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Senator Orrin Hatch on Ted Kennedy's Life

Senator Orrin Hatch on Ted Kennedy's Life

By The Situation Room - August 26, 2009

BLITZER: Well, one of Senator Kennedy's best friends in the Senate sat on the other side of the aisle. That would be Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.

He's joining us now from Salt Lake City.

Senator, how did that work out?

You were close friends, but politically, you weren't so close on many issues.

Tell us how that happened.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, I went back there to fight Ted Kennedy and fight him we did. And finally, you know, when Reagan took over, I became chairman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee. And we had two liberal Democrats -- two liberal Republicans who usually voted with the liberal Democrats on the committee. And I only seven of us that were conservatives.

So I went to Teddy and I said, Ted, I can't run this committee without you. I need your help.

And to his credit, he said, Orrin, I will help you. There were certain things, he said, I can't do, like -- that he could do, like the unions and so forth. But -- and the Democrat base. But that's how the Hatch/Kennedy, Kennedy/Hatch relationship really began in earnest.

We had tremendous fights the whole time, throughout his whole tenure and my whole tenure in the Senate, but when we got together, people would tend to get out of the way. They figured if Kennedy and Hatch can get together, anybody can.

And we -- we had a remarkable run very, very important, landmark bills over the 33 years I've been in the Senate. It had, of course, in that process, developed a very, very good friendship. And we still fought each other...

BLITZER: All right...

HATCH: And they'd be knock down, drag out battles.

BLITZER: I know you did. And I know you're going to miss him.

He was an avid painter, as you know. I'm going to put up on the screen a painting that he gave you. And the inscription says this -- and I'll read it: "To Orrin, handle with care. If the paint comes off, the numbers will show. We'll leave the light at the compound on for you anytime. Ted Kennedy, '91."

He had a pretty good sense of humor and he was a pretty good painter, as well.

HATCH: Well, he was. And I treasure that painting. And he would -- you know, he'd write -- constantly write notes. They always had an element of humor in them.

When -- when people were sick or had difficulties, he would write a note and try and buoy them up. He'd make phone calls. I remember one time I -- I was being severely and wrongfully criticized. He called me once. He had -- he had a dock. He had been out on his boat and he got on a pay phone and called me and said, don't worry about it, we all know you're honest and we all know that -- that there's nothing to it.

And, you know, those type of things really endeared him to not just me, but to many others, that he would take time to call.

And we had a great time together. But like I say, we fought each other, too. And -- and I think enjoyed even that. After -- after every time we'd get into a hassle on the floor, we'd slip in the back and -- and hug each other and laugh about it.

BLITZER: And I remember years on the radio, you used to have a point/counterpoint. You really go -- go way back with -- with him.

On the current issue, which he says was the -- the issue that was the most important to him, health care for the American people, you were -- you're a member of the Finance Committee. You were part of the negotiations, but you dropped out. And since this was so important to your good friend, Senator Kennedy, I'll ask you directly, Senator Hatch -- are you willing to get back into those negotiations with the Democrats right now in memory -- in honor of Senator Kennedy?

You know how important health care reform was for your friend.

HATCH: On the right kind of bipartisan legislation, of course I would be. But they gave very little flexibility to Max Baucus, who's doing a wonderful job and trying his best. And, you know, there are some things I just couldn't be for and I felt like every time I'd walk out, I'd -- there'd be 30 or 40 media people there. And I -- and I would find fault with what was going on. So I felt it wasn't right to stay there.

But, yes, I'd be -- I know one thing. Had Teddy not suffered this terrible malady, the first thing he would have done -- in fact, he did do that. He would call me and say, let's work this out. We can work this out. And we would have worked it out. We would have worked it out on a bipartisan basis and it wouldn't have been the tremendous mess it's in today.

And -- and I'll be happy to work in a bipartisan basis any day, any time, any -- any week. And -- and but it's got to be on something that's -- that's good and not just some partisan hack job.

BLITZER: You once wrote a song about Senator Kennedy, didn't you, Senator Hatch? HATCH: I wrote two. I wrote -- when he married Vicki, I was so happy that he married Vicki. I was out in California getting a call from him and I wondered why he was calling. And I walked out on the plaza and he told me that he was going to get married.

And I said, do I know her?

And he said, no, but I'm going to get married. And her daughter apparently told her -- an elementary school teacher -- that her mother was going to marry Ted Kennedy. And so he -- he wanted me to hear.

But the -- but the teacher was married to a "Washington Post" reporter, so he wanted me to hear about it from him. And -- and he did.

And I wrote a song for them right at the beginning called "Souls Along the Way." That song was in "Oceans 13," the movie. And then the last song I wrote was with Philip Springer, who wrote "Santa Babies," a wonderful 80-year-old musician out in California. And we wrote it. And it's called "Headed Home." And it's -- it meant headed home to the Senate.

I was asked to write it by some Democrats and one former Democratic congressman for the Democratic Convention. But that was the inspiration that we came up with. And it couldn't be played at the convention. But it's sung by one of the all time great African- American singers, Tony Middleton. And it's just a demo recording, but it's -- it's a beautiful song. And he was really pleased with it.

I had to give it to him after "The Washington Post" broke a story on it -- not "The Washington Post." It was "The Boston Globe" broke a story.

BLITZER: Right.

HATCH: And so I sent it to him. And he called me and he said, I really loved the song. And he was pleased with it. And he should, because he did so much for African-American people. And Tony Littleton was so happy to sing that song.

BLITZER: We don't have any time, but if you want to sing a few bars for us, we'd love to hear it.

BLITZER: I know you have...

HATCH: Oh, no.

BLITZER: I know you have a good voice.

HATCH: No, no. You wouldn't want to hear me sing. Teddy and I once sang at a Robert F. Kennedy Foundation dinner. And he hammed it up like man.

BLITZER: I remember.

HATCH: And so did I. It was just awful. BLITZER: Senator Hatch, it was good of you to come in and share some thoughts.

HATCH: But I'll miss him.

BLITZER: I know you will.

HATCH: I'll miss him.

BLITZER: I know you were very, very good friends.

HATCH: You bet.

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