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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said today that Sen. Ted Kennedy was "such a strong champion of what America stands for: caring for others, equality and progress."

"Because of Ted Kennedy, more Americans are proud of our country," Reid said. "His America is one in which we could all pursue justice."

"The liberal lion's mighty roar, I will always remember, may now fall silent, but his dreams shall never die," he said.

Reid recounted how, as founder of a Young Democrats club at his university, he received a letter from then-President-elect John F. Kennedy.

"I've been a devotee of the Kennedys for a long time," he said. "At so many difficlult times in Kennedy family history, they turned to their Uncle Ted for comfort. And at so many critical times in our country's history, America has turned to Ted Kennedy for that same comfort."

"Sen. Kennedy's legacy stands with the greatest ... to ever serve Congress," Reid said. "The impact he has etched in our history will long endure."

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) was perhaps Ted Kennedy's closest friend in the U.S. Senate. The mens' history together goes back to the days when Kennedy served with Dodd's father, and continued until two weeks ago when, Dodd said today, they had one of their "best talks" about health care. According to Dodd, it was as if Kennedy had never been sick.

On a conference call with reporters this afternoon, Dodd recalled that Kennedy had tried to raise his spirits just a few weeks ago when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer--welcoming him, in Dodd's words "to the cancer club."

Dodd says he hopes Kennedy's death will spur Congress to action on health care and other initiatives. "Maybe Teddy's passing will remind people that we're here to get a job done," Dodd said.

Ted Kennedy died before his wish for a change to Massachusetts law could come to fruition, which would empower the Governor to appoint Kennedy's immediate successor. This has sown some confusion over whether the legislature might still change the law, or whether the seat will stay vacant until a special election is held.

As the law now stands, the seat would have to remain vacant for the next 145-160 days -- thus busting the Democrats down to 59 Senate seats -- until a special election can be held. The Democrats would be heavily favored to win that special Senate election.

However, there appears to be at least a theoretical possibility that the seat could be filled sooner than that. In the final weeks of his life, Kennedy had called for the law to be changed to allow Gov. Deval Patrick (D) to make an interim appointment, selecting a caretaker who would represent the state and pledge not to run in the election.

The irony here is that the law in Massachusetts used to be that the Governor would appoint a Senator who would occupy the seat until the next regular Congressional election -- as occurred when John F. Kennedy was elected president, a caretaker was appointed, and then Ted Kennedy won the seat in 1962. Democrats used their veto-proof legislative majorities to pass the new law in 2004, when John Kerry was running for President and Republican Mitt Romney was the Governor at the time.

Now in 2009 -- with the health care debate in the balance this Fall -- that law appears to carry with it a serious unintended consequence.

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Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) said this morning that the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy "just makes me more determined to get [health care reform] done."

Roll Call reports that Franken spoke about Kennedy at the beginning of a health care roundtable in St. Paul.

"He was a man who fought for kids and for the disabled and for the poor and the sick and the disadvantaged," Franken said. Health care reform "was the cause of his lifetime."

Former DNC Chairman Howard Dean was scheduled to contribute to a health care book club over at TPMCafe today. Instead, he sends over a reminiscence.

"My mother, who was a solid Upper East Side Republican until 2004, once happened to sit next to him at a wedding of a mutual friend," Dean writes. "She had never met him before. I'm sure the exchange was lively, and being a Dean, I doubt my mother gave him much quarter. A week later, a beautiful, kind, and very personal handwritten letter arrived from Ted Kennedy. My mother, like so many other Americans, was hooked by the Kennedy charm and grace."

You can read his entire remembrance below the fold, or at this link.

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President Obama called the late Ted Kennedy "one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy" in remarks this morning at Blue Heron Farm in Chilmark, Massachusetts. Read the full transcript below.

9:57 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: I wanted to say a few words this morning about the passing of an extraordinary leader, Senator Edward Kennedy.

Over the past several years, I've had the honor to call Teddy a colleague, a counselor, and a friend. And even though we have known this day was coming for some time now, we awaited it with no small amount of dread.

Since Teddy's diagnosis last year, we've seen the courage with which he battled his illness. And while these months have no doubt been difficult for him, they've also let him hear from people in every corner of our nation and from around the world just how much he meant to all of us. His fight has given us the opportunity we were denied when his brothers John and Robert were taken from us: the blessing of time to say thank you -- and goodbye.

The outpouring of love, gratitude, and fond memories to which we've all borne witness is a testament to the way this singular figure in American history touched so many lives. His ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and reflected in millions of lives -- in seniors who know new dignity, in families that know new opportunity, in children who know education's promise, and in all who can pursue their dream in an America that is more equal and more just -- including myself.

The Kennedy name is synonymous with the Democratic Party. And at times, Ted was the target of partisan campaign attacks. But in the United States Senate, I can think of no one who engendered greater respect or affection from members of both sides of the aisle. His seriousness of purpose was perpetually matched by humility, warmth, and good cheer. He could passionately battle others and do so peerlessly on the Senate floor for the causes that he held dear, and yet still maintain warm friendships across party lines.

And that's one reason he became not only one of the greatest senators of our time, but one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy.

His extraordinary life on this earth has come to an end. And the extraordinary good that he did lives on. For his family, he was a guardian. For America, he was the defender of a dream.

I spoke earlier this morning to Senator Kennedy's beloved wife, Vicki, who was to the end such a wonderful source of encouragement and strength. Our thoughts and prayers are with her, his children Kara, Edward, and Patrick; his stepchildren Curran and Caroline; the entire Kennedy family; decades' worth of his staff; the people of Massachusetts; and all Americans who, like us, loved Ted Kennedy.

END 10:00 A.M. EDT

Vice President Biden just gave a very emotional speech about the passing of his long-time friend, Ted Kennedy:

"You know, Teddy spent a lifetime working for a fair and more just America. And for 36 years I had the privilege of going to work everyday and literally -- not figuratively -- sitting next to him. and being a witness to history every single day the Senate was in session. I sat with him on the Senate floor, in the same aisle, I sat with him on the jUdiciary committee, physically next to him, and I sat with him in the caucuses.

"And it was in that process, every day I was with him -- and this is gonna sound strange -- he restored my sense of idealism and my faith in the possibilities of what this country could do. He and I were talking after his diagnosis, and I said, you know, I think you're the only other person I've met who like me is more optimistic, more enthusiastic, more idealistic, sees greater possibilities, after 36 years than after we were elected. He was 30 years old when he was elected, I was 29 years old. And you'd think that would be the peak of our idealism. But I genuinely feel more idealistic about the prospects for my country today than I have at any time in my life. And it was infectious when you were with him."

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Ted Kennedy's greatest legacy was as a legislator in the U.S. Senate. Over 300 bills bearing his name became law, most dealing with the day-to-day social and economic needs of children, families, or the elderly. What made him such an effective legislator?

According to David Rohde, a professor of political science at Duke and an expert on the legislative process, Kennedy embodied "a combination of very liberal impulses with a very practical sense of legislating."

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