Clinton, political community shocked by another Kennedy tragedy
July 19, 1999
Web posted at: 6:05 p.m. EDT (2205 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, July 19) -- Calling the deaths "very difficult" for both the first family and the nation, President Bill Clinton paid tribute Monday to John F. Kennedy Jr., Kennedy's wife and sister-in-law.
The trio are presumed dead after the apparent crash of Kennedy's private plane Friday night off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Because of the family's strong Washington ties, political reaction here has been swift and strong.
"John Kennedy and his sister, and later his wife, were uncommonly kind to my daughter and to my wife," Clinton said during a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. "This has been a very difficult thing for us personally."
The president was briefed during the day by Coast Guard Commandant James Loy and Coast Guard Rear Admiral Richard M. Larrabee. Clinton said Larrabee "was somewhat optimistic" that the wreckage of Kennedy's plane would be found.
Clinton also spoke with Kennedy's sister, Caroline, and has been in frequent contact with Kennedy's uncle, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts).
Hosting the World Cup champion U.S. women's soccer team Monday at the White House, Clinton said it was "both a moment of celebration and a moment of sadness" as he honored the team while remembering Kennedy, his wife Carolyn, and her sister Lauren Bessette.
The Senate began its session Monday -- missing Sen. Kennedy who travelled from the family compound in Hyannisport to Caroline Kennedy's Long Island home -- with a prayer by Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie praising "the life of John F. Kennedy Jr. for his winsome winning way, for his commitment to service," and the fortitude of the Kennedy family.
"They have endured the excruciating pain of grief so often," Ogilvie said. "Yet through it all, they've shown us the resiliency of faith in you and an uplifting strength of an indefatigable commitment to public service. No American family has given more or served this nation more faithfully."
Vice President Al Gore, who canceled several campaign fund-raisers over the weekend on news of the apparent tragedy, also used the soccer team appearance to reflect on the Kennedy loss.
"If the Kennedy family has stood for any one ideal above all others, it is that each of us, by the work of our own hands and hearts, can make a contribution and a difference. And the achievement that we celebrate with such joy here today is most certainly in that tradition," Gore said.
First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who joined her husband and Gore Monday in extending their "thoughts and prayers" to the Kennedy and Bessette families, decided to put off a Senate exploratory campaign trip that was scheduled to begin Tuesday in upstate New York.
While the death of JFK Jr., 38, shocked the nation, it has hit political circles particularly hard. As a boy, he was the famous son of a highly popular president -- who himself died too early when assassinated in office. Most recently, Kennedy served more as a political observer through his George magazine, though there was persistent speculation that Kennedy might some day run for elected office.
Former President George Bush said Monday he and his wife Barbara were saddened by the loss of Kennedy -- and his potential. "John was a man of enormous promise and of great character. Like all Americans, Barbara and I, and the entire Bush family, mourn their passing," Bush said in a statement released from their summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine.
"JFK Jr. was doing everything right. He got his law degree, worked as a prosecutor, started George... I expected sometime in the future he would definitely have gotten into politics," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) remembered the tragedies that have followed the family. "When I first heard about it, I said, 'Oh no, not again.' The Kennedy family ... you talk about star-crossed. They've done a lot of good things, but, my gosh -- they've had a lot of tragedy in that family."