WASHINGTON (AP) — Retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman on Wednesday used his final Senate floor speech to urge Congress to put partisan rancor aside to break Washington's gridlock.
"It requires reaching across the aisle and finding partners from the opposite party," said Lieberman. "That is what is desperately needed in Washington now."
The Democrat-turned-independent from Connecticut is leaving the Senate in January after 24 years. He said strong bipartisan leadership is needed to solve the nation's most pressing problems, such as the looming fiscal cliff budget crisis. Washington gridlock stands as "the greatest obstacle" to finding compromises to make major progress on those problems, he said.
Lieberman, 70, nearly won the vice presidency on the Democratic ticket with running mate Al Gore in 2000. He would have been the first Jewish vice president.
He also made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. Four years later, he was under serious consideration in 2008 to be then-Republican presidential nominee John McCain's running mate. He and McCain are friends known for their hawkish views on military and national security matters.
Lieberman's independent streak has often rankled Democrats, the party he aligned with in the Senate.
He lost the last time he ran for the Democratic Senate nomination in Connecticut, in 2006. But he rebounded and won a new term running as an independent in a three-way race after many of his Democratic allies, including former Sen. Chris Dodd, supported the party's nominee, Ned Lamont. After his re-election, Lieberman decided to caucus with Democrats in the Senate, who let him head a committee in return.
Yet in 2008 he supported McCain, drawing the ire of many Democrats. Lieberman's decision to speak at the 2008 GOP presidential nominating convention especially angered Democrats. The speech he gave contrasting McCain and 2008 Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, then a first-term senator from Illinois, struck a deep nerve with many Democrats.
"In the Senate, during the 3 1/2 years that Sen. Obama has been a member, he has not reached across party lines to ... accomplish anything significant, nor has he been willing to take on powerful interest groups in the Democratic Party to get something done," Lieberman said at the time.
After the 2008 election and at Obama's urging, Senate Democrats decided not to punish Lieberman for supporting the GOP ticket. They voted to let him keep his post as leader of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Obama was eager to strike a bipartisan tone for his presidency.
Lieberman drew national attention in 1998 when he gave a politically explosive speech on the Senate floor criticizing then-President Bill Clinton, his friend of many years and a fellow centrist Democrat, over the Monica Lewinsky affair.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Wednesday that while he did not always agree with Lieberman, he respected him.
"Regardless of our differences, I have never doubted Joe Lieberman's principles or his patriotism," Reid said. "And I respect his independent streak, as it stems from strong convictions.