WASHINGTON--After climbing the steps to the Senate, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), arms held by Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W-Va.) entered the chamber Tuesday morning to a burst of applause, returning a year after he suffered a stroke.
Once in, Biden--a former Senator-- lingered by Kirk's desk as did Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). As Sen. John McCain (R-Az.)approached, the two men hugged and Kirk snapped off a salute.
A few minutes earlier, Kirk climbed up the Senate steps to mark his return, using a leg brace and a cane with four prongs--and mainly with the help of Biden and Manchin, his closest friend in the Senate.
Biden, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nv.) and many lawmakers-including from the Illinois House delegation--turned out to pay tribute to Kirk, lining the steps at the Capitol leading to the Senate chamber.
The lawmakers applauded as Kirk counted off the steps.
Reid shared what he told Kirk: "I just told him he looks so good and it is an act of courage I admire so very, very much.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said "It's a great personal triumph. It's very moving. It is great to see a courageous guy fight back and come back."
Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) who has known Kirk since he first ran for an Illinois House seat said, "we are all very happy and we are joyful that he is doing so well. It is a wonderful thing to have him back."
"Nice to see you guys," Kirk said to the press waiting outside the Senate chamber doors.
What is is like to be back?
"Feels great," Kirk said.
What does he return represent"
Quipped Kirk, "for Joe and I to be a dynamic duo."
Kirk's comeback almost a year after his Jan. 21 stroke, followed by three brain surgeries and months of intensive rehabilitation.
As the Senate launched a new session near noon, Senate Chaplain Barry Black took note of Kirk's return in his opening prayer. "We praise you that today your conquering spirit has brought our beloved Senator Mark KIrk back to work in these hallowed halls," he said.
McConnell and Reid applauded Kirk from the Senate floor.
"The fact that Mark's here today says a lot about his tenacity, his dedication, and his commitment to the people of Illinois. I'm told that about two-thirds of the patients in the facility where he's been recovering over the past year don't return to work; but true to form, Mark opted for an experimental rehabilitation program so grueling it's been compared to military boot camp," McConnell said, referring to Kirk's treatment at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
Continued McConnell, "His staff counted 45 steps from the parking lot to the front door of the Senate, and during his treatment, he made walking those steps his goal. Today, he did it. So we admire him for his spirit, and we applaud his achievement. It's wonderful to have him back, ready to work."
Said Reid, "Senator Kirk, you have been missed."