Wednesday, November 21, 2001

President Bush yesterday named Justice Department headquarters to honor the late Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, laughing off a question about whether the gesture was aimed at winning Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s support on an education bill.
“Well, I’m not quite that devious,” he said as the dedication ceremony was about to begin. “I made the decision to name the Justice Department Building after Robert Kennedy because he is deserving.
“I’ll get an education bill based on its merits, not based upon renaming a building for a great American.”
Yesterday would have been the 76th birthday of Robert Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968 while running for president.
Mr. Bush, whose Oval Office has the same desk used by President Kennedy, described Robert Kennedy as a “valiant and idealistic man.”
“In the eyes of John F. Kennedy, no man ever had a more faithful brother,” Mr. Bush said. “During his presidential campaign, he said, ‘I don’t know what Bobby does, but it always seems to turn out right.’”
If he expected praise from all the Kennedys, however, he was disappointed. Hours before the ceremony naming the building to honor Robert Kennedy, Mr. Kennedy’s daughter, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, sharply scolded Mr. Bush for expanding the authority of police and prosecutors in the war against terrorism.
“My daughter, Cara, is here today,” Kerry Kennedy Cuomo said at a separate ceremony in Washington. “Cara, if anyone tries to tell you this is the type of justice your grandpa would embrace, don’t you believe it.”
Mrs. Cuomo is the wife of Andrew Cuomo, the housing and urban development secretary in the Clinton administration, who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in New York.
She said her father “was determined to use the law to bring criminals who threatened our country to justice. But that eagerness was always tempered by his commitment to protecting civil liberties even when it meant letting the accused go free.”
Mrs. Cuomo later appeared at the Justice dedication.
Robert Kennedy’s son, Joseph, said Mr. Bush had a lot in common with his father, both of whom held office “when the soul of America was being tested.”
“Robert Kennedy was criticized at times for being too unyielding, too unwilling to compromise between right and wrong,” Joseph Kennedy, a former U.S. representative from Massachusetts, said during his introduction of Mr. Bush at the renaming ceremony.
“Like you, Mr. President, he believed that there was a fundamental difference between good and evil and that evil had to be opposed,” he added. “He was a great politician who believed that in a great crisis, we had to be Americans first, not partisans.”
Joseph Kennedy, who was joined by several members of his extended family at the ceremony, defended his father, who served as attorney general from 1961 to 1964, against charges that he occasionally abused civil liberties of those, like the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, whom he pursued. He authorized wiretaps on the King telephone.
“He used justice to force America to change,” Joseph Kennedy said yesterday. “He used the law to protect people’s rights and to right social wrongs.” Mr. Kennedy was introduced by Attorney General John Ashcroft, who for weeks had been citing Robert Kennedy’s campaign against organized crime as a precedent for Mr. Bush’s legal tactics in his war against terrorism.
“Forty years ago, another attorney general was confronted with a different enemy within our borders,” Mr. Ashcroft said in a recent speech. “Attorney General Kennedy made no apologies for using all of the available resources in the law to disrupt and dismantle organized crime networks. It has been and will be the policy of this Department of Justice to use the same aggressive arrest and detention tactics in the war on terror.”
Edward Kennedy declined to comment on his niece’s criticism of the president, but he said he was “very grateful to President Bush and his administration for this honor to my brother.”
Mr. Kennedy, a Democrat who frequently espouses liberal positions, has become friends with Mr. Bush, a conservative Republican. Early in his presidency, Mr. Bush invited the Massachusetts senator to the White House to watch “Thirteen Days,” a film about President Kennedy and Robert Kennedy coping with the Cuban missile crisis.
Edward Kennedy and other prominent Democrats have been trying for months to enact legislation that would name the Justice Department after Robert Kennedy. One of the strongest supporters has been Hillary Rodham Clinton, who holds the Senate seat from New York once held by Robert Kennedy.
The Democrats argued that since Republicans had succeeded in naming Washington National Airport after former President Ronald Reagan, turnabout was only fair. Skeptical Republicans countered that Robert Kennedy’s name already was affixed to one Washington landmark, a sports stadium formerly used by the Redskins.
Mr. Bush ended the dispute with an executive order that made legislation unnecessary.
“America today is passing through a time of incredible testing,” Mr. Bush said. “And as we do so, we admire even more the spirit of Robert Kennedy, a spirit that tolerates no injustice, and fears no evil.”
It was the second time Mr. Bush named a building after a Democrat from Massachusetts. In March, Mr. Bush named a U.S. courthouse in Boston for Rep. Joe Moakley, who later died of cancer. The ceremony yesterday took place in the Rose Garden, where Mr. Bush was surrounded by Kennedys and other Democrats.

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide