Senators Deliver Farewell Tribute To Vice President Joe Biden

Dec 7, 2016
Originally published on December 7, 2016 6:56 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Senate gathered this afternoon to say goodbye to Vice President Joe Biden. Biden has been a presence there for more than 40 years. And NPR's Scott Detrow says it was a rare bipartisan moment in an increasingly partisan Capitol.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: By now, Joe Biden's Senate story is pretty well-known. He was elected in 1972. He need to be 30 to serve in the Senate, as minority leader Harry Reid pointed out in today's tribute.

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HARRY REID: Joe was 29 on Election Day. He turned 30 two weeks after the election.

DETROW: Biden was getting ready to become one of the youngest senators in U.S. history when tragedy struck. His wife and daughter were killed in a car crash. His two sons nearly died, too. Biden was blindsided. He told Yale students last year that he almost resigned before taking office to care for his two injured sons.

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VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I was supposed to be sworn in with everyone else that year in '73, but I wouldn't go down. So Mansfield thought I'd changed my mind and not come. He sent up a secretary of Senate to swear me in in the hospital room with my children.

DETROW: That's when Biden began taking the train back and forth to Delaware every day. And early on, Biden said in that speech, that he learned a really important lesson from Majority Leader Mike Mansfield - to question other lawmakers' judgments, but to never question their motives. The lesson stuck, and other senators like Republican John McCain noticed.

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JOHN MCCAIN: You can disagree with someone on issues, but you should never get personal. Joe Biden has never gotten personal, to my knowledge, with a fellow senator.

DETROW: In his tribute speech, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that quality made Biden a trusted partner, both in the Senate and in the White House.

MITCH MCCONNELL: We got results that would not have been possible without a negotiating partner like Joe Biden. Obviously, I don't always agree with him, but I do trust him.

DETROW: McConnell made sure to work in a reference to The Onion's ongoing satirical articles about the fictional Joe Biden, who parties hard, wears cut-off jean shorts without a shirt and loves driving his Trans-Am. But he also noted that Biden has faced tragedy after tragedy in his life - that car crash, a near-fatal brain aneurysm and the death last year of Biden's son Beau, a rising political star and the attorney general of Delaware.

MCCONNELL: That's Joe Biden right there - unbowed, unbroken and unable to stop talking.

DETROW: Earlier in the week, McConnell and other senators paid Biden another tribute. They took a cancer research bill and named it after Beau. Biden was presiding over the Senate as the vote took place. At first, he appeared to choke up, then senator after senator approached him on the rostrum. Biden hugged. He gripped. He nodded. He embraced every senator who came up to him in one way or another, no matter what their party. Scott Detrow, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.