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Levin, Harkin, Coburn Among Senators Bidding Adieu

The end of the 113th Congress means a lot of goodbyes for retiring members and for those who lost in November. That means, at least for a moment, partisanship took some time off on the Senate floor.

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In these final days of the 113th U.S. Congress, lawmakers have been busy trying to pass a spending bill before the holiday and the start of a new session in January. But the end of the session also means a lot of farewells to retiring members and those lost in November.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports that amidst the tributes, partisanship took some time off.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Some of those departing the Senate have served for decades. Some have been here only one term. One long-timer is Louisiana Dem. Mary Landrieu.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SENATOR MARY LANDRIEU: It's just been a joy, but I know that God's calling me to a different place. I'm not the least bit sad and I'm not the least bit afraid because it's just been a remarkable opportunity to serve with all of you.

GONYEA: Then there's Dem. Kay Hagan, turned out after one term by voters in North Carolina.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SENATOR KAY HAGAN: If we are going to address the biggest challenges facing our country, we've got to break through the political gridlock.

GONYEA: Alaska Dem. Mark Begich paid tribute to his staff in one of many moments when he had to stop to compose himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SENATOR MARK BEGICH: I thank them for their unwavering service to their fellow Alaskans. Truly, I have the best of the best.

GONYEA: And all 14 senators are leaving, all but three are Democrats. No surprise, given the midterm election results. Among the Republicans exiting the stage is Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. He issued a warning about the future and the need for the Senate to return to the vision of the Founding Fathers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

REPRESENTATIVE TOM COBURN: I believe the enumerated powers meant something. They were meant to protect us against what history says always happens to a republic - they've all died. They've all died. So the question is, is what will happen with us?

GONYEA: Six-term Michigan Dem. Carl Levin is known for his serious non-flashy manner. His emotions got the better of him when he acknowledged his older brother, Congressman Sander Levin.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SENATOR CARL LEVIN: My brother's sitting here and I'm not allowed to refer to my family in the gallery, so I won't do that.

GONYEA: That last reference is to Senate decorum. Levin is a stickler for tradition. That's a quality that Rep. Senator Jeff Sessions praised in a tribute he delivered to Levin on the floor. He called him, a Senator's Senator.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS: And he runs a committee that is, in my mind, the best-run committee according to the ideals of the republic of which we are a part.

GONYEA: The final farewell speech yesterday came from a liberal lion in the Senate, Tom Harkin of Iowa. He announced his plan to retire a full two years ago, saying back then, the decision wasn't that hard. But now...

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SENATOR TOM HARKIN: Now when I will soon just be number 1,763 of all of the Senators who ever served in the United States Senate, now, now the leaving becomes hard and wrenching.

GONYEA: Harkin then closed with this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

HARKIN: (Taking deep breath) And with that, Mr. President, for the last time, I yield the floor.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Farewell, so long, goodbye. Farewell, so long, goodbye. You're leaving me these words three. Farewell, so long, goodbye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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