Obama Mourns Kennedy, His 'Colleague, Counselor and Friend'

The president praised Kennedy's long, accomplished career in the Senate.

August 26, 2009, 11:08 AM

Aug. 26, 2009— -- President Obama praised Sen. Ted Kennedy as "one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy" and called the response to his passing "a testament to the way this singular figure in American history touched so many lives."

"Over the past several years, I've had the honor to call Teddy a colleague, a counselor and a friend," Obama said from the Blue Heron Farm on Martha's Vineyard. "And even though we have known this day was coming for some time now, we awaited it with no small amount of dread."

"His extraordinary life on this Earth has come to an end. An extraordinary good that he did lives on," the president said.

In an earlier statement, the president said he and first lady Michelle Obama were "heartbroken" to learn of Kennedy's death.

The president said Kennedy's fight against cancer gave the nation the opportunity it was denied when his brothers John and Robert were assassinated: "the blessing of time to say thank you and goodbye."

The president heralded his legacy in the United States Senate and the impact he had on generations of Americans.

"His ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and reflected in millions of lives -- in seniors who know new dignity; in families that know new opportunity; in children who know education's promise; and in all who can pursue their dream in an America that is more equal and more just, including myself," he said.

Obama was awoken at 2 a.m. with news of Kennedy's passing. He called the late-Senator's wife, Vicki at 2:25 a.m. to express his condolences.

White House officials said the president has no plans to travel today. The first family is vacationing on Martha's Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts this week and as of now there are no changes to their plans.

Kennedy's Impact on Obama's Political Career

In 2006, then-Sen. Obama sought Kennedy's advice as he weighed a decision to run for president. Kennedy suggested to him that it could in fact be his time, and such moments are never to be squandered.

"I valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of events, he always had time for a new colleague," Obama said. "I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the presidency. And even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I've profited as president from his encouragement and wisdom," he said.

When Kennedy and his niece Caroline endorsed Obama in last year's Democratic primary over then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., it changed the dynamic of the campaign in the days leading up to the 22-state Feb. 5 primary day. Kennedy compared Obama to his brother, President John F. Kennedy.

"He has lit a spark of hope amid the fierce urgency of now," Kennedy said of the senator from Illinois. "I believe that a wave of change is moving across America. If we do not turn aside, if we dare to set our course for the shores of hope, we together will go beyond the divisions of the past and find our place to build the America of the future."

"I feel change in the air," Kennedy said at the beginning of that endorsement speech. "What about you?"

At the time, Obama was in a fierce nomination battle with Clinton, who along with her husband former President Bill Clinton challenged the legitimacy of Obama's opposition to the war in Iraq. Kennedy validated Obama's credentials -- and took several veiled shots at Clinton.

"We know the true record of Barack Obama," he said. "There is the courage he showed when so many others were silent or simply went along. From the beginning, he opposed the war in Iraq. And let no one deny that truth."

Kennedy was said to have been upset by former President Bill Clinton for, in his view, having injected race into the primary campaign. In his endorsement Kennedy referred to Obama as someone who would be "a president who refuses to be trapped in the patterns of the past... a fighter who cares passionately about the causes he believes in, without demonizing those who hold a different view...With Barack Obama, we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion."

Kennedy gave a passionate speech at last year's Democratic National Convention in Denver and pledged to be at work when the Obama Administration began on Inauguration Day.

Kennedy returned to Washington in January to see Obama sworn in as president and suffered a seizure at a luncheon in the Capitol that afternoon.

"He was there when the Voting Rights Act passed," Obama told the crowd of officials, calling Kennedy a "warrior for justice."

"Right now a part of me is with him," the new president said in his first public remarks since his inauguration. "This is a joyous time, but it is also a sobering time, and my prayers are with him and his family."

Kennedy's last visit with the president was in April when Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act at the SEED School in Washington. Kennedy and Obama spent time together in the Oval Office that day.

Kennedy and Obama were also together for the senator's birthday celebration earlier this year.

The two spoke on June 2 about health care and on July 10 after Mr. Obama gave the Pope a letter from Kennedy.

On Aug. 12, the president awarded Kennedy a Presidential Medal of Freedom, but Kennedy did not attend the ceremony at the White House.

The Obamas have a connection to Kennedy beyond politics. Sen. Kennedy recently gave the Obama girls, Malia and Sasha, their highly-anticipated presidential pet, Bo, a Portuguese water dog just like Kennedy's own dogs.

The president has ordered the flag at the White House and the flags throughout the federal government to half mast, spokesman Bill Burton said. The flags are also at half staff all around Oak Bluffs, where the Obamas are vacationing.