Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., followed by Caroline Kennedy, enters the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, July 9, 2008. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
KENNEDY RETURNS TO THE SENATE; GETS STANDING OVATION
Senator Edward Kennedy got a standing ovation from his colleagues as he returned to the US Senate Wednesday for the first time since being diagnosed with brain cancer.
The Democratic icon showed up for a vote on the Medicare state health program for seniors during a break from radiation and chemotherapy treatment, after undergoing surgery on a brain tumor last month.
He walked slowly from a car into the US Capitol building, then was greeted with a standing ovation from Republican and Democratic senators standing in the well of the Senate as he cast his vote.
“Aye,” the 76-year-old Kennedy said in a loud voice, smiling broadly and making a thumbs-up gesture as he registered his vote.
Spectators in the galleries that overhang the chamber burst into cheers — a violation of decorum that drew no complaints.
Kennedy made his way into the Senate on his own power, appearing little the worse for his illness. A patch of scalp was clearly visible through his familiar white hair, although it was not clear whether that was a result of surgery he underwent or the effects of chemotherapy or radiation that are part of his treatment.
He walked into chamber accompanied by Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, his party’s presidential nominee-in-waiting, as well as fellow Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Kennedy’s son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island.
KEEPING A PROMISE
“I return to the Senate today to keep a promise to our senior citizens and that’s to protect Medicare,” Kennedy, the patriach of the Kennedy political dynasty, said in a written statement.
“Win, lose or draw, I wanted to be here. I wasn’t going to take the chance that my vote could make the difference.”
Seated in the Senate gallery were Kennedy’s wife, Vicki, and Caroline, his niece. As the tourists and senators alike rose in a standing ovation, Vicki Kennedy wiped away tears.
So did many of Kennedy’s colleagues and several Senate clerks.
Kennedy’s dramatic return gave Democrats the impetus they needed to free Medicare legislation from gridlock. It had received 59 votes on an earlier test, one short of the 60 needed to advance. Kennedy made 60, and when Republicans saw the outcome was sealed, several of them joined Democrats to pad the margin.
Obviously, Teddy’s vote did make the difference today. After taking care of Senate business, Kennedy flew back to Boston for his scheduled weekly cancer treatment.
Doctors at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina said last month that Kennedy’s brain surgery had been successful and was a first step in a treatment plan.
Kennedy was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston on May 17 after suffering a seizure at his family’s compound in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod.
Following results from a biopsy, doctors diagnosed Kennedy with a malignant glioma in the left parietal lobe, an area of the brain which controls speech, among other functions.
Doctors have not publicly offered a prognosis for Kennedy. But the US National Cancer Institute has said the outlook for such a diagnosis is poor, with average life expectancy depending on the stage of the tumor, from a few months to up to five years.
About 13,000 Americans die annually from malignant tumors in the brain or spinal cord, comprising 2.2 percent of all cancer-linked deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. Survival has improved over the past decade due in part to new drugs.
The tumor kills 50 percent of patients during the first year after diagnosis and few live beyond three years. Without treatment the tumor grows back between two to three months after being surgically removed.
The brain tumor diagnosis sent shockwaves through the US Congress, where Kennedy has been a dominant figure for nearly half a century and is a champion of causes such as health care, education, workers rights and immigration reform.
Kennedy’s eighth six-year term in the Senate expires in 2012. The Senator’s nephew, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., has been mentioned in recent weeks as one family member who might eventually pick up the liberal lion’s torch in the U.S. Senate.
AFP and the Associated Press contributed to this report.