President Obama invoked the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in his health care speech Wednesday, telling members of Congress and Americans watching across the country that the senator sent him a letter to be delivered upon his death.
Health care was the cause of Mr. Kennedy's career, and Mr. Obama used his friend's memory - as his children and widow looked down from the House gallery - to remind Republicans they had worked with the Massachusetts Democrat before to compromise on major legislation.
Mr. Obama stopped short of asking them to pass health care reform in Mr. Kennedy's honor, but told the House and Senate that Mr. Kennedy wrote him a letter in May to be delivered after his passing. Mr. Kennedy died two weeks ago after battling brain cancer, and Mr. Obama received the letter a few days ago.
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The president paraphrased Mr. Kennedy's letter, where he called health care the cause of his life.
Mr. Kennedy told Mr. Obama "this cause stretched across decades; it has been disappointed, but never finally defeated."
"In the past year, the prospect of victory sustained me - and the work of achieving it summoned my energy and determination," Mr. Kennedy wrote in the letter, released by the White House at the conclusion of the president's address.
As Mr. Obama mentioned Mr. Kennedy, the senator's widow, Vicki, was teary-eyed, and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. wiped at his eyes.
"He expressed confidence that this would be the year that health care reform - 'that great unfinished business of our society,' he called it - would finally pass," Mr. Obama said during an address on the topic that has dominated his presidency this summer.
"He repeated the truth that health care is decisive for our future prosperity, but he also reminded me that 'it concerns more than material things.'
" 'What we face,' he wrote, 'is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country,' " Mr. Obama said.
After Mr. Kennedy passed away, some lawmakers proposed renaming the health care bill in honor of the longtime lawmaker.
In the letter, Mr. Kennedy thanked Mr. Obama for his "repeated personal kindnesses" and said he wanted to "one last time, to salute your leadership in giving our country back its future and its truth."
"You helped to make these difficult months a happy time in my life," Mr. Kennedy wrote. "You also made it a time of hope for me and for our country."
In his letter, written nearly four months ago, the senator said he was proud to endorse Mr. Obama during the presidential campaign, and compared the new president to his brother John F. Kennedy.
"I entered public life with a young president who inspired a generation and the world. It gives me great hope that as I leave, another young president inspires another generation and once more on America's behalf inspires the entire world," he wrote.
Mr. Kennedy closed by saying he wanted "to stand with you one last time for change and the America we can become."
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