ABC News’ Z. Byron Wolf Reports from Capitol Hill: Since we called out Sen. Mitch McConnell yesterday for not giving Uncle Ted Stevens a send-off speech, it is only fair to point out that today, the seventh-longest serving Senator and recently convicted felon, who just yesterday conceded his quest for reelection, received a two hour tribute and a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle during his last speech on the Senate floor.
Stevens lost his re-election effort Wednesday to Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, bringing the Democratic net gain in the U.S. Senate to 7 seats.
On the floor of the Senate Thursday, the Alaska Republican was called a model of service and a moral example for the body by GOP Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky.
"I have found Ted Stevens to be the most straightforward, honest senator I have ever worked with," said Bunning.
Sen. Larry Craig talked about riding in a cab in Alaska to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Craig, the Idaho Republican who will forever be linked with the airport in Minneapolis and did not seek reelection because of the legal problems he encountered there, said of Stevens, "As we round the curb and pull up to exit the cab, I look up, and there is your name. And I said, oh, my, Ted’s got an airport," said Craig. "That’s neat."
The cab driver told Craig to give his best to Uncle Ted in Washington. That said, Craig is why he calls Stevens "Uncle Ted."
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., chimed into the tribute adding, "I think its fair to say that no senator in the history of the us has ever done more for his state than Sen. Ted Stevens," as Sen. Robert Byrd, R-W.Va., yelled "That’s right! That’s right!" from right across the aisle. "Alaska would not be what it is today if it were not for him," McConnell said of Stevens, ignoring Byrd.
When it was his turn to speak, Byrd, the longest serving Senator who speaks hunched over his desk, reading from a binder, said, "Politics is a rough business. Lots of Highs. Lots of lows. After long time in politics, there comes a time to stand that the point of it all is helping people. Ted Stevens has helped a lot of people."
Even Nevada Democrat and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid weighed in on the conversation.
"Although Senator Stevens flew in World War II with the flying tigers in the Senate, he will be known as a lion," said Reid.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called Stevens one of the "greatest men I’ve ever met" and said the stain will ultimately wash away from Stevens and his legacy, which before Stevens’ legal troubles had more to do with helping steer tax dollars to Alaska, rights for native Alaskans, fighting to open the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, and his quirky fascination with the Incredible Hulk.
"I always loved — loved that when he wore the incredible hulk tie," said Hatch. "I always got a big kick out of it. I even liked his crankiness because there was always a little smile behind that. he never held a grudge against anybody and he was always willing to lend a helping hand and to give good advice. and, frankly, I admire him so much. Ted, I believe this cloud will be lifted from you. and it should be."
Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-HI, who has also served longer than Stevens and is one of the few remaining World War II veterans left in the Senate said, "The events of recent weeks have been less than pleasant and at times dismal and heartbreaking," referring to Stevens convictions and loss. "But to my friend I say stand tall, Ted, because you have every good reason to do so. your good and courageous service to our nation is part of our history. It can never be obliterated."
Stevens spoke too, calling the Senate, where he has served for 40 years, his second home and acknowledged the regret he feels about leaving.
"I really must pinch myself to fully understand that I’m privileged to speak on the floor of the united states senate. coming from a boyhood I had I could never even have dreamed to be here today. and home is where the heart is, Mr.. president. if that is so, I have two homes one is right here in this chamber; and the other is my beloved state of Alaska. I must leave one — leave one to return to the other."
A pit stop along the way will be appealing his conviction in September on seven felony counts for hiding gifts on financial disclosure forms and hopefully for Stevens staying out of the Big House.
"I look only forward and I still see the day when I can remove the cloud that currently surrounds me. That’s it, Mr. President 40 years distilled into a few minutes. I close by saying and asking God bless Alaska and our governor, God bless the United States of America and our president, and god bless the senate and every member of this body. I yield the floor for the last time."