Americans are more divided than in any time in recent memory. A recent Pew poll found that Republicans and Democrats don’t just feel contempt for the opposing party, they’re actively afraid of them. The poll found that 45 percent of Republicans now say that Democrats “policies are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s wellbeing,” and eight point increase since the question was asked in 2014. Forty-one percent of Democrats said the same thing, representing a 10 percentage point increase.
So when an increasingly rare moment of bipartisanship happens in Washington, it’s worth standing up to take notice. On Wednesday, the Senate honored Joe Biden, who served more than 30 years in the Senate before becoming Obama’s vice president (which also made him technically president of the Senate).
It was, quite simply, astounding.
“If I haven’t made clear to you over these many years how much I appreciated your friendship, and have admired you, I beg your forgiveness,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said “Joe Biden was beloved by everyone in this chamber – even those he drove crazy from time to time, and I count myself among that group.”
But the best lines came from Mr. Biden’s primary opponent in Washington, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
McConnell acknowledged the incredible tragedies that have befallen Biden. The death of his wife and infant daughter just weeks after being elected to the Senate at the incredible age of 29. The two brain aneurysms he suffered in the late 1980s, which almost cost him his life. And the death of his son, a rising political star in his own right, after battling brain cancer for several years.
But McConnell didn’t dwell on the now-familiar calamities that have pocked Biden’s life, instead he focused on the vice president’s unique response.
“The presiding officer will be first to tell you he’s been blessed in many ways,” McConnell said. “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 despite came a new man, a better man, a stronger and more compassionate, grateful for every moment, appreciative of what really matters.”
It was that strength of character that made him the negotiator-in-chief for the Obama White House.
“We got results that would not have been possible without a negotiating partner like Joe Biden,” McConnell said. “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.”
In 2010, Biden was the lead negotiator with McConnell on the temporary extension of the Bush tax cuts, which significantly lowered the marginal tax rates for nearly all U.S. taxpayers. He was crucial to achieving the 2011 deal that cut the budget by $917 billion and created a committee to produce debt reduction legislation coupled with a failsafe trigger of $1.2 trillion in additional cuts. And he was the linchpin to the 2012 fiscal cliff negotiations, which led to smaller tax increases compared to the full expiration of the Bush tax cuts and significant spending reductions.
All told, Biden will be remembered as America’s crazy (but fun) uncle, typified by The Onion’s satirical articles about a fictional guitar-shredding “Diamond” Joe Biden that grows weed in the White House, goes shirtless and wears cut-off jeans, and got banned from Dave & Busters after doing burnouts in the parking lot with his Trans Am. But he took it in stride. And all the while he was quietly working, even across the aisle, to get things done. So while we almost always disagreed with him, we almost always appreciated him because his brand of honesty and integrity is rare in our nation’s capital.