Sen. Kennedy Would Have Been 'Exhilarated,' Wife Vicki Says

Vicki Reggie Kennedy said she felt "great joy" when House members passed the health care reform bill late Sunday night, and that it was a vote she knew her husband, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy would have loved to have seen.

"I think he would've been exhilarated. You know he was always a person about moving forward. You know, he would be thrilled and move forward," Kennedy said this morning on "Good Morning America."

VIDEO: The wife of late Sen. Ted Kennedy reflects on the passage of health care bill.Play
Vicki Kennedy on Health Care Reform

She also said that he knew President Obama would be the one to make it happen.

"When he endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, it was a vision that he had that this day would come. He believed that he would be the president who would finally be the one to help to push through ... comprehensive health care reform and he was right," Kennedy said.

"I think on this one, he would take a little more time and celebrate it, I would have to say, because this one was a long time coming," she said.

The late Massachusetts Democratic senator spent more than 40 years in the Senate championing universal health care, serving as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee during periods when Democrats controlled the Senate from 1999 to 2009, when his health forced him to step aside. Kennedy died last August, after a battle against brain cancer.

Kennedy called universal health care reform the "cause of my life." Despite his failing health, he continued lobbying hard for health care reform, calling at the 2008 Democratic National Convention for Washington to "break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American -- north, south, east, west, young, old -- will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege."

He wrote a letter to Obama in May, shortly before his death.

"What we face is above all a moral issue," the letter read. "At stake are not just the details of policy but fundamental principles of social justice.

"When I thought of all the years, all the battles and all the memories of my long, public life, I felt confident in the closing days that while I would not be there when it happens, you will be the president who at long last signs into law the health care reform that is the great unfinished business of our society," he wrote.

Kennedy said her husband wrote the letter because he knew that he was very sick.

"In the event that he were not here, he wanted to thank President Obama for his leadership and to basically just go on the record ... to say that he thought it was the moral issue of our time, really," Kennedy said.

"It wasn't about him," she said. "It was about going forward. It was about passing the torch to a new generation."

Minutes before the vote took place, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi closed her remarks by recalling the former Democratic Massachusetts senator's name.

"It wouldn't be possible to talk about health care without acknowledging the great leadership of Sen. Edward Kennedy, who made health care his life's work," Pelosi said.

On Monday after the vote, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain said on ABC that he would have congratulated his friend Ted, despite not supporting the bill.

"We were good friends. We had different philosophical views as to the role of government in America," McCain said on "Good Morning America." "I congratulate him on his victory. I still think it's terribly wrong for America."

Kennedy was heralded by Democratic and Republican colleagues alike for his ability to bridge political divides. His name was often evoked by both sides during the current health care debate, as it descended further into partisan feuding.

While the bill passed the House 219-212 without a single Republican vote, Kennedy said her husband would still havel been happy, and that he expected the level of vitriol between both sides.

"I think he would be happy that we passed the legislation. I think he certainly would have tried, as did the Senate and as did the House, President Obama certainly made the outreach, he certainly would've tried to make this bipartisan," Kennedy said.

"He absolutely knew it was going to be difficult," she said. "He talked to me about the fact that the closer we got, people would start to get more at odds. Because change is a scary thing."

Kennedy said she was never worried that the cause of health care reform would falter, even after Republican Scott Brown won her husband's vacant seat as Massachusetts senator.

"I didn't, because I believed in this president. I believed in the speaker. I believed in the members of Congress and I believe in the American people," Kennedy said.