The Senate has a unique role in our government. It always has. It is the place where the two great political parties must work together if a common goal is to be reached. It is the legislative embodiment of individual and minority rights, a place where the careful design crafted by our Founding Fathers pretty much operates today the way they planned it 220 years ago.

We saw this 43 years ago with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when the two parties forged a difficult alliance to reach a great goal. Segregated buses and lunch counters are difficult to fathom now. But their end only came about through the kind of cooperative resolution that has marked this body from its start.

At its best, the Senate is a workshop where difficult challenges like civil rights are faced squarely — and addressed — with goodwill and careful, principled agreement. And at a time like our own, when so many issues of consequence press upon us, it must be nothing less.

Yet the challenges ahead will not be met if we do nothing to overcome the partisanship that has come to characterize this body over the past several years. A culture of partisanship over principle represents a grave threat to the Senate’s best tradition as a place of constructive cooperation. It undermines the spirit and the purpose of this institution. And we must do something to reverse its course.

The Senate can accomplish great things over the next two years, but this opportunity will surely slip from our grasp if we do not commit ourselves to a restoration of civility and common purpose.

And so, as we open this session, I stake my party to a pledge: when faced with an urgent issue, we will act; when faced with a problem, we will seek solutions, not mere political advantage.