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Senate gerontocracy showing frailty
Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, Robert C. Byrd, Arlen Specter — fighters and history-makers all. Their battles with age and illness are the hallmarks of the nation’s oldest-ever Senate and reminders of the fragility of power.
The over-70 crowd is a caucus all its own, fond of self-deprecating humor and kindnesses that cross party lines. Ninety is the new 80, Mr. Byrd quipped recently.
There is no more forgiving place to age, as Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina could attest. He died in 2003 at 100, then the longest-serving senator in history.
Still, news of the 76-year-old Mr. Kennedy’s malignant brain tumor Tuesday was a heartbreaker even for this wizened group, which has seen spouses and friends fall before them. Mr. Kennedy left the hospital and returned to his Cape Cod home yesterday.
His wife, Erma, who died in 2006, “would want to say, ‘Thank God for you, Ted, thank God for you,” ” The nine-term senator, now the longest-serving in U.S. history, wiped away tears.
Mr. Specter, 78, is balding from treatments for his second bout with cancer. Mr. Specter once received a diagnosis of brain cancer — and a grim prediction of six weeks to live. Despite his experience with the deadly disease, he told reporters that hearing the news about Mr. Kennedy was “just overwhelming.”
The fifth-term Pennsylvania Republican has said many times that staying on the job through treatment has been key to his survival.
Aides and senators of both parties widely said the news took the wind out of the pace of Senate business as members returned for the last week of work before their Memorial Day recess.
“I am so deeply saddened I have lost the words,” said Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, who is 81.
By Tammy Bruce
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