Barbara L Boxer

Remembering Senator Edward M. Kennedy - Sept. 10, 2009

Barbara L Boxer
September 10, 2009— U.S. Senate, Washington, DC
Congressional floor speech
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Madam President, I am deeply honored to pay tribute to Ted Kennedy today and to honor his extraordinary legacy.

I will always think of Ted Kennedy as many think of him--as the lion of the Senate. From that seat, in that seat in the back of this beautiful Senate Chamber, he used his powerful voice to speak out for those whose voices were rarely heard. I also have described Ted as the drummer in a large orchestra. Ted Kennedy was a steady drumbeat--a steady drumbeat for justice, for fairness, for compassion, and for progress. On days when the Senate wasn't that interested in listening; on days when maybe the polls were against him; on days when his compassion might not have been in fashion, that drumbeat got louder and louder and louder because Ted Kennedy knew that at the end of the day, the values he stood for would be embraced again.

Ted never let us forget why we are here--never. He always reminded us to be courageous. He always reminded us to be strong in fighting for the causes we believe in, not by lecturing us about it but by being brave, being strong, being courageous, taking on the tough issues. He spent 9 long years standing in the back of the Chamber talking about raising the minimum wage and explaining why people needed it--9 long years--but he knew the drumbeat would go on until we passed it. And we did.

Ted Kennedy had genuine and deep friendships in the Senate on both sides of the aisle. His greatest legislative skill was to know every Senator and to know their passions. When I first came to the Senate in the early 1990s, I had spent 10 years in the House and Senator Kennedy was already an icon, but he knew I was passionate about health issues and, in particular, women's health issues. So even though I was new to the Senate, he came to me when he was managing a bill on the floor to protect the rights of women who were trying to get into reproductive health care clinics. At that time, protesters were blocking the entrances to the health care clinics so the women could not get in and get treated. So Senator Kennedy wrote a bill that simply said: It is fine to express your views, but you cannot block women or individuals from entering those clinics. It is dangerous, it is wrong, and you are denying women health care. Senator Kennedy asked me if I would be his lieutenant—that was his word, his "lieutenant"—and help him manage that bill on the floor of the Senate. Well, clearly, I was so pleased. It was such a thrill to watch him work and, as did so many of Ted Kennedy's bills, it passed and it became the law of the land and women can get health care without being intimidated and frightened and harmed.

Later, when he was championing the bill to increase the minimum wage--and he did it year after year after year--he asked me and the other women of the Senate to come to the floor and to organize and speak about the impact raising the minimum wage would have on women and families across the country. He said: BARBARA, you know, 60 percent of the people earning minimum wage are women. A lot of our colleagues think it is teenagers. That is not true. It is women. They are supporting their families. Can you help me with this? I said: Senator, I am all over it. I am with you.

The women of the Senate had a special role to come to the floor--unfortunately, for 9 years in a row--until we made the case that it was important America's families, working so hard, can actually afford to live in this, the greatest country of all.

Although Ted had deeply held views, he worked beautifully with Members across the aisle. We have colleague after colleague coming down to speak about their experiences. He was an expert at finding the thread of common ground. Sometimes it was just a tiny little strand of commonality, but he could weave it into something bigger and bigger and come to an agreement without losing his principles.

Ted's legislative work has touched the lives of every American, and I think it is going to take 5, 6, 7, 10 of us to pick up this void he has left. I am so proud that TOM HARKIN, who has come to the floor, will be the chairman of the HELP Committee because TOM shared with Ted those deep feelings about us being here not to champion the voices of those who have a strong voice and are heard but for those who don't have a strong voice: the middle class, the workers, the working poor, the families, the children. They don't have a voice here.

Ted Kennedy worked to help get 18-year-olds the right to vote. He made it easier for Americans to change jobs and keep their health insurance. He expanded Head Start Programs. He wrote the law creating Meals-on-Wheels. He was the driving force behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act. Many of these Senator Harkin and he partnered up on. He led efforts to reform the Nation's immigration system--never a popular issue, a tough, hard issue. He worked to increase competition in the airline industry. He worked to protect women from violent crime.

Virtually every major health care advance of the last four decades bears his mark--Whether it is the CHIP program, the Ryan White CARE Act, COBRA, the mental health parity bill or increased funding for cancer research. The list goes on and on and on.

Senator Kennedy was once asked what his best quality was as a legislator, and he answered with a single word: "Persistence." Persistence. That is a message to all of us on both sides of the aisle. If you believe something in your heart is right, you don't give up. You don't give up because progress takes time. Piece by piece, every year, for almost half a century, he advanced the causes he believed in: expanding access to health care, educating our children, extending civil rights, helping our society's least fortunate.

I will say, if we were in danger of losing our way in the Senate, Senator Ted Kennedy held steady. He stayed true to his ideals. That is why it is fitting that his new biography is entitled "True Compass." In many ways, he was a compass in the Senate.

I wish to thank the people of Massachusetts for sending Ted Kennedy to us for these last 47 years. He loved his State. He fought for you and he fought for all Americans.

I wish to thank his wife Vicki, who gave him so much joy, and the entire Kennedy family for sharing Ted Kennedy with us.

I will miss his warm and engaging presence, his sense of humor, his bellowing laughter, and the way he reached out to all Senators in friendship. No one person will ever be able to fill his shoes. No one. He was one of a kind and irreplaceable. But we know how to honor his legacy. We know how to fill this void and that is by continuing his life's work. I believe the most fitting tribute we can give him is to carry on his fight for a quality education for all our children, affordable health care our families can rely on and an economy that works for everyone.

Ted Kennedy came from a privileged and renowned family, but he saw so much suffering in his lifetime, so much loss. He saw what happens in your family when two of your three children have cancer. Even though you have every bit of financial stability to give them what they need, he saw how hard it was. And then to have another child with an addiction and the pain of that. So what Senator Ted Kennedy understood is, if it is so hard for me to see my children suffer, what must it be like for someone without the financial resources or someone who had an insurance company walk away from them at the time they needed it the most, they needed help the most.

Ted Kennedy could put himself in other people's shoes, and that is what he did every single day. Even when it was hard for him to get up from his chair, he stood and he fought. As he said during his concession speech at the 1980 Democratic National Convention: "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."

I say to Ted and to his family, I believe these words are true. The hope still lives and the dream shall never die.

Thank you.

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