GOP Leaders Mourn Kennedy's Death

ABC News' Huma Khan reports:

Ted Kennedy was praised by many for reaching across the political aisle on thorny issues, and today, Republican leaders mourned the death of the Senate’s “liberal lion.”

Former President George H.W. Bush called Kennedy “a seminal figure in the United States Senate.”

“Barbara and I were deeply saddened to learn Ted Kennedy lost his valiant battle with cancer. While we didn’t see eye-to-eye on many political issues through the years, I always respected his steadfast public service — so much so, in fact, that I invited him to my library in 2003 to receive the Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service,” the former president said in a written statement. “Ted Kennedy was a seminal figure in the United States Senate — a leader who answered the call to duty for some 47 years, and whose death closes a remarkable chapter in that body’s history.”

Sen. John McCain’s office issued a statement saying that the Arizona senator is “very saddened to hear the news of the loss of this close and dear friend, Senator Kennedy -- the last lion of the Senate.”

McCain on Sunday’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” said he missed Kennedy on the Hill and called his absence a huge loss for health care negotiations in Congress.

“No person in that institution is indispensable, but Ted Kennedy comes as close to being indispensable as any individual I've ever known in the Senate because he had a unique way of sitting down with the parties at a table and making the right concessions, which really are the essence of successful negotiations,” McCain said Sunday.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was one of the first to release a statement on Kennedy’s death and praised the senator as a “a rare person who at times could put aside differences and look for common solutions” and a “giant of a man.”

“Today America lost a great elder statesman, a committed public servant, and leader of the Senate. And today I lost a treasured friend.

“Ted Kennedy was an iconic, larger than life United States Senator whose influence cannot be overstated. Many have come before, and many will come after, but Ted Kennedy’s name will always be remembered as someone who lived and breathed the United States Senate and the work completed within its chamber,” Hatch said. ““When I first came to the United States Senate I was filled with conservative fire in my belly and an itch to take on any and everyone who stood in my way, including Ted Kennedy. As I began working within the confines of my office I soon found out that while we almost always disagreed on most issues, once in a while we could actually get together and find the common ground, which is essential in passing legislation.” Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney remembered Kennedy for his “charm and sense of humor.”

"The loss of Senator Ted Kennedy is a sad event for America, and especially for Massachusetts. The last son of Rose Fitzgerald and Joseph Kennedy was granted a much longer life than his brothers, and he filled those years with endeavor and achievement that would have made them proud,” the former GOP presidential candidate said in a statement. “In 1994, I joined the long list of those who ran against Ted and came up short. But he was the kind of man you could like even if he was your adversary. I came to admire Ted enormously for his charm and sense of humor – qualities all the more impressive in a man who had known so much loss and sorrow. I will always remember his great personal kindness, and the fighting spirit he brought to every cause he served and every challenge he faced. I was proud to know Ted Kennedy as a friend, and today my family and I mourn the passing of this big-hearted, unforgettable man."

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell dubbed Kennedy “one of the giants of American political life.”

“No one could have known the man without admiring the passion and vigor he poured into a truly momentous life,” McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement. “We send our deepest expressions of sympathy to Vicki, his children, and the entire Kennedy family.”

Sarah Palin, who has emerged as a fierce opponent of the Democrats’ health care overhaul plan, also expressed her sympathies in a Facebook posting.

“He believed in our country and fought passionately for his convictions,” she wrote.

Former first lady Nancy Reagan expressed her condolences for her “ally and a dear friend.”

“Given our political differences, people are sometimes surprised by how close Ronnie and I have been to the Kennedy family. But Ronnie and Ted could always find common ground, and they had great respect for one another,” Reagan said via a written statement. “In recent years, Ted and I found our common ground in stem cell research, and I considered him an ally and a dear friend. I will miss him.”

--Huma Khan

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