Breaking away from his treatment for brain cancer, Senator Edward Kennedy traveled to Washington today and made an emotion-filled return to the US Senate chamber where he cast the deciding vote to end a filibuster on a long-delayed Medicare bill.
Kennedy's surprise return to the chamber he has served in for nearly 45 years made for high drama. He arrived at a side entrance and went straight into Majority Leader Harry Reid's office. From there, he walked into the Senate chamber alongside Senator Barack Obama and his son, Congressman Patrick Kennedy, to a deafening cheer as the senators and visitors' gallery leapt to their feet.
Kennedy looked well and was smiling broadly. Colleagues from both parties hugged and kissed him as he made his way to his desk, where he waited for the applause to subside so he could vote.
When the chamber finally calmed down, he put both his arms up in the air and cast his vote with the word "Aye" -- and another cheer went up.
Amid the excitement, Senator Richard Durbin, the Senate majority whip and a fellow Illinoisan, had to gesture to the distracted and elated Obama to remind him to cast his vote as well.
Sixty votes were needed to break a Republican filibuster on the legislation, which voided a 10.6 percent pay cut for doctors who treat Medicare patients. Kennedy's return helped spur support for the successful drive to end the filibuster.
Kennedy was on the floor for no more than two or three minutes. After he voted, he made his way back out the same entrance. He had not been in the Senate since he became ill in May, and wasn't expected back until well after he completes his current course of treatment in Boston. The senator was expected to return to Boston later in the day.
Kennedy, who is chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, later explained his vote in a statement: "I return to the Senate today to keep a promise to our senior citizens -- and that's to protect Medicare. Win, lose or draw, I wanted to be here. I wasn't going to take the chance that my vote could make the difference.
"Medicare should not be a partisan issue. Illness and age know no party boundaries. The 44 million Americans who rely on Medicare to meet their health care needs are both Democrats and Republicans. Like all Americans, they have worked hard all their lives. They've raised their families. They've built our towns and cities and farmed the land. They've served in our military. We owe them so much for the part they have played in making America a great country. So today I proudly cast this important vote for them -- a vote to keep the Medicare program strong and effective for the future."
Kennedy told reporters who caught up with him as he left the Capitol that he had come back to the Senate for the vote because did not want to miss a critically important vote on an essential measure.
Asked how he was feeling, Kennedy replied: "I'm feeling fine -- a little fatigued once in a while."