- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2002

The scene was not exactly heartwarming to Democrats who wanted to battle President Bush on domestic issues in this election year: Liberal Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts laughing and trading compliments with the president on a daylong trip to promote their new education program.
"Heartburn-inducing? Yes," said Democratic strategist David Dougherty. "I don't particularly love Democrats giving Republicans oxygen to be more successful."
The Providence Journal-Bulletin described Tuesday's education tour with Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Bush in Boston ground zero of liberalism as a "political lovefest." Much of it was televised live, causing concern in Democratic circles that the unlikely pairing undercut Democrats' argument about the White House refusing to compromise on domestic priorities.
"It's off message" for the Democrats, said congressional analyst Marshall Wittman of the conservative Hudson Institute in Washington. "At the same time, Democrats were decrying Bush and his partisanship, he was off on an extended photo-op with the biggest liberal in the Senate."
Kennedy spokesman Jim Manley said if fellow Democrats are rumbling, they shouldn't worry.
"[Mr. Kennedy] still drives a pretty hard bargain. And different issues will provide different challenges," Mr. Manley said.
He noted that Mr. Kennedy has fought the White House on several nominations, including that of Attorney General John Ashcroft. Mr. Kennedy also pushed for increased health care benefits for the unemployed in last month's stalemate with the White House over a bill to revive the economy.
Mr. Kennedy said he hopes to use his partnership with Mr. Bush on education as a springboard for compromise this year on a patients' bill of rights and a prescription-drug program.
But most political observers say they don't expect the relationship to flourish.
"I don't think it's indicative of a long-term shift" by either politician, said Mr. Dougherty, vice president of Global Strategies Group in Washington. "This is more of a limited fling than a long-term relationship."
Some conservatives, too, say they hope the $26.5 billion, six-year education bill is not the start of a beautiful friendship between Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Bush.
"Senator Kennedy has gotten by far the better end of the new friendship," said Stephen Moore, president of the conservative anti-tax group Club for Growth. "This is a monumental setback for conservatives in education policy. It's hugely expensive, and it will increase the federal involvement in schools."
Mr. Moore said the president did prevail in gaining nationwide student testing and increased accountability, but lost on school vouchers and spending.
"This education bill is basically Ted Kennedy's vision for federalizing education," Mr. Moore said.
Mr. Manley disputed that the law would federalize education, calling it "a good, solid bill that Democrats can be proud of."
However their education compromise is viewed, the bill-signing on Tuesday was the most public example yet that Mr. Bush and Mr. Kennedy had forged an undeniable rapport.
Mr. Manley said the two men began to connect in a phone call in late December 2000, shortly after the Bush camp failed to invite Mr. Kennedy to an education summit with the president-elect in Austin, Texas. In that conversation, Mr. Kennedy recalled that he had hosted Mr. Bush's grandfather, Prescott Bush, at a law students' forum at the University of Virginia in 1959.
A few weeks later, at Mr. Bush's inauguration luncheon at the Capitol, former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming introduced Mr. Kennedy to the new president as "an ornery s.o.b., but the kind of guy you can do business with."
Mr. Bush later hosted Mr. Kennedy and his son, Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island, at a White House screening of "Thirteen Days," a film about the Cuban missile crisis during the administration of President John F. Kennedy.
The president recalled for audiences this week his gratitude for Mr. Kennedy's kindness toward first lady Laura Bush on September 11. Mrs. Bush had just arrived in the Russell Senate Office Building that morning to testify to Mr. Kennedy's committee about early childhood learning when Mr. Kennedy, upon hearing of the terrorist attacks, bolted out of his office to meet her and take her back to his private office.
The two spent about 45 minutes together. Mrs. Bush is said to have been reminded of another national tragedy, the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 in Dallas, and to have been reassured by Sen. Kennedy about the new national crisis unfolding that morning.
Mr. Bush said of Mr. Kennedy in Washington yesterday, "You want him on your side."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

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