Young Ted Kennedy got Senate assignments in boozy 1963 meeting: ‘He’s stiff as …

1 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Edward M. Kennedy Institute Releases Oral Histories Of Late Sen. Kennedy.

Now that Mad Men’s off the airwaves, it might be time to retire the trope of comparing every retro occurrence as “straight out of Mad Men.” Actually, wait, we’ll resurrect it for this newly released bit of oral history on the late Sen. Just months into his 46-year Senate career, the newly-elected Massachusetts lawmaker had a boozy meeting with the chairman of the Judiciary Committee to discuss which subcommittees he’d sit on.A collection of interviews with Senator Edward Kennedy and his colleagues and friends released on Wednesday reveal intimate details about the late “Lion of the Senate.” The collection of 280 interviews in all, including 29 with Kennedy himself, were conducted by historians with the University of Virginia’s Miller Center beginning in 2004.From 1987 to 1998 I worked with Senator Ted Kennedy and served as his foreign policy advisor during pivotal years in the Northern Ireland peace process.

WASHINGTON — Weak leadership, resentment among lawmakers, partisan wrangling and timidity about casting risky votes could prevent an immigration overhaul for “another 45 years,” Sen. Here’s a rundown of four of the most interesting new factoids about Kennedy, including his decision not to run for president in 1968, his distaste for how the Clintons handled the early ’90s push for universal healthcare, and his alcohol-fueled job interviews in Congress. Kennedy’s most important contribution during those years was to lead an intense effort to convince President Clinton to grant a visa for Gerry Adams to visit the United States for 48 hours in 1994. So of course I go back to my office, and the sitting room is filled with people,” Kennedy said in 2007 interview. “And I walk in there smelling like a brewery. Ted Kennedy expresses his displeasure at the way a failed 2007 immigration bill was handled and the secretive way President Bill Clinton moved on his failed universal care proposal.

It will be no surprise to Kennedy watchers that the Massachusetts Democrat was upset with the way the Clintons launched their failed effort to pass health care legislation in the early 1990s or that Kennedy was perturbed that he — the longtime champion of such a bill — was kept out of the loop. Here’s our little senator, 30 years old; he’s been down here two weeks, and he’s stiff as a billy goat at 10 in the morning.” Eastland thought the young Kennedy would want a spot on the Immigration committee because, “you’ve got a lot of I-talians up there” in Massachusetts. “Kennedys are always talking about immigration and always talking about I-talians and this kind of thing.

But his words are bound to revive a memory that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who was given authority over the health care proposal by her husband, might prefer be long forgotten. Eastland, who asked him the most important question in the world: “Bourbon or scotch?” Kennedy asked for scotch with ice and water (keep in mind, this was at 10 A.M.), and they began talking about the other important question: Kennedy’s desired committee assignments. Months later the IRA would declare a ceasefire, which was followed by the Loyalists’ ceasefire and a process that ultimately resulted in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

And, if you lean out a little bit and look to the right, you can see Faneuil Hall,” says Kennedy. “This is the whole birthplace of America, and down the sweep of the harbor, I can see the building where eight of my forebears came in in 1848, out of one window.” Kennedy recorded the oral histories between 2005 and 2008. If he didn’t win the Democratic nomination and was instead offered the Vice Presidency, he said that would have been a step down in terms of his ability to have a public impact. The project began in 2004, well before his 2008 brain tumor diagnosis, and includes interviews with numerous people directly involved in many domestic and international issues Senator Kennedy championed. A more complete set of Kennedy’s 19 interviews and those given by others is slated to be posted online Wednesday, giving the public a fresh chance to review the senator’s career.

Yes, the new boy in town was just getting his committee assignments.” The drunken meeting came six years before the 1969 Chappaquiddick car crash, in which the senator drove his car off a bridge killing his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne. Kennedy relied on the oral history in the preparation of his autobiography, “True Compass,” so a number of key passages are already public, but historians nonetheless have long looked forward to the full release. The chairman said he supposed the visitor wanted the civil rights subcommittee because “You Kennedys always care about Negroes.” That was another panel Kennedy wanted, so when Eastland said, “You drink that thing,” he complied. But in a 2005 interview, he said he had also rejected last-minute appeals from the convention because if he ran and lost, he might be obliged to accept the nomination for vice president, a position that would marginalize him. And, perhaps serendipitously, we happen to be just a few days away from the 50th anniversary of the Immigration Act of 1965 — the first big legislation Kennedy pushed through Congress.

Kennedy pleaded guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of a crash, and the incident became a national scandal. “In July of that year (1969), we had the Chappaquiddick tragedy, which effectively stopped the national aspirations. Once Senator Kennedy decided to advocate for the visa for Adams, my role was to encourage others to support the effort, to do the day-to-day negotiating about the parameters of his visit, and to give the White House distance from Adams. Other released interviews offered insight into the senator’s passion on such topics as Northern Ireland and immigration, according to The New York Times. The 694 pages of transcripts contain few revelations but offer detailed accounts of how legislative fights were won or lost, interspersed with arguments for a strong, assertive role for the Senate.

It’ll curl your hair,” Kennedy said to a Miller Center historian in 2005. “He was down there fixing something, and I poured about half of it in the flowers—or whatever the hell was around—and drank the rest of it.” Kennedy criticized the method in which Bill and Hillary Clinton went about their failed plan for universal health care in the ’90s. When the visa was granted, Kennedy sent me to Manhattan to meet Adams as neither Kennedy nor officials in the Administration would meet with him prior to an IRA ceasefire. On the latter, Kennedy blamed a lack of commitment and poor work habits among members and weak leadership — particularly that of then-majority leader Harry Reid — for the failure to pass a bill in 2007. Ten more interviews with the senator were not released because “they are still being processed,” said Daniel Reilly, director of communications at the Kennedy Institute. “All of the transcripts will be released at some future date,” he added, saying the bulk of the withheld material related to Kennedy’s early childhood. And, he spelled out how uninsured Americans had to make tough choices. “Parents that hear a child cry in the night and wonder whether they are $485 sick, because that’s what it costs to go to an emergency room.

Kennedy eventually became a champion of civil-rights reform and authored a landmark immigration bill that largely defined immigration policy for the next several decades. When Conor O’Clery, the Irish Times correspondent in Washington who, in 1996, wrote the first book about America’s role, Senator Kennedy opted to forego participating because he had no interest in jeopardizing the process, particularly by annoying the Unionists with self-congratulation. One recurring theme is Kennedy’s belief that the Senate in the 21st century was not working hard enough to solve major national problems, continually limiting debate and amendments or avoiding issues entirely if passage could not be guaranteed in advance. Despite today’s issues involving Northern Ireland, these interviews will hopefully serve to remind everyone, including the political leaders there, how far they have come and that they must redouble their collective efforts now. Time slipped by, Kennedy said. “It became disjointed, it became uncoordinated . . . that caused an unraveling of the whole process . . . we missed the opportunity.” Notably, two months before he gave this interview, Kennedy had endorsed Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, a rejection of Hillary Clinton that may have played a role in her defeat.

Harry Reid of Nevada, saying he was “never really interested in it until the very end, and at the very end it was too late.” He said Reid had been in too much of a hurry and had failed to grasp the “chemical” nature of the Senate, which requires letting members offer amendments to feel that they have a stake in a controversial bill. Kennedy died in 2009, but in one interview, he looks back with pride at American progress since the 1960s. “I think we were — and are — the revolutionary society.

He had rejected a 1971 proposal by then-President Richard Nixon that would provide subsidized health insurance for the poor, preferring a nationalized health plan. She added, “Sadly, now, as in the past, Republicans are blocking immigration reform from becoming law.” Although the 19 interviews of Kennedy do not focus on his brothers and barely mention his parents, it is clear that family experiences stimulated some legislative priorities. Given the recent murders of Jock Davidson and Kevin McGuigan and the debate about the existence, or not, of the IRA, readers will be interested in that history which dates to the 2005 murder of Robert McCartney in Belfast. While the Miller Center mostly focuses on presidents, the Kennedy project was deemed uniquely important and came about in part due to the rapport that the senator developed with those at the center.

Obama, for example, made sure to involve Kennedy from the start. “This is a lesson that was learned by the Obama administration about how not to follow the pattern of the Clinton White House on health care,” Perry said. Kennedy won the presidency, he wrote a book denouncing current immigration preferences as “indefensible.” Edward Kennedy took on the family cause in 1965. He described the first time he managed a bill on the Senate floor, the 1965 measure that ended country of origin quotas and spurred immigration from Southern Europe, Asia and Africa. Similarly, in a 2008 interview, Kennedy spoke of how his family’s medical problems — from his father’s 1961 stroke to his own broken back in a 1964 plane crash to his son Teddy’s bone cancer, which caused him to have his leg amputated — made the health issue and the goal of national health insurance “a central force in my life.” For the Kennedy family, “financial security was always present” during these crises.

Perry said that the Kennedy estate allowed the release of about 700 pages, with another roughly 300 pages held back but available for possible future disclosure. He met other parents “in the waiting room — they had sold their house for $20,000 or $30,000, or mortgaged it completely, eating up all their savings, and they could only fund their treatment for six months, or eight months, or a year — and they were asking the doctor what chance their child had if they could only do half the treatment. It is amusing to read that whenever someone didn’t like a decision by Kennedy, he was “ill-advised”, captive of the Irish Government, or captive of John Hume.

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