WASHINGTON For months, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid exhorted his fellow senators to vote yes on healthcare reform. But when the big moment came on Thursday, he momentarily voted no -- by mistake.
Reid, who has spent weeks in round-the-clock negotiations over the massive legislation, threw up his arms, bowed his head and quickly corrected his mistake, voting yes for the overhaul that is a top priority for President Barack Obama.
"I spent a very restless night last night trying to figure out how I could show some bipartisanship. And I think I was able to accomplish that for a few minutes today," Reid quipped at a news conference after majority Democrats passed the bill over solid Republican opposition. The vote was 60-39, along strict party lines.
No Republicans voted for the bill and all Democrats and independents supported the measure. Republican Senator Jim Bunning missed the vote.
It wasn't the only moment of drama during the early morning Senate vote on Christmas Eve after four weeks of nonstop debate.
Senator Robert Byrd, the 92-year-old Democrat from West Virginia, cast his vote in favor of the bill, invoking the name of the late Senator Edward Kennedy who championed healthcare coverage for every American during his nearly half century of service in Congress.
"This is for my friend Ted Kennedy," Byrd said. Kennedy died in August of brain cancer.
Although Kennedy did not live to witness Senate passage of healthcare reform, his memory was very much alive.
"I wish Ted Kennedy were here with us today to enjoy this," Senator Christopher Dodd said following the vote.
Kennedy's widow, Vicki Kennedy, was present in the Senate chamber for the vote. So was Representative John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who has worked for decades for universal healthcare coverage, carrying on the legacy of his father who first introduced healthcare reform legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1943.
(Reporting by Donna Smith)