Many say that, if this is to be done, it is going to take the president to step up and do more.

Senator Kennedy talked at your convention last year about the torch being passed to Barack Obama.

Has the president failed the leadership test? Or, at least, does he need to lead better now? CANTWELL: No, I think the president timed it perfectly. And coming in, in a new administration, he wanted to show that he was going to work with Congress. And he said this is a priority.

And the president, I think, has basically held the discussion for members to come together to discuss what they'd like to see in legislation. And I know that he's been on the phone a lot. And I'm sure, when we return in session, he's going to play a very key role in all of this discussion. KING: You've been around for many presidents. He allowed the House to write the stimulus bill, essentially to start. He's allowing Congress to write the health care bill. Is that a mistake, in your view, if he wants it done?

HATCH: Well, I don't think it's a mistake, but I think, sooner or later, the president has to weigh in, and he has to carry the ball.

Frankly, I think he's left too much up to Rahm Emanuel and Axelrod and the others, who are brilliant people. I mean, I have a lot of regard for them. But he's going to have to weigh in.

But let me tell you, he's going to have to realize that you're not going to get this big broad Democrat big spending bill. You're not going to get Republican support for it. And if you do get Republican support, you can do some really, really important things that -- that will go down in history as a legacy for him.

KING: Let's move on to other issues. Last week, although the president had said, back in January, he didn't want to look back, the attorney general decided to appoint a special -- an independent investigation to look into the Bush era CIA interrogations and the tactics, to see if anyone broke the law.

Senator Hatch, you were among eight Republicans who signed on to a letter to the attorney general saying that you were deeply concerned that this investigation could come. And you said such an investigation could have a number of serious consequences not just for the honorable members of the intelligence community, but also for the security of all Americans."

Does this decision put Americans more at risk?

HATCH: I sure think so. I'm the longest serving person on the Senate Intelligence Committee. I've been through an awful lot on that committee and I know one thing, they're making it so that people at the CIA are afraid to do anything, and we don't want that situation because when we get into another potential 9/11 and they're happening all the time, that's as much as I'm going to say about it.

We want the toughest people we can have to handle the situation and don't want them thinking twice that they're going to get indicted or they're going to have to go through unpleasant experiences in Congress or that they're going to be mistreated and especially those who give legal opinions.

Legal opinions differ. Sometimes, you know, conservatives will give stronger legal opinions than the most liberals. Liberals sometimes give stronger ones from the liberal standpoint than most conservatives.

And you know what? You want them always tested, you want them always checked. But you also don't want to say, well, these people were rotten in writing this opinion just because they were conservative or it was a conservative opinion. And frankly, it's gone way too far.

KING: Do you agree with that, that it would make CIA agents who have very important work to do, to keep the country safe? Will it make them more timid?

CANTWELL: I look at this differently. I look at the threat that we face from terrorism and I look at it as an asymmetrical threat, and it means we have to have the cooperation of the entire world community to help us.

KING: That means this investigation's necessary?

CANTWELL: I'm saying this investigation is very appropriate. No one is above the law. And this is not a political process. This is a legal process. It's a legal process to find out whether the law was broken and what we want to communicate to all our partners in the war on terror is that the United States is going to be for the rule of law. But in following that rule of law, we also want their help in fighting terrorism and finding terrorist suspects and working in a cooperative fashion.

KING: The former vice president of the United States in an interview that's airing this morning, Dick Cheney, says Senator Hatch that this is playing politics. Do you think it's a bad decision that they made? Or do you agree and go as far as saying that they're deliberately playing politics with national security?

HATCH: I think it's both. It's both a bad decision and I think some politics are involved. I hate to think of that of the attorney general, I strongly supported him. But let me tell you something, I've traveled all over the world and let me just use France.

France will say things publicly that look like they're against us, but behind the scenes, they're intelligence people. They work very closely with us. They know what we're doing. They know how important it is. And if our people are too timid to get out there and do the things that have to be done because we have -- and I believe in oversight. That's what the intelligence committee should be all about.

But if we're too timid, we're not going to be able to protect this country. And I've got to tell you, talk to the head of the CIA, he's a liberal Democrat who I know and trust and believe in. And I've got to tell you, he's very upset about what's going on here. And he knows it's going to be detrimental to the work that the CIA has to do every day, day in and day out.

KING: We're out of time, but I want to give you the last word on this issue. CANTWELL: This is not about being timid, this is about being effective, and if we want to be effective in the war on terrorism, we have to communicate to everyone that we are going to follow the law and we want their help in bringing about justice for the American people and to make them secure. So this is a legal process. And I applaud the attorney general because I'm sure it's a tenuous issue to be the chief law enforcement officer of this country.

KING: It's a feisty debate that will continue. We'll continue to check in. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, thanks so much for your time this morning.


KING: And now that Ted Kennedy is gone, who will lead the family? His nephew, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., weighs in next.


KING: In addition to his own children and stepchildren, Senator Kennedy was a surrogate father to the children of his slain brothers, John and Robert. While up in Boston for the memorial service, I caught up with the late senator's nephew, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

We talked first about the outpouring of support in the Boston area and across Massachusetts and what it would have meant to his uncle.


ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR.: My uncle's really obsessed with history, and every summer, he used to take all of the grandchildren to -- of Joseph Kennedy's grandchildren; he was a surrogate father to 29 of us -- but he used to -- he used to load us all up on a bus and take us to the great battlefields of American history, to the Civil War battlefields of Manassas or Gettysburg, or to the Boston battlefields, to Bunker Hill, and to see the Beaver, where the Boston Tea Party was.

And he loved history, and, you know, he really thought that his mission was to help America live up to its ideals, to perfect the union, to make us an exemplary nation that he really believed that we ought to be and that our history dictated, to -- you know, a paradigm of democracy and justice, and to -- to persuade Americans that we all have to be heroic, you now, that we have to resist the seduction of this notion that we can advance ourselves a people by leaving our poor brothers and sisters behind, that everybody has to be included.

And he did that with our family. You know, we -- I -- I called Teddy maybe once a week, and he always called me back, or I was always called back by his office within 20 minutes with a time that he was going to talk to me that day.

And he did that for 29 grandchildren, and then there's 80, you know, great-grandchildren to whom he was a -- a surrogate grandfather.

And he called -- he called us, always, on our birthdays. He never missed a birthday, never missed an anniversary. He called us on Christmas, sent us presents. And he was just a very, very attentive -- which is a full-time job, with the huge family that we had, but he was also doing this -- all these other things for so many other people.

And, you know, he really -- he led an exemplary life in so many ways. And, you know, he had his -- his faults and his weaknesses, which, you know, people are conscious of, but his -- he was really -- he was such a noble, heroic figure to all of us.

KING: And so people ask, now, at this generational passing, in some ways, who picks up the torch in the family?

People say, you know, who leads the Kennedy family now?

KENNEDY: Well, you know what? I have -- virtually every one of my cousins is involved in public service of some kind, and all of them are leaders in their field, whether it's helping people with -- with intellectual disabilities or whether it's -- or whether it's doing environmental work or housing or all of these other issues.

So I think everybody is -- you know, I've -- I've had a lot of opportunity, this summer, to spend time with all my cousins, and because of Eunice's illness and death and Teddy's illness and death -- and we spent most on the Cape together in the summer, this summer.

Every time -- moment that I spent with them makes me prouder of the way that they've lived their lives and tried to live up to the ideals that were set by that generation, by Teddy's generation, my father's generation. So I think all of them are going to continue to make a difference.

KING: Sometimes, in Massachusetts, people say, if there's a temporary senator, would it be Vicki or would it be Joe? Or would one of them run for the seat?

KENNEDY: I have -- I have no clue. I guess, a week before he died, he -- he was out on his boat, and he was very sick by then, and he was losing some of his ability to find words.

And he was still very cognizant and very -- you know, he was able to steer his boat and to reason, to understand all the conversations, but it was sometimes, during some parts of the day, difficult for him to -- to find the words that he was looking for.

And I had a boatload full of kids, and I went by his boat, the Mya, and by his sailboat, and we all waived to each other, and he started yodeling, which he used to do all the time. He climbed the Matterhorn when he was -- when he was younger, and he learned to yodel over there. And he would sometimes sing yodeling songs to the grandchildren.

And I saw him back on the dock later on that day, and he grabbed my arm and he just -- he looked at me very intensely in the eye and then he just started yodeling and then he said to me, "I'm sorry. It's all I got left." KING: Did you ever think this day would come? He's the only one of the brothers we saw grow old.

KENNEDY: You know, I think Teddy ultimately had -- had a wonderful life. And he was -- he was just a naturally buoyant, happy person. And, you know, he -- he felt a pain; he was engaged in his life. Even -- you know, even this year, I talked to him once about Uncle Joe, his brother who was killed in World War II, and he wept. And when he -- he really almost couldn't talk about my father or about President Kennedy without -- without his eyes welling up with tears.

So he had that, kind of, Irish side to him, where he was, you know, passionate and emotional about life, but he also just embraced life. And he loved the sea. He loved the wind. He loved -- somebody said to me this morning -- the weather was so perfect in Hyannis Port.

Somebody said to me, this is a perfect day for Teddy. And I was thinking to myself, every day was a perfect day for him. You know, he loved it when it was blustery. He loved it when there was a gale blowing, and he would be out on his boat even when small craft warning flags were flying and there was, you know, rain beating against your face. He just loved it.

And he loved life, and he loved our country, and he loved people. He was not a politician who was looking at America from 30,000 feet. You know, he loved talking with individual people and sitting down. It was hard getting him out of a room.

And, you know, so he had all of those sides. He had a tempest going on inside of him at all times, and -- you know, but so much of it was driven by passion, by love for humanity and by love for our country.


KING: Today the nation bid farewell to Ted Kennedy. It was also the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana gets the last word, next.


KING: Sixteen newsmakers, analysts, and reporters, were out on the Sunday talk shows today, but only one gets "The Last Word." And that honor today goes to the Democratic senator from Louisiana, Mary Landrieu.



KING: I want to spend most of our time on four years after Katrina. But I want to start with the big pressing policy debate here in Washington, which is health care reform.

Your colleague, Senator Cantwell, was on earlier and she voiced pretty strong support for the public option, saying she believes a public insurance option is critical to controlling cost. If you talk to the leader's office, they will say, Mary Landrieu is one of the not-so-sure on that issue.

Will you support a bill that has a robust public option like in the House?

LANDRIEU: I would tend not to, John, but do agree with Maria on this, we've got to keep working to find solutions. As I said when I was home through the month of August, this really isn't about the president, this debate is not about Congress, this debate is about the people of the United States.

And the fact that, yes, there are some portions of our health care system that are working, but it's all too expensive. It's expensive for our government, causing record deficits. One of the causes of record deficits. It's too expensive for small businesses, 68 percent of small businesses just 15 years ago offered it to their employees. Today it's down to 38 percent and falling.

And it's expensive to individuals. We've got to bend that cost curve, which I heard Senator Cantwell say...

KING: Are you thinking...

LANDRIEU: ... and she's right.

KING: Do you think we need to do it without a public option? LANDRIEU: I think we can do it without a public option, and so I supported actually a proposal by -- the only bipartisan proposal, by Senator Wyden and Senator Bennett, the only bipartisan proposal, seven Democrats, seven Republicans, that focuses on bending that cost curve and providing insurance through the free marketplace with the right regulations and safeguards.

Hopefully we can keep working. That's what Ted Kennedy would want us to do.

KING: The big issues are cost, bending that cost curve. As you know, in August at these town halls, there have been some issues that many lawmakers consider distractions, or at least secondary.

The big debate about "death panels" for one, there have been others. But when you were home in Louisiana, one of the issues that came up at one of your town halls was the very dicey issue of abortion. Let's listen.


LANDRIEU: I do not support taxpayer-funded abortions.


LANDRIEU: With the assurance I do support people's choice under the Constitution...


KING: It's a tough issue in your conservative state. Can you support a health care reform bill that would allow in it taxpayer- funded abortion?

LANDRIEU: I think it would be very difficult, but we do have to realize that in general insurance policies now, general insurance policies subsidized by the government right now through the tax code, allows women to make those choices, again, within the confines of the Constitution.

But, John, it is my great hope that we -- even though that issue is very important, and I don't mean to underestimate it at all, the bigger issue is getting the cost of this system under control if we want to recover in our nation from the recession that we're in.

That recovery is going to be led by small business, not big business and not government. By small business. And right now as a chair of the Small Business Committee, I can tell you our small businesses are in a world of hurt.

They want to offer insurance, because it helps them attract the best talent that they then need to build jobs for America. And if we don't give them some options -- so I agree with Senator Cantwell, who, by the way, is an extraordinary leader on this issue, we may not have the same view about a public option, but we do have the same view about choice and freedom and letting the free market infuse the competition necessary to keep prices low.

KING: Let's close on the state of your state four years after the devastation of Katrina. Here's an editorial across the front page of The Times-Picayune on Friday saying, "We're Counting on You, Mr. President."

And you have also sent the president a letter. And I want to quote from a little bit of it. "As our nation approaches the fourth anniversary of the worst disaster in United States history, I ask for your leadership in helping to complete the unfinished business of our recovery."

You go on to list some of the specific things. But if you -- "I ask for your leadership." Some would read that and say that if you're asking for it, it's not already there. Has the president been remiss in helping?

LANDRIEU: No, the president has been there, but obviously he has been distracted by many issues, whether it's the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, health care. He has been personally as focused as he can be under the circumstances, but I'll say this, almost every member of his cabinet has been down.

Shaun Donovan has been particularly extraordinary.

KING: Housing secretary. LANDRIEU: I was in a meeting with him, housing secretary, every single one of his assistant secretaries, the first that I've ever seen in my lifetime, were there at one of the events.

Secretary Napolitano was already put into place, something that I insisted and we passed the arbitration panel to clear up the backlog. But the president's heart is there. I know that, because I've spoken to him...

KING: You say his heart is there -- excuse me for interrupting. You say his heart is there.


KING: Our friend -- our friend of the program, your friend, James Carville, was here a bit earlier, and he said -- he mentions Secretary Napolitano. He said, they've done a great job with the red tape. He said as a citizen of New Orleans, he's a little miffed, is the way he put it, that the president himself hasn't come to give it a morale boost.


KING: He said he will come this year.

LANDRIEU: Yes. Both of us are a little concerned about that. But the president, I believe, just this week promised he would be there before the end of the year. And I think that's important. I mean, people want to see him.

We love having his cabinet secretaries. We're appreciative of the break-through we're trying to get on flood control and flood restoration and wetlands restoration and water management.

We're pleased that our schools -- which, by the way, would not have happened without Ted Kennedy's support, the first senator to call me after that disaster. I want to give him credit and honor.

So we're looking forward, John, to seeing the president before the end of the year. But the people he has appointed are smart, they're terrific, they're passionate, and they're working hard on our behalf.

We have a lot more to do, and I thank the people of the United States, please let me, and internationally, for what they've done to help us. We are so grateful for everyone's support, but we still have a long way to go.

KING: Just a few seconds left. What's the one thing, the biggest need?

LANDRIEU: The biggest need is to make sure that this flood never -- never happens again. The Netherlands flooded in 1953, 60 percent of their country was destroyed. They said, never again. We must build, not just levees, but restore wetlands, dedicated stream of revenue, or south Louisiana and many of our coastal places around this country will not have any kind of economic future. That's our biggest need.

KING: Senator Mary Landrieu, we thank you for coming here.

LANDRIEU: Thank you.

KING: We give you our word we will keep visiting New Orleans and Louisiana...

LANDRIEU: Thank you.

KING: ... to watch how things play out. Thank you very much.

Senator Kennedy was a man of many passions, the Boston Red Sox among them. When we come back, memories of the long relationship of two famous Massachusetts brands, the Kennedys and Fenway. And we'll get them from the Red Sox CEO, Larry Lucchino.


KING: Most weeks, we plan our journeys outside the Beltway. Sometimes breaking news dictates them. This week was a bittersweet trip back home to Boston to cover the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

To know him was to see his passion for politics and for policy but also for competition and sports. He kept close track of the Celtics and the Bruins and the patriots. But when he knew he was in a race with cancer he might prolong but would ultimately lose, he wanted to walk one last time in the shadow of the Green Monster.

We stretch out here into the city of Boston, and right here you see, along the Massachusetts Turnpike, this is Fenway Park.

And when Senator Kennedy knew he was ill, he wanted to come here to do this. You see his infectious smile. He's throwing out the first pitch. This is opening day in Fenway Park, April 7th -- the manager of the Red Sox, Terry Francona, Hall of Famer Jim Rice, the smile of Senator Kennedy, despite his illness, in a place he loved so much.

He wanted to be there in Fenway Park in the shadow of the Green Monster. And so, in this week's "American Dispatch," we decided to go there, too, to trace the history of two storied brands, the Red Sox and the Kennedys.


KING: You worked in Washington as a younger man, involved in politics, in the big debates of our time. When you were there, did you run into Senator Kennedy -- or you certainly knew of him?

LUCCHINO: I certainly knew of him, and I did get to know him, as I got to know the Shriver family quite well there in my time there. And I got to see him in a personal context. I got to see him as the -- certainly one of the centers, if not the center of the Kennedy- Shriver extended family. And I saw how close he was to so many of his nieces and nephews, and was always impressed by the priority that he assigned to that.

KING: And so now you're here. And you're the president of this storied franchise. And as you know, some politicians -- all politicians say they're fans. All politicians say, you know, I'm a fan, but then you start asking them, and you realize, two, three questions in, they're not really fans; they just have to be fans.

Was Teddy Kennedy a fan?

LUCCHINO: Teddy Kennedy was a fan. Teddy Kennedy's entire family were fans. The -- again, the sons and daughters, the nieces and nephews -- there was an intensity about their connection to Boston and New England, no matter where they lived. And the Red Sox were a reflection of that -- the connection. And yet Ted was a fan.

They are, as you well know, intensely competitive people, and the Red Sox were an outlet for that competition as well as a tangible connection to Boston and to New England.

KING: And go back in time to when this place was built and the family lineage goes all the way back.

LUCCHINO: Well, that's true. The -- Fenway Park is the oldest and smallest ballpark in all of baseball. And it was built in 1912. And the first pitch at the very first game at Fenway Park was thrown out by Honey Fitz, the mayor, and of course, Teddy's grandfather. So his connection goes back that far.

This is a -- a picture of Teddy and Bobby and the patriarch Joe at a baseball game, sitting in the stands, way back when. We're probably talking about the mid '60s here. And it just reinforces the notion that the Kennedy family and the Red Sox and Massachusetts, they all go together.

Ted Kennedy went to baseball games here at Fenway Park for parts of eight decades. Born in 1932. Parts of eight decades. He knew the players. He knew the ballpark. He had a special relationship with the Red Sox and we're very, very proud of that.

Indeed, when we -- on opening day this year, we had Senator Kennedy here throwing out the first pitch and it was on the 97th anniversary. And we had an invitation out to him that we would like him to throw out the -- would have liked for him to throw out the first pitch on -- in April of 2012.

And he joked that he has already had it on his calendar and he was saving that date. So I'm certainly glad that we got him here on opening day this year, because he was in fine spirits. He was very happy. He enjoyed himself immensely. And it was just great to see him here in that setting.

KING: And even when he knew of his sickness, he sent you a note saying he would try to be here?

LUCCHINO: Yes, that's exactly right. We had formally invited him a couple years ago to join in the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park in 2012. This is in about 2007 or 2008 that we wrote to him. And then after he was diagnosed, he sent a letter back saying, I told you I would be there in 2012, and I will be there in 2012. So his spirit remained strong to the very end. And inspirational.

KING: You mentioned the competitiveness. This is great city, and a place that is defined by its brands. The Boston Red Sox are one of the brands of Boston and Massachusetts. The Kennedy name has been a brand for some time, for more than a half century there was a Senator Kennedy from Massachusetts. Now that there isn't what does that mean?

LUCCHINO: Well, it certainly means as, I think, lots of people have noted, that an era has ended. Many of us came into political awareness with the Kennedy family, and their ascendancy. So it means the end of a political era. It means the end of a social or generational thing. On a more immediate level, with respect to the Red Sox, it means the loss of a great fan and a great supporter. He was an American icon to be sure. But he was always a Boston and a Massachusetts guy. And constituent services were always very important to him.

If we had an issue, our players had a problem, if there were charitable things that we needed from the senator or from the government, he was a go-to guy for us. And we were very fortunate to have his -- have the kind of passion and loyalty that he showed to every constituent given to the Red Sox as well. And we will miss him.

We'll miss his -- the joy he brings. You know, when he walked into a room, he was just larger than life, with a big laugh, and a big smile, and a lot of joking, and a lot of teasing. And it's just that whole Kennedy mystique was real. And you saw it when you saw him.


KING: Agree or disagree with his politics and his policies, there is no disputing the impact of Senator Kennedy in the last half century.

We'll be here again next Sunday and every Sunday at 9 a.m. Eastern for the first and last word in Sunday talk. And if you missed any part of our program, tune in tonight and at 8 p.m. We'll showcase the best of today's "State of the Union." Until then, I'm John King in Washington. Have a great Sunday. For our international viewers, "African Voices" next. For everyone else, Fareed Zakaria starts right now.