For the past several months, the Senate has operated under a nuclear cloud. As a result of the Senate’s decision to reject a small number of President Bush’s judicial nominees, the Republican majority has threatened to break the Senate rules, violate over 200 years of Senate tradition and impair the ability of Democrats and Republicans to work together on issues of real concern to the American people.
It is astounding that Republicans would precipitate this destructive confrontation, especially since this President has a better confirmation rate than any of his recent predecessors. The Senate has confirmed 205 of President Bush’s judicial candidates and turned back only ten, a 95% confirmation rate. Ten rejected judges – only seven of whom are currently before the Senate – does not seem reason enough for Republicans to break the Senate rules.
My Republican colleagues claim that nominees are entitled to an up-down vote. That claim ignores history, including recent history. Throughout the years, many judicial nominees have been denied up-down votes. For example, according to the Senate Historian, Republicans filibustered Lyndon Johnson’s nomination of Abe Fortas to be Chief Justice.
During the Clinton Administration, almost 70 judicial nominees were bottled up in the Judiciary Committee and never received floor votes. In addition, Republicans engaged in explicit filibusters on the floor against a number of Clinton judges, and defeated a number of President Clinton’s executive branch nominees by filibuster. Some of the loudest proponents of the nuclear option opposed cloture on those nominees.
America is paying attention to this hypocrisy. Our citizens are alarmed at what the Republican majority is planning to do. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released yesterday, Americans oppose by 2 to 1 changing the rules to make it easier for the President to stack the courts with radical judges.
The American people have rejected the nuclear option because they see it for what it is — an unconstitutional abuse of power.
Regardless of political affiliation, Americans understand that this is a partisan power grab. Nearly half of the Republicans polled opposed any rules changes, joining eight in 10 Democrats and seven in 10 independents.
Over the last several months, I have spent a lot of time reaching across the aisle and talking with my colleagues about how to avoid this nuclear catastrophe. My door has always been open to responsible Republicans who do not want the Senate to head down this unproductive path.
I wrote to the Majority Leader on March 15 and expressed a willingness to find a way out. The Majority Leader replied two days later that he would offer a compromise for resolving this issue. One month later Democrats still await that proposal.
Now it appears that Republican leaders are not interested in compromise. The Majority Leader stated earlier today that he will not accept any compromise that does not provide for the confirmation of all of President Bush’s controversial nominations – including those that were previously rejected by the Senate.
Karl Rove, currently the Deputy White House Chief of Staff, has stated that the President will settle for nothing less than a 100 percent confirmation rate.
These are not positions that allow for compromise.
These are not positions that allow the Senate to proceed with the work of the American people.
There are positions that force a confrontation. These are positions that divert attention from the problems real Americans face – high gas prices, poor schools, inadequate health care coverage.
These positions demonstrate that Republican leaders are fiddling while Rome is burning.
Republican leaders don’t want compromise. Republican leaders don’t want Democrats to have a voice in this debate. Republican leaders don’t want any check on their quest for absolute power. They want total victory.
95% of President Bush’s nominees have been confirmed, but that isn’t good enough. The Majority Leader wants to break the rules and turn the Senate into a rubber stamp for the President. Ultimately this is about removing the last check in Washington against complete abuse of power — the right to extended debate.
Once that last check is gone, the radical right will be able to place one of their own on the Supreme Court. This is all about the Supreme Court. The radical right is angry with the decisions of Justices Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor, both of whom were appointed by Ronald Reagan. The radical right wants a different kind of Supreme Court – one that would roll back equality, liberty and the rights of all Americans.
Many of us understand who elected us to this body – the people sent us here, not Karl Rove, not James Dobson and not radical elements of our society.
There is a way to avoid the nuclear shutdown. I have outlined a proposal to my Republican colleagues in an effort to protect our independent judiciary and to preserve the Founding Fathers’ vision of the Senate.
I will keep the details of my conversations with other Senators private, but I want to talk about why compromise is necessary.
Democrats stand united against the unconstitutional nuclear option. We have a responsibility to protect checks and balances, not violate them. My offer protects those checks and balances.
My offer also renews procedures to allow home state Senators to have a meaningful say in who sits on the federal courts in their states. Those procedures encourage consultation and leads to the nomination of consensus judges, judges who can be confirmed unanimously in most cases.
Democrats have confirmed 95% of the President’s judicial nominees. The ten that were denied confirmation previously lack a commitment to the fundamental rights and liberties we hold so dear. But, to ensure that the Senate remains a check on the President’s power, especially for the Supreme Court, we are willing to compromise on this subject.
I believe my proposal strikes the right balance – it protects our democracy and the independence of our federal courts, it protects the American people and lets us do their business, and it breaks a partisan stalemate that is unnecessary and divisive.
I want to emphasize that any potential compromise is contingent on a commitment that the nuclear option will not be exercised in any form during this Congress. The threat to break the Senate rules must end.