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Public Statements

Remembering Senator Edward M. Kennedy

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, it is my understanding that we are going back and forth. If Senator Lautenberg will let me go, I will not talk long, if that is appropriate.

Today is a day to remember a colleague, a friend, someone whom it was a challenge to oppose and a joy to work with, and I wish we were not here today talking about the passing of Senator Kennedy.

We disagreed on most things but found common ground on big things. And everyone has a story about Senator Kennedy. There has been a lot of discussion about his life, the legacy, his human failings, which we all have, his self-inflicted wounds, and his contribution to the country. But I want to talk about what will be missing in the Senate.

We had a giant of a man who was very principled but understood the Senate as well as anyone I have ever met; he understood the need to give and take to move the country forward.

My experience with Senator Kennedy was, I used his image in my campaign to get elected, like every other Republican did. We do not want another person up to help Ted Kennedy. And he loved it. He got more air time than the candidates themselves. He loved it.

I remember him telling me a story about Senator Hollings. The tradition in the Senate is when you get reelected, you have your fellow Senator from that State follow you down to the well. He went over to Senator Hollings and said: I want you to come down and escort me.

He said: Why? I am from South Carolina.

He said: In my campaign you were. You were the other Senator from South Carolina.

Ted got a lot of fun out of that. I think he appreciated the role he played, and Republicans, almost to a person, would use Senator Kennedy in their campaigns.

But when they got here, they understood Senator Kennedy was someone you wanted to do business with. If you had a bill that you thought would need some bipartisan support, Senator Kennedy is the first person you would think of. And you had to understand the limitations on what he could help you with. He was not going to help you with certain things, because it ran counter to what he believe in. But where you could find common grounds on the big issues, you had no better ally than Senator Kennedy.

We met in the President's Room every morning during the immigration debate, and at night he would call me up and say: LINDSEY, tomorrow in our meeting you need to yell at me because you need to get something. I understand that. I will fight back. But you will get it.

The next day he would say: I need to yell at you. It was sort of like all-star wrestling, to be honest with you, and that was fun. Because he understood how far I could go, and he challenged me to go as far as I could. But he never asked me to go farther than I was capable of going. And, in return, he would walk the plank for you.

We had votes on the floor of the Senate on emotion-driven amendments designed to break the bill apart from the right and the left. I walked the plank on the right because I knew he would walk the plank on the left. He voted against amendments he probably agreed with, but he understood that the deal would come unraveled.

The only thing I can tell you about Senator Kennedy, without any hesitation is if he told you he would do something, that is all you needed to hear. A handshake from him was better than a video deposition from most people. I do not how to say it any more directly than that.

Opposing him was a lot of fun because he understood that a give-and-take to move a ball forward was part of democracy, but standing your ground and planting your feet and telling the other side, in a respectful way, to go to hell, was also part of democracy. And he could do it with the best of them. But he could also take a punch as well as give one.

So what we are missing today in the Senate is the spirit of Ted Kennedy when it comes to standing up for what you believe and being able to work with somebody who you disagree with on an issue very important to the country.

If he were alive today, the health care debate would be different. That is not a slam on anybody involved, because this is hard. I do not know if he could deliver, but I think it would be different and I think it would be more hopeful.

The immigration bill failed. But he told me: I have been through this a lot. Hard things are hard for a reason, and it will take a long time. He indicated to me that the immigration debate had all the emotion of the civil rights debate. And that was not something he said lightly.

We sat in that room with Senator Kyl and Senator Salazar and a group of Senators who came and went, and the administration officials, Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff, and Commerce Secretary Gutierrez, and we wrote it line by line with our staffs sitting on the wall.

It was what I thought the government was supposed to be like in ninth grade civics. It was one of the highlights of my political life to be able to sit in that room with Senator Kennedy and other Senators and literally try to write a bill that was difficult.

We failed for the moment. But we are going to reform our immigration system. And the guts of that bill, the balance we have achieved, will be the starting point for a new debate. Most of it will become law one day, because it is the ultimate give and take and it made a lot of sense.

I say his wife Vicki, I got to know Ted later in his life. Through him I got to know you. I know you are hurting now. But I hope that all of the things being said by his colleagues and the people at large are reassuring to you, and that as we move forward as a Senate, when you look at the history of this body, which is long and distinguished, around here there are all kinds of busts of people who have done great things during challenging times.

I will bet everything I own that Senator Kennedy, when the history of this body is written, will be at the top echelon of Senators who have ever served. The point is that you can be liberal as you want to be, you can be as conservative as you want to be, and you can be as effective as you want to be. If you want to be liberal and effective, you can be. If you want to be liberal and ineffective, you can choose that route too. The same for being conservative. You do not have to choose. That is what Senator Kennedy taught this body, and I think what he demonstrated to anybody who wants to come and be a Senator. So if you are a left-of-center politician looking for a
role model, pick Ted Kennedy. You could be liberal, proudly so, but you also could be effective.

What I am going to try to do with my time up here is be a conservative who can be effective. That is the best tribute I can give to Senator Kennedy--being somebody on the right who will meet in the middle for the good of the country.

Ted will be missed but he will not be forgotten.

I yield the floor.


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