Kerry laments 'toxic Washington' partisanship while honouring predecessor Condoleezza Rice

Matthew Lee / The Associated Press
June 18, 2014 01:42 PM

FILE - This March 15, 2014 file photo shows former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaking in Burlingame, Calif. In a rare display of bipartisan civility, Democrats and Republicans have come together to honor former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. At a luncheon ceremony Wednesday to unveil Rice’s official State Department portrait, Secretary of State John Kerry lamented that partisanship in Washington has become, in his words, “toxic.” But he quickly added that the practice of diplomacy is bipartisan and that all secretaries of state are committed to projecting American power, values and leadership abroad. Kerry said the State Department is one of the few places in the capital where “bipartisanship can work.” (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

WASHINGTON - Democrats and Republicans came together on Wednesday to honour former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a rare display of bipartisan civility.

At a luncheon ceremony to unveil Rice's official State Department portrait, Secretary of State John Kerry lamented that partisanship in Washington has become "toxic." But he quickly added that the practice of diplomacy is bipartisan and that all secretaries of state are committed to promoting American ideals and leadership abroad.

"We serve here in a job at the pleasure of a president, but all of us work for our country and without connection to party ideology or to politics," Kerry told a crowd of current and former Republican and Democratic political appointees and career diplomats who have served under commanders in chief of both persuasions.

"All of us in this room are regrettably much too aware of how toxic Washington has become," he said. "Turn on the TV or the radio, you pick up the newspaper, and sometimes it's very difficult to see where or when or even if the politics even stop. And while it's never ever been true that the politics quite stop at the water's edge ... I will still share with you that whatever their politics, every single secretary of state alive today is committed to the same thing: that America project its strength effectively and always lead in a complicated world. "

Kerry said the State Department is one of the few places in the capital where "bipartisanship can work," adding: "That is part of what makes this day and this institution so very, very special."

In her remarks, Rice, whose invited guests included President George H.W. Bush's national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and President George W. Bush's chief of staff Andy Card, allowed that "these are very difficult times." But she also pointed to continuity in foreign policy priorities, including the projection of American "power and principle" across administrations of both parties.

Rice served as George W. Bush's first national security adviser and then secretary of state during the height of the war in Iraq. When considering current crises in the Middle East, she appealed for U.S. leaders to remember their country's own imperfect past and the length of time it took the republic to repair early mistakes.

"I think we Americans, more than any peoples, should perhaps be a little bit more patient with those who have thrown the yoke of tyranny and are trying to find their way to stable democracy," she said.

"It is not going to happen tomorrow, and indeed, if you read today's headlines, you wonder if it's ever going to happen," she said. "But let me just assure you that today's headlines and history's judgment are rarely the same."


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