By The Hill Editors - 08/28/09 06:59 PM EDT
Like most Major League pitchers, politicians often lose their fastball late in their career.
Some know when to call it quits. Others do not, preferring to hang on well after their prime.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) never lost his fastball. And it can be argued that it got better with age.
There are countless Kennedy stories and legislative accomplishments over his storied career. A comprehensive look at his life and legacy cannot be captured in these few hundred words.
So in this space we are highlighting Kennedy’s presence on Capitol Hill, and specifically a July 9, 2008 vote that shows the enormous impact the Massachusetts Democrat had on his colleagues and the legislative process.
Kennedy chose that summer day to return to the Senate for the first time since he had been diagnosed with brain cancer. Democrats were struggling to move stalled Medicare legislation that President George W. Bush had threatened to veto. The White House enjoyed the upper hand on the bill. In June, it had failed to advance by one vote.
When the measure came up again, Kennedy sent shock waves through the Capitol when he walked onto the Senate floor amid a rousing ovation from both sides of the aisle. Some senators teared up as a smiling Kennedy went to the well and declared “aye” in support of the bill.
In a statement, Kennedy said, “Win, lose or draw, I wanted to be here. I wasn’t going to take the chance that my vote could make the difference.”
Before Kennedy’s return, the healthcare bill didn’t attract many national headlines. It was a measure aiming to increase Medicare physician payments — not the kind of legislation that gets much attention outside the Washington Beltway. Then-Sen. Barack ObamaBarack ObamaTrump on NAFTA: Renegotiate or withdraw Reid: Rubio should be sued over missed votes Nigel Farage: Trump better for UK than Obama MORE (D-Ill.) and Sen. John McCainJohn McCainOvernight Defense: Benghazi report fallout | Nearly 50 dead after Istanbul attack The Trail 2016: 11 hours, 800 pages, 0 changed minds McChrystal backs McCain's Pentagon reform proposal MORE (R-Ariz.) did not vote that day, opting to stay on the presidential campaign trail.
(Kennedy fell short in his 1980 presidential bid, but his endorsement of Obama over then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., last year had a huge impact on the race. Obama reportedly said the day he received the backing of the Liberal Lion was one of the most important days of his life.)
The most telling aspect of the July 9 vote was that Kennedy’s return made Republicans reconsider their positions on the healthcare bill.
Nine GOP senators who had previously voted no voted with Kennedy that day: Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderBipartisan gun measure survives test vote Overnight Healthcare: GOP plan marks new phase in ObamaCare fight Stoddard: The great Trump rebellion MORE (Tenn.), Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissWyden hammers CIA chief over Senate spying Cruz is a liability Inside Paul Ryan’s brain trust MORE (Ga.), Bob CorkerBob CorkerGOP senator: Something 'very, very good' can come from Brexit vote GOP senators: Brexit vote a wake-up call Bipartisan gun measure survives test vote MORE (Tenn.), John CornynJohn CornynOvernight Finance: Trump threatens NAFTA withdrawal | Senate poised for crucial Puerto Rico vote | Ryan calls for UK trade deal | Senate Dems block Zika funding deal Senate faces critical vote on Puerto Rico McConnell tees up House Puerto Rico bill MORE (Texas), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonSenate faces critical vote on Puerto Rico GOP senators: Obama bathroom guidance is 'not appropriate' Amateur theatrics: An insult to Africa MORE (Ga.), Mel Martinez (Fla.), Arlen Specter (Pa.) and John Warner (Va.).
In an age when a campaign ad about a politician changing his/her own mind can be aired within hours on the Internet, the members’ shift is a tribute to Kennedy’s huge influence on lawmaking right up to the end of his career.
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), a close friend of Kennedy’s, said at the time, “I’ve been in the Senate for 27 years. I don’t quite remember another moment like it.”
Despite pleas from some Republicans, Bush vetoed the bill. Less than a week after Kennedy’s dramatic vote, Congress overrode the veto and the bill became law. It was just the third time Congress had successfully overridden a Bush veto.
As this week’s tributes have demonstrated, Kennedy was a beloved friend of many. He was also an engaging colleague, a daunting opponent and fearsome antagonist, and he was a force on Capitol Hill that was impossible to ignore.
The late senator’s impact on Capitol Hill can hardly be overestimated. Whether he was flashing his big smile to workers in the Senate, walking his dogs, holding court with reporters, offering advice to his loyal staff, giving a fiery speech on the floor or grilling a witness in a committee hearing, Kennedy’s presence was felt by everyone who walked the halls of the upper chamber.