- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2008


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.

Mr. Byrd, 90, wept as he prayed for “my dear, dear, dear friend, Ted Kennedy.”

“Keep Ted here for us and for America,” Mr. Byrd said from his wheelchair in only the second floor speech he’s given since a fall at his home in February.

“Ted, Ted, my dear friend, I love you, and I miss you,” Mr. Byrd said.

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.

“If tenacity and willpower can do it, Ted Kennedy will be a survivor,” Mr. Specter said.

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.

Since the first session of Congress, in 1789, the average age of members of the Senate has risen from 47 to an all-time high today of 61.8, according to Senate records.

Longer life spans pose another challenge for senators: handling the cold calculation of lobbyists and younger lawmakers and counting seats as if their elders already have departed.

Unseemly as it may be, political types were taking note of how Mr. Kennedy’s illness might affect the Democrats’ drive to win enough new seats in the November elections to approach 60 votes in the Senate. The closer that Democrats get to that filibuster-proof majority, the more control they have over what policy the new president can - and cannot - push into law.

Currently, the Senate is split 49-49 between Democrats and Republicans, with two nominal independents who caucus with Democrats.

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