With few Republicans in attendance, Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle bade an emotional farewell to the Senate yesterday, urging his colleagues of the past 18 years to find a new "common ground" for cooperation.
The South Dakota Democrat was greeted by a long standing ovation at the end of his speech, including applause from galleries filled by his family and staff. He also was hugged by most of his Democratic colleagues in an outpouring of personal feelings rarely seen on the Senate floor.
Only two Republicans -- Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Peter Fitzgerald (Ill.) -- were in their seats for most of Daschle's speech, although they were later joined by several others, including Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (Ky.). Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) presided over the Senate during Daschle's speech.
Although he did not come into the chamber until after Daschle finished speaking, Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who had campaigned for Daschle's successful Republican challenger, John R. Thune, effusively praised his departing colleague as a man of "integrity" and "true grace."
In a speech notable for its lofty aspirations and lack of recriminations, Daschle challenged his colleagues to work together in the same spirit that united them briefly in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"If I could leave this body with one wish, it would be that we never give up that search for common ground," he said. "The politics of common ground will not be found on the far right or on the far left -- that is not where most Americans live."
As his voice strained but never broke, Daschle expressed optimism that the Senate would rise to the challenge.
"It's with heartfelt gratitude to the people of South Dakota, with great respect and admiration for my colleagues and a love for this institution and the power it has to make this nation even greater, that I say farewell and look to the future with great optimism, with hope and anticipation," Daschle said.
Most of the chamber's Democrats were present and sat somberly as Daschle delivered his final speech. "It just doesn't seem right having a Senate without Tom Daschle," Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate Democrats' newly elected whip, said in a subsequent tribute.
In his remarks, Frist said he and Daschle were often in a "competitive environment" but "Senator Daschle has always, always, without exception, handled each and every situation in that competition with class and with honesty and with integrity and with forthrightness and with true grace."
In a day filled with farewell speeches and tributes to nine departing senators, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), whose term expires this year, promised to continue fighting for the values he and his running mate, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), espoused in the campaign.
"All my life I've fought for those who didn't have a voice," Edwards said. "I did so before coming to the Senate. I did so in the Senate. This is a fight I will continue."
He also paid tribute to the returning Kerry. "Every time he graces this chamber, you know that another American patriot has reported for duty," Edwards said.