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THE SITUATION ROOM
The Death of Senator Edward Moore Kennedy
Aired August 26, 2009 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: The lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy, succumbs to brain cancer at the age of 77 -- this hour, his life and his legacy, reflections on a political giant from his allies and adversaries alike.
Plus: The lion roars -- Ted Kennedy in his own words. We relive -- relive his most memorable and inspiring speeches.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It's a sight we've seen too many times -- the flag over the Kennedy family estate in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts flying at half staff. Today, it's in honor of Edward Moore Kennedy, the youngest child of a legendary political family, in later years the patriarch -- a senator whose career spanned five decades and whose fingerprints can be found on some of the most important legislation of our time.
Ted Kennedy died overnight after a 15 month battle with brain cancer.
We have comprehensive coverage this hour, starting with CNN's Mary Snow.
She's in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, right now -- Mary, what's happening right now?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're outside the family's compound. And we're told by a Kennedy insider that family members are keeping vigil over Senator Ted Kennedy's body. His body will be taken to Boston tomorrow, where it will lie in repose at the Kennedy Library. There will be a funeral in Boston on Saturday morning, before he will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
And while this gathering today has been very private, there has been a very much more public outpouring of emotion not far from here in Hyannis.
SNOW: (voice-over): In the town where Senator Ted Kennedy lived and died, neighbors and strangers turned out at the JFK Museum in Hyannis to pay tribute.
JANET LEONARD, LOCAL RESIDENT: We all knew his time was coming, but yet it's quite a legacy and he did so much good. SNOW: A legacy capture inside this museum with a special exhibit dedicated to him in recent months. The curator says he never got to see it.
REBECCA PIERCE MERRICK, JFK MUSEUM, HYANNIS: It is certainly the end of an era.
SNOW: Curator Rebecca Pierce Merrick says Senator Kennedy had visited frequently over the years, sometimes with school groups, telling stories behind some of his favorite pictures, like this one.
PIERCE MERRICK: He was especially attached to this museum because it showed the personal side. It showed what they really were about. They loved their family. They loved the sea. They loved their friends. And it all came together in Hyannis Port.
SNOW: Hyannis Port had became famous during President Kennedy's campaign and his time in the White House. It's where President Kennedy's adviser and speechwriter, Ted Sorenson, first met Senator Ted Kennedy.
TED SORENSON, KENNEDY ADVISER: The atmosphere in the compound was always relaxed, even when the president of the United States was in residence there and had official talks and official visits. No one dressed formally, even for dinner. Everyone had lots of laughs.
SNOW: But Hyannis Port also had its share of mourning. Howard Penn recalls the day in 1963 when he got a call at his family-run clothing business. That day he was asked to bring black dresses to the compound, following President Kennedy's assassination.
It inspired a life-long friendship with Senator Kennedy. The two shared a love of sailing.
Penn says when he didn't see his friend's boat at the marina on Tuesday, he worried.
HOWARD PENN: I knew things were not good.
SNOW: From personal memories to very public ones, tributes in Hyannis Port include ones like this, that reads: "JFK said every person can make a difference and everyone should try. Senator," it reads, "you made a difference. Our love to your family."
(END VIDEO TAPE)
SNOW: And, Wolf, a Roman Catholic priest who was with Senator Kennedy last night in his final -- final moments says the senator was surrounded by family members. He says he was at peace, that he stated that he wanted to go to heaven and he says the senator died about 11:30 last night -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary Snow in Hyannis Port for us.
Ted Kennedy was known as much for his tragedies as his triumphs.
CNN's Brian Todd is picking up this part of the story -- Brian, he certainly had to overcome many obstacles.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Many of them, Wolf. When you look back at his history, it is incredible. Ted Kennedy experienced enough tragedy, enough personal and political challenge for several lifetimes. Whether you liked with him or not, whether you agreed with his politics or not, the fact that he still forged ahead to become such an influential political figure has to be recognized.
TODD: (voice-over): Early on, it didn't seem like a privileged 30- year-old with the best connections would have many obstacles, but even that proved to be an obstacle. Gerard Doherty was a field manager in Ted Kennedy's first political race. He remembers an inexperienced, unfocused candidate in the 1962 Democratic Senatorial race, skewered at first by his opponent for his lineage and lack of experience.
Then, Doherty says, Kennedy showed the first traces of his celebrated resilience.
GERARD DOHERTY: He loved people. He liked to enjoy people, mix with people. And as the campaign moved on, he became more and more disciplined in terms of his interfacing with people and crowds. And he then became very natural.
TODD: Kennedy would tap into that strength when he lost two of the brightest beacons of his personal and political life. His brother Bobby's eulogy in 1968 opened another window on Ted Kennedy, as a family leader who could be so eloquent through so many tears.
KENNEDY: Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will someday come to pass for all the world.
TODD: It was this period in the 1960s that presented him with perhaps his biggest obstacle, this one self-inflicted -- a July night in 1969, when he drove off a bridge in Massachusetts. A young female aide drowned. Kennedy didn't report it until many hours later and it seemed his career was finished.
(on camera): Could a Ted Kennedy or any other major politician these days survive an incident like Chappaquiddick politically?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't -- you know, I don't know. I don't think so. I mean, I think the nature of 24 hour cable TV -- I do think he did something, though, that -- that most don't and that's put himself out there.
KENNEDY: And I would understand full well why some might think it right for me to resign.
TODD: (voice-over): He stayed in the Senate and went on to help pass hundreds of bills -- some of them inspired, in part, by other personal obstacles. One former colleague says the battles two of his own children had with cancer only added to his passion for health care reform. (END VIDEO TAPE)
TODD: Now, former campaign aide Joe Trippi is convinced this health care reform initiative really pushed Senator Kennedy to keep fighting even after that final obstacle in his life, his diagnosis of brain cancer -- Wolf, he really forged ahead through those final months, inspired by this fight that's going on now in Washington.
BLITZER: You picked up some other anecdotes from his aide, as well.
TODD: That's right. This was Gerard Dougherty, who said that he was really -- he had a toughness that people didn't recognize. At these campaign events, especially in the early years, he was often booed, often encountered hostility. He would go right to the people who booed him, shake their hand, embrace them, engage them in dialogue. It really served him well. It was -- it really spoke to his resiliency, his ability to overcome political obstacles and it served him well throughout his life.
BLITZER: And he himself said that his behavior at Chappaquiddick, in not going to the authorities...
BLITZER: ...the police right away, was -- I believe he used the word reprehensible when he acknowledged it.
TODD: He put it out there in an era when so few politicians would do that. And it -- and it -- it saved him, really, politically.
All right, Brian.
Thanks very much.
Let's go back to Jack.
But before we do that, I want to give you some details of Senator Kennedy's funeral. They've now been made public.
His body will lie in repose at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston tomorrow and Friday, with a memorial service at the library Friday night. A private funeral mass will be held Saturday morning at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Boston; the burial later that day in Arlington National Cemetery here in Washington.
All right. Let's go to Jack right now.
He's going to be buried not very far from his brother, Bobby Kennedy, and his other brother, John F. Kennedy, at Arlington.
CAFFERTY: Where the eternal flame still burns.
BLITZER: Yes, it does. CAFFERTY: That's quite a place. I've been to that cemetery and to that grave site. And it's as it should be, that he should be laid to rest with his brothers.
I'm going to digress for a couple of minutes from the coverage of the death of Senator Ted Kennedy.
President Obama should take a page from former President Clinton's playbook and move to the right. This is "Wall Street Journal" columnist William McGurn writing in this morning's newspaper.
He says Clinton's presidency was actually saved after his push for health care reform failed and the Republicans won control of both houses of Congress in the off year election. McGurn says it was at that point that Clinton started adopting the most appealing parts of his opponents' agenda and moved his whole approach to governing more toward the political center.
McGurn suggests a move to the right would be a bitter pill for President Obama, since he's made health care reform his signature issue. But he points to polls that for months have been showing a huge gap between the president's popularity and the lack of public support for many of his policies. He says that the president bet that his personal popularity would be enough to push through his agenda.
It hasn't been enough. Instead, his credibility and his popularity are now taking a hit. President Obama has been slipping in the polls for weeks. The latest Gallup weekly tracking poll shows the president's approval at 52 percent. That's a new low -- and down significantly from 59 percent just one month ago.
Gallup says the president's rating among several demographic and political groups is now registering below the symbolic threshold of 50 percent.
And health care reform is far from the only challenge facing this White House. The recession still has a tight grip on the economy, the dollar loses influence globally every day, news that deficits are now going to be worse than the administration predicted and unemployment is going to soon hit 10 percent.
So here's the question -- is Barack Obama's presidency in trouble?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and give us your thoughts -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you.
The lion of the Senate roars -- Ted Kennedy -- eloquent, inspiring, leading the nation in mourning and calling on us all to do better. We're going to hear him in his own words.
Also, they were great friends, even if they were an odd pair politically. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch has plenty of stories to tell us about Ted Kennedy. He's even written a song about him.
Plus, the battle for health care reform loses one -- one of its fiercest warriors.
What happens now that Ted Kennedy is gone?
BLITZER: If politics was the common calling of the Kennedy men, oration was their common skill. Like his brothers, Ted Kennedy could deliver a rousing, moving and inspiring speech.
Among the most memorable, this one at the 1980 Democratic Convention, where he just lost a bitter nomination battle against then President Jimmy Carter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM 1980)
KENNEDY: I am -- I am confident that the Democratic Party will reunite on the basis of democratic principles and that together we will march toward a Democratic victory in 1980.
KENNEDY: And someday, long after this convention, long after the signs come down and the crowds stop cheering and the bands stop playing, may it be said of our campaign that we kept the faith. May it be said of our party in 1980 that we found our faith again. And may it be said of us, both in dark passages and in bright days, in the words of Tennyson that my brothers quoted and loved and that have special meaning for me now, "I am a part of all that I have met. Too much is taken, much abides. That which we are, we are, one equal temper of heroic parts, strong in will to strive, to seek to find and not to yield.
For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Tonight, CNN will air an HBO acclaimed documentary entitled "Teddy: In His Own Words" -- his remarkable life told by Senator Ted Kennedy himself, including rarely seen footage from his childhood, his fight for civil rights and health care reform. Tonight, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN, immediately after THE SITUATION ROOM.
Eulogizing his slain brother, rallying the nation on 9/11 -- more raw sound from Senator Ted Kennedy, the lion of the Senate -- that's coming up, in his own words.
And the future of health reform without Ted Kennedy -- James Carville, Donna Brazile, David Gergen, John King -- they're all standing by live.
BLITZER: The flag being flown at half staff on Capitol Hill. Senator Ted Kennedy -- he's being honored. They're mourning his loss. On the morning of September 11th, 2001, he spoke passionately of what's going on. We're going to have some of that. That's coming up.
In fact, let's listen to what he said that morning in 2001.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM SEPTEMBER 11, 2001)
KENNEDY: All of us deplore the acts of terrorism that we have seen in these past minutes. And our hearts reach out to all of those who have suffered, lost their lives and are injured right now. And all of us reach out, as Americans, to the brave rescue workers that are attempting to help our fellow citizens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Senator Kennedy speaking out on 9/11.
"Time Magazine" has just announced it will publish a commemorative issue featuring Senator Kennedy. That will be coming out on Friday. This will be the sixth time Senator Kennedy has been the subject of a "Time Magazine" cover.
Our Abbi Tatton is here with a closer look at some of these other cover stories. Our sister publication, "Time Magazine." They've had a series of cover where he's been alone on that cover.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Up until now, five magazine covers -- five cover stories in the '60s and the 1970s. The first in 1962, when Senator Kennedy was elected to the Senate seat vacated by his brother. At that time, "Time Magazine" reporting that at age 30, he was one of the hottest political properties outside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The next cover was in 1969, this one after the assassination of two of his brothers, leaving him shattered, "Time Magazine" reported. This one they noted his lustrous presidential prospects and added that no speculation about 1972 -- about the 1972 presidential race amidst Kennedy's name.
But later that year, a different "Time Magazine" cover and a very different headline -- this one, "The Mysteries of Chappaquiddick." This one, "Time" magazine noted this was a topic of more interest in much of Washington and around the country than man's landing on the moon -- "something that threatened Kennedy's career," wrote "Time".
And then the next cover, 1971, was then on the non-candidacy of Edward Moore Kennedy the following year, though they noted, still, his young age. At that point, at 39 years old, he could be a plausible candidate in elections up to the year 2000.
The final cover was in 1979, this one when "Time Magazine" said he's finally running for president, calling it a major new chapter in the saga of the nation's most eminent modern political dynasty -- that primary challenge to Jimmy Carter that ended in defeat.
Now we've heard that there will be a final "Time Magazine" cover commemorative issue, this one, that will be out this week on Friday.
BLITZER: Yes, it will be out on Friday.
Abbi, thanks very much.
Well, one of Senator Kennedy's best friends in the Senate sat on the other side of the aisle. That would be Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.
He's joining us now from Salt Lake City.
Senator, how did that work out?
You were close friends, but politically, you weren't so close on many issues.
Tell us how that happened.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, I went back there to fight Ted Kennedy and fight him we did. And finally, you know, when Reagan took over, I became chairman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee. And we had two liberal Democrats -- two liberal Republicans who usually voted with the liberal Democrats on the committee. And I only seven of us that were conservatives.
So I went to Teddy and I said, Ted, I can't run this committee without you. I need your help.
And to his credit, he said, Orrin, I will help you. There were certain things, he said, I can't do, like -- that he could do, like the unions and so forth. But -- and the Democrat base. But that's how the Hatch/Kennedy, Kennedy/Hatch relationship really began in earnest.
We had tremendous fights the whole time, throughout his whole tenure and my whole tenure in the Senate, but when we got together, people would tend to get out of the way. They figured if Kennedy and Hatch can get together, anybody can.
And we -- we had a remarkable run very, very important, landmark bills over the 33 years I've been in the Senate. It had, of course, in that process, developed a very, very good friendship. And we still fought each other...
BLITZER: All right...
HATCH: And they'd be knock down, drag out battles.
BLITZER: I know you did. And I know you're going to miss him.
He was an avid painter, as you know. I'm going to put up on the screen a painting that he gave you. And the inscription says this -- and I'll read it: "To Orrin, handle with care. If the paint comes off, the numbers will show. We'll leave the light at the compound on for you anytime. Ted Kennedy, '91."
He had a pretty good sense of humor and he was a pretty good painter, as well.
HATCH: Well, he was. And I treasure that painting. And he would -- you know, he'd write -- constantly write notes. They always had an element of humor in them.
When -- when people were sick or had difficulties, he would write a note and try and buoy them up. He'd make phone calls. I remember one time I -- I was being severely and wrongfully criticized. He called me once. He had -- he had a dock. He had been out on his boat and he got on a pay phone and called me and said, don't worry about it, we all know you're honest and we all know that -- that there's nothing to it.
And, you know, those type of things really endeared him to not just me, but to many others, that he would take time to call.
And we had a great time together. But like I say, we fought each other, too. And -- and I think enjoyed even that. After -- after every time we'd get into a hassle on the floor, we'd slip in the back and -- and hug each other and laugh about it.
BLITZER: And I remember years on the radio, you used to have a point/counterpoint. You really go -- go way back with -- with him.
On the current issue, which he says was the -- the issue that was the most important to him, health care for the American people, you were -- you're a member of the Finance Committee. You were part of the negotiations, but you dropped out. And since this was so important to your good friend, Senator Kennedy, I'll ask you directly, Senator Hatch -- are you willing to get back into those negotiations with the Democrats right now in memory -- in honor of Senator Kennedy?
You know how important health care reform was for your friend.
HATCH: On the right kind of bipartisan legislation, of course I would be. But they gave very little flexibility to Max Baucus, who's doing a wonderful job and trying his best. And, you know, there are some things I just couldn't be for and I felt like every time I'd walk out, I'd -- there'd be 30 or 40 media people there. And I -- and I would find fault with what was going on. So I felt it wasn't right to stay there.
But, yes, I'd be -- I know one thing. Had Teddy not suffered this terrible malady, the first thing he would have done -- in fact, he did do that. He would call me and say, let's work this out. We can work this out. And we would have worked it out. We would have worked it out on a bipartisan basis and it wouldn't have been the tremendous mess it's in today.
And -- and I'll be happy to work in a bipartisan basis any day, any time, any -- any week. And -- and but it's got to be on something that's -- that's good and not just some partisan hack job.
BLITZER: You once wrote a song about Senator Kennedy, didn't you, Senator Hatch? HATCH: I wrote two. I wrote -- when he married Vicki, I was so happy that he married Vicki. I was out in California getting a call from him and I wondered why he was calling. And I walked out on the plaza and he told me that he was going to get married.
And I said, do I know her?
And he said, no, but I'm going to get married. And her daughter apparently told her -- an elementary school teacher -- that her mother was going to marry Ted Kennedy. And so he -- he wanted me to hear.
But the -- but the teacher was married to a "Washington Post" reporter, so he wanted me to hear about it from him. And -- and he did.
And I wrote a song for them right at the beginning called "Souls Along the Way." That song was in "Oceans 13," the movie. And then the last song I wrote was with Philip Springer, who wrote "Santa Babies," a wonderful 80-year-old musician out in California. And we wrote it. And it's called "Headed Home." And it's -- it meant headed home to the Senate.
I was asked to write it by some Democrats and one former Democratic congressman for the Democratic Convention. But that was the inspiration that we came up with. And it couldn't be played at the convention. But it's sung by one of the all time great African- American singers, Tony Middleton. And it's just a demo recording, but it's -- it's a beautiful song. And he was really pleased with it.
I had to give it to him after "The Washington Post" broke a story on it -- not "The Washington Post." It was "The Boston Globe" broke a story.
HATCH: And so I sent it to him. And he called me and he said, I really loved the song. And he was pleased with it. And he should, because he did so much for African-American people. And Tony Littleton was so happy to sing that song.
BLITZER: We don't have any time, but if you want to sing a few bars for us, we'd love to hear it.
BLITZER: I know you have...
HATCH: Oh, no.
BLITZER: I know you have a good voice.
HATCH: No, no. You wouldn't want to hear me sing. Teddy and I once sang at a Robert F. Kennedy Foundation dinner. And he hammed it up like man.
BLITZER: I remember.
HATCH: And so did I. It was just awful. BLITZER: Senator Hatch, it was good of you to come in and share some thoughts.
HATCH: But I'll miss him.
BLITZER: I know you will.
HATCH: I'll miss him.
BLITZER: I know you were very, very good friends.
HATCH: You bet.
BLITZER: Orrin Hatch of Utah.
Joining us now, members of the best political team on television. Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, James Carville; our senior political analyst, David Gergen; our chief national correspondent and the host of "STATE OF THE UNION," John King; and Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, Donna Brazile -- John, let me -- let me start with you. You're at the John F. Kennedy Library. They're getting ready.
That's where his body will lie in repose before the funeral and before it's brought to burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
And this is a place Senator Kennedy loved so much. And he constantly kept in touch with the curators, making sure they were keeping it in top shape, making sure they were updating the exhibits, making sure that it was a living memorial to his brother and to the family's legacy.
And he will come right in here. The procession will come in here when Senator Kennedy arrives here tomorrow. He will be in repose here at the Kennedy Library in the Dorchester section of Boston. Boston Harbor right out behind here, the water the Kennedy family loved so much off the coast of Massachusetts.
Then it's just a short trip, Wolf, just a couple of miles away to the Mission Church, the basilica, in downtown Boston, where the funeral mass will be held. It's in the Mission Hill area of the city. It's a gritty, working class neighborhood. It is a church where the senator went frequently to pray when his daughter -- his young daughter, Kara -- was being treated for lung cancer.
So he picked that because of his special connection to that church.
So he is in Hyannis Port at the compound. It's where he passed away. He will come here to the capital city of Massachusetts for the viewing -- for the public to be able to have a chance to come here; also a closed service here Friday evening before the funeral mass on Saturday. And then he will make the final trip to Arlington National Cemetery to be buried, of course, with his brothers.
BLITZER: John, stand by.
David Gergen is joining us.
He's the Kennedy -- joining us from the Kennedy compound at Hyannis Port -- David, you knew Senator Kennedy for a long time.
I'm going to play a little clip for you and our viewers. Back in 1964, after that plane crash in Massachusetts that almost took his life -- two others -- two others on that plane did die. He was in a hospital bed.
We don't have it right now, but I'll get it for our viewers later.
Health care reform -- maybe it started then, maybe not then, but it was the -- the issue that dominated his domestic agenda.
We have that clip. I'll play it for our viewers. He's lying in bed recovering.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM 1964)
KENNEDY: I'm coming along now. The doctors estimate that I'll be out of the hospital around Christmas time. I'm planning on Thanksgiving. I haven't mentioned that to them yet, but I plan to in the next few days. So much has been done, but so much remains to be done. We must continue this effort to build a better Massachusetts, a stronger America, a world at peace. And the Senate will play an important role in this effort. I want to be a part of that effort. But to do this, I need your help and your support on November 3rd.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He, of course, won that Senate election, didn't lose any elections for the U.S. Senate. He did say, David, as you remember, his biggest regret was not working with then President Nixon to get a compromise on health care reform that would have led to near-universal coverage.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, that's absolutely true, Wolf. Senator Kennedy really -- it ran in the family, because his brother in 1960 had run on the health care reform issue. And while president, he didn't push it hard, but he created the momentum for changing health care and to when Lyndon Johnson became president in 1963 he was able to move forward eventually with Medicare and Medicaid. That would not have happened without the Kennedy family starting with John Kennedy, but including Teddy Kennedy, really pushing for it.
And Richard Nixon surprisingly as a Republican did try to push for universal health coverage. He wanted an employer mandate. And he had Bob Packwood and others in there working on it. He came close to getting it, as close as any president has. And I think Teddy Kennedy looked back upon that was a moment which might have brought it off. It many ways it was often thought that Richard Nixon was the last liberal president and there was a natural alliance there with the Kennedy family, and of course now we're finding it all over again.
BLITZER: Donna, I want to bring you in. You've watched political ads for a long, long time. Have you ever seen that political ad where the candidate is lying in bed, speaking to the camera?
DONNA BRAZILE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, Wolf, that was the first time I saw that ad. I thought it was very effective, especially given his illness from the plane crash. But I want to say something that Orrin Hatch just mentioned, Senator Hatch, about Ted Kennedy's commitment to minorities, to women, to the poor, the disabled, to gay and lesbians. He fought his entire career to not only get health care for all Americans but also to end discrimination against people of color and from all circumstances. He will be remembered as a senator who fought for the constitution of the United States. And I was proud to have known him, to have worked closely with him back in 1982, along with Coretta Scott King, the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, in the passage of the King holiday bill. Ted Kennedy always gave 100 percent to everything he could put his heart and mind to, and I was proud to have known him.
BLITZER: James Carville, he was as fiercely partisan as any Democrat out there, yet he forged these relationships with people like Orrin Hatch. How do you explain that?
JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yeah. He -- I think if you go back and say what he said about when David Gergen was alluding to in the Nixon health bill that he said his regret was he didn't get along. If you remember, he pushed the education bill through when President Bush was there. He worked on the sort of prescription drug program. He was partisan, but, you know, he was the kind of guy that felt as long as he was moving the ball and moving the chains as we football fans say, he was ready to go along with it, whatever the play was. So, to some extent, he was, but he was not so partisan that he wouldn't do things that he thought were advancing a cause that he really cared about.
BLITZER: I want everybody to stand by. We're going to continue this conversation. Senator Ted Kennedy's life and legacy. We'll look back at his tireless work in the senate, his passion and positions on nearly every issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENNEDY: So, you basically have mismanaged the war and created an impossible situation for military recruiters and put our forces and our national security in danger. Our troops deserve better, Mr. Secretary. I think that the American people deserve better. They deserve competency, and they deserve the facts. In baseball, it's three strikes, you're out. What is it for the secretary of defense?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The death of Senator Ted Kennedy comes at the height of a contentious debate over one of his signature issues, health care reform leading many to wonder how this battle will play out without him. Our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin is joining us now.
Jessica, the impact of Senator Kennedy's death on health care reform.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Kennedy was so beloved and health care was so important to him that today many in Washington insist that Senator Kennedy's death will inspire his colleagues in congress to compromise and find a way to pass health care reform.
YELLIN: March 2009, Senator Ted Kennedy at the White House launching the latest push for health care reform.
KENNEDY: I'm looking forward to being a foot soldier in this undertaking, and this time we will not fail.
YELLIN: He called it the cause of his life, and just last month renewed his message, writing in "Newsweek," "Our response to these challenges will define our character as a country." Now advocates insist Kennedy's colleagues will find a way to pass health care in his honor.
RON POLLACK, FAMILIES USA: I have no question that Senator Kennedy's passing is going to inspire his colleagues to get health care reform done this year.
YELLIN: One of Kennedy's closest Democratic allies is more measured but still hopeful.
SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: My hope is this will maybe cause people to take a breath, step back, and start talking with each other again in more civil tones about what needs to be done.
YELLIN: One source of optimism -- Kennedy was beloved by many senate Republicans who have opposed the reform proposal. Among many, Senator Orrin Hatch, who wrote this song as a tribute to his good friend. We can find a pathway
Senator John McCain tells CNN --
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: All of us will not only miss him but perhaps maybe try to carry on his legacy of reaching across the aisle and getting things done for the American people.
YELLIN: But the battle lines have hardened in over the divisive fight over reform with eve minute Democrats reluctant to compromise. So, will affection for a lost colleague be enough to push it over the finish line?
NORM ORNSTEIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: These are very real, substantive, ideological and partisan differences. One person's name and memory will not make all the difference.
YELLIN: But, Wolf, there is yet another way that Senator Kennedy's death could set off a chain of events that allows senate Democrats to pass health care reform without the Republican, and it has to do with Kennedy's senate seat. Now, today the Massachusetts governor said he'd like state law changed to allow him to appoint someone to fill Kennedy's seat, and that's what Kennedy said he wanted. But if that law doesn't change, then the seat will be vacant when health care reform comes to a vote, and then Democrats might resort to a special way of passing health care reform that would require only 51 votes, not 60. That means they pass health care with only Democratic support, but that could end up being the way that Kennedy continues to influence even after his passing, Wolf.
Very fascinating legislative strategy as that, indeed, unfolds, Jessica. Thank you.
Let's bring back our panel, including our CNN political contributor, Democratic strategist James Carville, our senior political analyst David Gergen, our CNN national chief correspondent and host of "State of the Union" John King, and Democratic political contributor and strategist Donna Brazile.
When the dust settles, Donna, is there going to be health care reform? And will Senator Kennedy's death help inspire it?
BRAZILE: Wolf, I believe there will be health insurance reform this year. Today we mourn. Tomorrow the torch will be picked up by many, many Americans, ordinary citizens who will now find their voice in this debate. And hopefully, this will produce a more civilized debate, a tone that will allow both sides to find not only the areas of agreement but to really look out for ordinary Americans who are finding it very difficult to keep and maintain their current insurance policies.
BLITZER: A lot of people, John King, think if there is going to be legislation the president will sign into law, the Democrats, especially the more liberal Democrats, are going to have to do what Senator Kennedy did over the years, for example, on education reform when he worked together with President Bush. The Democrats are going to have to say, you know what, we're not going to get everything right now, let's accept what we can and then move from there. But the question to you, John, do the liberal Democrats have that in their gut? Are they ready to do that?
JOHN KING, CNN NATIONAL CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: That is the defining question, Wolf. And it would have been the challenge had Senator Kennedy been in Washington to help with the negotiations. If he could not bring more senate Democrats around to the public option, could he then cross the capitol and get Speaker Pelosi and more liberal Democrats to back off and compromise. With Senator Kennedy's absence, that was the defining problem for the Democrats. The Republicans almost don't matter in that this debate right now if the Democrats can work out their differences. The question with his passing, does this mean conservative Democrats, especially those on the ballot next year, will be more likely to support a public option? Early indications are no because they believe they're vulnerable in the next election if they do so and some believe a policy perspective it's the wrong idea. The house Democrats to this point have shown no willingness to back down on this point. That is the challenge. The person who is going to have to make this happen in the absence of a Senator Kennedy is President Obama. The big challenge for the president will be if he can somehow take the moment of reflection happening with Senator Kennedy's death and bring his own party together. If he can do that, there might be an opportunity to bring some Republicans on board. But this is a largely almost entirely Democratic calculation and Democratic problem right now. And those I talked to today say while there's a great focus on the issue with Senator Kennedy's passing, in and of itself does not resolve the huge policy divide.
BLITZER: Can he do that, David Gergen, what LBJ used to do, bring the conservative Democrats and the liberal Democrats together, forget about the Republicans right now and come up with a deal?
GERGEN: Wolf, it's possible. And I do think that, had we been talking about this yesterday, we would have said that -- sorry. This is such an interesting compound. You have children and everything running around here, and dogs. So, in any event, I think most of us would have said they're headed far watered-down bill at best and there is a rising possibility of failure in the congress. The Kennedy death, the change of tone opens a window for a new kind of conversation. And if President Obama, a follow up on John King, if he were to come back to Washington this coming week and then pull people together at the white house and begin to be the leader and not the follower in this whole effort, then I think he might have a chance to break through. But I do believe that it's going to be very, very hard to bring Republicans along. The public mood reflected in these town halls is going to make it much more likely the Republicans will be wary. Even Joe Lieberman and some Democrats may be warier than they were 30 days ago. Maybe the Kennedy death will open the window for change in the conversation and for President Obama to take charge.
BLITZER: If a watered-down version, James Carville, from your perspective, is it better than nothing?
CARVILLE: Well, yeah. It depends on what a watered-down version constitutes. One person's watered-down version might be somebody else's idea of some real progress. Look, I don't think, and I like Donna's optimism, and David's optimism, but my guess is they're not going to get any Republican votes for anything and they're probably going to be faced with the option of having to go for 50 Democrats. And I think David makes a good point that the president -- I mean Senator Kennedy was not -- he was obviously very ill before he died so he wasn't engaged in this fight prior to this, but the president, when he comes back, I don't think there's any doubt he'll have to get right in the middle of this and elbows flying and sleeves up and cajoling people and reasoning with them and doing all the other things that presidents have to do when they're down to the nitty-gritty. That's where this thing's going to be very shortly. BLITZER: We're going to ask all of you guys to stand by. Stand by, because we're going to continue this conversation. He called it an extraordinary reawakening. We're going to hear Senator Kennedy talking about meeting and ultimately marrying his wife, Vicky. And his death, marking the end of an era for the Kennedy family and the senate and the country. We'll hear how Ted Kennedy eulogized his own brother. That was a remarkable moment. All that and more coming up.
KENNEDY: Beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, he saw wrong and tried to right it. He saw suffering and tried to heal it. He saw war and tried to stop it. Those of us who loved him and who will take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will someday come to pass for all the world.
BLITZER: Ted Kennedy eulogizing his brother, Robert Kennedy, following his assassination back in 1968. Tonight at 7 p.m. eastern, just a little bit more than an hour from now, CNN will air HBO's acclaimed documentary "Teddy" in his own words. Here is a preview, the senator talking about meeting and marrying his second wife, Vicky.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENNEDY: I'm basically a hopeful and optimistic person I believe that deeply in hope and I believe in love, the power of love.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You've changed. What happened?
KENNEDY: Vicky entered my life. I never thought I was going to get married. I don't think I was ever really prepared to think in those terms again. Vicky really awakened these feelings, emotions that I think had really been banked in my life. I didn't think they existed anymore. It has been an extraordinary reawakening and a wonderful, wonderful time in my life, our lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You can see that documentary tonight, 7:00 p.m. eastern. You won't want to miss it.
Let's go to Hyannis port. Senator John Kerry, the other Democratic senator from Massachusetts speaking.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: This loss is felt today by everybody connected to Teddy. Particularly by his wife, Vicky and his children. There is a beautiful and personal, private vigil taking place and the senator is there lying at rest. And it is very spiritual and about as beautiful as it could be.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How will you remember Senator Kennedy, Senator Kerry?
KERRY: In so many ways. The greatest thing was the way he just loved serving and the passion with which he devoted himself to public service even as he was able to devote himself so entirely to his family. I listened to a number of the grandchildren about how every one of them got a call on their birthdays, every one of them. That's a lot of phone calls. Ted was always there. He was funny beyond words in terms of campaigning and being out there. There are stories we will tell in the next days. It is what made being around him so special. He loved people. He loved the give-and-take of politics. He had respect for everybody. Despite all the things that were thrown at him, he always talked about the humanity and the morality and the things that were important to people.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Even in his time of mourning, senator, people have been coming down here to celebrate his life.
KERRY: That's what it should be. That's what we are going to do in the next few days, celebrate his life. It is a remarkable life, an extraordinary journey of an entire family but obviously of Teddy, personally. A lot of people don't realize it. In the last months, he got a lot done. He did an amazing amount in terms of equal pay or higher education or mental health parity, the strategy that he laid out for the health care bill that did pass. All of these things weren't accidental. They were Ted Kennedy's strategy, his design, his purposeful effort to continue to serve. From the moment he got sick, he was not worried about himself. He was worried about how do I continue to do this job and represent the people of Massachusetts. So, will let me say to all of you, thank you.
BLITZER: All right. Senator John Kerry, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, the only U.S. senator from Massachusetts expressing his thoughts on this day. Much more coverage of the passing of Senator Kennedy.
Let's check back with Fredricka Whitfield. She is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dominic Dunn, he has died, best selling author and movie producer died today of bladder cancer. He was 83 years old. He was perhaps best known for his "Vanity Fair" articles on famous courtroom cases, including O.J. Simpson's murder trial. He also wrote several best-selling books and hosted his own crime show on TRUTV.
In South Africa, a violent clash caught on tape. Today, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at soldiers protesting low pages. A policeman and several soldiers were hurt. Police cracked down on them as they marched toward a government building. Defense officials condemned the soldiers saying their actions threatened national security.
A dramatic and unexpected spike in home sales. Federal officials say new home sales or rather they sold at an annualized rate of 433,000 in July. That's the highest since last September. Analysts tribute the surge in large part to lower rates and a tax credit.
In South Carolina, Governor Mark Sanford insists that he is not resigning. He is resisting calls from federal Republicans that want him to step down. The latest to make that Kahn, Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer. He says lingering questions about Sanford's misconduct are a serious distraction for the state. Sanford admitted to an extramarital affair back in June and faces questions about his use of state money while traveling. Here is what the governor had to say about the controversy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. MARK SANFORD, SOUTH CAROLINA: I will not be railroaded out of this office by political opponents or folks that were never fans of mine in the first place or put a different way. A lot of what's going on now is pure politics, plane and simple.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Sanford has 16 months left in his term, Wolf.
BLITZER: Fred, thanks very much.
Let's get back to Jack Cafferty for the Cafferty File. Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He is going to be thrown out of office. He will be impeached by his own fellow Republicans down there. Rightfully so. There is something wrong with that guy. The question this hour, is Barack Obama's presidency in trouble?
Kathleen, "Obama is facing the realities of the presidency. Given the enormity of the problems he faces, he is doing very well and has the potential for greatness. What I don't understand is the strategic stumbling on health care reform when he and his staff have been so brilliant on just about everything else up until now."
Bernie writes, "Yes, President Obama is in serious trouble. The reason is a lack of focus combined with a lack of resolve. By flip- flopping on so many issues and caving into special interests while letting the Pelosis and Reeds do his legislative diplomacy for him, the country is starting to wonder if this guy is going to get anything done."
Ken in North Carolina, "President Obama had an agenda. However, toward the end of the campaign, the economy went south. That and two wars have complicated his agenda. To say he is in trouble is stretching it a bit. Our economy will turn around. The wars will end. President Obama will get some credit. Beyond that, he will accomplish some of his goals. That should give him an edge in the elections in 2012."
Chris in San Antonio, Texas, "It's the economy, stupid. Obama's presidency will hinge on one issue and one issue only, jobs. If Obama and the Democratic Party can imagine to get us out of this fiscal quad mire, that universal health care can fall into a deep fit of mootness. If the economy is not significantly improved, all the health care coverage in Switzerland will not save his presidency."
Lorie in Pennsylvania, "If he balanced my budget the way he balance balances the countries, I would be in jail." Lou writes, "Iraq is starting to stand on its own. Our soldiers will be at home, we averted a depression, the stock market is up 20 percent since January, reforming health care is going through a healthy debate, Gitmo was officially closed and will be dismantled. Now, I hear there is hope for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. What? That's not good enough for the first six months in office."
If you didn't see my e-mail, go to my blog at CNN.com/CaffertyFile and look for yours there. We have lots of entries.
BLITZER: He was a child of privilege who dedicated his life to helping the less fortunate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: His ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and reflected in millions of lives.
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BLITZER: He endured more personal tragedy than one man or one family should bear, experienced political controversy and defeat and played a pivot role in some of his party's greatest triumphs.