Dodd says Senate should keep filibuster

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) on Tuesday bade an emotional farewell to the Senate, urging his colleagues to avoid making a change to its rules that would tarnish the chamber’s reputation. 

Dodd, who is retiring after the current lame-duck session, said the Senate should resist “unwise” changes to rules such as the filibuster. Some Democrats have talked about changing the filibuster, given the GOP’s use of the rule to block Democratic legislation, particularly the healthcare bill. 

“I can understand the temptation to change the rules that make the Senate so unique — and, simultaneously, so frustrating,” Dodd said. “The Senate was designed to be different, not simply for the sake of variety, but because the Framers believed the Senate could and should be the venue in which statesmen would lift America up to meet its unique challenges.”

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Dodd argued the Senate is in a deteriorated state because of the influence of money in congressional campaigns, the pressures of constant fundraising, the “24/7 political media industry,” the decline of traditional news outlets and the “intense political polarization” that has resulted.

“These changes have already had their effect on the Senate. The purpose of insulating one-half of the national legislature from volatile shifts in the public mood has been degraded,” he said. 

Recalling that the Connecticut Compromise of 1787 was forged by Connecticut residents Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth and designed to establish a bicameral U.S. legislature, Dodd said the careful planning that went into the Senate’s creation has been “degraded.”

Dodd argued that productive debates in the Senate depended on the personal relationships of individual senators.

“A legislative body that operates on unanimous consent, as does the Senate, cannot function unless the members trust each other,” he said in a 20-minute speech that drew nearly all 56 Democrats, several Republicans, dozens of Senate staffers and scores of family and friends. 

Dodd argued against change for the sake of change, and criticized newly elected senators who come to office with little respect for or understanding of the chamber’s traditions.

“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, or should it.”

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) called his former colleague on the Senate Rules Committee “my favorite Democrat.”

“We have just heard one of the most important speeches in the history of the United States Senate,” McConnell said.

Dodd’s farewell speech also included several moments of levity. He recalled that his maiden speech in the House was attended by almost no one, and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), a former comedian, approached Dodd just before his 4 p.m. speech and said in a loud voice, “I’ve got a call at 4:05.”