Dodd decries hyper-partisanship in Senate farewell speech

Retiring Sen. Chris Dodd thanked his colleagues, supporters and friends as he delivered his final speech on the Senate floor Tuesday. He urged Congress to find paths to bipartisanship. (Nov. 30)
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 30, 2010; 10:47 PM

Sen. Christpher J. Dodd decried an era of corrosive hyper-partisanship in his farewell address Tuesday, saying the political system is "completely dysfunctional" and telling his fellow senators that they could be effective only by working together.

In an emotional goodbye after 30 years in office, the Connecticut Democrat bemoaned the gridlock that he says has overtaken the Senate, where his late father, Thomas Dodd, had served for 12 years before him.

"Intense partisan polarization has raised the stakes in every debate and on every vote, making it difficult to lose with grace and nearly impossible to compromise without cost,'' Dodd said. "Americans' distrust of politicians provides compelling incentives for senators to distrust each other, to disparage this very institution and disengage from the policy making process.''

In a departure from typical partisanship, Dodd received praise and a standing ovation from colleagues who sat listening on both sides of the aisle. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), after embracing Dodd, called his remarks "one of the most important speeches in the history of the Senate."

Dodd said politics today "rewards only passion and independence, not deliberation and compromise."

"It has become commonplace to hear candidates for the Senate campaign on how they are going to Washington to shake things up - all by themselves," Dodd said. "May I politely suggest that you are seeking election to the wrong office. The United States Senate does not work that way, nor can it, nor should it."

"Simply put," Dodd added, "senators cannot ultimately be effective alone."

Dodd, 66, who ran for president in 2008, announced earlier this year that he would not seek a sixth term. He had slipped in the polls back home after it became known that he received mortgages under a VIP program.

Dodd's elected successor, Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal, sat watching the speech from the gallery and will be sworn into office in January.

Dodd, as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, was a key architect of some of the most consequential legislation of the past few years, including the health care overhaul, Wall Street bailouts and financial regulatory reform.

He also has been an outspoken defender of the Senate's traditions and rules. He had sharp words for his freshman and sophomore Democratic colleagues who would like to change the chamber's rules that allow the minority party to filibuster.

"I appreciate the frustration many have with the slow pace of the legislative process," Dodd said. He added: "In the end, this isn't about the filibuster. What will determine whether this institution works or not - what has always determined whether we will fulfill the Framers' highest hopes or justify the cynics' worst fears - is not the Senate rules, the calendar, or the media. It is whether each of the 100 Senators can work together - living up to the incredible honor that comes with the title, and the awesome responsibility that comes with the office.''

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