Vice President Joe Biden returned to his second home in the Senate on Wednesday for a spirited bipartisan tribute that filled the normally staid chamber with laughter — including a Pope joke and a reference to the vice president’s satirical Trans Am-scrubbing alter ego.
The celebration of Biden went on for more than two hours, as six Republicans joined 17 Democrats in floor speeches celebrating the Delawarean who spent 36 years in the chamber before his vice presidency made him president of the Senate for eight years. Perhaps the most memorable send-off came from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who complimented Biden’s personal and professional character during Barack Obama’s presidency — an era marked by intense partisan warfare.
“There’s a reason ‘get Joe on the phone’ is shorthand for ‘time to get serious’ in my office,” McConnell said.
But the Kentucky Republican also drew several chuckles from the crowd with a few quips about Biden’s famously loquacious nature. Biden’s final turn as the Senate’s presiding officer is “good news” for him because he gets called “Mr. President,” McConnell said, and “good news for the rest of us because he has to let everyone else talk.”
McConnell also recalled Biden’s long-running portrayal in the pages of The Onion as evidence of the sense of humor maintained by the “muscle guy at heart.”
“When The Onion ran a mock photo of him washing a Trans Am in the driveway shirtless, America embraced it,” McConnell said. “So did he.”
Biden’s return came during a pivotal week for the vice president, who presided over the Senate during a Monday vote on medical-research legislation that also includes funding for his “moonshot” project to accelerate a cure for cancer. His former colleagues added plenty of levity, however, with tales of working should-to-shoulder with Biden over the years.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) joked that he used to carry Biden’s luggage during overseas trips while serving as the Navy’s Senate liaison and “I’ve resented it ever since.” Kidding aside, McCain lauded Biden for being “fair and courteous to everyone, even people who didn’t always deserve it.”
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) used a joke about the Pope deciding to drive his own car, only to be pulled over for speeding by police, to share a memory of Biden personally securing him a ticket to an Amtrak train about to depart, full of passengers looking on — making Durbin feel like he was being assisted by the pontiff.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) offered perhaps the pithiest testimonial after a warm tribute by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) closed with hopes to work with the vice president again. “Mr President? … Me too,” she told a beaming Biden.
Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), also retiring this year after a congressional career nearly as long as Biden’s, honored the “awe-inspiring” vice president’s triumph over occasionally tragic circumstances. Biden’s first wife, Neilia, died along with their infant daughter in a car accident just a few weeks after his election to the Senate at age 29.
“Steven Spielberg and Hollywood should be listening,” Reid said. “Joe Biden’s life is the stuff of which movies are made.”
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