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Public Statements

Executive Session

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

EXECUTIVE SESSION -- (Senate - October 27, 2009)

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Mr. KERRY. Madam President, I congratulate my colleague from Massachusetts, who has made his first comments on the floor of the Senate, what is traditionally called a maiden speech, and what for many years a speech that often took months, if not, in some cases, years for a Senator to make. The times have changed and, indeed, the issues have changed. Now Senators, by custom, address the floor much before that kind of time period has elapsed.

Let me say I am glad that is the custom, and I am glad my colleague, Paul Kirk, is here to share in his ability to be able to present his values and the values of Ted Kennedy and Massachusetts to the Senate, with respect to the issue he talked about today.

I cannot say that for many of us who sat here and listened to this, as we looked across the Senate at this desk, that there still is not an adjustment as we look there and do not see our friend Ted Kennedy but see, instead, the person who has been chosen to follow in his footsteps.

I know Ted Kennedy would be both enormously proud and enormously pleased that Paul Kirk spoke the way he did today and chose to speak as he did about health care.

Paul Kirk was in the Senate working for Ted Kennedy in 1969, when Ted Kennedy first took up the great cause of health care. It was no accident that he came to be here working for Ted Kennedy, though it was somewhat of an effort because Paul had chosen to work in the Presidential campaign of Robert Kennedy. When Robert Kennedy was assassinated, Paul felt there was not a place in politics for him, and so he stepped back for a moment. It took Ted Kennedy a considerable amount of personal persuasion and effort to give him a sense that working in the Senate, working with him was the best way to try to carry on. That was the beginning of an extraordinary working partnership. I think Paul worked with Ted Kennedy until about 1977 or so in the Senate, but he never stopped working with him as both a friend and an adviser. He went on to become the founder of the Presidential Debate Commission. He chaired the Democratic National Committee. He has chaired the Kennedy Library, and now he comes to us as an extraordinarily appropriate replacement, to the degree there can ever be a replacement--we all understand the difficulties of that--for our friend Ted Kennedy.

I thank him for his words today. I thank him for his willingness to come and serve at a difficult time. I thank him for being willing to go through all the gyrations one has to go through to meet the standards of the Ethics Committee of the Senate to serve just, knowingly, for 4 1/2 months. That is a great statement both about his feelings about being chosen to fill the seat he fills but also about his commitment to public service.

I thank my colleague for his comments about health care. He is absolutely correct; we are on the cusp of a historic choice in this country, and I think it is more than fitting that Paul Kirk, who knows Ted Kennedy's staff, who had such a close relationship with him, who shares his values so intensely, is here to be part of this vote.

He is absolutely correct. While he is the 60th vote, it may change some of our ability to move or not move, the thought he expressed about our desire to have all Senators join in this historic moment and weigh in, in a way that permits more of them to take part is exactly what the Senate is about.

I close by saying, as I looked across at Paul, I thought about this transitional moment, of his first speaking and following in the footsteps of Ted Kennedy from that seat and that desk. It reminds all of us that we all come and we go here. It gives us a sense of the timelessness, if you will, of this institution. It reminds us that while we do change and we come and go, this institution is here, the Congress is here, the country is here, the demands of the people are here, and good people keep coming here to try to meet those demands and live out the best values for our Nation.

I congratulate my colleague for representing Massachusetts so effectively, for keeping faith with Ted Kennedy and this institution, and helping to remind us of the importance of the work ahead of us in the days ahead.

I yield the floor.

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