In campaign ads, fundraising appeals and stump speeches, Edward M. Kennedy was, for Republicans, the embodiment of evil, the ultimate tax-and-spend liberal, the face of Big Government run amok.
But behind the scenes, the senator from Massachusetts, who died of cancer late Tuesday at the age of 77, repeatedly joined forces with the Senate’s most conservative Republicans to push through legislation, and even broke ranks with his party to champion causes touted by presidents despised by the Democratic rank and file.
With Sen. Bob Dole, Kansas Republican, it was the Americans with Disabilities Act. With President George W. Bush, it was the No Child Left Behind education reform law. He even worked with Sen. Strom Thurmond, an ultraconservative South Carolina Republican, on major crime legislation.
“We were very different political philosophies, but one of the real strengths of Sen. Kennedy was that once he gave you his word, then he would not only keep it, he would go against the majority of his party,” Sen. John McCain told The Washington Times on Wednesday.
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The Arizona Republican, also known to buck his party from time to time, found a strong ally in Mr. Kennedy as the pair sought to enact legislation to overhaul U.S. immigration policy. Both sides credit Mr. Kennedy for building a bipartisan coalition and, more, for keeping several powerful Democrats in line as an agreement was reached.
In a throwback to another era, the unapologetic liberal would fight tooth and nail with a conservative counterpart all day, then adjourn to the bar to share a beer with his opponent.
“The Republican Party raised millions of dollars over the years promising to protect the country from Ted Kennedy, but at the same time, Republican senators worked with him,” said Adam Clymer, a former newspaper reporter and author of “Edward M. Kennedy: A Biography.”
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“There wasn’t a major piece of legislation, outside of minimum wage, where he didn’t have a Republican ally.”
It was not just the view of outsiders. In a survey by the Hill newspaper earlier this year, Mr. Kennedy’s colleagues voted him “the most bipartisan” senator.
Over the course of his nearly 47 years in the office, the liberal lawmaker worked with a wide range of top Republicans: Howard A. Baker, Hugh Scott, John C. Danforth, Orrin G. Hatch, Lauch Faircloth, Mr. Dole, Trent Lott and Mr. McCain.
Check out the Washington Times interactive Remembering Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
“I’ve been in fierce debates with him, but once the gavel came down, then it was all respect and friendship,” Mr. McCain said. “To a large degree, that’s disappeared. So far, I have not seen his replacement.”
The list of bipartisan bills brokered by Mr. Kennedy is long. He joined with Mr. Dole, who was Senate minority leader, to pass the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act of 1989. The two shared a personal as well as a professional bond Mr. Dole’s leg was severely injured in World War II, and Mr. Kennedy’s son, Teddy Jr., had his leg amputated because of bone cancer.
Mr. Kennedy collaborated with Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, Kansas Republican, on a law to allow workers to transfer their health insurance when moving to a new job. The Massachusetts liberal worked with Mr. Hatch of Utah on children’s health care coverage and for the Ryan White AIDS law.
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He teamed up with Sen. Pete Domenici, New Mexico Republican, last year to pass the Mental Health Parity Act, which requires insurance plans to treat mental health patients on a par with those who have physical ailments.
“Even battling his cancer, he would travel to the Capitol to move that legislation forward when I asked him to,” said Mr. Domenici, who has a daughter with an atypical schizophrenia diagnosis.
“I always knew from our earliest interaction that I could trust his word, that he would dedicate himself with all his energy to any cause that he championed, and that he was willing to work for compromise to get the legislative work done,” he said.
To the great dismay of his party, Mr. Kennedy even joined with President George W. Bush to pass two of the Republican’s top agenda items a prescription drug plan and the No Child Left Behind Act although Mr. Kennedy would go on to criticize the Republican administration’s implementation of aspects of both laws.
Click here to see a timeline of Mr. Kennedy’s life.
Mr. Bush and his father were among a vast stream of conservative and Republican figures Wednesday honoring Mr. Kennedy’s life and mourning his passing.
“While we didn’t see eye to eye on many political issues through the years, I always respected his steadfast public service,” said former President George H.W. Bush, noting that his presidential library selected the Massachusetts Democrat for an excellence in public service award in 2003.
Still, Mr. Kennedy had his enemies, and he did not shy away from partisan warfare at times.
In 1987, he led the opposition to President Reagan’s nomination of Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court, a confirmation battle that would have a profound effect on future Supreme Court fights. “In Robert Bork’s America,” Mr. Kennedy said, “there is no room at the inn for blacks and no place in the Constitution for women and, in our America, there should be no seat on the Supreme Court for Robert Bork.”
He opposed an early Republican attempt to overhaul welfare, fought Mr. Bush’s tax cut plan and voted against the Iraq war.
Still, Republicans who have worked with him said he was an honest negotiating partner, but one who would not compromise his values.
“Ted Kennedy was at once the most partisan and the most constructive” senator who “could preach the party line as well as bridge differences better than any Democrat,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican.
Mr. Kennedy also seemed to home in on what was important to a fellow lawmaker. With House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, it was supporting struggling Catholic schools serving inner-city children in the District.
“It wouldn’t have been possible without Sen. Kennedy and his genuine desire to give something back to help inner-city students in the city,” Mr. Boehner said.
The senator also had a long friendship with Mr. Reagan and his wife.
“Ronnie and Ted could always find common ground, and they had great respect for one another,” Nancy Reagan said in a statement from Los Angeles. “In recent years, Ted and I found our common ground in stem-cell research, and I considered him an ally and a dear friend.”
In some ways, it was the personal touch Mr. Kennedy delivered that endeared him to Republicans.
“He really was thoughtful,” Mr. McCain said. “He would note people’s birthdays, events in the personal lives of people, and he was extremely gregarious.”