By Richard Valdmanis
BOSTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama praised the late Edward Kennedy on Monday at the opening of a Senate chamber replica built in his honor, calling the former Democratic Senator for Massachusetts an inspired leader who bridged the bipartisan divide.
"Now, since this is a joyous occasion, this is not the time for me to suggest a slew of new ideas for reform. Although I do have some," Obama said at the ceremony in Boston. "What if we carried ourselves more like Ted Kennedy?"
Obama was one of several speakers to praise "the lion of the Senate" at the inauguration of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, including Vice President Joe Biden, former U.S. Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, and members of the Kennedy family.
The centerpiece of the non-profit institute is a full-scale replica of the U.S. Senate chamber. Groups of middle and high school students will assemble in the roughly $79 million virtual Senate, located on the University of Massachusetts campus in Boston, using high-tech applications to act out the law-making process.
The project is intended to boost civic engagement at a time when the real Senate is gridlocked.
Obama said Congress had changed for the better in many ways since Kennedy began his career there, including becoming more diverse. Kennedy died in 2009 from brain cancer after serving in the Senate for nearly 47 years, the fourth-longest in U.S. history.
"But Ted grieved the loss of camaraderie and collegiality, the face-to-face interaction," Obama said.
I think he regretted the arguments now made to cameras instead of colleagues, directed at a narrow base instead of the body politic as a whole; the outsized influence of money and special interests, and how it all leads more Americans to turn away in disgust," he said.
The institute, co-founded by the late senator's widow Victoria Reggie Kennedy, is intended to "accomplish Senator Kennedy's desire to create a participatory experience where people could see what it was like to be a Senator and act in the best interests of their State and the United States," the institute said in a statement.
(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by David Gregorio and Richard Chang)