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Worldwide Tributes Honor Sen. Ted Kennedy; “Liberal Lion” Was Key Champion of Healthcare Reform

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The late Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy was honored across the nation and around the world Wednesday, hours after his death at the age of seventy-seven. We hear tributes from President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and play clips of Kennedy speaking about healthcare reform, which he saw as the cause of his life. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Tributes to Senator Edward Kennedy continue to pour in from across the globe, from Northern Ireland to South Africa. Memorial services for Kennedy begin today, when a procession will leave Cape Cod accompanying his body to Boston. Kennedy will lie in repose at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum tonight and tomorrow. On Saturday, President Obama will give the eulogy at Kennedy’s funeral. He will be buried next to his brothers John and Robert Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery.

On Wednesday, President Obama spoke in Martha’s Vineyard about Kennedy’s forty-seven years in the US Senate.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I wanted to say a few words this morning about the passing of an extraordinary leader, Senator Edward Kennedy. Over the past several years, I’ve had the honor to call Teddy a colleague, a counselor and a friend. And even though we have known this day was coming for some time now, we awaited it with no small amount of dread.

    Since Teddy’s diagnosis last year, we’ve seen the courage with which he battled his illness. And while these months have no doubt been difficult for him, they’ve also let him hear from people in every corner of our nation and from around the world just how much he meant to all of us. His fight has given us the opportunity we were denied when his brothers John and Robert were taken from us: the blessing of time to say thank you and goodbye.

    The outpouring of love, gratitude and fond memories, to which we’ve all borne witness, is a testament to the way this singular figure in American history touched so many lives. His ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and reflected in millions of lives — in seniors who know new dignity, in families that know new opportunity, in children who know education’s promise, and in all who can pursue their dream in an America that is more equal and more just, including myself.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Vice President Joseph Biden also spoke on Wednesday. Biden served in the Senate with Kennedy for thirty-six years.

    VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: Unlike many important people in my thirty-eight years I’ve had the privilege of knowing, the unique thing about Teddy was it was never about him. It was always about you. It was never about him. There’s people I admire, great women and men, but the end of the day, it gets down to being about them. With Teddy, it was never about him.

    Well, today we lost a truly remarkable man. And to paraphrase Shakespeare, I don’t think we shall ever see his like again. But I think the legacy he left is not just in the landmark legislation he passed, but in how he helped people look at themselves and look at one another.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia called on Congress to pass healthcare reform and to name the law after Kennedy.

In a few minutes, we’ll go to Boston to discuss how the state of Massachusetts will choose a successor to Kennedy and the impact this will have on the healthcare debate. But first we want to play two excerpts of Senator Kennedy in his own words, discussing the state of the nation’s healthcare system. The first comes from a 1971 newscast on CBS anchored by Walter Cronkite.

    WALTER CRONKITE: President Nixon today pledged his administration to a new national health plan that would benefit not only patients but also doctors and citizens who enjoy good health. But beating him to the punch, Senator Edward Kennedy earlier proposed an alternate plan that goes much further than the administration. Daniel Schorr offers a comparison of these two health plans.

    DANIEL SCHORR: President Nixon has said that this will be health year, the year to tackle what he’s called the massive crisis of spiraling costs and overstrained medical resources. Today the President pitted a low-key, low-budget plan to expand private insurance coverage against the more drastic proposals in Congress paced by the labor-supported Kennedy plan for cradle-to-grave federal health insurance for all Americans.

    RICHARD NIXON: I am proposing today a new national health strategy. It helps more people pay for care, but it also expands the supply of health services and makes them more efficient. It emphasizes keeping people well, not just making people well.

    The purpose of this program is simply this: I want America to have the finest healthcare in the world, and I want every American to be able to have that care when he needs it.

    SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: The President’s program, as announced today as a national health partnership program, I believe is really a partnership program that will provide billions of dollars to the health insurance companies. It’s really a partnership between the administration and the insurance companies. It’s not a partnership between the patients and the doctors in this nation.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Ted Kennedy speaking with Richard Nixon on CBS News in 1971 in a Walter Cronkite-anchored program. Well, this is Senator Kennedy speaking in Montgomery, Pennsylvania, in April, 2008, one month before he was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor.

    SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: But it brings me back, my friends, to another thought, and that is the whole issue of health insurance and universal coverage. It has been the passion of my life. It has been the passion of my life.

    And it has been the passion of my life since the earliest days of my life, when we had been exposed to a sister with mental retardation and we saw the special kinds of care that she needed and the attention that she took; seven months in a hospital after a plane crash; three children, two of which have had cancer, cancer of the lungs; son who lost a leg to cancer as a young child. I was exposed to really the challenges of healthcare, and I was always also exposed to the very best in healthcare.

    And one of the searing memories in my life is being in a children’s hospital in Boston with my son who had lost his leg to cancer, and he was under a regime that was going to take three days of treatment every three weeks for two years in order to be able to be in this process or this system, this treatment, that offered the best opportunity. And it was being paid for, since it was an experimental, by NIH. And they paid for probably the first four months that I was in that particular regime. And after that, it had demonstrated some success, and they stopped the payments.

    But for all the other families, they didn’t have the kind of health insurance that that had, with $3,000 for every family, every three weeks. And I listened to these families, whose had — their children had the same kind of affliction that my child had. And they said, “Look, we’ve sold our house. We have the $30,000. We have $20,000. We’re able to afford it for three months, for four months, for five months. What kind of chance does my child have to be able to survive?”

    I knew that my child was going to have the best, because I had the health insurance of the United States Senate. And I knew that no one, no parent, no parent, in that hospital had the kind of coverage that I had. That kind of choice for any parent in this country is absolutely unacceptable and wrong, my friends.

    And I can tell you this: when every member of the United States Senate comes in and signed into the United States Senate, they signed a little card in two places, and one is their signature for their salary, and the other is for their health insurance. Their health insurance. Now, Senator Brown of Ohio, to his credit, will not accept it until the people of Ohio get it. Every other member of the United States Senate — every other member of the United States Senate has accepted it. And for the fifteen times that I have fought on the floor of the United States Senate that we ought to have universal comprehensive coverage and to listen to those voices on the other side that have universal and comprehensive coverage and say, “No, it is not time. We can’t afford it. It’s the wrong bill at the wrong time” — my friends, if that health insurance is good enough for the members of the Congress of the United States and good enough for the President of the United States, it’s good enough for everybody in Montgomery County, everyone in Pennsylvania, and everyone across this country.

AMY GOODMAN: The late Senator Ted Kennedy speaking in April 2008 in Pennsylvania. We got to break. When we come back, we’ll find out about what the plan is to fill the empty Senate seat in Massachusetts. Stay with us.

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As Kennedy Mourned, Massachusetts Lawmakers Begin Debate on His Wish for a Quick Successor

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