By Julian Pecquet - 01/30/13 08:58 PM EST
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) choked up during a 50-minute farewell address Wednesday during which he called on his colleagues to break through partisan gridlock and ensure that the Senate remains “the world's greatest deliberative body.”
“On occasion, we've all heard a senator leave here and take their leave condemning the Senate for being broken, for having become an impossible setting in which to do the people's business,” he said. “Well, I want to be very clear about my feelings: I do not believe the Senate is broken.”
Kerry's speech was greeted by a standing ovation from the dozen or so lawmakers on the floor, most of them Democrats. His aides were in attendance, as was his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry.
He said the institution can always put parochial interests aside to serve the national interest, and said a “new generation of senators” has given him hope.
“I can't tell why, but I do think that it is possible this moment may see a turn in the spirit of the Senate,” he said. “There are new whispers of desire for progress, rumors of new coalitions and a sense of possibility, whether it is on energy or immigration.”
Kerry called on the Senate to break through partisan gridlock and get the nation's finances in order, or risk seeing America's standing in the world deteriorate. To get there, he said, lawmakers must confront the triple threat of decreased comity, money in politics and self-selecting facts and get to know and respect one another.
“If 100 senators really knew each other — and our leader [Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)] has really worked very hard to make this happen — then you can find the ways to work together.”
Kerry at times grew emotional during the wide-ranging address, during which he thanked aides, congressional staff and even journalists for their work helping the Senate run.
He teared up talking about his Senate desk, which was previously used by Sens. John and Edward Kennedy. And he reminisced about growing close to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as they put aside their differences over the Vietnam War to work together on returning the bodies of prisoners of war home.
Kerry will be sworn in as secretary of State on Friday afternoon by Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan at a private ceremony at the State Department.