Sen. John F. Kerry took his leave of Congress on Wednesday disputing those who have fled the Senate as broken, saying the chamber isn’t the problem — it’s his fellow colleagues and their decisions that threaten its greatness.
In a long and pointed lecture, Mr. Kerry, who was confirmed Tuesday to be the next secretary of state after 28 years in the Senate, said senators spend too much time chasing campaign money, are too willing to forsake comity to engage in partisan fights, and too often can’t even agree on basic facts.
“It’s not the rules that confound us per se, it’s the choices people make about those rules,” he said.
Mr. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, teared up twice in his 45-minute speech — the first time when he mentioned he was standing at the same desk used by former President Kennedy and his brother, former Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, and the second time when he remembered traveling to Capitol Hill in 1971 as an anti-war veteran.
President Obama tapped Mr. Kerry to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state, and he was overwhelmingly confirmed by his colleagues, 94-3, on Tuesday. About 20 of them came to the floor Wednesday to hear him deliver his final speech.
Mr. Kerry told them the Senate has indeed become more stratified. As the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, he said he has seen treaties defeated now that in earlier years would have passed unanimously.
He singled out President George H.W. Bush for agreeing to tax increases in 1990, which cost him the White House in the 1992 election, but that Mr. Kerry said was the kind of political courage that helped set the stage for eventual balanced budgets.
“The Senate and the Congress and the country need more of it,” Mr. Kerry said.