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Levin, Harkin, Coburn Among Senators Bidding Adieu


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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...


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.


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


GONYEA: Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.


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.

Don Gonyea
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.