WASHINGTON — Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton gave wistful farewells to the U.S. Senate on Thursday as they prepared to become new kinds of Washington power players.
Biden will be sworn in Tuesday as the vice president, while Clinton is expected to win Senate confirmation as secretary of state next week. Both sought the presidency last year, and both have been important players in the Senate, though in very different ways.
Biden has served for 36 years, and his goodbye was personal, poignant and full of anecdotes. The 66-year-old Delaware Democrat came to the Capitol at age 30, just old enough to qualify for his seat. "He was barely old enough to vote," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky joked Thursday.
Biden's wife and infant daughter were killed in an auto accident five weeks after his 1972 election. Biden, whose two sons were injured in the crash, considered abandoning his office to care for them, but Senate leaders persuaded him to stay and he was sworn in at the bedside of one of his sons.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
"As I healed, this place became my second family," he said. "For that I will be forever grateful."
His 39-minute Senate address Thursday was vintage Biden — loaded with detail and delivered in his conversational style — and it ended with the senator fighting back tears.
He remembered his first day in the Senate, when he took a seat where 19th-century icons Henry Clay once sat on one side and Daniel Webster on the other.
The notoriously loquacious Biden called it "the only time I can remember being speechless."
The civil rights supporter remembered developing friendships with unlikely colleagues such as one-time South Carolina segregationist Strom Thurmond. He offered personal accounts of Senate history, remembering the final, courageous days of Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey as he battled cancer but continued to work in 1977.
One day, Biden recalled, "Barry Goldwater saw Hubert and gave him a big bear hug and kissed him and Hubert kissed him back." Goldwater, a conservative Republican icon, had run for president in 1964; Humphrey, a liberal hero, had been vice president on the Democrats' victorious 1964 ticket.
Biden worked his way up the seniority ladder to preside over some of recent history's most volatile Senate debates, notably the 1991 controversy over Clarence Thomas' Supreme Court nomination and the 2002 battle over whether to go to war with Iraq.
Clinton, 61, won a New York Senate seat in 2000, as her husband was leaving the White House, and her name alone _as well as the thought that she might be the next Democratic president — gave her a cachet few freshmen get.
It also subjected her to unusual scrutiny. "There were a few skeptics wondering what would I do and how would I do it," Clinton recalled Thursday.
She had little time to reflect on how to proceed, though, because eight months after she took office, New York was hit by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She recalled in vivid detail how "that site was as close as I have ever seen to what Dante described as hell."
Clinton, whose nomination as secretary of state was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee overwhelmingly earlier Thursday, was more lofty than nostalgic in her 19-minute address, saying, "This could be one of the golden eras of the history of the Senate'' if members join together to meet economic and national security challenges.
Like Biden, she got a standing ovation, but Biden's departure was clearly more emotional.
He's not really leaving the Senate; as vice president, he'll be the chamber's president, available to break ties and undoubtedly a regular and influential presence at Senate Democratic meetings.
"I may be resigning from the Senate today," Biden said, "but I'll always be a Senate man."
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY