Senate Democrats

From Energy to Katrina Relief, Reid Says Together We Can Do Better

Washington, DC – Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid issued the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Remarks as prepared:

“Yesterday President Bush announced that he will nominate White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. I congratulate Ms. Miers on this high honor, and I pledge that Senate Democrats will work in good faith to ensure a dignified, thorough confirmation process.

“It is now well known that I suggested to President Bush that Harriet Miers would be worthy of the President’s consideration as a replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. I am grateful that the President took account of my views. But let me make clear that I have not endorsed this nomination. It would be entirely premature of me to do so.

“Over the coming days and weeks we will learn more about the nominee. The Judiciary Committee will hold comprehensive hearings. I do not intend to make up my mind about whether to support or oppose confirmation of this nominee until after the Committee hearings. The Supreme Court is the final guardian of the rights and liberties of all Americans, and with so much at stake we should not rush to judgment about this or any other nominee.

“But even at this early stage of the confirmation process, I will say that I am very impressed by what I know about Harriet Miers. She overcame difficult family circumstances to become the managing partner of a successful, 400-lawyer Dallas-based law firm. She was the first woman president of the Dallas Bar Association and then the first woman president of the Texas State Bar Association. In those roles she advocated the importance of racial and gender diversity in the legal profession, and was a strong supporter of legal services for the poor.

“Ms. Miers has not been a judge, but I regard that as a strength of her nomination, not a weakness. In my view, the Supreme Court would benefit from the addition of a justice who has real experience as a practicing lawyer. A nominee with relevant non-judicial experience would bring a different and useful perspective to the Court.

“The nomination of Harriet Miers bears some similarity to the nomination of Lewis Powell. At the time he was nominated by President Nixon in 1971, Powell had never been a judge. He had been a pillar of the Richmond, Virginia bar, just as Ms. Miers was a pillar of the Dallas, Texas bar. And Powell had served as President of the American Bar Association, just as Ms. Miers has served as President of the Dallas and Texas Bar Associations.

“I would welcome a return to the days when distinguished practicing lawyers and bar leaders were recognized as suitable candidates for high judicial office. In recent years, Supreme Court justices have been chosen exclusively from the ranks of the federal courts of appeals. The judges on the courts of appeals are often smart, well credentialed people, but the life of a federal appeals judge is insular and isolated. They know the law in an abstract way, but don’t always appreciate the impact of the law on the lives of real people.

“Federal judges are often wise, but there is a different kind of wisdom that comes from the day-to-day practice of law. In any event, there is certainly room for both kinds of judicial nominees on the Supreme Court.

“One thing we certainly need on the Supreme Court is independent thinking. Ms. Miers has been George Bush’s lawyer for more than a decade, and she is his friend as well. She needs to demonstrate to the Senate that she can put those close ties aside and, when necessary, stand in judgment of the President who has elevated her to the Court.

“In his press conference today the President said: “Harriet Miers knows the kind of judge I’m looking for.” But if she is confirmed, Ms. Miers must become the kind of judge that the American people are looking for — a judge committed to fundamental rights and freedoms.

“I look forward to the Judiciary Committee process which will help the American people learn more about Harriet Miers, and help the Senate determine whether she deserves a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court.

“But, I would remind the Senate that the nomination of Harriet Miers will not reach the Floor for some time, and in the meantime, there is other pressing work that demands our attention.

“After the failures of Katrina and a string of ethical scandals, it is more important than ever that we get to this work. The American people are tired of business as usual in Washington, and they want us to come together to get things done.

“They want change. They want reform. And they want a new direction. That’s what Democrats will be working for in the months ahead.

“We believe it’s time for all of us to unite and because together America can do better.

“Together, we can reform the culture of corruption and cronyism that is spreading through the nation’s capitol….a culture that led to Michael Brown at FEMA, the failures of Katrina and the Republican scandals we’re reading about now.

“Together, we can come together to help working families who are being pinched at the gas pump. In the short-term, we can investigate price-gouging. In the long-run, we can move our country closer to energy independence by the year two-thousand twenty.

“Together, we can meet our obligation to keep America strong and secure: we can make a real commitment to finding out what went wrong with Katrina and to fixing it; we can pass the Department of Defense Authorization bill; and we can insist the president provide our troops a clear strategy and path for success in Iraq.

“Together, we can confront the health care crisis by bringing down high costs and helping over 40 million uninsured Americans get the care they need.

“And together, we can show the American people that we understand our budget priorities must change following the worst natural disaster in our history. And that we understand that it is not time to cut Medicaid and cut education so we can spend more on tax breaks for special interests and multi-millionaires.

“In calling for spending cuts, the president today talked like a fiscal conservative, but for years, he’s spent like a fiscal wreck.

“While our deficits were mounting, he had no problem spending trillions of dollars in Iraq or on his tax breaks for the few.

“But now…in the wake of this disaster… when the federal government begins to help rebuild the lives of Americans who have lost everything – – he says he’s interested in fiscal discipline.

“Yet whose benefits would he cut? Just weeks after the economic and social divides in our country have been ripped open for all to see, he’s proposing deep cuts to the crucial services that help American families get ahead.

“Around the Gulf Coast, some of America’s neediest families suffered the most simply because they were poor. Now, while continuing to push for tax breaks for special interests, financed with more debt, the President wants Katrina’s survivors and other vulnerable Americans to pay for reconstruction too.

“America can do better….America must do better….And Democrats are committed to leading the way.

“And Mr. President, there is another area where we won’t give up the fight – – helping Katrina’s victims.

“The President today made a point of mentioning how he wants to pay for “rebuilding the Gulf,” but let’s not forget: we still have work to do rebuilding lives.

“This morning, the President was also asked about relief efforts, and if families are getting what they need. He said things are going “pretty good,” but anyone who has seen the news would question if that’s the case.

“Sunday’s Washington Post ran an article titled – – “Housing Promises Made to Evacuees Have Fallen Short.” This article talks about how tens of thousands of evacuees are still living in hotel rooms and face the possibility of eviction in less than two weeks.

“That’s not “pretty good.”

“Another story over the weekend explained that FEMA is stopping its cash assistance program for hurricane survivors. When that happens, many victims will have only unemployment insurance to turn to. Those who didn’t have a job when Katrina hit won’t be eligible for unemployment, and those that are eligible will find their benefit grossly inadequate.

“For example, a formerly self-employed person in Mississippi can expect to receive $86 a week to meet their family’s needs.

“That’s not “pretty good.”

“If you lost your home, your job, and all your possessions, would you be feeling “pretty good” that you had just $86 a week?

“America can do better.

“For weeks, Democrats have been trying to get victims the relief they need. Unfortunately, too many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have not shared our sense of urgency.

“Days after the storm, Democrats proposed a plan for comprehensive, emergency relief. It was introduced as S. 1637, the “Katrina Emergency Relief Act of 2005.” This legislative package was designed to get families assistance in four areas: Housing, Health care, Education and Financial relief.

“Here it is, more than a month later, while Senators Grassley and Baucus, among others, have been working hard, this Republican Senate has made almost no progress. In fact, most of the Senate’s time has been taken up by legislation that has little or no help for victims.

“Last Spring, Republicans in Congress and the President of the United States moved mountains in the middle-of-the-night to intervene in one Florida family’s tragedy. But today, when thousands of displaced families are struggling to survive, Republicans are sitting on their hands.

“America can do better. And we can start Wednesday by finally addressing the needs of Katrina’s victims in a comprehensive manner.”