WASHINGTON -- John Kerry bid farewell to the U.S. Senate Wednesday, insisting the institution isn't broken even as he detailed exactly how it is and pleaded for his soon-to-be former colleagues to do better.
"On occasion we have 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 try to do the people's business," said the Massachusetts Democrat, who is about to take up his new role as secretary of state.
"I do not believe the Senate is broken, certainly not as an institution," said Kerry, even as the body has seen nearly 400 filibusters over the last several years and the last session of Congress was one of the least productive in history. "There's nothing wrong with the Senate that can't be fixed by what's right about the Senate."
The Senate started this session by tweaking its rules on the filibuster, but Kerry insisted the rules aren't the problem -- it's the craven ambition of the lawmakers who make up its members.
"It's not the rules that confound us, per se. It's the choices people make about those rules," Kerry said.
"Frankly, the problems that we live through today come from individual choices of senators themselves, not the rules," he added. "When an individual senator or a colluding caucus determine that the comity essential to an institution like the Senate is a barrier to individual ambition or party ambition, the country loses.
"Those are the moments in which the Senate fulfills not its responsibility to the people, but its reputation as a sanctuary of gridlock."
Kerry argued that there are three things harming politics in America and the upper chamber of Congress -- the lack of comity, a deluge of money and a disregard for facts that makes honest debate impossible.
"I note these three challenges because I believe the Senate is going to be locked into stalemate, or our politics are going to be irreversibly poisoned, unless we break out," Kerry said.
Kerry, a Vietnam war veteran, also pointed to signs of hope, noting how the Senate now has 20 women and an openly gay member. He also said that developing close relationships is always possible, recalling how he and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) shared a poignant moment and found common ground when they visited the cell in Vietnam where McCain had been held prisoner during that war.
It is by developing such relationships that the Senate can heal itself, Kerry argued.
"The Senate can still work if we listen to and learn from each other," he said. "Let us in the Senate, or in the House, be bigger than our own districts."
He also made what sounded like a plea for his colleagues not to meddle in his own future trying to deal with America's foreign policy.
"They say that politics stops at the water's edge. That is obviously not always true," Kerry said. "But if we care for our country, politics has its limits at home and abroad. As I leave here, I do so knowing that forever the Senate will be in my soul and that our country is my cause and yours."
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.