Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee ranking member Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., asks questions during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 9, 2014. Top Obama administration officials told senators they're struggling to keep up with the surge of immigrants at the Southern border. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) AP Photo/Susan Walsh
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“Can we cheat history?”
Fighting back tears Wednesday Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) used his final words to the U.S. Senate to warn his colleagues of perils he perceives to the continued existence of the United States as a republic – but also to deliver a message of hope.
After thanking a number of Senate members and personal staff, Coburn quickly turned to a more serious topic reminding the dozens of his colleagues gathered for the speech that most republics in history have perished. Strict adherence to the Constitution and the founders' intent, Coburn said, was the only way the U.S. could buck that trend.
“Can we cheat history?” he asked rhetorically. “Can we do something better than has been done in the past?
“I honestly believe we can,” continued Coburn. “But I don’t believe we can if we continue to ignore the wisdom of our founding documents.”
WATCH: Coburn's emotional farewell to the Upper Chamber:
Coburn went on to issue a warning to his colleagues, suggesting many had abandoned their responsibility to protect and defend the Constitution, instead focusing their work on bringing back federal monies to their home states.
Invoking the oath all congressmen recite before entering office, Coburn said there is nothing in that oath about bringing back so-called “pork” to home districts.
“Your state is not mentioned one time in that oath,” he said. “Your whole goal is to protect the Constitution and its liberties. Its not to provide benefits for your state. Thats where we differ. That's where the conflict with my colleagues has come."
Coburn also apologized for offending some of his fellow senators over the years but did not shy from taking a veiled swipe at his frequent adversary Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
“Every senator has the power to introduce legislation and until recently offer amendments,” said Coburn. "No single senator should be able to decide what the rights of another senator should be. Thats tyranny. It has nothing to to with the history … of the Senate."
Coburn was likely referring to Reid's practice of so-called "filling the tree," a procedure by which he was able to control which amendments would be offered by which senators. Coburn also panned Reid's decision to bend longstanding Senate rules to allow 51 senators to approve of President Obama's nominees rather than 60.
Coburn's 20-years in Congress were in many ways defined by is steadfast opposition to any legislation, no how popular, that included waste or overspending. His blocking of such bills and his constant opposition to big government programs quickly garnered him the nickname "Dr.No."
Despite painting somewhat gloomy picture on the direction of the Congress however, Coburn suggested it is still too early to despair.
"I tell people everywhere I go… we do not have one problem we cannot solve," he said. "There is nothing too big for us. They're all solvable.”
In January Coburn announced his plans to retire citing his desire to return to life "as a citizen" and spend more time with his family.
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