Joe Biden, W.Va. Democrats honor Sen. Jay Rockefeller
CHARLESTON — Vice President Joe Biden says no one in the U.S. Senate commands more respect than the senior statesman from West Virginia.
Biden joined West Virginia Democrats at a fundraiser Saturday that doubled as a ceremony to honor Sen. Jay Rockefeller's nearly 50 years of public service in the state and 30 years in the U.S. Senate.
Rockefeller, 76, has said he will not seek re-election.
"No one in the Senate gets more respect than Jay Rockefeller," Biden said. "It's because of his integrity, his character."
Biden, who served in the Senate with Rockefeller for 24 years, said he learned from and worked with three men who would be in the Senate hall of fame if there was such a thing: Rockefeller, Robert C. Byrd, and Jennings Randolph.
"I don't think there is another state in the union whose leadership in the last half-century has left a more indelible mark on the U.S. and the Senate than West Virginia," Biden said. "These three great men had a common thread: They're all extremely bright, patriotic men who have a concern for ordinary people."
Biden added that he recalled how some said Rockefeller, then governor of West Virginia, ran for the Senate because "he was just trying to find a safe Democratic seat."
"Some said, 'He has nothing in common with us.' They didn't know you, Jay. They forgot the reason you came to West Virginia in the first place was to help. You and the other great ones had one common thought: Give everybody an even shot."
Rockefeller recalled that it was his work as a VISTA volunteer in Emmons, W. Va., that brought him to the state for the first time, in 1964.
"You can't spend two years in Emmons without your heart reaching out to education, health care, jobs," he said. "Every single day since my days in Emmons, I have never changed - I've fought for the same things. They made me who I am and I love them for it. It's all about helping people and the tougher the job, the deeper the satisfaction."
Sen. Joe Manchin praised Rockefeller for numerous landmark legislative achievements, including the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, which he said covered 40,000 West Virginia children and 8 million children nationwide, and the E-Rate program, which has helped connect classrooms to the Internet.
"He's helped West Virginia stand with dignity and hope every step of the way," Manchin said.
About 1,500 attended the sold-out fundraiser at the Charleston Civic Center.
Nearly 100 protesters gathered on the street outside, many with tea party "Don't Tread on Me" flags.