In 1997, Chuck Hagel had effusive praise for Strom Thurmond. Here's the video and transcript, via the Washington Free Beacon:
“This freshman, 6-month-old, humble Senator from Nebraska, wishes to thank Sen. Thurmond for the opportunity to learn from his experiences and his leadership. I wish to add my commendation to Senator Thurmond for his dedication, his commitment to our nation. I admire the strong example he has set for all of us, especially our young people. Mr. President, in a day when we do not have enough strong role models in this country, Sen. Thurmond is one. He is an example of a life well lived. He is a true American role model, an American hero.
“Sen. Thurmond is the highest-ranking 95-year-old in the nation, as far as I know, Mr. President. My only request is that I hope that during my time in the Senate I may conduct myself in such a way that Sen. Thurmond will remember me as his colleague and friend long after I have departed this body and Sen. Thurmond is still presiding.”