As Biden took his seat at the head of the Senate (the vice president is technically president of the Senate), a who's-who of big-name senators, Republican and Democratic, stood up one by one to share fond memories of him and offer him warm wishes.
But McConnell went first because, despite Biden's title, the Republican is the real boss of the Senate. And he hit the opening tribute out of the park.
He started where most thoughtful tributes would start: childhood. “The man we honor today wasn't always a talker. He suffered from a debilitating stutter for most of his childhood. He was teased for it, but he was determined to overcome it, and so he did, with hard work, with determination, with the support of his family. It's classic Joe Biden. And he never stopped talking since.”
Next, McConnell acknowledged the tragedies that will forever trail Biden: the death of his wife and toddler daughter 44 years ago, months before Biden was sworn in as a U.S. senator, and the death of his 46-year-old son, Beau Biden, from brain cancer last year.
But instead of reciting the sad, familiar stories, McConnell talked about the change he witnessed grief bring to Biden:
“The presiding officer will be first to tell you he's been blessed in many ways. He's also been tested, knocked down, pushed to the edge of what anyone could be expected to bear. But from the grip of unknowable despair came a new man, a better man, stronger and more compassionate, grateful for every moment, appreciative of what really matters.”
This speech was something McConnell spent a lot of time on. And we can see why. As McConnell made clear on the Senate floor Wednesday: He not only likes Biden — he likes working with him.
“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, implicitly. He doesn't break his word, he doesn't waste time telling me why I'm wrong.… There's a reason 'Get Joe on the phone' is shorthand for 'Time to get serious' in my office.”
(Yes, that definitely could have been a slight on President Obama, who has not had the warmest relationship with Congress and whom Republicans have accused of lecturing them. But this post is about warm and fuzzy bipartisanship, so let's focus on that today, k?)
And McConnell even touched on how the Internet likes Biden almost as much as Washington does, recalling the classic 2009 Onion article “Shirtless Biden Washes Trans Am In White House Driveway.” It may have been a Senate first to have the majority leader point to an image of a “shirtless” colleague (even a fake image) or cite the Onion on the normally stuffy Senate floor.
To wrap up, McConnell got serious again: “His journey began here, by the side of those who loved him, hand on the Bible, heart in a knot, swearing the same oath he now administers to others. It's a journey that ends now by the side of those who still care about him.”
McConnell included himself in that list.
“Mr. President, you've been a real friend. You've been a trusted partner, and it's been an honor to serve with you. We're all going to miss you. Godspeed.”