Senator Edward Kennedy, who is suffering from terminal brain cancer, has written a poignant letter to leaders in his home state of Massachusetts asking them to change state law so a temporary replacement can be appointed promptly to avoid a legislative vacuum.
The state law at present prescribes a special election within five months when one of the two Senate posts falls vacant but Mr Kennedy, a keen supporter of President Obama's healthcare reforms, argues that this is too long. In the letter, in which he makes no reference to his health, he writes: "It is vital for this commonwealth [Massachusetts] to have two voices speaking for the needs of its citizens and two votes in the Senate during the approximately five months between a vacancy and an election."
While Democrats hold a majority in Congress, the outcome of a healthcare reform bill could hinge on a single vote.
The letter was sent on Tuesday, but Kennedy aides insist there has been no material change in his condition since he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour in May 2008.
"For almost 47 years, I have had the privilege of representing the people of Massachusetts in the United States Senate," Mr Kennedy said in his letter. He added that serving in the Senate "has been – and still is – the greatest honour of my public life".
He asked the Governor to ensure the fairness of any temporary appointment by seeking an "explicit personal commitment" that the appointee would not try to keep the position on a permanent basis.
The letter was one of several written by Mr Kennedy in early July. The 77-year-old senator's absence from his sister's funeral, held last week, prompted a flurry of questions about his health.Reuse content