With a little help from a couple of Democrats, Republican Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.) fulfilled his goal of walking up the Capitol steps — 45 steps from the parking lot to the front door — to the 113th Congress today.
Kirk, 53, accomplished the feat in 10 minutes nearly a year after a stroke paralyzed his left side. He’s undergone grueling physical therapy and kept up with tasks such as co-sponsoring dozens of bills, but has not cast a vote or returned to the upper chamber.
Leaning on a cane with his left hand, Kirk ascended the steps with light support from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Vice President Joe Biden. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) walked alongside the trio.
Biden was heard to be making quips the whole way, from “It’s your own personal Stairmaster!” to repeated encouragement of “You’re almost there… just a few more.”
“Let’s go to work, guys,” Kirk said on the way up.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) greeted him at the top.
Many senators, including Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.), and House members, including the Illinois delegation, lined one side of the steps and cheered Kirk on. After he reached the top, they surrounded him with hugs and handshakes.
“The big moment coming for me was when I get to see Senator Tim Johnson, who suffered from a stroke here. And I can’t wait to bond with him so that, hopefully, we can be advocates for Americans who have survived stroke,” Kirk told CBS before his return.
Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat, gave Kirk a big hug after he reached the top.
Many liberals on Twitter, though, kvetched that Kirk’s ordeal hasn’t changed him mind on opposing ObamaCare. The senator also told the Chicago Sun-Times he would have voted “no” on the fiscal cliff deal.
Kirk gave a hat tip to the Dem Whip, noting, “Dick Durbin has always taken the high road with regard to any comment about my stroke.”
Durbin also helped push through some of the Republican’s legislative efforts in Kirk’s absence.
“He’s earned a friend for life because of that,” Kirk said.
“My dear friend Mark Kirk has always shown grit and determination – and today he demonstrated those qualities for everyone to see. I am so honored to call him my friend, and I thank the Good Lord for his recovery and for his return to Washington,” Manchin said. “We need more people here who are willing to work across the aisle, and Mark embodies that spirit. I told him today that as happy as he is to be back, I’m even happier to have him back.”