As Ted Kennedy enters his 45th year in Congress, the arch-liberal senior Senator from Massachusetts has a lot on his plate. Between playing a lead role in the antiwar movement, working to push through a hike in the minimum wage and getting ready to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, Kennedy sat down with TIME's Massimo Calabresi to talk about politics, his ever-present Portuguese water dogs and, naturally, the Kennedy clan.
Are you the only Senator to keep dogs in your offices?
No. Bob Dole had a dog, Leader. Elizabeth Dole has a dog. And Bob Byrd has his dog. Elizabeth Dole and I are going to form a dog caucus, and we're going to be co-presidents. We don't think we're going to be president of anything else.
Admirable bipartisanship. Democrats have the country with them against the war in Iraq but aren't acting to end it. Why?
This war is the major blunder in American foreign policy. We ought to free ourselves from our troop involvement. But if you look back on Vietnam, it wasn't until 1973 that we passed the resolution that actually halted troops and money. There's no question that this is a slow-moving institution, and it's no new statement to say that we are behind what's happening out in the countryside.
But there was fallout for Democrats appearing weak on Vietnam.
It's been the Democrats who have been for armor for the troops. We have been for investing in our servicemen when they come back from Iraq. And it is the Democrats who want to get our American troops out of the civil-war cross fire. Democrats are concerned about the security of the fighting person. Too often Republicans are more interested in protecting the reputation of the President than protecting the troops.
Do you intend to endorse one of the Democrats running for President?
I have no plans. I just got re-elected. I'm going to spend my time here doing what I was elected to do.
It's easy to pick up a newspaper and see some comparison between your brothers and Barack Obama. Is there any validity to that comparison?
Barack is certainly an extremely gifted and talented individual. But my brothers are on a special plateau for me. They're my heroes.
You know Mitt Romney pretty well.
I've had my differences with Mitt, but I wouldn't underestimate him. That's certainly also true for Senator [John] McCain. I have differences with him the Iraq war is the most obvious example but I've worked with him quite a bit on the patients' bill of rights, and I've worked with him on immigration.
Your long-sought minimum-wage bill is stuck in conference, thanks to a debate on the size of small-business tax breaks. What's going on?
It's going to get through. The differences are not significant. We're not talking about hundreds of billions of dollars. We're talking about a few billion dollars. It's been 10 years since we've increased the minimum wage, and I want to get this increase to the beneficiaries. I'm convinced we'll get it done within the next two weeks.
Some on the left wing of the Democratic Party would like to see No Child Left Behind done away with. Are you going to deliver reauthorization this year?
The concept of including every child in education as a national goal is one that I wholeheartedly and completely agree with. But there are children left out. If this were the space program, we would have gone to the moon, landed and gotten halfway back. We have work to do in the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind and plenty of it. But do I believe we can get a reauthorization? Yes, I do.
You just celebrated your 75th birthday. Or rather the celebrations are ongoing.
My sister Eunice wants to know why I have to have several, and I told her, Well, I was the ninth member of the family. I had two sisters who had their birthdays on Feb. 20, and mine's on Feb. 22, so the house was always lively on Feb. 20, and then [the next day] someone would say, Oh, my goodness, Teddy's birthday is coming up tomorrow. So I've been wanting to make up for it.
You had a costume party. Who did you go as?
Most people think I was John Quincy Adams. I'll probably leave it there.