At an emotional private party just off the Senate floor, soon-to-be Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told her Senate colleagues Wednesday night that serving in the Senate “has been the greatest experience of my life” and that leaving them was “like leaving family.”
Clinton, whose eyes welled up as she worked the elegant LBJ room in the Capitol, hugged and kissed colleagues, posed for pictures and thanked them one by one as she reminded them she would be “just around the corner.”
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) nearly choked up as he spoke. “Parting is such sweet sorrow – I have such sweet memories of you,” he said. “I feel like crying.”
An emotional Clinton responded, “This is not goodbye — this is just a wave, Harry.. . . We’re going to be in each others’ hearts and minds.”
Clinton was feted by her daughter, Chelsea, and by some members of the Obama team — Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff, transition chief John Podesta and economic adviser Larry Summers, who left frequently to chat on his cell phone in the hall, a stray shirt tail hanging below his suit coat.
The former first lady is expected to give her farewell speech at 11 a.m. Thursday, an hour after Vice President-elect Joe Biden delivers his own farewell address.
Thirty-one senators attended the party, and there were both Democrats and Republicans there. Among them: host Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Max Baucus, Mary Landrieu, Barbara Mikulski, Bill Nelson, John Kerry, Jon Tester, Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, Bob Corker, Olympia Snowe, Johnny Isakson and John McCain, against whom Clinton might have run for president if things had worked out differently.
More than a dozen House members from New York House were also there, including two who’d like to replace Clinton in the senate — Upstate New York Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand and Long Island Rep. Steve Israel.
Schumer said he had “complete confidence” that Clinton would be “the best Secretary of State this country has ever known.
“Eat your heart out James Monroe,” Schumer added to laughs. “I think he was Secretary of State.”
He was, from 1811 to 1814 and 1815 to 1817.
Alluding to his relationship with Clinton, which improved steadily through the years they served together, Schumer said: “Hillary looks great from far away, but up close it’s even better.”
“Hillary,” he said, “you’re the greatest.”
Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland, called Clinton "the best friend you can have."
Clinton said she wanted to have “a real partnership between the State Department and the Congress.”
“Let’s go out and make the future better than it is,” she said.