In newly released recordings, U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy expresses his frustration over the way a failed 2007 immigration bill was handled in the Senate and the secretive approach President Bill Clinton took on his failed universal health care proposal, which Kennedy called a "catastrophic mistake."
Transcripts of 19 interviews with the Massachusetts Democrat, who died of brain cancer in 2009, were made public Wednesday as part of an oral history project by the Miller Center at the University of Virginia and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston.
The interviews, conducted by historian James Sterling Young, took place from 2005 to 2008 and covered a wide range of topics including the civil rights movement, Northern Ireland, the Vietnam War and some of his own political races.
While the Senate's inability to pass immigration legislation in 2007 despite what had been billed as a bipartisan compromise was the fault of both parties, Kennedy blamed "tentative" actions by top Senate Democrats worried about electoral repercussions for ultimately dooming the measure.
"They weren't serious," he complained. "The leadership was not serious about doing it."
Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Kennedy said, "went on to manufacture a situation to antagonize Republicans, to try to blame them, so there'd be a blame game going on, and stop consideration of a bill."
The result was a historic missed opportunity, said Kennedy, who had been championing immigration reform since he was first elected to the Senate in 1962.
"That's why it's going to take another 45 years for someone else to get this thing passed," he told Young.
Kennedy, who helped shape but did not live long enough to see passage of the Affordable Care Act under President Barack Obama, was also critical of the way Clinton handled the issue early in his first term.
Clinton gave first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton responsibility for overseeing the formulation of health care legislation.
Kennedy maintained the administration erred by spending too much time trying to develop its own health care proposal, rather than consulting with Congress and taking existing ideas, modifying them and moving forward. The result, he said, was an enormously complicated process that never gained traction.
"I think everybody understands now that that was a catastrophic mistake," Kennedy said.
"They underestimated the complexity of it, and then they were faced with a variety of other kinds of issues that came up during this period of time, which diverted the focus and attention away from it," he added.
The New York Times and The Boston Globe first reported excerpts of the interview.
The Miller Center and the Kennedy institute said they also conducted nearly 250 interviews with Senate colleagues, staffers, family members and others as part of the oral history project. An additional 10 interviews with Kennedy were not immediately released, including one with the senator's recollections on the 1969 car accident on Chappaquiddick Island that left a woman dead, the Times reported.
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