McCain remembers Sen. Kennedy - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

McCain remembers Sen. Kennedy

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Posted: Saturday, August 29, 2009 9:40 am | Updated: 2:13 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., delivered remarks remembering his Senate comrade Edward Kennedy at a bipartisan memorial service Friday.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., delivered the following remarks remembering his Senate comrade Edward Kennedy at a bipartisan memorial service Friday:

I was last in this wonderful library ten years ago, when Russ Feingold and I were honored to receive the Profile in Courage award. Ted was very gracious to my family on that occasion. It was my son, Jimmy’s, 11th birthday, and Ted went out of his way to make sure it was celebrated enthusiastically. He arranged a ride for us on a Coast Guard cutter and two birthday cakes, and led a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday, with that booming baritone of his drowning out all other voices, as it often did on the Senate floor.

He was good company, my friend, Ted. He had the Irish talent for storytelling and for friendship. At the lunch he hosted for us, in the family quarters on the top floor of the library, he recalled an earlier episode in our friendship, a story he delighted in retelling. It occurred on the Senate floor, when two freshman senators, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, neither of whom would remain long in the Senate, were getting a little personal with each other as they debated an issue, which must have seemed important at the time, but which neither Ted nor I were paying any much notice to.

We both happened to be on the floor at the time, and the heat of our colleagues’ exchange eventually managed to get our attention. You might think that two more senior members of the Senate would in such a situation counsel two junior members to observe the courtesies and comity, which, theoretically, are supposed to distinguish our debates. But Ted and I shared the sentiment that a fight not joined, was a fight not enjoyed. And irresistibly we were both drawn into a debate we had no particular interest in, but which suddenly looked like fun.

I struck first, castigating the young Democratic Senator for abusing my Republican colleague. Before she could respond for herself, Ted rode valiantly to her rescue. And within minutes, he and I had forgotten why we were there, and what the debate was all about. We had probably even forgotten the names of our two colleagues. As one of us spoke, the other would circle the floor, agitated and anxious to fire back.

After a while, we must have thought the distance between our desks too great for either of us to hear each other clearly or that the presence of the clerk transcribing our exchange had become too distracting. And as if we had both heard some secret signal, we set down our microphones simultaneously and walked briskly to the well of the floor, where we could continue in closer quarters, and in language perhaps too…familiar…to be recorded for posterity, which, regrettably was still audible enough to be overheard by a few reporters, who were now leaning over the railing of the press gallery trying to ascertain just what the hell was going on between McCain and Kennedy.

After we both were satisfied we had sufficiently impressed upon each other the particulars of proper senatorial comportment, we ended our discussion, and returned to the business that had brought us to the chamber in the first place. And, I’m happy to report, we succeeded in discouraging our colleagues from continuing their intemperate argument. They both had deserted the chamber with, I was later told, for I did not notice their escape, rather puzzled if not frightened looks on their faces.

When I next saw Ted, ambling down a Senate corridor, he was bellowing laughter, that infectious laugh of his that could wake the dead and cheer up the most beleaguered soul. He was good company. Excellent company. I think I’m going to miss him more than I can say.

We disagreed on most issues. But I admired his passion for his convictions, his patience with the hard and sometimes dull work of legislating, and his uncanny sense for when differences could be bridged, and his cause advanced by degrees. He was a fierce advocate, and no senator would oppose him in debate without at least a little trepidation, often more than a little. We all listened to him, of course. He was hard to ignore.

When we were agreed on an issue, and worked together to make a little progress for the country on an important issue, he was the best ally you could have. You never had even a small doubt that once his word was given and a course of action decided, he would honor the letter and spirit of the agreement. When we worked together on the immigration issue, we had a daily morning meeting with other interested senators. He and I would meet for a few minutes in advance, and decide between us which members of our respective caucuses needed a little special encouragement or on occasion a little straight talk. If a member tried to back out of a previous commitment, Ted made certain they understood the consequences of their action. It didn’t matter to him that the offender was a member of his own caucus. He was the most reliable, the most prepared, and the most persistent member of the Senate. He took the long view. He never gave up. And though on most issues I very much wished he would give up, he taught me to be a better senator.

After Labor Day, I’ll go back to the Senate, and I’ll try to be as persistent as Ted was, and as passionate for the work. I know I’m privileged serve there. But I think most of my colleagues would agree, the place won’t be the same without him.

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