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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Senator Kennedy Pre-Funeral Coverage
Aired August 29, 2009 - 09:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ...for so many sailors and people who love the water and spend their time over here to Arlington cemetery, the grand entrance here. This is the area where the Kennedys are over here. I just want you to take a look at roughly where he's going to be. When you go over into this area, you'll find that this is where John Kennedy was buried.
And you can see how many times he went out there and visited his brother's grave out there, just a short distance over here you see where Bobby Kennedy was buried, also pictures many times from visiting his brothers' graves. And this will be the place over here where Ted Kennedy will finally be laid to rest and the three brothers once again united -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Excellent explanation. And there is the eternal flame right at the grave of President John F. Kennedy, so many of our viewers I'm sure, have walked past there at Arlington National Cemetery. It's all a moving series of events and hard to believe he is, "just a senator" because a lot of this stuff would be reserved for a president.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do we know how much of this was planned by him, by Vicki Kennedy?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Actually I was e-mailing one of his staffers last night, talking about last night's service and she said he had a strong hand in all of this.
BLITZER: He had 14, 15 months to think about it ever since he was diagnosed and we're told he did personally get involved and help make those decisions who would speak, who wouldn't speak, and David Gergen...
COOPER: The former vice president Al Gore?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Again, very reminiscent of presidential funerals. When Ronald Reagan was buried, everything there had been planned with his assistance. Mike (INAUDIBLE) working very carefully with him and I think this is unfolding in a way that's, clearly, the folks who are doing this have had a lot of experience burying people. They know how to organize this in a way with the appropriate amount of pageantry, the appropriate amount of emotion and laughter as well and humanizing the man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One thing that I find fascinating is that, that which tells you so much about him, this is back home. So many of the figures that we talked about, they have state funerals, they lay out in the rotunda, here's a man who spent 46 years of his life in the Senate, normal thing, when you think lay him out in the rotunda, he wanted to go back home. I think that's very, very important.
MARTIN: He chose not to go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He chose not, right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what's interesting is that his second family, because he's been in the Senate for 47 years, is his staff. His staff is so important to him, not only legislatively and because they were the top staff on the hill widely acknowledged, but because once you worked for Ted Kennedy, you became a member of his family. You were -- and that's why it's so wonderful that he is going to pull up to the steps of the Capitol and his staff will be on the steps and they will be able to honor him.
COOPER: Not just current staffers, also former staffers. And when you talk to them, there is a real loyalty there. That it transcends whether or not you're currently employed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a family. I mean, you talk to anybody who currently works for him and like you said or worked for him 40 years ago, there is a connection that doesn't go away and everybody says it's primarily because of the way Senator Kennedy made sure to keep in touch.
And Gloria, you mentioned the fact that this procession, once they land in Washington, they are going to drive by the Capitol and the Senate steps. That is going to be quite emotional and the reason is because that not just the current staffers, but the former staffers, were invited and will be given the spot on the bottom two steps right in front of the Senate and we understand that there will be a prayer and that everybody is going to sing "God Bless America," and there will probably be an opportunity for Kennedy family members to come and greet them and say thank you.
BLITZER: I also want to look ahead to the president. He's going to be delivering the eulogy at this funeral mass, Roland Martin, and this relationship between Ted Kennedy and Barack Obama, a lot of folks have suggested in recent days Barack Obama might not be president of the United States right now were it not for that critical endorsement that Senator Kennedy provided a couple days after Caroline Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. Things in the Democratic Party could have turned out differently.
MARTIN: Well obviously, I think a whole lot of folks lay claim to have playing the role in electing president Barack Obama. There is no doubt that was a very important endorsement because of what it signaled, although he did lose Massachusetts, he was blown away by Senator Hillary Clinton in that state so Senator Kennedy did not help him in that regard, but it's certainly the kind of momentum that had gave him the stamp of approval that was also extremely important as well.
And look, he saw a lot of his brother in then Senator Barack Obama because Caroline Kennedy talked about that. And also what was interesting about that race, different Kennedy family members who were on different sides. Everybody was behind the endorsement of Senator Ted Kennedy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One other important thing, he encouraged Senator Obama to run for the presidency. When he first -- he was two years in the Senate. He mentored him a little bit when he first came in, which is very unusual for a more senior senator to take a freshman, no matter who he is, and mentor him. And then when Obama, two years into the Senate, talked about should I run for president? And Kennedy said, the longer you stay here the more there's a record, the more they have to run against you which is great advice that not many people would give and obviously...
MARTIN: He was also told to wait and Senator Kennedy said there's no guarantee that the moment will come later. And he was -- so he understood that when you have the moment, you seize the moment to make that run.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And he picked out Barack Obama as a star from the minute he got to the Senate. I remember walking through the halls of the Senate and I ran into Senator Kennedy and he said do you know Barack Obama? I said yeah a little bit. He said get to know him. Get to know him.
BLITZER: And we're told also while in Martha's Vineyard President Obama personally has been drafting his speech that he's going to deliver. This is a difficult speech because he has to walk a fine line, David Gergen, between eulogizing and remembering and looking ahead. It's not an easy speech to deliver.
GERGEN: Well, Barack Obama does have a history of rising to the occasion rhetorically when he's called upon like this. But it's very interesting because the Kennedy endorsement was like a cannonball for Barack Obama. It just fired him out there in a very, very positive way. But, I'm just wondering. I'd be curious about the views of some others, here. Barack Obama has been so invisible in the last few days and...
BLITZER: He's been on vacation.
GERGEN: He's been on vacation. God bless him for getting a little bit. I wish he got more. But in some ways we've now elevated Senator Kennedy to be the giant of politics. I mean, he's taken the stage that Barack Obama once dominated here only a few months ago.
MARTIN: President Barack Obama believes in respect.
GERGEN: I agree.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think to some degree he -- there is some pressure on him because he may have been a little diminished as the dominant figure in American politics over the last few days? Does he have to now sort of reassert himself?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's generational and I think he lets the generation of politicians who grew up with Ted Kennedy and worked with Ted Kennedy for a lifetime and he lets them have their time. I think you pull back out of respect.
MARTIN: I've seen the e-mail on Wednesday talking about Vice President Joe Biden's speech and I Tweeted that this would probably be the one time you would see the VP's speech frankly overshadow the statement of the president. His comments on Wednesday were so personal. The president (INAUDIBLE) as well, but the president believes, again, offering the space, allowing, as you just said, friends and family.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe I'm a little off here, but this is the president of the United States, he's delivering the funeral eulogy. I mean it's not like he's a shoe clerk in this poker game. OK?
And he's got -- and this is a big speech for the president, and the question keeps coming, you know, if Senator Kennedy's death, how can that matter to health care or e hasn't had a very good summer, politically. I'm very interested to see how the president handles it. This is a big speech.
BLITZER: He'll be arriving fairly soon, the president and everyone else over at the basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, that's the church where the funeral mass is getting ready to begin. Our coverage will continue right after this.
COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage celebrating the life of Senator Kennedy. That's Congressman Patrick Kennedy.
BLITZER: He's the long-time congressman from Rhode Island who has had his share of problems, the son of Senator Kennedy and that was Joan Kennedy his first wife as well. There's John McCain, he's arriving at the basilica. John King is over there.
John, you've seen a lot of people walk in, so far, and there are still more to come.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A remarkable gathering here, Wolf. And it was an interesting moment a few moments ago when several cars in a motorcade pulled up and it was Congressman Patrick Kennedy and his mother, Joan Kennedy. You just saw them inside there. Obviously most of the family is still at the Kennedy Library and they will come here in a procession.
But, Congressman Kennedy chose to arrive here with his mother, Joan, and remember, if you go back to the early days of Senator Kennedy's political career, it was Joan Kennedy at his side through the trials of Chappaquiddick, through the 1980 presidential campaign. It was Joan Kennedy at his side through that. They later had a very messy divorce, but they have reconciled as friends in later years. And as you see, with Congressman Kennedy arriving here with his mother, Joan. She remains very close to the children.
Other VIPs arriving you see right there, Jack Nicholson inside the church. It is a striking moment because you have all the VIPs inside, about 1,500 people will pack this church. It's an invitation only event. The president, the vice president, the former president -- you see the former Vice President Gore in there. A who's who of Democratic and Massachusetts politics.
And on the streets outside here on raw, rainy day, several hundred now have lined up along the streets in the blue collar Mission Hill neighborhood to catch a glimpse of this moment of history. There are "Thanks, Kennedy" signs in the stores. The buses all have "Thank You Senator Kennedy" flashing in the LED monitors.
And one last day, a few last hours for the state of Massachusetts to say "farewell" to the senator who served for 47 years and ponder the question, "what comes next?" Because it has been more than a half century since you could wake up a day in Massachusetts and not say we are represented by a senator Kennedy.
BLITZER: Chris Dodd sitting with John McCain, already inside. Friends, even though they're bitter political rivals from time to time, as well, and Ed Markey walking in, the congressman from Massachusetts, as well with Susan Blumenthal, his wife.
As we watch what's going on, Anderson, I want to stress that you have so many people there of great importance, the president of the United States, three former presidents, some 60 senators, members of the House of Representatives. The security must be incredible in that area around the church.
Jesse Jackson has arrived, as well.
COOPER: Yeah. I don't know if John is still there.
John, what is the security like?
KING: The Secret Service, Anderson, says they are treating this just like a presidential funeral. I asked a couple of long-time sources of the Secret Service the other day, what are the special arrangements? Have you ever had anything like this? And they compared it to a presidential funeral. They said this it is such a big VIP event, but it's going along quite orderly.
This neighborhood is set up on a hill. The Mission Hill neighborhood is part of the Roxbury section of Boston, and there are, of course, barriers set up so people can't get through, there's a heavy police presence and a heavy Secret Service presence, here. State police, Boston police, the Secret Service from Washington, Magnetotometers set up nearby, here.
Some people are being swept, meaning run through the security, their bags searched on an offsite not that far away, but the only thing that has really slowed it down is the rain, it makes it a little bit harder to move around, everybody is being searched under a tent. In terms of the personnel, a very high level of security. In terms of how it's working, I would describe it as very orderly and very well organized. COOPER: We're told the hearse has arrived at the JFK Library. Soon, Senator Kennedy's casket will be brought inside it and taken to the basilica.
BLITZER: David Gergen, you were talking about the security. We were also talking earlier about 50 or 60 senators getting on a plane at Andrews Air Force base and flying to Washington in either one or two planes. A lot of members of the United States Senate on a plane with rainy conditions, I don't know how smart that is, but that's just me.
GERGEN: Well, I know. I think we've all been a little bit hesitant to talk about it, but there is a storm off the coast, Hurricane Danny and we'll have to see if it interferes with the transportation.
I must say, I was saddened by the fact that one person could not be here today and that's President George H.W. Bush. He is a person who would be here if he possibly could. He always comes to these things and the fact that he could not drive after all, it was not very far (INAUDIBLE) down here -- he was not able to drive here. It just saddened me because it's so clear his health is not all that it might be. You know, on a day like this I know how much he would want to be here.
BLITZER: And if he's watching us right now, we wish him only the best of health. We all wish he were here right now. But the son is here, the immediate past president of the United States and that's good. Three former presidents, one current president, and -- Jimmy Carter who was a major political rival back in the 1980 Democratic convention.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In many ways Ted Kennedy had better relationships with the Republican presidents here than with Jimmy Carter.
BLITZER: Which is fair to say.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As do many Democrats.
BLITZER: And Dana, as we look as the basilica, this is a beautiful church that they've organized everything at. You've been spending time studying the thing (ph), the impact of Senator Kennedy's Catholic faith and at times he was at odds with the church because of his support of abortion rights.
DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I interviewed the priest who gave the opening prayer, that was just a few minutes ago in Virginia and, you know, he talked about the fact that he spent -- he's known Senator Kennedy for 35 years and they got to know each other because he was an associate pastor at Senator Kennedy's church in McLean and he said he first got to know him because he gave a sermon and said he watched everybody either sleeping or bored or staring off into space, but afterwards Senator Kennedy came up to him and wanted to debate the points of the sermon and wanted to keep the discussion going.
And from there on end, you probably heard his Irish broeg say, they connected because of that as well, but from there on in became very close. And he says that Senator Kennedy, he didn't wear it on his sleeve, but he was incredibly pious and dedicated to his faith and his spiritual level.
And the other thing he said, which is sort of interesting to remember, it that it was his mother, Rose Kennedy, who took them all to church and really that was what drove much of what he did during his life and his political life, focusing and fighting for the poor and for the needy and that was very much the underscore of that was his faith.
However, you mentioned things were complicated. I remember having a very interesting conversation with Senator Kennedy once, we were actually at an even, a Catholic event and he was telling me about how difficult he has had it with the Catholic hierarchy and the Vatican because of the fact that he has been -- had been so openly pro-choice and he was for Roe V. Wade before Roe V. Wade.
And it was a very complicated relationship and even the priest, Father Creedon, he told me, that he agreed it was complicated. And he said the day after Senator Kennedy died, he said a prayer in church for Senator Kennedy and the next day got an e-mail from somebody who was there saying how dare you pray for somebody who was so sacrilegious.
MARTIN: It is not unusual for individuals to differ with their denomination, to differ with their church, whether it is southern Baptist, whether it is Pentecostal, whether it is Methodist, whether it is Catholic. And so it is not as if that is something that is different.
And I know many people disagree with their pastors and so it was sort of a great story that gave us a sense of that kind of disagreement, but it does happen so it's not as if he was somehow set apart. And so, I think people, some (INAUDIBLE) folks say oh, you know, how dare he. But I would also look at some of those same individuals and say how can you cast the first stone because it's not as if you don't disagree with your won church.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a catholic, it's a little bit different because we have more hierarchal then...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was just say, I agree. And I disagree with the church on many things myself, but it is different than being a Protestant.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me explain this piece in "Time" magazine that's getting a lot of comment about his relationship with the Vatican.
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I thought it was extraordinary. In it says that president Obama delivered a note from Senator Kennedy to the pope and was never acknowledged, his death was not acknowledged, and doesn't have to be by the Vatican because he wasn't head of state, but according to the piece, they acknowledge (INAUDIBLE) death. And somebody, a Vatican official was quoted by "Time" that said Kennedy meant nothing to us.
My take away from that is that was not this complicated with Vatican, but it was pretty strained. And there is going to be a big discussion, I promise you, in the Catholic church and the blogs and everything else about this funeral and it's going to go on from here, it's not going to stop after today.
ED ROLLINS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, I'm a Catholic, is that he did work very hard to make his peace in the end. And the first saint was Saint (INAUDIBLE) that basically asked for forgiveness on the cross. And so the great thing about Catholicism or any religion is you always have that opportunity to make your peace. He worked very hard to make his peace, and I think to a certain extent, anybody who condemns him at this point in time does so at their own peril.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was very -- he was a very good catholic. I'm just commenting that there is discussion...
MARTIN: And let me also say that as Christians, when you accept Jesus Christ your lord and savior, frankly, your denomination is secondary. It's your personal relationship with Jesus Christ is more important than, frankly, your church.
BLITZER: Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California had walked inside the church. Earlier we saw some pictures of Maria Schreiber, his wife, their kids, they're there. I think he's talking to Chris Dodd, that's Patrick Kennedy, the son of Senator Kennedy was there as well. And as we noted, Anderson, Patrick came in with his mom Joan Kennedy, the first wife of Senator Kennedy. She's there as well, despite the fact they got divorced, David Gergen, they had a good relationship all of the years that followed.
GERGEN: They seemed to and it was clear, if you go back to the famous Roger Mudd interview, when Ted Kennedy was declared for the presidency back in 1980, and the interview which he stumbled around on. When he was asked about -- he was asked why he wanted to run for the president, and that's why he didn't have a very good answer and that's what became most remarkable. But he was asked about his marriage, and he had a hard time articulating what was going on with that. It was clearly -- this had been part of his past, and it was a difficult marriage, they obviously had been continuing, and she has an enormously important relationship with the children.
COOPER: Joan Kennedy at one point said that she had had no idea what she was getting into, not just marrying him, but with the whole family.
GERGEN: And the whole family, right. And it was difficult for her. And I think that it's been awkward watching this, because you know how important she has been in this family, and yet, naturally enough, Vicki, the widow, is the one we're mostly focusing on. COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. Our coverage continues in a moment.
COOPER: And welcome back for our continuing coverage, celebrating the life of Senator Ted Kennedy, on this, the day we say good-bye.
BLITZER: The congressional delegation has now been moved from the John F. Kennedy library to the basilica. The music is starting inside, as you can see. Most of the people are inside. Pretty soon, Anderson, the casket carrying Senator Kennedy will leave the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, make its way to the basilica.
You see the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger married to Maria Shriver, he's already inside, together with his kids, we haven't seen Maria inside the basilica yet, but I'm sure she'll be there very soon. It's only about four mile from the library to the church, so it won't take very long for the hearse carrying the casket to get over to the church and where this mass to begin. It's suppose to begin in about a half an hour, 10:30 a.m. Eastern.
COOPER: And it will be about two hours long. We, of course, we're going to bring all of it to you live, President Barack Obama is going to be giving the eulogy. There'll also be some remembrances by family members, Ted Kennedy, Jr., I believe.
BLITZER: And there will be music. Yo-Yo Ma will be performing, the cellist. Placido Domingo will be singing.
COOPER: Patrick Kennedy will also give a remembrance.
BLITZER: The son will be remembering his dad. That will be an emotional moment, indeed. And you see the guests. These are all invited guests, it's not open to the public, although, as John King was reporting, he's outside the basilica, hundreds of people have lined up outside to get a glimpse what is going on inside.
It's a moment that the country will remember. He's the United States senator, but he's a Kennedy and it's the end of this Kennedy era for all practical purposes.
Gloria, you spent a lot of time with Senator Kennedy over the years, you did an outstanding profile of him when you worked on CBS News on "60 Minutes II." What goes through your mind, right now, Gloria, as you look at the basilica and we get ready for this mass?
BORGER: Well, I think how of lucky Ted Kennedy was, because he was able to comb gray hairs, as he once said, that John junior was not able to do. And he was able to, in his death, spend the last 14 months, allowing people to say thank you to him and allowing people to hug him back. This is a man that always gave to other people.
And when you talk to people in the Senate, they say, you'd go to console Ted Kennedy, and he would recoil and start talking business. And they never quite knew how to console him, particularly after John junior died in that plane crash. and finally this year, he opened up and allowed people to say thank you. And I think that was really a blessing and a gift to him. And -- that he gave to others finally, at the end of his life.
MARTIN: He was always saying that you give someone their flowers why they are alive. And frankly, that's exactly what happened. He had that opportunity for people to, frankly, to celebrate him and he can actually experience it, he can actually feel it. And for a lot of people, it bothers them when someone passes away and they never said "I love you," they never said "thank you," they never said "we appreciate you." A lot of these folks had an opportunity to do so with him.
COOPER: Well, not that there's any blessing with cancer, but it does give you time to at least get things in order as they say their good-bye.
BLITZER: There's the vice president, Joe Biden, who has arrived. A few seconds ago, we also saw Leon Panetta, the CIA director, former White House chief of staff, former member of Congress. He's gathered as well. Several members of the Obama cabinet...
COOPER: Shaun Donovan, housing secretary.
BLITZER: We saw Shaun Donovan and we saw Steven Chu, the energy secretary. Several members of the cabinet, Eric Holder. There's the current vice president speaking with the former vice president, Al Gore.
COOPER: Former vice president Dan Quayle, a moment ago being...
BLITZER: Dan Quayle was actually very fond of Senator Kennedy. They had a pretty good relationship, according to everything that Senator Quayle, I mean, former Vice President Quayle said over the past few days.
COOPER: I want to know about the relationship between Ted Kennedy and Jack Nicholson.
Jack Nicholson is in the church.
MARTIN: The one time you see Jack Nicholson without shades on.