Biden lauded by U.S. senators for his long career

After 46 uninterrupted years in political office, Joe Biden will once again be a private citizen come noon on Jan. 20.

Two years as county councilman, 36 years as U.S. senator and eight years as vice president will soon give way to a very different role.

During those decades in Washington, D.C., Delaware’s favorite son made many friends, sponsored numerous pieces of legislation and, as his successor joked Wednesday, traveled more than 2 million miles on Amtrak trains.

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat who currently holds the seat Vice President Biden held from 1973 to 2009, led an effort to honor the vice president.

On Wednesday, with the vice president presiding over the Senate, senators of both parties spoke on the floor for more than two hours in a tribute broadcast on C-SPAN.

“Steven Spielberg, Hollywood, you should be listening,” Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said. “Joe Biden’s life is the stuff of which movies are made.”

Born in Scranton, Pa., and later raised in northern New Castle County, Joe Biden returned to Delaware after graduating from Syracuse University College of Law. In 1970, at age 27, he was elected to the New Castle County Council. Two years later, he defeated Republican U.S. Sen. Cale Boggs to become one of the youngest senators in U.S. history.

Joe Biden

Just six weeks after the election, tragedy struck the young senator-elect when his wife and daughter were killed in a car crash. Although he debated stepping down, he ultimately decided to serve as senator and later won re-election five more times.

Vice President Biden, Sen. Coons said Wednesday, has never forgotten Delaware.

“Whether meeting personally with world leaders you’ve known for decades, whether chairing the Judiciary or Foreign Relations committees, or just stopping by in a Claymont diner, there is universal agreement about what you’ve brought to this work: your passion, your heart, your character and your integrity,” he said.

“That’s because you genuinely listen to people. You ask them questions, and then you lift them up. We know that when you give us your word as a Biden, you mean it, and you’ll keep it.”

Both Democrats and Republicans described Vice President Biden as a good friend.

“It’s great to see the presiding officer back in the Senate,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. “Good news for everyone when he’s in the chair. Good news for him because, as Sen. Coons pointed out, the rest of us have to call him Mr. President. Good news for the rest of us because he has to let everyone else talk.”

Senators poked fun at Vice President Biden’s reputation for excessive talking, relayed stories of him enthralling family members and highlighted his accomplishments. Several speakers applauded his initiative to end cancer and others cheered his support of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act.

“You could almost write a book on accomplishments … where Joe really almost singlehandedly changed the world,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said.

Above all else, speakers said, Joe Biden has always been genuine.

“In a time of almost suffocating partisanship Joe Biden is a breath of bipartisan fresh air,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called him “perhaps the most personal public figure in American politics today.”

As senator, Mr. Biden twice ran for the Democratic Party nomination for president, in 1988 and 2008. The then-Sen. Barack Obama chose him for his vice presidential running mate in August 2008.

During his time in the nation’s second highest office, Vice President Biden has maintained a home in Greenville and occasionally surprises Delawareans by showing up at local events.

In addition to the car accident that claimed the lives of his wife and daughter, Vice President Biden lost his eldest son, Beau, to brain cancer last year. In his honor, a portion of a bill dealing with medical cures was renamed for Beau Biden earlier in the week.

Forty-three days remain until the vice president’s term ends and his influence, it is clear, will not be forgotten.

“You’ve been an honored friend and a trusted partner,” Sen. McConnell said. “We’re all going to miss you.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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