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Hatch, Kennedy made political theater as 'odd couple'

Published: Sunday, Aug. 2 2015 8:40 a.m. MDT

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., in 1970.  (Associated Press) Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., in 1970. (Associated Press)

Ted Kennedy was red-faced and yelling, pounding his Senate desk. Orrin Hatch waved his finger disgustedly at him as he returned verbal fire about a GOP labor initiative.

Then time for debate expired. Kennedy and Hatch shook hands and exchanged jokes. Their laughter echoed as they walked out slapping each other on the back.

Such was a typical day in the life of Washington's odd couple. The press for decades watched closely as they argued, often compromised, and made many laws as the self-proclaimed liberal and conservative became the unexpected best of friends.

It ended when Kennedy died Tuesday night. But they often talked about how the friendship formed, the laws it helped create, and some unusual twists it took — including Hatch once chiding a state GOP convention for attacking Kennedy and Hatch becoming an informal spokesman and defender for Kennedy during a scandal.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, left, laughs with Sen. Ted Kennedy during an interview with the Deseret News in January 1990.  (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Sen. Orrin Hatch, left, laughs with Sen. Ted Kennedy during an interview with the Deseret News in January 1990. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Back in 1990, just after the yelling-then-laughing exchange in the Senate, both talked together to the Deseret News about their friendship that was then just gaining notice.

"One of my motivations for coming to the Senate was to fight Ted Kennedy," Hatch said at the time, noting they were antagonists for years. They said they were forced to change in 1981, when Hatch became chairman of the Senate Labor Committee — and Kennedy was its ranking Democrat.

"Even though I was chairman, Kennedy had a 9-7 ideological edge on votes because two Republicans kept voting with Democrats," Hatch said. So he was forced to work with Kennedy to pass anything.

And Kennedy said the two found they often wanted the same general end results, and that they actually admired each other and their families.

President Barack Obama embraces Kennedy as bill co-sponsor Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., watch before Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act on April 21.    (Charles Dharapak, Associated Press) President Barack Obama embraces Kennedy as bill co-sponsor Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., watch before Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act on April 21. (Charles Dharapak, Associated Press)

"We have a difference in terms of perhaps how we are going to achieve the objectives, but I don't really feel that I have a difference with Orrin in terms of what the objectives ought to be. If you build upon that kind of understanding and respect, you can get a lot of things done," Kennedy said.

And they started to do things together. For example on child care, Hatch had long supported giving only tax breaks to make it more affordable. Kennedy wanted direct government grants and oversight of child care centers. They finally folded features of both approaches into one bill, and passed it.

Hatch said Wednesday, after Kennedy's death, "When we did agree, everyone turned to get out of the way. They thought if Kennedy and Hatch can get it together, it must be good."

Hatch also jokingly said, "He knew he'd get all the credit and I'd get all the blame, because conservatives can't understand why you would do anything with him."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is joined by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., on Capitol Hill April 10, 2007, as they wait to speak at a news conference to urge the Senate to pass the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act.  (Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press) Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is joined by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., on Capitol Hill April 10, 2007, as they wait to speak at a news conference to urge the Senate to pass the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press)

Both caught heat for some of their initiatives. "We both had to fight our own sides to be able to do some of the things that are landmark bills today," Hatch said.

That included federal funding to fight AIDS (an especially heated topic of the time); the Americans with Disabilities Act to protect disabled people against discrimination and improve accessibility to facilities; regulation of advertising for prescription drugs; and creation of health insurance for the children of working poor.

A biography of Kennedy, "Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy," says that when Hatch told Kennedy he persuaded Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., to support the Americans With Disabilities Act, he jokingly said that if the aging Thurmond really knew what was in there that he'd have a heart attack.

The bill for health insurance for children of the working poor caused a Utah Republican Convention in 1997 to pass a resolution condemning it. Hatch did not fold to that criticism, and instead lectured delegates in a half-hour response that he didn't care what they said, and he was going to help poor, sick kids anyway.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., in 2006. (Evan Vucci, Associated Press) Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., in 2006. (Evan Vucci, Associated Press)

He told them he was raised poor. "I've gone hungry. I've gone without," he said. "When people can't help themselves but want to, government does have a role in helping them."

Outside of legislation and politics, Kennedy and Hatch became close, and Hatch even became a defender when Kennedy became involved in a scandal after his nephew, William Kennedy Smith, had been out drinking with his uncle, then met a woman who claimed Smith raped her later that night at the Kennedy compound.

Hatch told the Boston Herald at the time about talks with Kennedy. "I said, it's time to change. It's time to quit drinking. He (Kennedy) said, `I know.' He knew I was right. He acknowledged it would be better for him not to drink. He knows sooner or later he must come to grips with these things."

Hatch also loves to tell the story about how in Kennedy's drinking days, Hatch once convinced a somewhat tipsy Kennedy to agree to speak to about 200 LDS missionaries.

Hatch said about 11 p.m. one night after Kennedy had several drinks, he remembers saying something like, "I have a favor to ask …"

"It's done," Kennedy immediately replied.

"Do you remember Frank Madsen, my old administrative aide?"

"Sure, sure. Great guy."

"Well," Hatch said, "he presides over 200 LDS missionaries in Boston that would like you to meet with them and me at a conference."

"Done."

"Well, they would also like you to arrange to have it in (historic) Faneuil Hall."

"Done, no problem."

Hatch said the next day he quickly wrote up a detailed letter about what Kennedy had agreed to do. He said Kennedy's hands shook when he read it, and Hatch realized Kennedy didn't remember the promise.

"What else did I agree to?" he asked.

"Oh, this is just page one," Hatch quipped, as Kennedy threw up his hands and walked away. But he did as agreed and met with the missionaries in Faneuil Hall.

Hatch and Kennedy kept up their partnership to the end. Earlier this year, when both knew Kennedy was dying, they worked together to pass the Serve America Act, which authorizes spending billions to further volunteer programs.

Immediately after the Senate passed it, Hatch asked the Senate to rename it for Kennedy, which it did unanimously. Kennedy and Hatch hugged, as other senators applauded.

Hatch and Kennedy last met about two months ago, Hatch said on Wednesday. Most of the talk was about health-care reform, but Hatch also presented the ailing Kennedy with a song he wrote called, "Headed Home," which he said Kennedy appreciated.

Hatch says that health-care reform, which is currently stalled, likely would have passed if Kennedy had been healthy. "He and I could do it," he said, but he doubts it will happen with current proposals.

Hatch added, "Kennedy was the only Democrat who could move their whole base — members of unions, trial lawyers and right on down the line. If he finally agreed, then the base would come along if they didn't like it."

With a shaky voice after talking about Kennedy, Hatch reflected and said, "I will deeply mourn him. … We were like fighting brothers."

Sen. Kennedy services

Sen. Edward Kennedy will be buried 5 p.m. EDT Saturday at Arlington National Cemetery near his brothers, former President John F. Kennedy and former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, after a funeral Mass in Boston at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in which President Barack Obama will deliver a eulogy. He will lie in repose at Boston's John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum this afternoon and Friday. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be made to educational programming at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.

e-mail: lee@desnews.com

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