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Hatch Reflects on Friendship, Battles With Kennedy

August 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM EST
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Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch speaks with Judy Woodruff about Sen. Kennedy's life, legacy, battle with brain cancer and their unlikely friendship.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Sen. Edward Kennedy, patriarch of America’s best-known political family, often called the “liberal lion” of the Senate, died at his home in Hyannis Port, Mass., last night after battling brain cancer for a little more than a year.

During his 46-year tenure in Washington, he pushed for legislation on education, poverty, and health care. Today he was widely remembered as a gifted leader and legislator.

We begin our coverage with the personal memories of one of his closest friends in the Senate, Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Senator, thank you very much for talking with us.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH, R-Utah: Well, nice to be with you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What are you thinking and feeling on this day?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Well, naturally, I’m grieving. Let’s face it: I knew Ted was going to die, but I prayed for him every day hoping for some sort of a miracle.

I chatted with his wife, Vicki, this morning, and she, of course, was broken up, but was very, very kind and nice, as she really is.

And I’m going to miss that man. I mean, I went back there to fight Ted Kennedy, and I think we’ve fought each other for all of my 33 years. But when we got together, when we got together, people would say, “Oh, gosh, if those two can get together, anybody can,” and they’d get out of the way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He was diagnosed with this cancer, brain cancer a little over a year ago. How did he deal with the journey he went through?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: One of the things I admired most about Ted is he never whimpered, never felt sorry for himself, never complained, never talked about it. He dealt with it beautifully.

I mean, let’s face it. Of course, he had the best health care in the world, but I’ve got to say, it was an extremely bad diagnosis, and he knew about it, and he still had that same sense of humor, that same gift of gab, the same ability to try and do things, and I just totally respected him for the way he handled this illness.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Everybody wants to know, Senator, how a conservative Republican from Utah could be good friends with a liberal Democrat from Massachusetts. Tell us how that worked.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Well, you might put that the other way. How could a big liberal from Massachusetts be a good friend with a conservative Democrat from Utah?

Actually, I went back there to fight them, and we did. I mean, he and I got into some awful fights on the floor, but we developed a friendship. And, you know, when I first took over as the chairman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee back in 1981, you know, I had Weicker and Stafford, Republicans, on my committee, and they were very liberal. So Kennedy had the 9-7 ideological edge.

And I went to him, and I said, “Teddy, I can’t run this committee without you. I need your help.” And, you know, he stopped right there, and he said, “Orrin, I will help you. There are certain things I can’t do,” meaning the unions, et cetera, the base of the Democratic Party, but he said, “I will help you.” And that’s how the Hatch-Kennedy, Kennedy-Hatch relationship really began.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t fight each other a lot, but after those fights, knock-down, drag-out battles on the floor and in committee, afterwards, we’d both reach out for each other and hug each other and realize that we represent different spectrums of the political spectrum.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How much of a — I was just going to say, how much of an — you used the word “ideological.” How much was an ideologue was he?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Well, he was the leading liberal in the United States Senate for all the years I’ve been in the Senate. I’ve been there 33 years. And bar none, he was the leader.

And he had more control over the Democrat Party base than anybody else. He’s the only one who could bring them along on issues that were — you know, that were down the middle and really bipartisan, but he could bring them along. They would have to listen to him. And part of that was because he led so many purely liberal battles on the floor, lost a lot of them, but he also won on a lot of them, too.

And, you know, he just had — and he had that personality, that infectious humor. I mean, he could defuse a situation with humor better than anybody I knew. And plus, he was willing — once he made a deal with you, once he said, “We’re going to go with this bill” — and same with me — he lived up to it, even when the Democrats would bring amendments that he loved and he really would have supported, he would vote them down, because he had made a deal.

And that was one of the things I most respected about him, because he kept his word. And, you know, you can’t ask for more than that in the United States Senate. If they keep their word, they can become great senators, and he was the greatest on their side, as far as I’m concerned, and one of the all-time greats, as far as I think the world is concerned.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He carried that storied Kennedy mantle with him wherever he went, that family that everybody knew, and yet he carried a lot of tragedy with him, too, some of it personal, some that he brought on himself. How much was that a part of the Ted Kennedy you knew?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Well, let’s face it. He was a great representative of his family. He was a great son to his parents. He was a wonderful brother to his sisters and his brother. He was a great surrogate father to his brothers’ and sisters’ children. He was a really great father for his own children. All three of them turned out very, very well.

And, you know, he did come through some very trying times. But, you know, you’ve got to give him a lot of credit. He really changed his life. When he met Vicki, she made a difference in his life. She was a great asset to him. And I have to say that, you know, the many latter years of his life, he lived a very good life.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sen. Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, thank you very much for talking with us.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Nice to be with you.