ABC News anchors are reporting on air they have confirmed rumors that Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy was taken from the inaugural luncheon after suffering convulsions and collapsing. Kennedy, 76, has been undergoing treatment for a malignant brain tumor.
West Virginia Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, 91, also reportedly fell ill and was escorted from the luncheon.
ABC News says that Kennedy was at a table with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and that President Barack Obama left the room with Kennedy but later returned, according to reports received from some in attendance at the luncheon, which was closed to the press. An ambulance was also observed arriving at the Capitol, though there is a full medical suite in the Capitol.
Obama prefaced his remarks following the luncheon with words about Kennedy:
“While I was out of the room, concern was expressed about Teddy. He was there when the Voting Rights Act passed, along with John Lewis was a warrior for justice. So I would be lying to you if I did not say a part of me is with him. I think that’s true of all of us. This is a joyous time and this is also a sobering time. And my prayers are with him and his wife, Vickie.”
Kennedy had a seizure that lasted several minutes, according to witnesses at the luncheon, ABC is reporting. Byrd, the oldest member of the Senate and a longtime friend of Kennedy, was overcome and had to be taken from the luncheon in a wheelchair. Byrd is president pro tempore of the Senate and is third in the line of presidential succession, behind Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Kennedy made a surprise visit on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention in August.
Last month Kennedy left a longtime position on the Senate Judiciary Committee to concentrate on passing health care reform legislation.
UPDATE 1:27 p.m. MST: Sen. John Kerry, who was seated with the senior senator at the luncheon, attributes Kennedy’s seizure to exhaustion. The ABC News blog writes “Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., a very close friend of Kennedy’s, could be seen laughing as Kennedy’s stretcher was put into the ambulance — a good sign.”
UPDATE 1:46 p.m. MST: BNO News reports that Sen. Byrd left luncheon on his own accord out of concern for his friend and colleague, Sen. Kennedy.