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Reactions From Around U.S. to Sen. Kennedy’s Death

August 26, 2009 at 6:25 PM EDT
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Ray Suarez recaps reactions to Senator Kennedy's death from around the country.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And now some more reaction from near and far. Ray Suarez has that.

RAY SUAREZ: At dawn, a lone flag flew at half-staff atop the U.S. Capitol. In Senator Kennedy’s office, mementos of a life lived at the heights of American politics. And down Pennsylvania Avenue, the White House flag was lowered, too, as news of Kennedy’s passing spread through the capital and beyond.

A short time later, from Martha’s Vineyard, just across Nantucket Sound from Hyannis Port, the president spoke of the man he called a colleague, counselor and friend.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The outpouring of love, gratitude and fond memories to which we’ve all borne witness is a testament to the way this singular figure in American history touched so many lives. 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 became not only one of the greatest senators of our time, but one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy. His extraordinary life on this Earth has come to an end, and extraordinary good that he did lives on. For his family, he was a guardian. For America, he was a defender of a dream.

RAY SUAREZ: In Washington, Vice President Biden recalled his Senate colleague of more than 30 years. Kennedy was long a focal point of national Republican opposition. But while noting his friend’s ferocity, Biden said he could disagree without being disagreeable.

U.S. VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: Don’t you find it remarkable that one of the most partisan, liberal men in the last century serving in the Senate had so many of his — so many of his foes embrace him? Because they know he made them bigger; he made them more graceful by the way in which he conducted himself.

RAY SUAREZ: One of those occasional foes, Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS, R-Ga.: Senator Kennedy was a great legislator. And I was privileged to have the opportunity to work with him on any number of occasions. And while we disagreed on a lot of things, we also agreed on a lot of things.

RAY SUAREZ: That sentiment was echoed by one of Kennedy’s newest colleagues, Democrat Jim Webb of Virginia:

SEN. JAMES WEBB, D-Va.: We always tend during campaigns to go to the extremes in terms of criticism that you see in the media and elsewhere, but he was really well regarded across the aisle. He had an enormous sense of humor. And, of course, he was a legend here, in terms of the length of his service and the passion that he had for so many issues.

RAY SUAREZ: Kennedy had been absent from the Senate during much of his illness.

SEN. CHRIS DODD, D-Conn.: His spirit has been there during all of these debates. And while he wasn’t there to cast votes, believe me, his presence was felt.

RAY SUAREZ: Long-time friend and fellow Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut took up Kennedy’s signature issue, health care.

SEN. CHRIS DODD: For me, I lost my best friend in the Senate, just a great friend, was here on many occasions, right here on this river. And so it’s been a long year, a year and three months, but he died peacefully about 11:30. I talked to Mrs. Kennedy a little while ago. And he fought like a lion this last year to stay alive and to be around.

JIMMY CARTER, former president of the United States: I think that among all the members of our U.S. Senate and the Congress of the United States, he’s been preeminent.

RAY SUAREZ: Former President Jimmy Carter, the man Kennedy challenged in the 1980 Democratic presidential primaries, said the senator’s self-admitted personal demons and faults had held him back, especially after the car wreck in 1969 that killed a campaign worker on Chappaquiddick Island.

JIMMY CARTER: Well, he more than made up for that after 1980 and during the years that he served before in the Senate and although after the Chappaquiddick event occurred. And I think he suffered from the consequences of it. He bore it like a man. And he survived in the minds and hearts of the American people.

RAY SUAREZ: In Boston, some of those Americans offered their thoughts and condolences. Martin Levin grew up in Boston.

MARTIN LEVIN: I remember meeting him. I grew up near here. I remember meeting him in high school, and he also visited my junior high, back 35 years ago. Never forget him. He has a long-lasting legacy, and the state is at a loss with his, you know, untimely passing.

RAY SUAREZ: At the Kennedy Library, visitors signed a condolence book and recalled a storied life. Dennis Seymore was visiting from San Diego.

DENNIS SEYMORE: It’s a whole passing of a generation. He was — I guess there’s one more Kennedy sibling that’s still alive, but the whole generation of the Kennedy politicians are now gone.

He was, you know, truly a remarkable man. You know, all the Kennedys were, the political Kennedys that we know of, John, Robert and Ted. And I think the country will be less of a country from his passing.

RAY SUAREZ: Patricia Klath brought her grandchildren to the Kennedy Library today.

PATRICIA KLATH: I have a tremendous admiration for how going after tragedy, tragedy, tragedy, and he became the patriarch of that family. And that’s not an easy family to be a patriarch of — it’s so large anyway — but how beautifully he represented it. Something deep within, really, some kind of glue — maybe it’s called love — carried the day.

RAY SUAREZ: Senator Edward Moore Kennedy will lie in repose at the Kennedy Library Thursday and Friday. A funeral mass will be held in Boston on Saturday. Later that day, he’ll be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac from Washington, on the hillside where his brothers, John and Robert, and his sister-in-law, Jacqueline, were all laid to rest.