Barbara Boxer's Senate colleagues offered a raft of heartfelt accolades Thursday, after the California Democrat's announcement she would not seek re-election .
“Senator Barbara Boxer is one of the finest public officials the state of California has seen,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said. “Her efforts to combat climate change and ensure we have clean air and clean water will be remembered long past her retirement.”
Boxer — who has made a career out of fighting for liberal issues, including strong environmental protections, gender equality and staunchly opposing the Iraq war — shares has a long history with Reid. They both were elected to the House just over 32 years ago.
The 1982 House class also boasted now-Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., another leading liberal voice.
"Barbara Boxer and I affectionately refer to each other a brother and sister. We are that close,” Durbin said Thursday. “I've said over and over again that if I had a fight on the floor of the Senate and I could pick only one colleague to stand by me, to be in that foxhole taking on whatever the opposition might be, it would be Barbara Boxer. She is tenacious, tough, committed, principled and I'm going to miss her a lot.”
As the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, Boxer has been a champion of addressing climate change. The top Republican, Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, is one of the staunchest climate change skeptics in Congress. Despite their polar opposite views, they have grown to be quite friendly as each held the gavel.
"She and I have debated probably more than any two people in every kind of forum you could think of," Inhofe said. "People are not going to believe this, but we're really good friends. And for the 28 years that we've served together in the House and the Senate, we've always had a mutual respect.
"Other than infrastructure, we haven't agreed on anything." Inhofe added.
Boxer is the ranking member on the committee for the 114th Congress and will need to help write a new bill reauthorizing transportation programs. The current law expires at the end of May.
“She still has a lot of work to do," said Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., who is a member of the panel. "We have a lot of work to do together on transportation. I'm going to make sure we get our money's worth out of my sister, Barbara." Colleagues also noted her role in boosting the number of women serving.
Boxer made the move from the House to the Senate in 1992, the same year as her California colleague, Democrat Dianne Feinstein.
Several women ran for the Senate that year spurred by the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearings and the tense questioning from an all-male Judiciary Committee of Anita Hill. That election became popularly known as the "Year of the Woman" with the total number of female senators rising to six.
“Everyone said it couldn’t be done, that's what made it a moment,” Feinstein said, recalling the 1992 election.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who was elected to the Senate in 1996, marveled at how things have changes since then. The 114th Congress has 20 female senators.
"In the last Congress we had a woman on every single Senate committee and that was not true back then at all," Collins said, adding that Boxer was an "effective voice for liberal causes" and her absence will leave a void on the Democratic side of the aisle.
In a release, Feinstein said she spoke with Boxer about her decision Thursday morning and she is confident her home state colleague will continue to be active on the issues she cares about.
“She is never one to shy away from any challenge, and I can’t thank her enough for being such a resilient collaborator,” Feinstein said in the release. “We blazed many trails together, and now I’m eager to see where her next steps take her.”
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., the longest-serving woman in the Senate, said she, too, would miss Boxer, one her "longest friends in Congress.”
"I've been ringside with the Boxer battles for many years,” Mikulski said. “I just have so much affection and admiration for her."
Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. called Boxer his "soul mate in the Senate" and lauded her environmental work, saying she " had the vision to promote a green economy, and she was one of the first to press for a cap on carbon emissions." "I am sorry to see her go, but there are still two years left," Biden said in a statement. "And two years of Barbara Boxer is like having four to six years of any other Senator."
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this article. Related: Barbara Boxer to Retire Roll Call Casualty List for the 114th Congress The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.