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NBC's Curry Pushes McCain: Will 'Catalyst' of Kennedy Death Cause You to 'Cross the Aisle?'

NBC's Ann Curry, on Thursday's Today show, asked Senator John McCain if "the death of Senator Kennedy" would "be the catalyst" to pass health care reform, but when the Arizona senator responded that it may change the partisan way in which the Democrats have had "no real negotiations" with the GOP to get it passed, Curry demanded that McCain and the Republicans should be the ones to relent as she pushed McCain to "cross the aisle." McCain said he was "willing," but reiterated to Curry, "There's been no opportunity to do so," as seen in the following exchange:

ANN CURRY: Well, one of the next battles before Congress, which is one that, what mattered really most to the Senator, is of course about health care reform. And you faced a lot of rancor, some anger yesterday at a town hall meeting. What do you say about this idea? Could, in fact, the death of Senator Kennedy be the catalyst that might spark the possibility that this actually might go somewhere, as it doesn't seem to be right now?

JOHN MCCAIN: Well, it might, but you'd have to change the way that things have been done. And that is the fact that there's been no real negotiations. There had been a bill before the committee which I sit, the Health committee, and it was done by Democrats and no amendments were agreed to of any significance and so that's not the kind of negotiations that I did with Senator Kennedy on a number of issues. Maybe if we change-

CURRY: Are you willing to cross the aisle Senator? Are you willing to reach across the aisle on this issue as, in the past, Senator Kennedy worked with you and former President Bush on education and immigration reform?

MCCAIN: I'm more than willing to. There's been no opportunity to do so.

The following segment was aired on the August 27, Today show:

ANN CURRY: Arizona Senator John McCain worked closely with Senator Kennedy for more than two decades. He now joins us from Phoenix, Arizona. Senator McCain, good morning.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Good morning, Ann.

CURRY: We just heard from Vice President Joe Biden but we're also hearing deeply emotional tributes coming from Republicans as well. In fact, you're one of the featured speakers at his private memorial on Friday. So I'm wondering, what can you tell us about what it was about Senator Kennedy that made him able to be loved, beloved really, from both sides of the aisle? Do you agree with this, he was "never petty, never small" comment?

MCCAIN: Well he was never petty and he was never small. And once the battle was over, and believe me, he and I had some, you know we talk a lot about where we worked together, that we had some spirited debates, both on and off the floor, to the point where, on occasion, we questioned each other's recent ancestry. But once the debate, once the debate was over, we would, we would embrace, we would go on to the next battle and find ways in which we could work together for the good of the country and so I think the aspect of Ted Kennedy was that there was never evidence of any personal grudge or anger or lingering anger or dissatisfaction and it was always on to fight the next battle, mount up and, and ride to the sound of the guns.

CURRY: Well, one of the next battles before Congress, which is one that, what mattered really most to the Senator, is of course about health care reform. And you faced a lot of rancor, some anger yesterday at a town hall meeting. What do you say about this idea? Could, in fact, the death of Senator Kennedy be the catalyst that might spark the possibility that this actually might go somewhere, as it doesn't seem to be right now?

MCCAIN: Well, it might, but you'd have to change the way that things have been done. And that is the fact that there's been no real negotiations. There had been a bill before the committee which I sit, the Health committee, and it was done by Democrats and no amendments were agreed to of any significance and so that's not the kind of negotiations that I did with Senator Kennedy on a number of issues. Maybe if we change-

CURRY: Are you willing to cross the aisle Senator? Are you willing to reach across the aisle on this issue as, in the past, Senator Kennedy worked with you and former President Bush on education and immigration reform?

MCCAIN: I'm more than willing to. There's been no opportunity to do so.

CURRY: I want to talk to you about your personal relationships with Senator Kennedy, before we run out of time. And, and specifically, you have a story to tell about the kindness that he extended to you and also to your son Jimmy 10 years ago. You want to tell that story sir?

MCCAIN: Sure. Thanks. Russ Feingold and I were honored with the Kennedy, John F. Kennedy "Profiles in Courage" award. And it happened to coincide with my son Jimmy's birthday. And we wanted to celebrate it here in Phoenix, which would have made me late for the ceremony. And Ted said, "Look it would be so important if you were there for the extended period of time." To make a long story short, we went early, we were greeted at the airport by police, by, by highway patrol. Jimmy was taken to a Coast Guard cutter where he received a tour of Boston Harbor. There was three birthday cakes, all kinds of presents. They must have sang happy birthday to him 10 times. I'm probably exaggerating a little bit. But it's probably the best birthday Jimmy ever had.

CURRY: That seems to be the constancy in the stories we've been hearing about Senator Kennedy. He said, he seemed to step up in these emotional ways for people. Having spent so much time with him in the Senate, personally for a moment, can you describe what you expect in these days ahead in the Senate without him?

MCCAIN: Well, already he's been missed, as we all know, because of his protracted illness. It's not, there's no such thing as someone who's irreplaceable in an institution like the United States Senate, but he is as close as I think we'll ever come certainly in my lifetime. And again, a unique personality. A person who once his presidential ambitions were finished, devoted himself to the institution and the people of this country and, you know, I've talked often and we have with my friends, he really did put his country first and serve a cause greater than his self-interests. I can't think of a better legacy.

CURRY: Senator John McCain, I'm sure you're gonna give a stirring speech on Friday. Thanks so much this morning.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Ann.

-Geoffrey Dickens is the senior news analyst at the Media Research Center.