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|Grassley Floor Statement on Nominations and the State of the Senate|
|News Releases - General Info|
|Written by Grassley Press|
|Wednesday, 05 March 2014 09:16|
Prepared Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee
On Nominations and the State of the Senate
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Several weeks ago, on February 12th, as Washington D.C. braced for a snowstorm and the Senate rushed to finish its business before the President’s Day recess, the senior Senator from Arkansas came to the floor to offer a Unanimous Consent request to confirm a district court judge from his state.
Before he made the request, I spoke with that Senator – who to his credit, was one of only three Democrats to vote against the so-called Nuclear Option last November.
Although I was sympathetic to his desire to see his home state judge confirmed, I objected to his request to bypass the procedure the Majority adopted in November, including recorded cloture and confirmation votes.
I did so based on principle. I did so because, after 52 Democrats voted to strip the Minority of its rights, the very least we could do is ask the Majority to utilize the procedure they voted to adopt.
After all – the simple fact of the matter is that the Minority can no longer stop nominees. That was the whole point of what they did in November.
So the Senator from Arkansas offered his Unanimous Consent request, and I withheld my consent. We had our exchange on the floor.
But we did so courteously. As senators should.
Later that evening, the Majority Leader came to the floor and made another Unanimous Consent request. Senator Cornyn objected, for the same reasons as I had. Thereafter, the Majority Leader exercised the power that he alone possesses to move these judges, and filed cloture on four district court nominees.
That set up several votes for last Monday evening.
That evening, during our side’s hour of debate time – and that’s all we have anymore on district court judges, one hour of debate time for each side – I spoke on the current state of the Senate with respect to the legislative process.
I spoke about how the Founding Fathers intended the Senate to operate. I spoke about how the Senate used to operate. How it should operate. And sadly, how it does operate.
I spoke about how the Majority Leader routinely files cloture on bills before debate has even begun. I spoke about how in today’s Senate – in what is supposed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body – United States senators from great states all over this nation are shut out of the process.
As our side’s hour of debate time neared its end, the distinguished Chairman of our committee asked if I would yield him a few minutes of our time.
I of course agreed to extend him the courtesy.
I extended him the courtesy even though I knew he’d use that time to argue against everything I’d just said.
I extended him the courtesy because I know he’d do the same for me. And, as a matter of fact, he has done the same for me.
That’s the United States Senate. We’re courteous to each other. Even when we disagree.
As I said, that was Monday night.
On Tuesday morning, we had a series of stacked votes related to those district court nominees. We had several cloture votes, as well as confirmation votes. I voted against cloture – along with many of my colleagues. I don’t presume to speak for my colleagues, but I voted against cloture to register my objection to a process arrived at via brute force.
We also had roll call votes on each nominee.
But the Majority Leader wasn’t content to simply use the procedures he led his caucus to adopt last November.
He wanted voice votes rather than recorded roll call votes on those lifetime appointments.
I objected. And I exercised the right of a United States Senator to ask for a roll call vote of yeas and nays. I supported each of the nominees on final confirmation. Some of my colleagues opposed them. But even if the votes had been unanimous, the right to demand a recorded voted is one the most basic and fundamental rights of a United States Senator.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with exercising that right -- especially on a lifetime appointment.
Before we had that recorded vote, I took the opportunity to remind my colleagues of how well this President is doing with respect to getting his judges that he nominates confirmed by the United States Senate. Specifically, I informed everyone that thus far this Congress, we’ve confirmed 50 of President Obama’s judicial nominees. By way of comparison, at this point in President Bush’s second term, we had confirmed only 21 judicial nominees.
Those numbers compare district and circuit nominations. That’s the benchmark both sides typically use.
Those are basic, unassailable facts.
In response, the Majority Leader described our request for recorded votes as “a waste of taxpayer time.”
And then he concluded his brief remarks by saying this: “I would suggest to my friend the senior Senator from Iowa that he not believe his own words because they are simply not true.”
That was on Tuesday.
Two days later on Thursday evening the Majority Leader came to the floor and proffered a Unanimous Consent request for several district court judges. Senator Moran was on the floor at the time and objected for our side.
Thereafter, the Majority Leader filed cloture on 4 district court judges and the nominee to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division.
A few minutes later, the Majority Leader returned to the floor so he could, as he described it, “say a few words about the man who does all the objecting around here – or a lot of the objecting.”
He then proceeded to quote extensively from a speech I delivered in 2005.
He then accused me of violating senatorial courtesy during floor consideration of the immigration bill because I objected to consideration of amendments approved by Democrats, without assurances that we would vote on amendments that members on my side wanted to offer.
Even if some of the amendments the Democrats wanted had bipartisan support, I was the Senator standing up and defending the right of our members to offer amendments. Even controversial amendments.
To be clear. I was prepared to vote on any Democrat amendment, provided that Republican amendments were not restricted.
The Majority Leader then concluded his highly discourteous remarks by saying this: “the Senior Senator from Iowa, he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth and the people of Iowa should check this out. [They should] see what he says and what he does.”
Given how inappropriate these remarks were, and that they roughly coincided with several other inappropriate comments the Majority Leader made last week, I feel compelled to respond.
Let me start by reviewing briefly how we arrived where we are today. As I said, the Majority Leader quoted from a speech I delivered in 2005.
For the benefit of my colleagues who weren’t here at the time, that was back when the Democrats were indiscriminately filibustering a host of President Bush’s highly qualified nominees for the circuit courts.
And make no mistake, the Democrats were utilizing the filibuster on judges to an extent never witnessed before in our nation’s history.
During this time period, they were filibustering 10 different circuit court nominees.
So like I said, the Majority Leader quoted from a speech I delivered during that debate, on May 23, 2005.
What he failed to mention is that 6 days earlier, on May 17, 2005, he said this on the Senate floor regarding the nuclear option:
“It appears that the Majority Leader [referring to Senator Frist] cannot accept any solution which does not guarantee all current and future judicial nominees an up-down vote. That result is unacceptable to me because it is inconsistent with the Constitutional checks and balances. It would essentially eliminate the role of the Senate minority in confirming judicial nominations and turn the Senate into a rubberstamp for the President’s choices.”
I’m not going to re-litigate that fight today, except to say this. At the time, Republicans, myself among them, were arguing those nominees should be afforded up and down votes.
But as the quotation I just read demonstrates, the Democrats refused.
At the end of the day, our side lost that debate.
We didn’t believe judicial nominees should be subjected to a 60 vote threshold. But nor did we believe that we should play by two sets of rules.
So when the roles were reversed and there was a Democrat in the White House, Republicans utilized the tool as well. The only difference was that we used it much, much more sparingly.
But the Democrats, of course, didn’t like being treated to the tactic that they pioneered. So, they began to threaten to utilize the so-called Nuclear Option.
A lot of negotiations ensued between our side, and the Majority Leader. And again, I’m not going to review every detail. But as any member of this body can tell you, the result of those negotiations was this: We relinquished certain rights regarding nominations.
For instance, District Court nominations used to be subject to 30 hours of debate time. They are now subject to only 2 hours.
In exchange for relinquishing those rights, the Majority Leader of the United States Senate gave his word that he would oppose ANY EFFORT to use the Nuclear Option.
On January 27, 2011, the Majority Leader said this on the Senate floor: “I will oppose any effort in this Congress or the next to change the Senate’s rules other than through the regular order.”
Notwithstanding that promise, at the beginning of the next Congress, we were once again on the receiving end of threats regarding the Nuclear Option. And once again, on January 24, 2013, after a lot of negotiations, the Majority Leader again gave his commitment.
Here is what the Majority Leader said on the floor of this chamber:
“Any other resolutions related to Senate procedure would be subject to a regular order process, including consideration by the Rules Committee.”
That commitment mattered. It mattered to me. It mattered to my colleagues. We relinquished certain rights. In exchange for extinguishing those rights, we received a commitment from the Majority Leader of the United States Senate.
And remember, colleagues. This is the United States Senate. Not only are we courteous to one another. We keep our word.
10 months after making that commitment, on November 21, 2013, the Majority Leader and 51 other Democrats voted to invoke the Nuclear Option. They chose to adopt a new set of procedures for confirming judges.
So that is how we got where we are today.
And yet, three months later, when the Minority has the audacity to insist that the Majority utilize the procedures they voted to adopt, the Majority Leader comes to the floor to level an ad-hominem attack.
Amazingly, given the commitments he made at the beginning of the last two congresses, he accused me of speaking out of both sides of my mouth.
The fact of the matter is there is absolutely nothing wrong with demanding debate time and roll call votes – especially on lifetime appointments to the Judiciary. And especially after the Majority chose to adopt these very procedures just last November.
That’s not “a waste of taxpayer time,” as the Majority Leader called it. It’s representative government.
And while I’m on the subject of the floor procedure, let me say this about the legislative process we’ve been following on the floor.
I spoke at length on this subject last Monday – just as I have on several other occasions. I’ve been highly critical of the process we follow these days on the floor.
But I’ve always tried to avoid making my criticisms personal. I’ve always tried to be courteous.
But there is no getting around this fact: it’s nothing short of a travesty that great senators from all over this nation must go to the Majority Leader to ask permission to offer amendments.
Proud senators from proud states.
Republican senators and Democrat senators.
Conservative senators. Liberal senators.
Northerners and Southerners.
Appropriators and Authorizers.
Hawks and Doves.
All of these senators have been reduced to this: They are forced to come before one individual, on bended knee, to ask permission – PERMISSION – to offer amendments.
That is NOT as it should be in the world’s greatest deliberative body.
So am I highly critical of the legislative process we undergo on the floor? Absolutely I am.
But I didn’t criticize the Majority Leader in a personal or discourteous way. I didn’t accuse him of “talking out of both sides of his mouth,” as he did me.
I wasn’t attacking him personally: I was defending the rights of 99 other senators.
And what, exactly, is the Majority afraid of, anyway? Taking a few hard votes?
We’re paid to take hard votes. We’re sent here to exercise our best judgment on behalf of our constituents.
That’s how our Republic is designed.
It does not have to be this way.
Consider how amendments are handled in the Judiciary Committee, for example.
Our Chairman DOES NOT tell us what amendments we’re allowed to offer. Nor does he tell us how many amendments we’re allowed to offer.
He controls the agenda. But WE get to offer amendments.
As a result, every single member of our committee – whether they like it or not -- contributes to the process.
The Chairman controls the agenda. The Minority offers amendments. And the Majority has to vote on those amendments. That’s the process.
That’s what happens when you have a Chairman who respects the rights of United States senators.
There is absolutely no reason we couldn’t take the same approach on the floor.
Now, let me mention one other thing about what the Majority Leader said the other night, because I found it particularly offensive.
Immediately after accusing me of “talking out of both sides of my mouth,” the Majority Leader suggested that the people of Iowa should pay attention to what I say and what I do.
Let me tell you something.
The people of Iowa know who they’ve elected to the Senate. They know that ever since I was first sworn-in to this body in January of 1981, I have fought all day, every day, to represent them.
I know my constituents, and they know me.
I go to constituent meetings in every one of our 99 counties every year.
I talk to my constituents. I read their mail.
And I know, for instance, how hard Obamacare has been on families in my state.
So I find it personally offensive for the Majority Leader to come to the floor –as he did last Wednesday - and accuse Americans – including my constituents – of telling lies when they share their stories about how Obamacare is impacting them.
So, last Thursday evening the Majority Leader came to the floor so he could, as he described it, “say a few words about the man who does all the objecting around here.”
Well, Mr. President. Do I object? You bet I do.
So do the rest of my committee members. And so does the rest of our caucus.
We object to the authoritarian way this Senate is being run.
We object to being shut out of the legislative process.
We object to dismissing constituent stories about Obamacare as lies.
We object to taking to the floor of the United States Senate to attack fellow citizens as “un-American” because they have the audacity to exercise their First Amendment rights.
And yes, we object to discourteous ad hominem attacks on Senate colleagues because they choose to exercise their right to demand roll call votes on lifetime appointments.
It should stop. The Senate should return to being the greatest deliberative body in the world.
I yield the floor.
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