Washington, DC – Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid delivered the following remarks today on the floor of the United States Senate.
Remarks as prepared:
“Today the Senate Judiciary Committee begins hearings on the nomination of John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the United States. I am confident that Chairman Specter, Ranking Member Leahy and the other Committee members will do a good job exploring the nominee’s qualifications for the job and his judicial philosophy.
“There is a great deal at stake in these hearings. If confirmed, Judge Roberts will serve as Chief Justice for the next several decades. He will be the head of the third branch of the federal government and the most prominent judge in the country. The Senate’s duty to render Advice and Consent with respect to his nomination is one of the most critical tasks we will undertake in this Congress.
“I am proud that no Democrat has pre-judged the Roberts nomination. Some may be leaning toward supporting him and others may be leaning against, but every Democrat agrees we need to wait for these hearings before making a final decision. That is the responsible way to approach a nomination like this. I look forward to hearings that are respectful, dignified and thorough. I have encouraged Judge Roberts to answer questions fully and forthrightly.
“I, for one, am enormously impressed by Judge Roberts’s career and his obvious legal skills. I enjoyed meeting with him in my office soon after he was nominated. But I am troubled by memos that he wrote during the Reagan Administration regarding women’s rights and other civil rights issues. In more recent years, he has been a thoughtful, mainstream judge on the D.C. Circuit.
“I want to give Judge Roberts an opportunity to convince the Senate and the American people that as a Supreme Court justice he would continue to be a fair, even-handed judge and not revert to his ideological roots. If he can meet that test, I can support him. If he is not persuasive on that point, I cannot support him. The burden is on Judge Roberts.
“Mr. President, the Supreme Court hearings are likely to dominate the news today. But let’s all remember, these hearings are about whether one man is qualified to fill one job.
While we carefully weigh that important decision, I must remind my colleagues that there are hundreds of thousands of Americans without jobs, without homes, and they are losing hope as a result of our inaction. We must get our priorities in line.
“It has been nearly two weeks since flood waters poured into Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. That’s two weeks thousands of families have gone without permanent shelter, schools for their kids, health care for their injuries and the resources they need to pick up and move on with their lives.
“In the Senate, we’ve passed two supplemental bills. That’s a good start, but it’s not nearly enough.
“Along with Senator Landrieu, my colleagues and I introduced the Katrina Emergency Relief Act last week. The Act would make the changes in law we need to give survivors health care, housing, education and financial relief. We are trying to add related provisions to the Commerce Justice and Science appropriations bill.
“We had hoped the Senate would act on these items promptly, but now understand the Majority will use procedural devices to hold them up.
“It’s unfortunate. Thousands of survivors still are living on cots in the Astrodome and make-shift shelters scattered across the country. These victims don’t care about Senate procedures. They just know they need help….not more red-tape.
“America can do better, and we will continue to press for action on these items in the days ahead. The government turned its backs on Katrina’s victims once. We should come together and make sure it does not happen again.
“Mr. President, in addition to votes on the four amendments to the Commerce Appropriations bill, we should help victims – and our troops — by immediately bringing the Defense Authorization bill to the floor.
“Unlike the Commerce bill, the Defense bill is an amendable vehicle. Through the bill, the Senate would be able to act on legislation that will help Katrina victims.
“Just as importantly, we need to act on the Defense bill so we can get our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families the resources and support they deserve.
“The Defense bill delivers a better quality of life, state of the art equipment and new housing for our troops and their families. It provides critical health care benefits for reservists, guardsman and veterans. It also increases the end strength of the army and marine corps, so we can begin to take some of the stress off of our over-stretched active duty force.
“This bill should be at the top of our Senate agenda, but it is not.
“Even though the Defense Authorization bill was reported out of the Armed Services Committee in May, the Senate has not been permitted to complete action on this important measure. We were working on this bill for a short time in July, before the Majority Leader decided to set it aside in favor of gun legislation.
“America can do better. The Defense bill should be taken off the back burner today. Our troops and the victims of Katrina deserve more.
“Mr. President, in the days ahead, we will owe the victims of Katrina – and all the American people – something in addition to relief. We will owe them answers.
“Four years after 9/11, the government was supposed to be prepared for a crisis like Katrina. Yet as we all saw, the federal government was not, and we owe it to the American people to find out why.
“Today I heard on the radio the story of St. Bernard President Henry “Junior” Rodriguez who told of how it took five or six days before he saw any federal officials in his town. The first outside help he got was from Canadian Mounties from Vancouver.
“Mr. Rodriguez deserves to know why it took so long to get him help.
“America can do better. When we searched for answers following 9/11, Democrats and Republicans came together and established an independent, blue-ribbon Commission. It was a great success. Democrats, Republicans, and most importantly, the American people, embraced its answers. As Senator Clinton has proposed, we need another independent commission now.
“Mr. President, I would like to close by reminding everyone here that times have changed. We have different priorities after Katrina, and our actions in the weeks ahead should reflect that. It’s not business as usual for families along the Gulf, and it shouldn’t be business as usual for us here.
“No where is this more clear than in the budget.
“I would point out to everyone here the results of the recent Census Bureau report. Poverty rose for the fourth year in a row. Incomes dropped again. And more Americans are going without health care than the year before.
“Now, combine those facts and figures with the images of Katrina – images of the poorest and neediest among us bearing the brunt of a national tragedy, and ask yourself this question: should we proceed with a budget that cuts taxes for the rich at the expense of Medicaid, food stamps and other programs for the neediest among us?
“The answer is no, and we must revisit the priorities set in the budget resolution.
“America can do better. We can’t change the past, but we can change the future. We can put the Senate’s priorities in line with the America people, and there’s no excuse not to.”