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article imageBiden steals show in final US Senate swearing-in

By Michael Mathes (AFP)     Jan 3, 2017 in Politics

Most politicians accept the daily grind of pressing the flesh and making small talk about their jobs or campaigns as an unwelcome necessity that comes with the territory.

Not Joe Biden.

The affable US vice president relishes the personal showmanship of politics and his role as America's soothing, smirking, shoulder-massaging, consoling dignitary who embraces the pomp and personal connections like no one else in America's political arena.

On Tuesday, 17 days before he ends his eight-year stint as the nation's 47th vice president, the Democrat was in full-on "Uncle Joe" mode.

As the 115th Congress opened following one of the most bitter and controversial presidential campaigns in memory, the 74-year-old spent more than 100 straight minutes on his feet in the old Senate chamber, re-enacting the swearing-in ceremonies for the Senate's new and re-elected members.

Inevitably, he welcomed the spouses first.

"God love ya!" Biden said with outstretched arms as he greeted Senator Chuck Grassley's wife with a deep hug before backslapping Grassley, a Republican.

Biden spent 36 years in the US Senate, 28 of them with Grassley, and the vice president was all smiles.

- The greatest honor -

"Keep on coming!" Biden shouted as some 33 members from four generations of Grassleys paraded in for a photograph.

If most politicos see such a task as drudgery, Biden soaked it up.

US Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon is sworn in by US Vice-President Joe Biden (R) accompanied by his wif...
US Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon is sworn in by US Vice-President Joe Biden (R) accompanied by his wife Nancy and their children on January 3, 2017

He snapped selfies with grinning relatives, squatted down to flirt with toddlers and, as is his reputation, got touchy-feely close while greeting dozens of lawmakers, wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters.

When Republican Senator Rob Portman's son introduced his girlfriend, a Biden fan, to the vice president, the woman gushed: "You just made my 2017!" before falling into his open arms.

Biden of course has had his share of tragedy. His wife and daughter were killed in a car crash in late 1972 just weeks after he was elected to the Senate.

He took his oath of office in hospital, alongside his two recovering sons.

One of them, Beau Biden, died of brain cancer in 2015.

And yet Biden remains as optimistic and upbeat as anyone on Capitol Hill as he greeted hundreds of lawmakers' relatives in a ceremony he was presiding over Tuesday for a fourth and final time.

"I'm so glad you ran again" for Senate, he told Senator John McCain, who lost his presidential race against Biden's boss, Barack Obama, in 2008 and was considering retiring last year.

"We love you," McCain replied, highlighting the genuineness of the exchanges which served as a counterweight to the toxicity of the 2016 campaign.

Biden does not mask his fondness for what has been called the world's greatest deliberative body.

When a lawmaker’s wife called Biden "senator" as she greeted him, the vice president lit up. "That's a high honor," Biden said.

With the re-enactments finally over, Biden spoke with reporters about his time in the Capitol.

"This is an incredible place, as diminished in the minds of the people that it has become of late. But if you listen, if you listen and have an open mind, it works," he said.

"I do miss it. I loved being a senator," he added. "It was the greatest honor of my life."

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