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American Morning

Life and Legacy of Senator Edward Kennedy, Dead at 77; Bipartisan Condolences Pour In; the Women behind the Man

Aired August 26, 2009 - 08:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Continuing our special coverage this morning of the death of Senator Ted Kennedy. We're crossing the top of the hour. It's now 8:00 Eastern. Senator Kennedy passed away late last night at the age of 77 after a 15-month battle with brain cancer. 47 historic years in the senate of the United States.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: And they are mourning today at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, where our Deb Feyerick traveled throughout the night to get there this morning. She is outside of the compound this morning with more on what's going on.

We know the family released a statement, Deb, earlier -- in the early morning hours where they talked about losing the irreplaceable center of their family and the joyous light in their lives. Any other activity outside of there besides the police activity that we've seen throughout the morning?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, neighbors are beginning to realize what's happened. Everybody was notified from the media and from local law enforcement about 1:20 this morning, about an hour after the senator's passing. And everyone mobilized at that hour.

One of those people is with me now. His name is Michael Perry.

And you are with the highway division here which means that you're really keeping charge of the road here that leads into the compound. First of all, tell me about Ted Kennedy. You met him personally once.

MICHAEL PERRY, NEIGHBOR: Yes, a few years back when they had the incident with John Junior. He personally came over and thanked all of us. Everybody involved -- police, fire, DPW, anybody that was associated with the search and recovery issue was thanked personally by him.

FEYERICK: And that was his nephew, and that went on for a long time. And you guys were stationed out here outside the compound, correct?

PERRY: About a week.

FEYERICK: You've been here many times, about a dozen times you say sort of making sure that people don't stop too long or if there are dignitaries in the area. Tell me about the significance of this road and of the folks who live in these houses. PERRY: Well, down that road is the compound and no one is going -- as you can tell -- no one is going to get in. The police department is in charge of making sure that the right people come and go. Our role is more of support for them for road closures. If they want a certain road closed, we provide the barricades and the signage, and close it up for them.

FEYERICK: The Kennedys, obviously, are known on a world stage. Here, they're local parts of the community. Describe that to me. The Kennedys, Ted Kennedy -- describe all that.

PERRY: They just blend in around here. And they just come and go as they please, like any other citizen, and it's not unheard that you see them walking around in shorts and t-shirts and, you know, years ago I used to see Ted Kennedy driving around his convertible. You know, he'd wave and then toot the horn as he's going by. You know, just blended right in.

FEYERICK: Right. So, real anchors of the community. Well, Michael Perry, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

PERRY: Thank you.

FEYERICK: And, again, as people begin to wake up this morning here in this area, neighbors finding the impact of what's happened. One woman was actually driving down the road saw all the cameras there, and I'll tell you, there are about 20, 25 cameras. We'll show you those to you a little while later. But she realized what had happened and was visibly shaken, began to cry.

So, again, the Kennedys aren't just an ordinary family here, they're really an anchor of the community -- Kiran?

CHETRY: Understandable. All right. Deb, we'll check with you throughout the morning there.

And just a programming note, coming up in about, what, 20, 25 minutes or so, we're expecting to hear from President Obama. He's in Oak Bluff, Massachusetts vacationing at Martha's Vineyard and he is going to be speaking about the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy, not only a colleague in the Senate but, of course, a big supporter and friend.

ROBERTS: We're also hoping to hear this morning from Bernie Ahern, who is the former prime minister of Ireland. Of course, Senator Kennedy had tremendous ties to Ireland, was very outspoken about the troubles in Northern Ireland. So, former Prime Minister Ahern will be able to fill in, you know, some of the members here of Senator Kennedy and his relationships internationally.

Right now, we want to go to John King, host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."

And, John, you know, when you look at the longevity of people in the Senate, you've got Robert Byrd who's leading there more than 50 years, Strom Thurman was number two, just over 47 and Ted Kennedy, 46 years and nine months in the Senate, by any measure, an incredible career there in politics.

JOHN KING, HOST, CNN'S "STATE OF THE UNION": And, John, you mentioned Northern Ireland. He also spoke up for refugees and political rights in the former Soviet Union, human rights and political rights in China. And, of course, all the issues we know him for domestically here in the United States, over a 47-year career that spanned 10 presidencies, civil rights and voting rights. More recently, education and health care. The Vietnam War, Watergate.

What made Teddy Kennedy so fascinating to cover, whether you -- and so fascinating to watch, whether you were a liberal with him or a conservative against him was that he had his hands and he had such a big role in so many of the debates of our time -- which is what has made the past year so sad, and that he has been on the sidelines and now has passed away in the middle of the debate about the issue he cared about most, health care reform. For more than four decades, he said that it should be a right of every American to have universal health care. And just as the issue was being debated on the floor of the United States Senate and across the Capitol, in the House, he was, of course, missing because of his cancer.

And just a few weeks ago, we had Senator John McCain, who was a very good friend despite their political differences, someone who worked with Senator Kennedy on the immigration issue as well. I had Senator McCain on the Sunday program and asked him might things be different if Senator Kennedy were still wandering the halls of the Senate.


KING: Senator Kennedy missed in the health care debate and other debates?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Oh, yes. Senator Kennedy is an institution around here that is unique and there's no such thing as a senator who's irreplaceable. There's no one who comes as close to that word as Ted Kennedy. And we are philosophically opposed, but I have grown over the years to have the highest respect and affection.


KING: Senator McCain among the many conservatives, and Republicans issuing statements praising Senator Kennedy's legacy, and most of them, if not all of them, making note of the fact how much they respected him, how much they trusted him in the negotiations -- and, John and Kiran, how much, even if they disagreed with him, they knew that his heart was fighting for the causes he believed in and that he would always -- always try to reach across the aisle, and if not agree with them in the big debates, at least try to understand their position.

ROBERTS: John, he said that health care was really his signature issue, the issue he cared most about. It also happens to be the issue that didn't get the type of resolution that he was looking for. There are still 46 million to 47 million people in this country who are uninsured and the health debate goes on in this nation. So, health care aside, what do you think is the issue that he will be most remembered for -- the one where there were actually big legislative victories that led to such great changes?

KING: I think the Americans with Disabilities Act, various increases to the minimum wage over the years. Senator Kennedy took it as his cause to fight for what he believed the little guy -- whether it was a little guy who had a disability and perhaps did not have access to public buildings in the country, did not have access to other places in the country like a sporting event. He thought it was imperative that there be handicapped access and other ways through our communication system to help those with disabilities and he fought that cause.

He would always fight even though he was from personal wealth -- fight repeatedly over the years for an increase in minimum wage. I think that if you asked him what his job was in the United States Senate, he would say to use his advantage and his privilege and his stature to fight for those who weren't so fortunate. That is how I believe he would like to be remembered.

ROBERTS: John King for us this morning -- John, thanks so much.

Another statement of condolences this morning, this one from former President Jimmy Carter.

CHETRY: Yes, it came in a couple moments ago from his press secretary, and he writes, "Rosalynn and I extend our condolences to the Kennedy family. Senator Kennedy was a passionate voice for the citizens of Massachusetts, an unwavering advocate for the millions of less fortunate in our country. The courage and dignity he exhibited in his fight with cancer was surpassed only by his life-long commitment and service to his country."

So, again, a statement from former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, one-time rival...

ROBERTS: Yes, back in 1980.


ROBERTS: I remember that famous scene where Jimmy Carter, as Ted Kennedy was coming up on stage, Jimmy Carter reached out shake his hand and Kennedy wasn't inclined to take it.

We will be talking by the way live to former President Carter. He's in the Middle East. He is in Ramallah today. That will be at 10:00 Eastern here on CNN.

CHETRY: All right. And meanwhile, we want to go again, harnessing the worldwide resources of CNN this morning. We are able to get a live picture from Dublin, Ireland, and that is where our Sanjay Gupta is this morning where he's been all week, in fact, at a worldwide conference on cancer.

And so apt to be able to talk to you about the situation. First of all, of course, for people who don't know you're a neurosurgeon and you're also dealing with ways to better treat cancer, brain cancer, the prognosis at this point. This is what took the life of Senator Kennedy.

The prognosis is very dim for people who get this type of malignant glioma, which is what he had. Fill us in on why it's so difficult to treat and cure.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, Kiran. We are at this Global Cancer Summit, 65 countries represented here. And as you might imagine, it's a big topic of the day today, Ted Kennedy and his diagnosis, and certainly, his influence as well on cancer.

You know, as far as this particular tumor, part of the reason this is so difficult to treat is because it's hard to think of this as just one tumor. It's several different tumors sort of wrapped up into one.

And the reason that's relevant, Kiran, is because no single therapy is perfect or even very good at treating this tumor. They talk about surgery, they talk chemotherapy, they talk about radiation, and they talk about that grim prognosis that you mentioned, only about 14 months on average. You'll remember that Senator Kennedy was diagnosed in May of last year.

This has been a fascinating summit to hear about what is happening in the world of cancer. And there's an organization LIVESTRONG, where I sit on the board of this organization. Doug Ulman is the president of LIVESTRONG and I talked to him earlier this morning about the influence specifically of Ted Kennedy on cancer worldwide.

Take a listen.


GUPTA: LIVESTRONG is a very well known non-profit cancer organization. What kind of influence would you say Ted Kennedy has had on this organization?

DOUG ULMAN, PRESIDENT, LIVESTRONG: Well, he's had a great influence on us. I mean, he spent his career fighting on behalf of people who were sick and overcoming challenges.

And I'll never forget the first time we visited with him in Washington, D.C, and were in his office. And before we started the meeting, he took us over to this wall in his office where there were just so many family photos and so much history and he pointed to a photo of Teddy Jr. skiing down the mountain. Teddy, of course, is a survivor of osteosarcoma, and he started crying telling the story of his son's battle with cancer and the impact that had on his family.

And it was really moving. I'll never forget that moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP) GUPTA: You may not know but Teddy Junior had osteosarcoma, which is another type of cancer. So, his family has been touched by cancer quite a bit. But again, many organizations here, not only from the United States but around the world really influenced by Ted Kennedy's personal experience as well as his legislative experience with cancer.

CHETRY: You know, it's very fascinating, and as you said, how the cure rates with some diseases we've made such strides with and for something like the glioma, that glioma as you described, is actually many cancers in such a vital and delicate part of our body, the prognosis has not changed much regardless of age, as well.

Sanjay, we're going to try and check in with you one more time. Thank you very much for your insight and your expertise this morning.

GUPTA: Sure.

ROBERTS: Right now, it's 12 minutes after the hour.

We want to bring in David Axelrod, the senior counsel of President Obama. He's on the telephone with us.

David, thanks for joining us. How are you going to remember Senator Kennedy?

DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR (via telephone): Well, like all Americans, I'll remember him as this iconic figure.

I remember him personally as someone who I got to know through the Obama campaign particularly well and, you know, as you may recall, he helped transform what was an upstart campaign last year. There was a series of events; we won the South Carolina primary. Caroline Kennedy wrote this wonderful endorsement on a Sunday, and then on a Monday, Ted Kennedy stepped forward and made his endorsement and it was a -- it was like a rifle shot for our campaign. It just propelled us and then he joined us on the campaign trail, and he was such an ebullient, enthusiastic, joyous presence that he quickly became a beloved figure to all of us in the campaign.

And as a person he was such a decent, caring person. He -- you know, just as one example, we happen to share a birthday, in Washington, February 22nd, and even when he was ill, he tracked me down on my birthday...

ROBERTS: Really?

AXELROD: ... to wish me a happy birthday.


AXELROD: And, I mean, this is an act that he repeated thousands of times. When people were in trouble, he was the first guy to call. When people had an occasion he was the first person to call or write. Just someone whose humanity was very evident at all times.

CHETRY: And people characterize him as one of the most popular senators there in the halls of Congress, and somebody who really stuck to his guns but was able to find consensus. And when you talk about trying to find consensus, it seems like something that's pretty far away right now as the health care debate continues.

How key was Senator Kennedy in helping move your administration's goals forward, of passing health care reform in this legislative session? And where does it stand now with his passing?

AXELROD: Well, he was important in two ways and continues to be as an inspiration. He was important because his committee in the Senate passed a health care bill that was a great guide post in terms of moving this process forward. And the president spoke to Senator Kennedy the day the committee passed it under the acting chairmanship of Senator Dodd about it. So, that was very important.

Look, I think we've made enormous progress. The last 10 yards are always the hardest. And you're right, we need to build -- we need to build some consensus, and that was the magic of Senator Kennedy. He always seemed to be able to do that -- and he, of course, has been missed in this process.

But we -- but we're going to move forward and we believe we can put together the consensus to enact what he had been trying to do for decades and decades, and that is make sure that Americans who have insurance are protected in that system and Americans who don't can get coverage.

ROBERTS: David Axelrod, the senior advisor to President Obama -- David, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

In a programming note, in just a few minutes, we expect to hear from the president, himself. He will be making a personal statement on the passing of Senator Kennedy.

And coming up right after the break, we're going to be talking with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair about the passing of the legendary Senator Ted Kennedy.

Now, 16 minutes after the hour.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While his older brother Robert tours to Paris, Edward Kennedy stops in Greece for an unofficial visit. He meets with the Prime Minister Konstatinos Karamanlis to confer on the impact of (INAUDIBLE) before beginning a sightseeing tour that takes him to Greece's famous landmarks. Mr. Kennedy expressed pleasure at the opportunity to visit this seat of western culture and spent every moment he could spare at the shrines of the mother of democracy. From here, Mr. Kennedy went on to Warsaw to continue his private fact- finding tour.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CHETRY: Nineteen minutes past the hour. You're watching a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING. Kiran Chetry here in New York, along with John Roberts.

And you're looking at a live picture right now of Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. This is right outside of the Kennedy family compound. There you see police present.

The news early in the morning broke that Senator Ted Kennedy after more than a year-long struggle with brain cancer passed away at the age of 77. A statement from his family saying, "We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and the joyous light in our lives."

And many others are weighing in this morning. In fact, coming up in just about 10 minutes, our president, Barack Obama, is going to be delivering some remarks about Senator Ted Kennedy. They not only were colleagues at the Senate, Senator Kennedy, of course, famously endorsed Barack Obama as a candidate in the primary instead of Hillary Clinton, his rival, and then, of course, we saw it was just a year ago to the day, a triumphant Kennedy -- even after the operation and the radiation and chemo -- coming out there on the stage at the DNC to congratulate Barack Obama and to say, "I hope this man becomes our next president."

ROBERTS: Yes. That was quite a moment in politics. No question about it.

CHETRY: Well, in March of this year, Senator Edward Kennedy became Sir Edward Kennedy, that was when prime minister of the U.K., Gordon Brown, announced that the queen of England had awarded him an honorary knighthood. So, here's a look at that moment.


GORDON BROWN, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Allow me to single out for special mention today -- one of your most distinguished senators, known in every continent and a great friend.

Northern Ireland today is at peace. More Americans have health care. Children around the world are going to school and for all of those things we owe a great debt to the life and courage of Senator Edward Kennedy.


BROWN: And today, having talked to him last night, I want to announce, awarded by her majesty, the queen, on behalf of the British people, an honorary knighthood for Sir Edward Kennedy.



ROBERTS: And it's Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Senator Kennedy played a significant role in establishing peace in Northern Ireland. He helped smooth negotiations which led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Then-Prime Minister Tony Blair oversaw those negotiations and he joins us now on the telephone.

Mr. Prime Minister, it's good to have you with us. Let me ask you, first of all, your thoughts here on the passing of Senator Kennedy.

TONY BLAIR, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER (via telephone): He was a remarkable man. I mean, I got to know him principally over at the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland. He played an immense part there, made an extraordinary contribution over a number of years.

But he was -- he was a true pioneer of progressive politics and the breadth and depth and scope of his commitment won him friends not just in America, obviously, but worldwide. I mean, he was a genuine -- a genuine icon for many people. And I got to know him quite well actually and I thought he was also a man of -- and for all of his position, in all his authority and all of his faith, in a humility and candor.

ROBERTS: He was a supporter, of course, of the Good Friday Accords, which you helped broker, as we mentioned. But that's not always the way it was. He was a fierce supporter of Republicanism back in the early 1970s. In fact, he gave a speech in 1971 in which he said that Ulster was in danger of becoming Britain's Vietnam.

What was it, you know, through your history with him, your knowledge of him, your conversations with him that led to that change over the years?

BLAIR: I think what happened was that he -- as we started to make progress, he saw that there was a real opportunity to create a different type of Northern Ireland. And he was someone dedicated to his people. He wasn't an ideologue on it. He actually wanted the best for the people of Northern Ireland.

And so, as he saw the British government changing, as he saw the possibilities of unionists working with Republicans, and as he saw the Republican leadership prepared to grasp the opportunity. So, if you like, the very powerful rhetoric against what was happening some years back was replaced then by actually a very subtle but very important role that he played in trying to make people see the possibilities of peace.

CHETRY: And you're perhaps the perfect person to ask this, too, because I know your passion for the ongoing fighting in the Middle East and how many view that situation as perhaps hopeless, that the two sides will not be able to come together. You know, there was a long, long period in our history where people felt that way about the situation and the fighting in Northern Ireland.

How do you take a look at how people, like Senator Kennedy and yourself and those who have come together and been able to work something out seemed impassable, how does that relate to the situation in the Middle East? BLAIR: Well, I think, in that sense, it's very similar, you know, because frankly for decades if not centuries, people thought the situation in Northern Ireland was hopeless, but it wasn't in the end. And we were able to construct a framework that allows people to move forward. Personally, I think it's possible to do that in the Middle East as well.

And as you know, Senator Mitchell who also, of course, (INAUDIBLE) very well and worked with us closely in Northern Ireland is taking that forward at the moment.

CHETRY: Right.

BLAIR: And here is the thing -- I think, this is what also is the clue to the type of person that Ted Kennedy was. He could see that the world was changing and he could see that in that changing world, there was an opportunity to put behind us the conflicts and the divisions and disagreements of the past. And he had the imagination to seize that opportunity.

And I think the same is true in the Middle East incidentally. Those people who understand the way the world is changing know that today we, in the West, the Arab world, the broader Islamic world, as well as, of course, Israel have an interest in resolving this. So, we see that opportunity and what remains is to seize it.

And I think what Ted did in relation to Northern Ireland serve as not a bad, you know, it's not a bad example.

ROBERTS: All right. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, it's good to have you with us this morning, sir. Thanks very much for sharing your memories of Senator Kennedy with us. Appreciate it.

BLAIR: Thank you.

CHETRY: It is amazing, when you look back at the history of...

ROBERTS: Oh, yes.

CHETRY: ... peace agreement (ph). People thought this is never going to happen. We'll be at war forever.

ROBERTS: George Mitchell, Ted Kennedy, all working on it and eventually came with the accords.

CHETRY: And now, Carter is in Ramallah this morning. So, it's interesting.

ROBERTS: Yes, exactly. And again, we'll be talking with him at 10:00 this morning, his memories of Ted Kennedy.

Right now, let's bring in Wisconsin Democratic Senator Russ Feingold.

Senator Feingold, thanks very much for being with us. What are you thinking this morning, you know, when you consider the passing of this icon of federal government, the "Lion of the Senate"?

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN (via telephone): I'm feeling deep sadness. I'm also feeling deep affection for Senator Kennedy. He was my hero before I came to the United States Senate.

But then I got to know him personally and it is absolutely true, not just a political thought, that every one of us really enjoyed him as a person. His humor was incredible. He'd light up a room. You know, the Senate can be a drab place. This guy had a personality you wouldn't believe and I don't think anybody worked harder in the United States Senate. He was a work horse in the Senate.

I think he's one of the three or four greatest senators in American history. So, it's a very sobering thing to think of a Senate and a country without Ted Kennedy.

CHETRY: And the other thing we know you were a close friend of his as well, besides being a colleague in the Senate. You saw this coming. You know, we all knew that the -- unfortunately, that the prognosis was very bleak and that chances were that he was going to succumb to this malignant brain tumor.

Again, at the same time, when we heard the news this morning, and I imagine you felt a similar way, you know, almost a disbelief that it has happened. We looked just a year ago and there he was at the DNC and he looked so vibrant.

FEINGOLD: Well, he was always vibrant and, yes, it really starts to sink in. I had an "EMK for President" button on me as a 14-year- old after Robert Kennedy was assassinated. I mean, I already was very focused on this man as a young teenager, believing him to be an inspiration particularly when it comes to issues like civil rights and health care.

He's always seemed like a leader, somebody that I would point to and that I would look to for the lead on key issues, and also, for his ability to -- his eloquence and his ability to talk about these things in a way that's incredibly inspiring. So, it is very -- a very different feeling when you realize that he's actually gone.

ROBERTS: You know, we should point out, too, Senator, that if you've got a little bit of a family connection to the senator as well as your collegial relationship, your daughter interned in his office. What was that experience like for her?

FEINGOLD: Both of my daughters. Senator Kennedy treated people and their family members like they were his own family. Both girls were allowed to come in and meet him personally. I think one of my daughters got to take care of his dog one day, one afternoon a little bit, but he also gave wonderful work. They got very interesting work as interns and it was a very meaningful experience for both Jessica and Ellen Feingold to be interns of Senator Kennedy's office.


CHETRY: Taking care of the dogs. That's part of the intern's job, right?


FEINGOLD: That dog -- that dog -- those dogs needed proper attention but, of course, that was just one brief session. They got to do substantive work and it was very helpful in their futures and they have the same affection I do for Senator Kennedy.

ROBERTS: And certainly, not many dull moments when you're talking about working for Senator Kennedy.

What do you think he will, Senator Feingold, be best remembered for here years down the road?

FEINGOLD: For his strength. He was a man of enormous strength. He could lead an issue or change an issue by his own personal will. You always knew he had the term. You always knew he'd back it up with humor and the work, but there was this feeling of strength and power that went with his humanity that I think made him such a -- such a great senator.

CHETRY: Will the Kennedy dynasty live on? Will there be someone else that you've known or that you've spotted that you think may carry on his legacy?

FEINGOLD: I believe so many members of the family already are carrying on that legacy. I've had the privilege of getting to know so many of them, in the political world, in the human rights world, other areas. The Kennedy family is continuing its work and they will have an impact on American life many generations to come.

ROBERTS: Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, good to be with you this morning. Thanks so much for taking the time.


ROBERTS: As we cross the half hour, we are continuing our coverage of the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, 47 years in the Senate, passed away late last night at the age of 77 from brain cancer at his home in Hyannis Port. And there this morning, a picture of the White House, the flag now lowered to half staff in honor of his memory. In Hyannis Port, we are awaiting word of plans for the next few days here, funerals, memorial services.

We have yet to see any family members. But you can bet there will be a lot of activity there at the Kennedy compound. The library, the Kennedy Library in downtown Boston no doubt will be receiving a lot of visitors who want to pay their respects to Senator Kennedy and the Kennedy family by perhaps going for a visit there today.

And then at the Capitol building this morning where the flags have been lowered to half staff, a place where Senator Kennedy spent 47 years of his life, the third longest serving senator in this nation's history.

CHETRY: He made quite a mark on the capital as well. We want to let you know on a programming note at 31 minutes past the hour, any moment now we'll hear from our President Barack Obama. He'll be speaking from Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, this morning about his colleague and friend and trusted advisor.

And we're just also getting from our former president George W. Bush a statement as well about the passing. He offers his condolences to the family.

And he goes on to say, "I was pleased to work with Senator Kennedy on legislation to raise standards in public schools, reform immigration, and ensure dignity and fair treatment for Americans suffering from mental illness.

In a life filled with trials Ted Kennedy never gave in to self- pity or despair. He maintained his optimistic spirit, his sense of humor, his faith in his fellow citizens. He loved his family and his country, and he served them until the end. He will be deeply missed."

Again, that statement coming in from the office of George W. Bush.

ROBERTS: Our John King, host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" on Sunday mornings, is joining us now. And John, when you see the bipartisan outpouring of condolences here and tributes to Senator Kennedy, it's a real reminder that, agree with his politics or not, he was a legendary figure in American politics.

KING: A legendary figure, John, and somebody who even if you were a vehement opponent, you knew he believed what he was saying. You knew in negotiations his word was good.

That's why he's getting such accolades from both former Presidents Bush, from John McCain, from Orrin Hatch, from conservatives who didn't agree with him on many of the specifics of issues, but understood that he was fighting from the heart, that he would stand up and fight fiercely in public, and in a very partisan way sometimes for what he believed in, but that nine times out of ten or 99 times out of a hundred he would also either personally himself or through his staff work the back channel and try to find out, is there a way to compromise?

When legislation on the big issues, whether it was raising the minimum wage, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, that education bill President Bush referred to, No Child Left Behind, there were times when those bills appeared off the tracks when suddenly a compromise would come.

And how did that come? Because Ted Kennedy would go into the room, find out what the Republicans needed to make it work, and then go back into the room and sell it to enough Democrats and tell the Democrats, we've got to give up a little piece, too.

And that is an art that is becoming more and more lost and rare in Washington, D.C. because both parties have become so polarized in the last ten to 15 years. ROBERTS: And he wasn't afraid, John, to go back and try again. We remember in the early days of the Bush administration he worked with the president on the no child left behind act.

And then when the act wasn't fully funded to the extent he would have liked, he felt as though he had been somewhat betrayed by the White House, but came back again to work with President Bush on passing Medicare Part D, the prescription drug plan.

So he was willing to say, OK, so it didn't work out so well the first time but I'm going back to try it again on a different issue.

KING: And came back, John, for more than 40 years on the issue of health care reform. Senator Kennedy was among those who if you go back a couple decades wanted that single payer government plan for all Americans, that universal coverage.

Now, of course, he knows politically that was a nonstarter, so he was trying to work with President Obama, with others in the Senate, until he was sidelined by this cancer.

But he was someone who adapted to the political reality. Yes, was the last line of liberalism. Many thought that his day in politics had passed, even when Bill Clinton, a more moderate Democrat, was elected president.

But Ted Kennedy was known if for nothing else for his tenacity and his resilience, and he always lived to come back in the next fight, and he would adapt his own politics if necessary, never abandon his principles but make a deal on the specifics to get, as Ray Flynn put it earlier today in the great Boston accent, half a loaf.

I can't quite say it like I used to, but get a half loaf if you can't get the whole loaf.

ROBERTS: And, John, obviously it's still very early hours following his passing, but they knew that the end was coming. This is the Kennedy family, and they had made plans for his funeral, plans for a memorial service. Do we have any details or do you have any inkling at this point how we proceed from here?

KING: We do not, except for the fact that we expect there to be tributes in Massachusetts and perhaps tributes in Washington as well. I do know, John, that I've talked to several family friends who say Vicki, Mrs. Kennedy has been working at this for quite some time in conjunction with her husband, Senator Kennedy, before he passed, obviously, on the plan, and that they have a very detailed plan.

But I will tell you something that we have learned in the past several months as he has been in declining health, how fiercely she fought to protect him. She would let so few people get access to Senator Kennedy as his health was failing.

Senator Chris Dodd, his closest friend in the Senate, did see him. I believe that was in June, maybe early July. But she fiercely protected him and she has kept the plans tight to the vest. We do expect them to be announced if not later today, then in the very near future.

When you talk to associates they say look for tributes in the Boston area and in Washington. The exact details, though, will be released at a time of her choosing.

ROBERTS: John King, this morning. John, thanks so much for that. Really appreciate it.

CHETRY: We talked a lot about Senator Kennedy the man. What about the women behind the man? He had two wives, Joan, and then more recently Vickie.

And a very fascinating the article written by Martha Moore from "USA Today" about how the two women helped him through some of the most trying times in his life more than three decades apart and in very different ways.

It's a fascinating look at a little more of his family life. And we're going to be talking to her in a few moments.

And a quick programming note for you. Tonight, 7:00 eastern, CNN will air HBO's acclaimed documentary, "Teddy, in his Own Words." It chronicles Senator Kennedy's remarkable life from his childhood through his speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Again, at 7:00 tonight here on CNN.

AMERICAN MORNING is going to take a short break. It's 36 minutes after the hour. We'll be right back.


ROBERTS: And we continue our special coverage this morning of the death of Senator Ted Kennedy.

And there is a shot of the entranceway to the Kennedy compound in Hyannis, a picture that we're all familiar with from over the years in coverage, unfortunately, of the many tragedies that have befallen the Kennedy family. And now this is the latest, that he has succumbed to brain cancer after a 15-month battle.

And a look across the water that Senator Kennedy loved so much at the Kennedy compound there in Hyannis Port.

And fitting to pass along memories from Florida Senator Bill Nelson as we look at this picture, who said "Most Americans cannot remember a time without Ted Kennedy. Whatever your political persuasion, you had to respect his lion-like conviction. It was that conviction that gave a voice to the powerless over the powerful."

Memories from Florida Senator Bill Nelson.

CHETRY: And the flag at the compound this morning at half staff as well.

During two key elections in his political career, Senator Edward Kennedy turned to his wife for help. Two wives, very different women, but they both stood by and helped his campaign.

Martha Moore joins us. She's from "USA Today" and wrote a very interesting article both about Joan and Vicki and joins us on the phone. Martha, thanks for being with us.

MARTHA MOORE, "USA TODAY" (via telephone): Sure, no problem.

CHETRY: You always remember of course Joan for many reasons but one of the most -- parts of her we remember the most is she was very public with her battle with alcoholism at a time when people did not talk about that, admitting to not only attending alcoholics anonymous but also seeking at times psychiatric help.

Explain the dynamic between the two of them and how they met and how their marriage ultimately fell apart.

MOORE: Well, as you point out, Ted Kennedy has been married twice to two different, very different women. And Joan Kennedy, his first wife, was a young woman when they got married. He met her when she was still in college. He went to college with one of his sisters. And it was 1959.

And she got onboard with the whole Kennedy program. She campaigned for him and, you know, she was a beautiful, glamorous wife just like Ethel and Jackie.

But she really struggle struggled with her life. She did become an alcoholic and she was very open about it. Then she was open about going to a psychiatrist at a time in Washington when that just wasn't something that you discussed openly.

And to her credit, I think the sad thing is people had hoped for her that she would be helped by her openness and by all of her efforts at recovery, and it's unclear whether that has really ever ultimately happened.

MOORE: She went through, of course, many trying times as did many close to the Kennedys, of course dealing with the assassinations of both his brothers John and Robert. Their young son suffered with bone cancer, I believe, around 12 years old and had to get at least a partial amputation.

She went through multiple miscarriages, rumors of philandering on the part of her husband Kennedy. And then also at the time, of course, as we know, the Chappaquiddick incident, and she stood by him in a very, very meaningful way, even attending the funeral, right, with him of Mary Jo Kopechne?

MOORE: Yes she did. She went to the courthouse with him, and she went to the funeral of Mary Jo Kopechne, you know, with Mary Jo's family, and so and so forth, which had to have been a very difficult moment for her not only because of the personal implications of what the senator might have been doing, but also just because of the ethical and moral issues that were swirling around his behavior.

CHETRY: Right. MOORE: Shortly after that she lost the baby. And so you have to assume it was a very, very difficult time for her.

I'd also point out that in addition, you know, you were mentioning earlier, Ted Kennedy was in a plane crash in 1964 and literally almost died. So it was really a relationship that had more than its share of difficult moments.

CHETRY: Let's switch and talk a little bit about Vicki Kennedy, who he met, I believe back in 1992, right, at the time? Was she an intern in his office when he met her? Go ahead.

MOORE: It was before 1992 but, yes. They first crossed paths when she was an intern in his office, although they both hasten to point out that neither of them really remember it and it was just a photo op.

But he knew her family for a long time, and then he met her when she was a lawyer working in Washington, a single mom, and you know, through her parents they came across each other again and they began to date and got married in 1992.

CHETRY: And how was she able to help him in his reelection campaigns? I know things got really tense for a while in Massachusetts when he was facing Mitt Romney, and it was some wit and smarts on her part that helped him out.

MOORE: Yes. I think she not only campaigned for him and brought a kind of fresh face and the same Kennedy vigor to a campaign from a senator who had been through a really rough patch and his personal life with the trial of his nephew William Kennedy Smith, at which he had to testify.

And he had been a bachelor for a long time and I think his reputation had suffered.

But when he met her and they got together, she really was able to help him rehabilitate his image and his personal life. And she not only campaigned for him, but she also suggested, according to one of her biographers -- his biographers --it was Vicki who suggested that they do a campaign ad about a company in Indiana that had been owned by the company that his opponent Mitt Romney was the founder of, Baine (ph) Capital.

And they did an ad about this company at which a number of people had been laid off. And it was apparently quite an effective ad. And it allowed Kennedy to pull out of what has been a fairly tight race and win by a comfortable margin. Not the enormous margins he was accustomed to, but certainly better than he had been doing.

MOORE: Very interesting. And if people want to read more about the women behind Senator Kennedy, they can check out your article today in the "USA Today." Martha Moore, thanks for being with us.

ROBERTS: You know, Senator Kennedy involved in a lot of foreign relations work, but his longest standing issue in terms of foreign relations was with Northern Ireland. He originally supported the Catholics against the Protestants, but then his position mellowed and he came around to the idea of the Good Friday Accords.

Senator George Mitchell of course was heavily involved in those as well as Prime Minister Tony Blair who we talked to a little while ago.

Coming up right after the break we'll be speaking with the former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern about his recollections and memories of Ted Kennedy and what Ted Kennedy did for the peace process in Northern Ireland.

It's 47 minutes now after the hour.


ROBERTS: It's the gift of the tea service that makes it most memorable, isn't it?

Senator Ted Kennedy from 1964 in the western Ireland city of Limerick. Of course, he had very close ties to Ireland because of his family's roots there, and also he became very involved in the Northern Ireland issue in the early 1970s, something that he maintained close contact with all the way through the signing of the Good Friday Accords.

We want to bring in the former prime minister of Ireland Bertie Ahern for his memories and recollections of Senator Kennedy. And first of all, Taoiseach let me ask you, on this occasion of the senator's passing where your thoughts are going today?

BERTIE AHERN, FORMER IRISH TAOISEACH: Well, obviously it's afternoon here now so the news from the time it broke here early this morning, everybody here is still talking about it. It's the main topic right across the whole island because the Kennedy family were enormously important to us.

And John F. and Bobby and Ted and Jean Kennedy has been an ambassador here, and Eunice was in the Special Olympics, and we had that here in 2003.

So the Kennedys are a very special family in Ireland and they always kept close contact. So it's a sad day, and though inevitable in the recent weeks and months. It doesn't take away from the fact that Ireland feels they lost a person who is really -- in one of the most powerful positions anybody could be for 40 plus years, and because of that, and we regret it deeply.

And he was a very good friend, a great friend of mine and a great friend of the political system, but not only the political system he made sure of when he came to Ireland he mixed with the people and kept in touch with everybody.

And whenever Irish went to the hill, his office was always immensely helpful in arranging for visits and trips and meeting him and making sure that he kept in touch with Irish issues. ROBERTS: In the early 1970s he came down very much on the side of Republicanism. He made a public speech which gave him a lot of criticism in Britain saying that Ulster was in danger of becoming Britain's Vietnam. He called for a unified Ireland.

Later in life, though, his position mellowed and he started coming down on the side of equal treatment for everyone in Northern Ireland, and then was a real proponent of the Good Friday Accords. I'm sure you've spoken to him many times about that evolution. Can you give us some idea of how and why his thinking changed?

AHERN: Well, I would say his thinking evolved as the circumstances evolved. I don't think he ever changed his position.

You know, Teddy was -- one of the things he was passionate about was the human rights and civil rights anywhere. At the commencement of the troubles in the late '60s was about the total infringements of civil rights to the Nationalist Catholic Republican cause.

So it was only the British and, you know, the majority and unionist population in the north started moving from that position that he evolved with it. And so I think it was -- he maintained an entirely consistent position.

Of course, he was equally very strongly against violence of any kind. And he never, I'm sure once, and spoken out strongly against the various atrocities that are too numerous to even think back when they happened.

And right up until recent times, whenever there were violent deeds or acts that were just out of line, he spoke strongly about them.

And because of that I think his voice carried great weight. And in the early years the British didn't like him, but we loved him because he was saying what we didn't have the stent to be ability to get in America.

I think he remained, and Tony Blair and I, you know, were great friends with him. And I remember the night that we completed the Good Friday agreement, I arrived back in Belfast, Dublin and the first phone call I got was from Ted Kennedy.

CHETRY: Wow, that's so interesting to hear your perspective.

Mr. Prime minister, a lot of the people here in America, the U.S. viewers know him for his focus on our domestic issues. But, again, as we said, he really played a big part in some of the key politics in Northern Ireland.

How big an impact did Senator Kennedy's involvement in your political situation there have in helping to eventually bring peace to Northern Ireland?

AHERN: Oh, enormously. I mean, the reality is we never would have solved the conflict in the north between ourselves. We wouldn't have solved it or resolved it in the island of Ireland. Neither would we have resolved it with our great neighbors, friends, and sometimes enemies in the U.K. So that never would have happened.

The only way we were ever going to move it on, I think we realized this from the '80s -- I was elected to parliament in '77, but as a young politician in the '80s I realized there was no way out of this unless we internationalized it.

And I remember me meeting Teddy in '83 and, you know, with some of the senior members of my party then, and urging him to keep up his interest and the strong statements that he made urging people to move forward and move off their stated positions.

And that was -- he one of the really strong voices. And that's helped us to Clinton originally involved. And of course when Jean Kennedy was made ambassador here, she played a huge role, and she understood the problem, and she was very close to him. And Jean was here the crucial years in the '90s when we were able to make progress.

So the Kennedy involvement, particularly Teddy because of the power that he had, and the power he had over the British government. No British government was going to ignore Ted Kennedy.

They'd ignore Ireland pretty easy. We've got relations with them now but it wasn't always that way. They brushed aside Irish statesmen and a lot of our predecessor, but they couldn't brush aside Teddy Kennedy.

ROBERTS: And Jean Kennedy Smith now the only surviving member of the original nine children of Joe and Rose Kennedy.

Bertie Ahern, the former prime minister, former Teascock of Ireland. Thanks very much for being with us, sir.

AHERN: Thank you very much.

ROBERTS: Really appreciate your time.

It's three minutes now to the top of the hour. We'll be back right after this.


ROBERTS: A picture over the waters this morning of Nantucket Sound looking at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, the beloved Nantucket Sound where Senator Ted Kennedy spent so much of his time enjoying his storied life in American politics.

CHETRY: He'll certainly be missed. Senator Kennedy passing away at the age of 77.

We want to thank you for joining us for this special edition, special early, quite early edition of AMERICAN MORNING. We hope to see you back here tomorrow. Right now our special coverage continues with Heidi Collins and Wolf Blitzer.