WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, called for an end of Senate Democrats’ obstruction of President Donald Trump’s nominees in a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday afternoon.
Below is the transcript of his remarks as prepared for delivery:
Over the past two years, some in this body have decided that they will oppose any nominee suggested by President Trump.
There isn’t a senator in this room who serves their state’s interest when qualified, noncontroversial nominees are prevented from being confirmed.
However, some members continue to do just that by
This concern about the speed of confirming nominees is not new.
For the benefit of those who were not here at the time, I’d like to take this opportunity to review some of the history on this subject and how we got to where we are today.
Since the rejection of Robert Bork’s nomination for Supreme Court in 1987, Republicans have felt like we were living under two sets of rules.
Republican Supreme Court nominees could be rejected by Democrats on ideological grounds if they didn’t pass their litmus test, but Republicans continued to vote to confirm otherwise qualified Democrat nominees who had what we might consider very radical views about interpreting the Constitution to mean things that it plainly doesn’t say.
Then, in 2003, Democrats entered the Senate as the minority party under a Republican president.
Prior to this time, there was simply no history of systematically opposing cloture to prevent judicial nominees from ever getting a final vote.
However, coaxed on by left-wing activists, Senate Democrats embarked on an unprecedented campaign of obstruction by filibustering several of President Bush’s judicial nominees to keep them from being confirmed.
When Democrats began to use the cloture rule to block Bush’s circuit court judges, we made it very clear that we were done living by two sets of rules.
We warned them that if they continued down that path, we would follow their precedent when the tables were turned, but the obstruction continued.
Not long after, and as they often so do in this chamber, the tables were turned.
President Obama entered office with a Democrat majority in the Senate.
True to our promise to not live by two sets of rules, we began to follow the precedent established by the Democrats and blocked a proportional number of President Obama’s judicial nominees.
Despite the fact that Republicans were holding Democrats to the same standard they established, Senate Democrats made a big show of being outraged and indignant about this equal treatment.
Senate Democrats began threatening to invoke the nuclear option to ram through President Obama’s nominees on a simple majority vote.
However, the minority and majority parties reached an agreement at the beginning of the 113th Congress where Senate Republicans agreed to institute a temporary standing order to limit post-cloture debate for sub-cabinet and U.S. district court nominees.
This agreement was made explicitly as a bipartisan compromise to avert the use of the nuclear option.
Then-Majority Leader, Harry Reid, stated on January 24, 2013, “I know that there is a strong interest in rules changes among many in my caucus. In fact, I would support many of these changes through regular order. But I agree that the proper way to change Senate rules is through the procedures established in those rules, and I will oppose any effort in this Congress or the next to change the Senate rules other than though the regular order.”
Despite this statement and the bipartisan agreement, the Democrat leader decided to pursue the nuclear option just a few months later.
At the time, Senate Democrats thought that Secretary Clinton would be president, and that forcing this rules change would benefit their agenda for the foreseeable future.
Our side saw this for what it was – a power grab that sought to steamroll the minority party.
Before Senator Reid invoked the nuclear option, we urged the Democrats to take a longer view.
We again warned that we were not about to play by two sets of rules, and they would regret their decision when the tables were turned.
I stood on the Senate floor on the day that Majority Leader Reid broke the rules to change the rules and made the following remarks: “If there is one thing that will always be true, it’s this: Majorities are fickle. Majorities are fleeting. Here today. Gone Tomorrow…”
So the Majority has chosen to take us down this path, the silver lining is that there will come a day when the roles are reversed.
When that happens, our side will likely nominate and confirm lower court and Supreme court nominees with 51 votes, regardless of whether the Democrats actually buy into this fanciful notion that they can demolish the filibuster on lower court nominees and still preserve it for Supreme Court nominees.”
As it so happens, that day did come, and the American people elected President Trump with a Republican majority in the Senate and House in November 2016.
Senate Democrats have since engaged in an unprecedented campaign to prevent a whole range of governmental positions from being filled by President Trump.
It used to be understood that it was in the American people’s interest to have a functioning government even if your candidate didn’t win the presidency.
The norm around here used to be that a new president’s cabinet positions were filled as soon as possible.
I know that the 2016 election aroused strong feelings and that many people were deeply disappointed when the candidate they expected to win did not win, to the point of not being able to accept the outcome.
A similar attitude arose when President Obama was elected with some people latching on to the “birther” conspiracy theory that President Obama was secretly born in Kenya and that this somehow made his presidency illegitimate.
However, this was always a fringe movement that Republicans in Congress did not take seriously and refuted.
The arms race of partisan grievance has now escalated to where U.S. Senators pander to “the Resistance” by preventing President Trump from filling out his administration more than half way through his first term.
Senate Democrats insist on going through the lengthy motion to end debate even for nominees for which there is little or no opposition.
This means that after being vetted by the White House and the Office of Government Ethics,
- answering a detailed questionnaire probing every aspect of their life,
- meeting with senators in person,
- going through a nomination hearing,
- and being voted out of committee,
nominees must wait, sometimes for months or years, before there is time in the Senate schedule to file a cloture motion.
The Senate must then allow for an intervening day to pass before it can vote to end debate, which often passes overwhelmingly. After all that, the cloture rule allows for an additional 30 hours of post-cloture debate.
I strongly support the Senate exercising its power of advice and consent.
If there are any concerns about any nominee’s ability or willingness to do the job and follow the law, members should come to the floor to hash through the merits of the nominee.
However, members on the other side of the aisle have obstructed the confirmation of a large number of noncontroversial sub-cabinet nominees and lower court judges.
In a great many cases, the demand for a cloture vote appears to be solely about delaying and obstructing, not the specific nominee.
As Chairman of the Committee on Finance, I want to highlight the experience of some of the nominees considered by that Committee.
So far this Congress, the Finance Committee has reported seven nominees that were originally reported last Congress but were not confirmed.
I want to make clear that the Finance Committee has a very thorough and bipartisan vetting process. Any nominee that has been reported by the Finance Committee can verify that we do not rubber stamp nominees.
However with the exception of one of the seven nominees that were re-reported, all of them have been reported unanimously, or with a maximum of two “No” votes.
Only one of those seven has been confirmed.
The U.S. Tax Court is a place where taxpayers are able to challenge an assessment of tax before actually paying the amount they are challenging. It is important that we keep the full roster of 19 tax court judges as full as possible. I don’t think any members would disagree with this statement.
I also am not aware of any criticism of the nominee currently on the Executive Calendar to the Tax Court. That nominee has been reported unanimously from the Finance Committee twice now, and yet there is no certainty about when that Senate will be able to consider that nomination.
This is unfair to nominees who submit to an extensive vetting process and put their professional lives on hold so they can serve, and to the American taxpayers who need these people to be working.
In 2013, the liberal Brennan Center for Justice issued dire warnings about a judicial vacancy crisis.
There were 65 unfilled seats on the U.S. District Courts and this was crippling the ability of those courts to dispense justice and protect the rights of Americans.
Senate Democrats picked up on these talking points and forcefully made their case.
There are now 129 vacancies on the district courts.
But the concern from Democrats has disappeared.
Last Congress I was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
By the end of last year, I had moved more than 30 highly-qualified district court judges to the floor.
Most of them had languished there for months.
A few had been in the confirmation process since 2017- all because Democrats insist on 30 hours of debate for every nominee — even though they often end up voting for them.
We had several more judges ready to be reported out of committee, but they were likely to face similar obstruction.
I haven’t been Judiciary chairman for three months and we are in a new Congress.
But you know how many of those district court nominees have been confirmed in this new Congress?
The vacancy crisis, by the Brennan Center’s definition, has nearly doubled.
Clearly it is a waste of this body’s time to use all 30 hours of debate after the cloture vote for almost every nominee that comes before the Senate.
The Senate was intended to be a deliberative body.
If senators want to engage in debate on a nominee, then by all means do it.
However, don’t make the Senate go through the motions if you have no intention of actually engaging in debate.
There is now before the Senate a proposal to limit post-cloture debate on sub-cabinet level nominees.
This proposal is very similar the one that passed the 113th Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support.
A number of senators from the other side of the aisle supported that measure. If they can’t support it this time around, what is their justification?
Again, we cannot have a different set of rules depending on which party is in the majority.
We need to agree on a common set of rules and norms that apply regardless of which party has the White House and or the majority in the United States Senate.
I note that there are quite a number of senators who see themselves in the White House in 2020. Do they really want to live under the precedent they are setting now?
If a senator who votes against virtually every Trump nominee gets into the White House, how should I proceed?
If one of the current Senate Democrats running for president gets elected in 2020, I will be disappointed and I surely won’t agree with most of their policies.
So should I then vote against all their nominees?
I would ask the presidential candidates, “Do you expect me to behave differently than you are right now if in the future the shoe is on the other foot?”
I don’t want to be part of a resistance against a future Democrat president.
I also don’t want to live by two sets of rules.
The solution is to end now this partisan total war where the other side must be stopped at all costs.
We need to come to a bipartisan agreement to end the tit-for-tat, cut-off-our-nose-to-spite-the-face environment we find ourselves in.
Senator Lankford’s resolution builds on the bipartisan agreement from 2013. But, it’s not perfect.
If Democrats have legitimate concerns, let’s work together on something better.
I have heard that the only change the Democrat leadership has proposed is to delay the effective date of the standing order until the start of the next presidential term.
Presumably that’s due to the same hubris that led them to invoke the nuclear option without imagining that they would soon regret it.
But, it’s impossible to defend that position on principle.
Surely there are some members on the other side of the aisle willing to work in good faith with Republicans to resolve this impasse in a way that takes into account the legitimate concerns of senators on both sides of the aisle.
I don’t believe that it is too late to bring the Senate back to the deliberative body the Framers of the Constitution intended it to be. It is in all of our interests to have a more functional Senate.
I hope my colleagues will join me in working towards this goal.