WASHINGTON - Nearly a year after suffering a debilitating stroke, Sen. Mark Kirk walked the 45 steps up the Capitol on Thursday and reclaimed his seat in the U.S. Senate on the first day of the 113th Congress.
The Illinois Republican was greeted at the foot of the Capitol steps by an open-armed Vice President Joe Biden. With Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., at his side, and clutching a four-prong cane, Kirk climbed the steps to the Capitol's entrance to rousing applause from Senate colleagues, the Illinois congressional delegation and Capitol staff.
Kirk, 53, waved and smiled, pausing several times to greet well-wishers. "Feels great," he said, walking through the door.
Moments earlier, Kirk's return brought most of the Senate, many members of the House where Kirk once served and dozens of congressional aides to the steps of the Capitol. On a frigid, but clear and sunny day, they cheered as Kirk emerged from a sedan to find Biden awaiting him.
"Welcome back, man!" Biden said.
Kirk smiled broadly, hugging the vice president.
"During the debate I was rooting for you," Kirk joked.
With Biden, Manchin - Kirk's closest friend in the Senate - and his Illinois colleague, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin nearby, Kirk mixed grimaces of concentration with smiles as he walked up the steps. "Go, Mark go," "yeah Mark!" and "you're almost there!" fellow members of Congress cheered. Biden kept a steadying hand on Kirk as he climbed and Manchin lent a supporting arm around his waist. Kirk's ascent, with several pauses, took about 20 minutes.
As they neared the Senate, Biden told Kirk he could take all the time he wanted.