Retiring Sen. Chris Dodd devoted the bulk of his farewell speech Tuesday to warning younger Members not to change Senate rules next year.
“I certainly share some of my colleagues’ anger with the repetitive use and abuse of the filibuster. Thus, I can understand the temptation to change the rules,” the Connecticut Democrat said on the floor. “But whether such a temptation is motivated by a noble desire to speed up the legislative process, or by pure political expedience, I believe such changes would be unwise.”
Junior Democratic Members are pushing their colleagues for rules changes at the beginning of next year. Sens. Tom Udall (N.M.), Mark Udall (Colo.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.) each have their own proposals to tamp down on the use of the filibuster, while Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) has her own measure to do away with secret holds. Yet it is those rules that distinguish the Senate from the House and ensure the rights of the minority party, Dodd told his colleagues.
“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,” Dodd said. “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.”
Senior lawmakers hailed Dodd’s speech. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Dodd gave “one of the most important speeches in the history of the Senate about our beginnings, about our traditions.”
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) highlighted Dodd’s long tenure in the chamber and his most recent accomplishments, including his lead role in the health care overhaul debate while his close friend Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) battled cancer. He also applauded Dodd for steering a financial regulatory overhaul to passage this year, in what became the capstone of his legislative career.
While he devoted his farewell address to offering advice to junior Members, rather than reflecting on his legislative record, Dodd did note that the health care bill was the first measure he helped pass without any Republican support. He bemoaned the lack of bipartisanship in the chamber, but he reminded colleagues that relationships and collegiality are central to the Senate. “That is why the framers gave us six-year terms: so that members could build the social capital necessary to make the Senate function,” he said.
Dodd announced his retirement this year, after it appeared he was in increasing electoral danger back home. Richard Blumenthal (D) was elected to succeed him.