By Emily Goodin - 01/03/13 05:28 PM EST
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) returned to the Senate on Thursday after nearly a year's absence.
Kirk, who had a stroke in January 2012, walked up the Capitol steps holding a cane and with the help of Vice President Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
Cheers rang out as Kirk began his climb. He walked into the Capitol shortly before noon, when the 113th Congress was gaveled into session.
Biden, Manchin and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) escorted Kirk into the building and helped him take off his coat.
Kirk told the assembled reporters it was "good to see you" and then walked slowly into the Senate chamber.
"He looks terrific and speaks so, so well," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "I'm very, very proud of him."
Doctors said the stroke didn't affect Kirk's cognitive ability but did affect his mobility on the left side.
The senator is expected to use a wheelchair in the Capitol to get around more quickly.