On Thursday morning, CNN downplayed the partisan nature of “legendary” Senator Ted Kennedy’s request to backtrack on a 2004 change in Massachusetts state law which allowed Democrats to hold on to John Kerry’s Senate seat had he won the election. While anchor John Roberts and correspondent Dana Bash explained the circumstances of the 2004 change, Bash merely labeled it a “political irony.”
Roberts gave two news briefs about Kennedy’s letter to Massachusetts officials during American Morning, summarizing that the commonwealth “changed [the law] in 2004 requiring a special election because then-Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, could have appointed someone had Senator John Kerry won the presidential election....Senator Kennedy wants there to be an interim appointment before a special election just to make sure that the state’s covered.” The anchor didn’t include any mention of the health care issue in either of his briefs, which is a clear factor in play with the liberal senator’s request.
Anchor Don Lemon led the 9 am Eastern hour of the Newsroom program with a gushing introduction to correspondent Dana Bash’s report on the Kennedy letter: “A cancer-stricken Ted Kennedy issues a poignant plea in failing health from a malignant brain tumor. The legendary senator is asking the state lawmakers to be- the laws to be changed so that he can quickly be replaced in Congress.” Bash would at least mention the health care issue in her report, but didn’t give an explanation of the circumstances of the 2004 change in the succession law:
BASH: The backdrop of this: why is this important, and why- why is Senator Kennedy doing this now? Obviously, we know that his- his health is failing and he is in very tough shape, according to sources close- close to Senator Kennedy. He hasn’t been in public view. He has not been in Washington- didn’t go to his own sister’s funeral last week. At the same time, what is going on in the United States Senate is- you know, the fight of- the legislative fight of his life- health care. And we have been told, Don, by Democratic leaders as they’re trying to do the math and figure out how to go forward with health care legislation that they do have 60 Democrats right now, but they just can’t count on Senator Kennedy’s seat, and they can’t count on Robert Byrd, another elderly senator from the state of West Virginia. So what Senator Kennedy is clearly trying to do here is try to put in motion the possibility that if he does not make it and if his vote is needed, and if there is an extra Democratic vote needed, that there would be a replacement from Massachusetts that could actually be yet another vote for the Democrats on health care reform.
An hour and a half later, Lemon read his same “cancer-stricken Ted Kennedy/legendary senator” introduction and turned to Bash again to give another report on Kennedy’s letter. This time, she did describe the change in the law, but merely described as “ironic” or an “irony:”
BASH: Well, Don, you know, Massachusetts law allows a five-month vacancy before a special election if a senator should die or resign, and Senator Kennedy clearly wants that changed so that there is an interim replacement. Now, why is he doing this now? Well, one answer: health care reform, which has really been the legislative fight of his life. He has been in the Senate now 47 years, if you can believe that. Now, sources tell us that the ailing Kennedy is in tough shape, and he is well aware that Democrats will be struggling for every vote on health care this fall, and he wants to make sure that if he can’t be there that someone else will.
So let me read you a quote from this letter that he sent, and it was actually delivered yesterday to Massachusetts leaders. He said, ‘Serving the people of Massachusetts in the United States Senate has been and still is the greatest honor of my public life. As I look ahead, I am convinced that enabling the governor to fill a Senate vacancy through an interim appointment, followed by a special election, would best serve the people of our commonwealth and country should a vacancy occur.’ Now, a Kennedy source tells me that the senator has actually been having quiet conversations about this for quite some time, and knowing that would get out, he decided to make his efforts public by sending this letter. It’s not really clear, I should tell you, whether or not the governor and the state legislature are going to go along with this.
LEMON: Well, that’s what I was going to ask you. What about Governor Deval Patrick or state lawmakers? Any indication?
BASH: They released statements, Don, just a short while ago saying that- you know, basically, talking about how much they respect Senator Kennedy and they worry about his health, but not giving- showing their hand on whether they would do something like this. At least give you a little bit of history here- there’s a lot of political irony because this law was changed in 2004, and why? It is because it is back then, there was another Democratic senator, John Kerry from the state of Massachusetts, running for president- you remember that. Well, the state legislators- they changed the law to put this in place, a special election and not allowing a vacancy to be filled. Why did they do that? Because at the time, there was a Republican governor in the state of Massachusetts. That governor was Mitt Romney, and they were worried if John Kerry were to win the presidency in 2004 when he ran against George Bush, they didn’t want Mitt Romney to replace the senator with a Republican, maybe even- maybe even himself. So that’s why this is in place. It’s a little bit of a political, ironic twist here.
In other words, the Democrats were willing to mold the laws to keep their hold on the two Senate seats for Massachusetts, but CNN would only concede that it was a “political irony.”