“It was such a shock,” the Democratic lawmaker recalls. “We just wanted to pitch in and help any way we could.”

Durbin “came with his chief of staff and told us they would do anything to work with us — legislation, constituent mail — to call anytime we needed him,” says Kate Dickens, who runs Kirk’s Senate office. “He said, ‘I’m your acting senator.’ It was very comforting.”

Durbin later visited the recovering senator at home, and they had a lengthy one-on-one conversation. Every commitment was fulfilled. Press releases were issued jointly; they co-sponsored legislation and undertook collaborative projects in their state. Their offices worked together closely. The Republican staffers recall that when questions persisted about whether Kirk would return to the Senate, it was Durbin who insisted that he would.

Their collaboration got results. Despite the logjam of judicial appointments, Durbin made sure that a Kirk appointee, John Tharp, was confirmed as a judge on the U.S. District Court in Northern Illinois.