Democrats Stand United against
Republican Abuse of Power
Monday 16 May 2005
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
The Majority Leader has stated that the Senate will turn to the subject of judicial nominations this week. Democrats are ready for this fight. We stand united against an outrageous abuse of power that would pack the courts with out-of-the-mainstream judges.
The time has come for Republican Senators to decide where they stand. Will they will abide by the rules of the Senate, or break those rules for the first time in 217 years of American history? Will they support the checks and balances established by the founding fathers, or vote to give the president unaccountable power to pick lifetime judges?
While Democrats are ready to debate this issue, I am deeply pained that we need to do so. The Senate in which I have spent the last 20 years of my life is a body in which the rules are sacrosanct. We may choose to amend the rules by two-thirds vote. We may enter into unanimous consent to waive the rules. But never before in the history of the Senate has a partisan majority sought to break the rules in order to achieve momentary political advantage.
If this happens, it will be a short term win for my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, but a long term loss for the Senate and for the American people.
In an effort to avoid this confrontation and preserve constitutional checks and balances, I have made every effort to be reasonable. Last Monday I offered to have an up-down vote on Thomas Griffith, a controversial nominee to the D.C. Circuit. Last Thursday I offered to have an up-down vote on three nominees to the 6th Circuit, two of whom were filibustered last year.
These are not judges Democrats would choose. But we know the difference between opposing bad nominees and blocking unacceptable ones.
In making these good faith offers, I asked the majority: Do you want to confirm judges or do you want to provoke a fight? Regrettably, my proposals were rejected.
Separate from these offers, I wrote to the Majority Leader last week and suggested two ways to end the impasse:
First, I made clear that my previous offer to allow an up-down vote on one of the four most controversial nominees remains on the table.
Second, I suggested that we consider changing the rules in accordance with the rules - if the Majority Leader were to put his proposal in the form of a Senate resolution and allow it to be referred to the Rules Committee, Democrats would take his proposal seriously and expedite its consideration.
Neither of these good faith suggestions has been accepted, and it's clear why. Republicans in the Senate demand to have it all. A 95% confirmation rate isn't good enough. Votes on some of the most controversial nominees isn't good enough. They are prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve total victory.
Meanwhile, the White House appears to be pulling the strings.
Several weeks ago the President assured me that he would play no role in this debate. Shortly after that, Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove was quoted as discouraging any middle ground. Then Vice President Cheney gave a speech in which he encouraged the nuclear option. On Friday the Washington Times said that White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan "flatly rejected any talk of a compromise that would confirm only some of the president's seven blocked nominees."
It's disturbing that the White House is playing an aggressive role to discourage compromise. Every high school student in America learns about checks and balances. The Senate's Advice and Consent role is one of the most important checks on executive power. The White House should not be lobbying to change Senate rules in a way that would hand dangerous new powers to the President over two separate branches - the Congress and the Judiciary.
Of course the President would like the power to name anyone he wants to lifetime seats on the Supreme Court and other federal courts. But that's not how America works. The Constitution doesn't give him that power, and we should not cede that power to the Executive Branch.
As the Majority Leader admitted during his debate with Senator Byrd last week, there is no constitutional right to an up-down vote on judicial nominees. If there were, more than 60 of President Clinton's nominees had their rights violated.
In fact, the Senate has rejected hundreds of judicial nominations over the years, some by up-down votes, some by filibuster, and some by simple inaction. In each case, the Senate was acting within its authority under the Advice and Consent Clause of the Constitution.
Senator Frist says he wants a Fairness Rule, but a rule allowing the President to ram extreme judges through the Senate is unfair to the American people.
Meanwhile, we need to get back to the people's business, and put the people over partisanship. We were sent here to govern, and right now we're not doing that. Gas prices are up, families have lost health insurance, pension plans are unstable, and the situation in Iraq is grave. The Senate is fiddling, while Rome is burning.
I will continue talking to the Majority Leader, and I know other efforts at compromise are under consideration. But unless cooler heads prevail, this confrontation will be upon us later this week. And if it comes to a vote, Democrats and responsible Republicans will vote to preserve checks and balances, and preserve the principle that the Senate rules must not be broken.
The eyes of the Nation are upon the Senate. There have been few moments of truth like this one. The American people will see whether the Senate passes this historic test.