WASHINGTON — America mourned Sen. Edward M. Kennedy Wednesday, recalling the veteran Massachusetts senator as a legislative lion who had a knack for accomplishing the toughest Senate tasks.
Kennedy's Senate seat — back row, second seat from the left, the same one his brother, John, had occupied as a senator — was shrouded in black, and Washington put aside its partisan ways and reflected.
President Barack Obama, whose presidential bid got an important endorsement from Kennedy early last year, issued a proclamation declaring Kennedy "not only one of the greatest senators of our time, but one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy." Obama ordered flags flown at half-staff at the White House and all federal buildings until sunset Aug. 30.
Kennedy, 77, died Tuesday night after a 15-month battle with brain cancer.
Kennedy will lie in repose at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum at Columbia Point in Dorchester, Mass., starting Thursday night. The public will be allowed to view the body from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
A memorial service will begin at 7 p.m. Friday at the library; it's not open to the public. Saturday, the senator's funeral mass will be held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Boston, where Kennedy prayed daily when his daughter, Kara Kennedy Allen, was diagnosed with cancer. She survives him, along with his wife, Vicki; two sons, Edward Jr. and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, D-R.I.; two stepchildren, Caroline and Curran Raclin; and a sister, Jean Kennedy Smith.
At 5 p.m. Saturday, Kennedy will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, where his brothers John and Robert, as well as Jacqueline Kennedy and her stillborn son, Patrick, were laid to rest. The burial also will not be open to the public.
Praise and sorrow poured in from all political quarters Wednesday.
"He was grounded by a fundamental sense of right and wrong, and our country was better for it," said House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., who worked closely with Kennedy. Arizona Sen. John McCain, Obama's 2008 Republican rival, recalled that "in the quarter century that I've been here, there's not been anyone quite like him."
Some of the recollections were intensely personal.
"I lost my best friend in the Senate," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. He recalled his own recent cancer surgery, the death of his sister and other personal crises through the years.
"There are examples that go back 30 years. The moments you needed to hear from someone when feelings were hard to express, Ted Kennedy has been there," he said.
Vice President Joseph Biden choked up as he recalled Kennedy. As a U.S. senator from Delaware until earlier this year, Biden worked alongside Kennedy for 36 years through fights on health care, legal affairs and national security.
"He was never defeatist. He never was petty," Biden said, adding that "in the process of his doing, he made everybody he worked with bigger; both his adversaries as well as his allies."
Kennedy was a dominant figure in the Senate almost from the day he arrived in November 1962, elected to fill the seat his brother John had left two years earlier to become president.
The then 30-year-old Kennedy, the youngest of four brothers, was no typical rookie senator. "He had a set of advantages that almost never appear for a senator," said Steven Schier, professor of political science at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.
His first floor speech was to urge colleagues to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which his brother, President Kennedy, had championed before he was murdered the previous year, and he became a leading liberal voice for the rights of the poor, the labor movement and public education.
His last Senate vote, perhaps fittingly, wasn't on a major policy initiative, but a vote to cut off debate on a mortgage fraud bill in April.
He remained a presence, however, writing a cover story for Newsweek's July 27 issue that argued "Every American should be able to get the same treatment that U.S. senators are entitled to" and urging Massachusetts officials last week to change the Senate succession law so his seat could be filled quickly.
There were signs recently that Kennedy's health was deteriorating.
His Senate seat was empty on Aug. 6 when colleagues confirmed Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court, and he didn't attend the funeral service for his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who died on Aug. 11. The next day, he was a no-show at the White House to receive the Medal of Freedom.
Still, Dodd said Kennedy remained "very much a part" of the health care debate. "He always knew what was going on," Dodd said, even when he couldn't communicate it.
Kennedy chaired the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which was tasked with writing health care legislation.
With Kennedy ailing, Dodd took over running the committee and worked painstakingly to create a Kennedy-like atmosphere, meeting day after day and slogging through virtually every amendment every senator wanted to offer.
Dodd Wednesday recalled Kennedy's lessons. Bring your views to the debate, he would say, but "remind people you were elected to get a job done." And that while disagreement is fine, don't be disagreeable.
Most of all, don't give up hope something can get done. "The mistake people make is there's some set formula that applies in every fact situation," Dodd recalled Kennedy as saying, but every legislative fight is different, and people should not get discouraged because a debate is not going down its expected path.
And when the committee finally ironed out details of its proposed legislation, Dodd said, Kennedy wanted details — "like he'd never been sick."
ON THE WEB
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY