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tv   US Senate  CSPAN  April 27, 2016 12:00pm-2:01pm EDT

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agreement with iran. i yield the floor. mrs. feinstein: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from california. mrs. feinstein: madam president, may i speak for three minutes prior to the cloture vote? the presiding officer: is there objection? without objection. mrs. feinstein: thank you very much, madam president. we have the democratic leader on the floor and the chairman of the energy and water appropriations subcommittee. i want him particularly to know how very much it has meant for me to work with him to try to reverse an order of deterioration of this body. and that order of deterioration was the inability to pass an appropriations bill on its own and go back to what's called regular order. i've watched the appropriations committee lose prestige over the
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years. i've watched something happen which has never happened in the early years. members would vote for a bill in committee. they would come out and they would sustain it on the floor. and so the appropriations committee gained, i think, a prestige and an honor in this body. and i think it's been very wounded. so the ability of senator alexander, my chairman, and myself to try to restore that order by sitting down and working out problems and seeing he gives, i give, we put together a bill, we believe that bill can get through this body and that we can conference that bill successfully, is a really big deal and can change the nature of this body. and we can show that we can get our job done. well, into this climate which is so amicable and so positive
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comes an amendment. i go to the white house, i pick up the phone, i call the chief of staff. i say this is an amendment. it may affect the iran deal. i'd like to know what the administration's position is. and the word comes back that the administration will veto this bill if these words are on it. so i began to learn a little bit about heavy water, what it is and what it is not. and how this all came about. so i understand the administration's problem with it, because it destroys something that they are trying to do with the iran agreement, which is to show iran a legal pathway which it can proceed to go in to the family of nations
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in a moderate way. iran happens to have a foreign minister who i have known for at least 15 years. i know he believed in this iranian agreement. i know he wanted to take iran in another direction. and i know it because he proposed an earlier plan when he was ambassador to the united nations. the presiding officer: senator, your time is expired. mrs. feinstein: may i ask for such time as i may consume? and i will be short. mr. alexander: no objection to that. the presiding officer: is there objection? without objection. mrs. feinstein: to make a long story short, this body discussed the joint agreement, and we agreed that the president should go ahead and implement this agreement. and now there are difficult problems because iran is emerging and wanting to come into the family of nations in a
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positive way. they had to get this heavy water out. the heavy water is out. it's sitting in a storeroom in oman. iran to desires to sell it just as indian sells heavy water, canada has sold heavy water to us. and that heavy water is used for peaceful purposes. as the chairman said, for fiber optics, for medical research, our national labs are interested in it. and there are many people that would -- or many companies that would use it even to improve fiber optics on car skins and that kind of thing. so it's a way of removing proliferation from the country. and this is suddenly on our energy and water bill.
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i believe that we have the votes to not enter into cloture at this time. i guess what i want to say is my very deep regret to my chairman. i don't want it to end this way. i want us to continue to work together. i truly believe that it is more in the interest of this country that we can do appropriations bill in regular order, with concurrence on both sides of the aisle than the value of this amendment. and this amendment has raised hackles all over. so why can't it be left for another day? why does it need to be on an appropriations bill? why can't we have the ability to do one bill in this house that doesn't have a poison pill on it, to set an example for future
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bills? this was the bill, you and i both know that, that was supposed to do that. why can't a member see this? maybe he's a new member. maybe he doesn't understand what the years have been. why can't he wait for another time? i've been here 24 years. i waited for another time plenty of times because somebody said your amendment won't go well with the bill. don't do it now. we may help you later. and i did it. why destroy our chances? because that's exactly what's happening. so i just want chairman alexander to know how very sad i am that we are at this point. i believe it is not necessary to be at this point. i believe we could show that we could do it. i would say that if cloture is not granted that we stand ready to continue to work to try to
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get a bill. but i would so appreciate it if a new member could recognize this and say, oh, i wanted to do this. it's my right to do it, all of which i admit. but what you're doing is going to disturb our effort to produce a series of appropriations bill without poison pill riders. i will predict that there will be more on other bills. and our effort, which the majority leader began with the democratic leader, to be able to put together a process where we could produce bills. please, mr. senator, think about that. thank you very much. mr. alexander: i will make brief remarks. the presiding officer: the senator from tennessee. mr. alexander: and then we can
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vote. we are not debating the iran agreement here today. this is the energy and water bill, the appropriations committee. we're not even debating the cotton amendment. it's not even part of the bill. senator cotton has filed an amendment that could be part of the bill if the senate decides to adopt it in our debate after we adopt cloture. he has done that -- just to repeat -- over the weekend the u.s. department of energy without any consultation with anybody in the senate that i know about, without the intelligence, armed services, foreign relations committee, decided it was going to buy heavy water from iran. the senator from arkansas introduced an amendment on the subject. my understanding of the way the senate is supposed to work is that we save the controversial amendments to the floor, and if you can get 60 votes you pass them.
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and as united states senators, if the issue is an important issue about which we disagree, we vote on it and we accept the vote. and sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. we also listen to each other. and so if the other side says this is an especially difficult issue for us, we try to accommodate that. so the senator from arkansas has said i'll take 60 votes, although he's entitled to 51. he can force a 51-vote vote on this issue if he chose to do that under parliamentary rules. he said i'll take a voice vote, although he doesn't have to do that. and then this morning he said i'll modify my amendment. i'll eliminate all the part about export licenses. that's the second sentence of this very simple amendment. we'll reserve that for discussion by the armed services, foreign relations, other committees. so all his amendment says is you can't use money from this fiscal year to buy heavy water from iran except the department of energy has billions of dollars
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it could use from other years to do that, and it has a revolving fund it could use. in effect, if this president or the next president wanted to continue to buy heavy water from iran, it could do so. so i think the senator from arkansas is entirely within his rights, whether he's been here two years or 20 years. i think he's entitled to come up and ask for a vote. i think he's bent over backwards in offering three or four different ways to accommodate the concerns of the others. and i think it would be a real shame if we came up with yet one more reason not to have an appropriations bill after we've done all this work and 80 senators have made their contributions and we've adopted 18 amendments. the presiding officer: the clerk will report the motion to invoke cloture. the clerk: cloture motion, we, the undersigned senators in in accordance with the provisions of rule 22 of the standing rules of the senate do hereby move to bring to a close debate on senate number 3801 to calendar number 96, h.r. 2028, an act
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making appropriations for energy and water development and related agencies for the fiscal year ending september 30, 2016, and for other purposes. signed by 17 senators. the presiding officer: by unanimous consent, the mandatory quorum call has been waived. the question is, is it the sense of the senate that debate on amendment number 3801 offered by the senator from tennessee, mr. alexander, as amended to h.r. 2028 shall be brought to a close? the yeas and nays are mandatory under the rule. the clerk will call the roll.
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the presiding officer: are there any senators in the chamber wishing to vote or to change their vote? on this vote the yeas are 50. the it nays are 46. three-fifths of the senators duly chosen and sworn not having voted in the affirmative, the motion is not agreed to. mr. mcconnell: madam president? the presiding officer: the majority leader. mr. mcconnell: i enter a motion to reconsider the vote. the presiding officer: the motion is entered. mr. mcconnell: madam president -- the presiding officer: can we have order in the chamber? mr. mcconnell: i think we've
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come up with yet another definition of obstruction today. our democratic friends are going to prevent the passage of an energy and water appropriations bill because of an amendment that is not yet pending to the bill. and yet a new way to blow up the appropriations process. our democratic colleagues were great at dysfunction when they were in the majority and they're pretty good at it when they're in the minority. no matter what the issue -- no matter what the issue -- there's some new and creative way to try and throw a monkey wrench into the gears. now i heard over and over and over again that there was broad support on both sides of the aisle for getting the appropriations process moving
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again. the senator from arkansas has been extraordinarily reasonable. he's offered to modify his amendment. he's offered to consider it in some other context. our chairman, senator alexander, has been working on this for 24 hours. it ought not to be this hard to pass an energy and water appropriations bill that would be good for the country, that most of us support. so i just moved to reconsider my vote, and we need to continue to talk about this because this is a ridiculous place for the senate to be. ridiculous. we're all adults here. we've all been elected by people of our various states to come here and act responsibly. and we're not going to give up on this bill. and when we finish this bill, we're going to go to a couple more appropriations bills. and i think we have a collective responsibility here in the senate, democrats and
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republicans, to work our way past this snag and figure out the way forward. and so we'll have time to do that. i yield the floor. the presiding officer: the senator from illinois. mr. durbin: madam president, i'd like to say a word in response from the democratic side. first, i cannot think of two colleagues that i admire more than senator alexander and senator feinstein. they are honorable people. it has been a pleasure to work with them and to even consider issues where we opposed one another because i knew it would be done in a professional and courteous way. they have spent more hours than i can calculate constructing one of the most important appropriations bills -- the energy and water appropriations bill. it was brought to the floor first by senator mcconnell for good reason. we wanted to set a template, a model, for finishing the appropriations process. and i respect that. i've been honored to serve on
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the house appropriations committee and now on the senate appropriations committee. and i think it's very, very important assignment and it's been many years since we've done our work in the way it was supposed to be done. without a budget resolution, we took the budget agreement, moved forward with the bills. there were countless opportunities for the minority, the democrats, to slow down this process, to make it more difficult, to make it more complicated, to demand votes and delays of 30 hours after 30 hours. we did not do that because we were trying to be positive and constructive. i won't reflect on our experience in the majority, but i would say in response to the republican leader, they broke the record in terms of filibusters on the floor of the united states senate when the republicans were in the minority. we don't want to go back to that era and we don't want to, quote, get even. that is what this is about. there were basically two things or three guiding us in this process that i thought everyone
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signed up for. and i believe they did. one of them was balance between defense and non-defense spending overall. second, that each one of the bills hits a number that can be explained and rationalized based on the budget agreement. and third, the contentious issue of poison pills. these are subjects that are so controversial that if they are included in a bill, it becomes impossible to either pass it on the floor or expect the president to sign it. so we thought if we're going to exercise our opportunity here with an appropriations process that works, those three things have to apply. and i give credit to both senator alexander and senator feinstein for producing a bill in subcommittee that really met those tests and didn't include any great controversial items, going through full committee with exactly the same outcome and bringing it to the floor. and we were this close to the finish line -- this close to the finish line -- when yesterday
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the senator from arkansas, as is his right to do, offered an amendment. that amendment was offered around noon yesterday and the whole conversation changed. because it was an amendment related to the department of energy -- yes -- but it was an amendment of great controversy because it was an amendment related to the president's agreement with iran to stop them from the development of nuclear weapons. everyone knows what that was about. every republican opposed the president's agreement, and four of us on the democratic side. it was a highly controversial and volatile subject for many, many months and continues to be on the presidential trail. to bring this amendment into the bill at the last moment as it was is to invite a debate and a controversy which was not in the bill up to that point. was it the senator from arkansas' right to do it? yes. but i would just say that my experience in appropriations is you would say to your colleague who had the right to offer an
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amendment, let me just say in advance, this is going to slow down, it may even stop this bill. after all the work we've put into it, please don't offer that amendment. and if you do, i will have to oppose it. that really is the basics for kind of going forward on a bipartisan basis to bring this bill to conclusion. we just had a procedural votes. a few republicans joined us, but the overwhelming majority of democrats said we can't move forward on the bill until we resolve this basic question. if senators will be allowed to offer amendments on the floor that are relevant to the bill and are controversial, we invite poison pills up to the very last moment when a bill can be considered. there has to be a better way. we've got to prove to america that we can get things done in their best interest, and it means that some senators cannot offer every amendment they'd like it to offer. that is just part of the
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restraint which we ask of members who are consciously trying to help us be constructive here in the senate. i hope we can get them back on track. the conversations are civil, as they should be, between honorable people who are trying to work this out, and they need to continue. the underlying bill is very important. it's important in my state and to many other states, but let us finish this bill in the right way, in a bipartisan fashion, in a calm fashion, not in a confrontational fashion. we can do that. i'm sorry we can't do it this morning, but i hope we'll all work together to achieve that goal as quickly as possible. madam president, i yield the floor. the presiding officer: the senator from ne york. mr. schumer: i just wanted to first compliment my colleague from illinois. he hit the nail on the head here. and i will just be brief. the republican leader said this is a new level of obstruction. i don't know if it's a new level of obstruction. he has been pretty good at it over the years. but certainly if we wanted to
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obstruct these bills, we wouldn't have let the motion to proceed go forward. we wouldn't have done 17 other things that were done time and time again in the past. the way to stop this, i would say to the republican leader, is very simple. either prevail on senator cotton not to offer his amendment, no one's doing that. he has a right to do it, but in the old days, as senator durbin said, the way the appropriations process worked, the leader met the chair of the subcommittee would go and way don't offer your amendment because it's going to be defeated and we'll help defeat it and it will blow up the bill, plain and simple. that's still the option. you want to stop obstruction. we didn't offer the cotton amendment. we could have offered our version of cotton amendments to blow this bill up. we did not. whether that was his intent or not. i don't doubt the sincerity of my friend from arkansas. but it was offered by the other side. the onus is on the other side to fix this. the way to fix it is one of
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two -- either prevail on the senator from arkansas, pursue his goal here. that's certainly his right, but don't do it using the appropriations process as a hostage to move forward on his bill. or tell him if he offers the bill that republicans will vote against it as well. and then we can move forward. that was how it used to work. the number of times when i was a junior member and i wanted to offer amendments, some of them controversial, and i would go to our chair or ranking member, depending on whether we were in the majority or minority and say i want to offer this amendment, and the chair would consult with the other side and they would come back and say we, majority, minority, cannot support this amendment, and then i wouldn't offer it, it would lose. that's the way the process used to work. now, i don't begrudge any individual the centrifugal forces in our politics has
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pulled things apart, so it's much harder for members on both sides of the aisle to do it, but let's not say, let's not turn that around. the obstruction and the failure to deal with obstruction is not coming from this side. it's coming from the other side. and they have an onus to fix it. and one more point before my good friend -- and i love him -- from tennessee comes forward. whatever we did, the president said he was going to veto this, so the idea that this bill would go forward and we would spend all this time on it and then have the president veto it, that doesn't accomplish the goals that i know my good friend, the chair of the committee and the ranking member of the subcommittee want to pursue. the onus is on us to do it before we get to that. i yield the floor. mr. alexander: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from tennessee. mr. alexander: we -- i appreciate the comments of the -- of senator schumer and senator durbin and senator
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feinstein with whom i have great respect. the people are on the floor who can figure this out. we ought to be able to do it. it's the -- is the bottom line. i suspect a big part of the problem here is timing. the administration apparently decided to do this over the weekend. we're in the middle of this bill. senator cotton would say that he moved as quickly as he could, and there is no question. this is an issue that raises lots of temperatures on both sides of the aisle. there's no doubt about that. and we have to have a balance here. senators have a right to take important issues and present them in an appropriate way here in the senate, and i have -- in just this bill. there are several times when i was one of only one or two or three republicans who voted for amendments just so we could get
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the amendments through and we could keep the bill going. i know how that works. i intend to keep doing it. but i would say to my democratic friends, i hope we could put our minds together to think of some way to allow senator cotton to make his point to achieve what is an important objective and doing it in a way that, a, is acceptable to the democratic side, and b, doesn't have the problems that are associated with the timing. this came upon us all of a sudden, and there are several reasons for that we don't need to go into. let's see if we can't work it out. i would certainly like to do that. i would like for senator feinstein and i to be able to set a good example for the rest of the senate to get our bill through. the only other thing i would say that's a little different than what the senators from new york said and illinois, i don't really agree that if the president threatens a veto, we should stop our work. i think we would only be here
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about half a day a week. i -- i think it's fine for the president to veto a bill if he feels like he needs to, and he can send it right back and we consider that and we consider that it takes 67 to override it, and what often happens is we take something out or change some provision and send it back to him. so just because the president says he'll veto a bill i don't think means the senate should stop its work. of course. mr. schumer: i understand that every time the president says veto, we shouldn't freeze in our tracks, but i make my point, it would be a lot better if we could avoid that situation because we want this bill to be passed and signed into law. mr. alexander: i agree with the senator from new york, madam president. the presiding officer: the senator from indiana. mr. coats: madam president, i will not weigh in on this issue. i might later. i'm here for a different purpose. i did serve previously in the
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senate several years ago. this is my second time back. my experience with the amendment process was a pleasant one then. any senator any time could offer an amendment to any bill, and it would be discussed and debated and voted on, and we accepted the fact that it was either a yea or a nay. it was part of a process that sometimes started here, sometimes started in the house, but it is a process that goes through many iterations. and so to determine something at one step in the process takes the bill down, ignores the fact that this will -- this bill will go over to the house of representatives, they will debate it, they will add things, sub stability things that then will go to a conference to resolve the ditcheses even before it gets to the president's desk. unfortunately, what has happened here is that the president of the united states, anything he
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doesn't like, he simply says i'm going to veto it so drop it. so i agree with the senator from tennessee, senator alexander, saying if that's the process the way this senate is going to operate, we might as well just close the place down. maybe show up just to show people that we showed up for work, but we're not going to accomplish anything on this floor if that's the case. and so responsibility falls not just on us to do the job that we were elected to do but falls on the president to not try to submarine, torpedo a bill of multiple dimensions because one amendment gets passed with the will of the senate, including bipartisan support, but the president doesn't like it so therefore shut the whole thing down. i'm here again for the 40th something week to talk about waste of the week. i will do that now, maybe weigh in on the other issue, which is
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being very ably handled by senator alexander, who is our veteran here and knows how to work through these conundrums. mr. president, with a federal debt that's over -- madam president, with a federal debt that's over $19 trillion and growing, it's fitting to take a long look at every penny, every penny that the federal government appropriates to ensure hard-earned taxpayers' dollars are not wasted, and i have been down here week after week after week with examples of waste. and today for my 41st edition to the waste of the week, i'd like to bring attention to an app that the transportation security administration paid i.b.m. more than $47,000 to develop. now, app is a new word in our election i son here, but we all carry around these new devices which we can push a bunch of buttons here and buy certain applications or access to things that make life easier.
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traffic on the road or getting the latest ball scores or checking on the weather. i've got a whole bunch of apps in here. i hadn't heard about an app that had been developed for the transportation security administration, i'll call it t.s.a. it's called a randomizer app. it does just two things. very simple. it points an arrow to the right or to the left. now, you would say now, why would anybody need an app, a device that allows, that randomizes an arrow to the right or an arrow to the left? well, let's take a look at this picture here. this is obviously a t.s.a. agent, incognito. i didn't want to point her out. t.s.a. agent. we have all been through this. this is the line at the airport. those of us who go home every
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weekend, which i do, back to indiana on thursday night or friday, are very familiar with these lines because you've got to go through a security process. and this is the t.s.a. agent with an app. as you can see right here, it's a screen and it has a big arrow. and so when we walk into reagan airport for us to go home, i know the presiding officer does the same, goes back to iowa every week, there are several lanes that you can go down, and usually, almost always, there is a transportation security agent or someone associated with the process here standing at the beginning of those lines and saying with an arrow take this one or take this one. well, for some reason -- i won't go into all the details -- they didn't want that to be an individual decision, so they
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called up i.b.m. and they said we need to develop an app that will allow us to have a screen that has an arrow pointing to the left or to the right, and it needs to be random. it can't be controlled by this person, for whatever reasons. it needs to be random. so okay. maybe there is a rational reason why t.s.a. needs to do that for security purposes and without divulging what that is and not knowing what that is i won't get into that. but obviously it doesn't take a lot of money to develop something -- a screen that has an arrow to the left and an arrow to the right and a little bit of software in the back just randomizing this so that it's not -- so that you can't figure out when it's going to be left or when it's going to be right. it does it all by itself. so we did a little research. i wondered how much this would cost. what we found out is that this is such a simple application, that it can be developed by a
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developer of apps within a ten-minute period of time. and so we paid, t.s.a. paid, taxpayer paid $47,000 to be able to build a software device -- not the device, didn't build the device -- to build an app so -- that had an arrow forcing one way or another. look, that's -- $47,000 is minuscule compared to what we waste around here, and i have got a chart here that shows well over $160 billion of waste, fraud and abuse in my -- chalked up during my 40 visits down here to the senate floor to talk about various ways that the government wastes taxpayer dollars, but this one, this one bafless me because -- baffles me because something so simple that
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takes ten minutes to produce costs $47,000, well above the average income or the average worker in indiana. and in many cases, significantly more than the t.s.a. agent who is holding it is paid annually for the work that they do. so here we are once again and people say well, could we have done this in an easier way? well, how about -- how about flipping a coin? that's random. tails. oh, tails go in this lane. hold on. heads, you're in this lane. and then you can work it around and so forth and so on. or how about drawing a slip -- and have a hat. the person there standing at the line have a hat with a whole bunch of slips of paper, yes, no, yes, no, left, right, left, right. go ahead. pull it out. what's it say? left. that's over there. right, over here.
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or we could do what i do with my grandkids. i say okay, i will put my fist behind my back. i'm either going to have a one or a two. and they all get all excited and so forth. the little brother is elbowing his little sister so she won't win. the third child is crying maybe because they're not letting her play. and so grandpa comes up with, okay, charlie, a one or a two? two. charlie, yay, i won. oh, his sister starts crying. no, no, no, you're going to get your chance. maggie, you pick a one or a two. thyway, we go through -- anyway, we go through -- i have ten grandkids so this takes a long time when we have family reunions. any one of those processes could be used. i think it wouldn't cost $47,000. it wouldn't be $4.70. it's just something that we
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could do. so, you know, i used to serve as the lead republican on the appropriations subcommittee and homeland security. i know how difficult it is for homeland security to fund the critical elements that they need to fund and programs they need to fund in order to keep us secure. and every penny counts. every dollar counts in this regard. but this type of egregious waste has got to stop. and perhaps it's time for t.s.a. to precheck -- we're all familiar with precheck. another thing we have to go through, these programs before we fund them. as we continue to determine funding levels for various government programs and agencies, we must remember projects like t.s.a.'s randomizers app. this is yet another example of why minimizing waste, fraud and abuse will go a long way to restore trust in government decisions as to how our tax
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money is spent. now, i just realized that i missed out on naming one of my grandchildren that i play this with. that's avery, the sister of charlie who wants to make sure that she's in the game also. and then i won't go through the other seven. i'll save those for another time. let me just note that we add more money, ever more money and examples of taxpayer waste. and we're up to $162, 277, 95 955.81. so this is big money. it's nothing to laugh about. this is a small example. we've had examples in the billions of dollars. we owe it to the taxpayer. we owe it to the hard earned taxpayer, the tax dollars that are earned by hard-working taxpayers to be as efficient and
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effective with the spending of their money as we possibly can. so once again waste of the week. madam president, i yield the floor. a senator: madam president? a senator: i yield to my friend. very nine unanimous consents for committees to meet during today's session of the senate. chef's been approved by the majority and minority leaders. i ask unanimous consent that these requests be agreed to and these requests be printed in the record. the presiding officer: is there objection? without objection. a senator: i yield the floor. a senator: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from oregon. a senator: i ask that lay stucker, matthew few enface and luke el low, fellows from the finance committee and julia bradley cook, ryan meceny and cast run senteros, fellows in my personal office be granted floor privileges for the duration of the 114th congress.
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the presiding officer: without objection. mr. wyden: madam president, according to the forest service, and we checked with them this morning, there is right thousand an 11,000-acre fire burning in the shenandoah national park in virginia. now, of course this is just april, not the time when one normally thinks you're going to have fires when the fire season is on. but there's a fire according to the forest service burning in thehenandoah national park in virginia that has already cost more than $3 million. this is the second largest fire in shenandoah national park history. and i've come to the floor this afternoon to once again make the case for the senate on a bipartisan basis, democrats and
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republicans coming together to fix this dysfunctional system of fighting fire in america. and i'm going to describe it but let me just talk first a little bit about the consequences. in the american west, mr. president, we used to talk about the seasons in a way that americans had done for decades and decades, harvesting crops in the fall, skiing in the winter, fishing during the spring salmon runs, camping in the summers, and we fought fire during the wildfire season, but when americans in the west talk about the seasons now, they are
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talking about the seasons of yesteryear. and that's because the wildfire season raging across our forests and special places is no longer limited to a single time of the year. fighting fires has become a continuous battle virtually year round throughout the country. and that's why this fire burning in the shenandoah national park ought to be a wake-up call once again to everyone to understand how important it is to fix this broken system of fighting fire because the funding system for doing so is leading to dysfunction throughout the forest service and contributing to the breakdown of national forest management that is needed to prevent catastrophic wildfires in the first place.
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now, according to the forest service, 1.4 million acres have already burned across america this year. that's more than twice the ten-year average for this time of year. these numbers show in my view how important it is that urgent action be taken to fix the way we fight -- we fund wild firefighting operations. this is something that senator crapo and i have been working on for some time with the support of scores of organizations, well over 200, a significant number of bipartisan senators, significant number of bipartisan house members have all joined in this effort because it is not just the west that has been impacted.
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the forest service work in states that manage timber sales, trail maintenance and recreation get shortchanged when money has been diverted to fighting wildfires. i was particularly struck, mr. president, last year when we had the good fortune of having the senior senator from new york, senator schumer, join as a cosponsor of our legislation. and the reason he did is because this absolutely dysfunctional system of fighting fires has resulted in important priorities for new york state, not being in a position to secure the funsing they -- the funding they need. and that's because the rising cost of fighting fires keeps raiding all these other programs in the forest service that are needed to help prevent fires down the road. and the raids take place two different ways. certainly in my part of the world where we're troubled by
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the fact that you have prevention getting short shrift. then is gets really hot and dry and we have lots of thunderstorms in our part of the world and all of a sudden we have a ne -- have an interknow n our hands. the agencies end up borrowing from the prevention fund to put the fire out and the problem just gets worse because you have repeatedly shorted the the prevention program. this is what's called fire borrowing, and it happens not just in the west, mr. president. that's why the senior senator from new york wanted to be a cosponsor of our legislation because programs that were important to new york state, thousands and thousands of miles away from the forests of eastern and central oregon, it was problem for programs he cared about to secure their funding as a result of this dysfunctional
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system just like it has been for people in the west. so it is time for the congress to find a solution to ensure, one, that wildfires can be fought and, two, to control the cost of fighting these wildfires by better preparing our forests and making them healthier. and i'm very pleased that the chair of the energy and natural resources committee, the committee i had the honor of chairing in the past, senator murkowski and the ranking member senator cantwell are committed to working on this issue, and i wanted to once again reaffirm my commitment, and i know senator crapo shares this view, to work with them to find a solution to filed fire funding that can pass in this congress. i certainly have some ideas and i'm very interested in welcoming my colleagues' ideas and have
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for some time. for example, mr. president, last year in the summer, it was pretty clear, pretty clear that it was going to be a tough fire season. so what i and others essentially sought to do was to find a way to get our colleagues working together to try to find some common ground and get this resolved. well, we couldn't quite get it done. so we're going to now be at this day in, day out, week in, week out. senator crapo and i working with our colleagues and their staff on the energy and natural resources committee and on the budget committee and members from the other body to find a solution that works for all sides of the issue. and we saw last summer that this was going to be a problem and a big group of us got together.
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said we got to get this resolved. we couldn't quite thread the needle. this time we need to make sure that gets done. there are not a lot of certainties in life but the fire season is one of them, and the congress simply cannot let this problem continue. and i wanted to come to the floor in particular today, mr. president, to take note of the fact that that fire in the shenandoah -- in the shenandoah area ought to be a wake-up call to everybody. if you're having one of the biggest fires they've ever had this early in april, that's just a signal of what's to come. and it has been the story of summer after summer after summer and now we're learning, as i indicated earlier, that we normally think of the seasons and it appears it's not just in the west, thinking about the
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seasons, talking about the seasons of yesteryear because now it is fire season all year long. with that, mr. president, i yield the floor. my colleague is here so i'll yield the floor. mr. merkley: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from oregon. mr. merkley: mr. president, i ask unanimous consent that my intern jonathan lynn have privileges to the floor for the balance of the day. the presiding officer: without objection, so ordered. mr. merkley: thank you, mr. president. the most important words in the crafting of our constitution are the first three words:
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we the people. with those three words the founders describe what the government of our new nation was all about. as president lincoln later summarized, a government of the people, by the people and for the people. in fact, even in just the crafting of the constitution, the founders put special emphasis upon those three words, putting them in supersized font before all the details that were to follow. so periodically i come to the floor to talk about issues that related to the we the people, the constitution, our responsibilities under the constitution and this week i rise to address the responsibility of the senate and its advice and consent role under the constitution. the president's duty is to nominate a supreme court nominee
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when there is a vacancy. that responsibility, it's written very clearly into the constitution. it says, he shall nominate and by and with the advice and consent of the senate shall appoint judges of the supreme court. in article 2, section 2, of our beloved constitution. and then i.t. the senate's responsibility, the senate's responsibility to provide advice and consent, as required, and under time -- over time that's been understood to be to vet the nominee, to determine whether or not that nominee is of fit character to serve in the post that they would serve in, and particularly that's important in the supreme court. that's how this esteemed chamber, our beloved senate, has operated over more than 200 years. in fact, we need to go back now
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and understand how this design was created. i've come to the floor before and read from hamilton's "federalist paper" 76 that summarizes the conversation that was taking place over the nomination process. some folks in crafting the constitution thought that responsibility should be solely with what they referred to as "the assembly." that would be with this body, the senate. and the reason they argued that is that they would be a balance to the power of the president in the executive branch if the assembly, the legislative branch, was to make the appointments. however, they then realized that probably those appointments would never get done because of all the horse trading that would go on and, in fact, it wouldn't be the most qualified person. it would be the friend of one senator traded for the friend of another senator; that that really didn't make a lot of sense. they said, no, it would make
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more sense to invest the responsibility for the quality of the individual in a single individual. as the expression goes, "the buck stops here," it stops on the president's desk. the president would have responsibility to nominate individuals to serve in the executive branch and to serve in the judicial branch and would bear the public responsibility for the credibility of the quality of those nominations. but in that conversation they thought, that's just too much power for the president to have. what if the president just starts to appoint friends, starts to appoint those with little experience or those of unfit moral character? there needs to be some kind of check. so in that regard, then came the role of the senate to give advice and consent. and to do that, that involved a nomination being put before this
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body and then debated and then this body voting on that. and the words that were the key words that hamilton used in describing the responsibility was to determine whether or not the individual was -- quote -- "of unfit character." fit character, unfit character. qualifications necessary fob for the jobbed -- qualifications necessary for the job and the personal qualifications necessary to fulfill a job effectively. well, here we are, the president -- president obama -- has fulfilled his responsibility under the constitution. he has nominated judge merrick garmd, and -- merrick garland, and now we have our responsibility to do our job, to examine judge garland, his previously decisions, to
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determine whether he is of fit character or unfit character. that's our responsibility in the constitution. now, a number of of my colleagues here across the aisle, my republican colleagues have said, you know what? we don't want to fulfill our responsibility under the constitution. we're just going to ignore that responsibility that's been vested in the senate of the united states, and they are in the majority and a nomination can't go to a committee for hearing and determine whether or not an individual is of fit character or unfit character without the majority making it happen. they can't come here to the floor without a majority vote in committee putting it forward for our consideration. and so, unfortunately, the job strike of the majority party in the senate, failing to fulfill its responsibility under our constitution, now imposes this
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for the entire body. if we were within the usual time line, this week we would be holding a hearing on judge garland. since 1975, the average time for a nomination from committee hearing is about 42 days. but, instead, the leadership has said, we are not going to honor our responsibility. now, i find that deeply disturbing. each and every one of us stood before this body taking an oath to fulfill our responsibilities under this constitution. and that's what we should be doing right now. i say to my colleagues, do your job. you would think that after a bit of reflection on the importance
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to the functioning of our government, a bit of reflection upon what we owe to maintain the integrity of our institutions, this decision to go on a job strike would have been reversed. i've talked to colleagues who are, quite frankly, somewhat embarrassed because they're asked to tow the line, and they don't feel it's right that they should be, in fact, failing to do their responsibility, but there's a lot of pressure on them. wcialtion we need to set aside political -- well, we need to set aside political pressure when it comes to the integrity of our political institutions. since the 1980's, every person appointed to the supreme court has been given a prompt hearing and a vote within 100 days of nomination. this chart shows three different phases. it has the vacancy -- and sometimes those vacancies have been longer or shorter in terms
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of before a nomination occurs. the start of the red bar is the start of the nominating process and then the green bar shows the time before a vote is taken. so the period of consideration. in every case, the red and green bar together are 100 days or less. this dates all the way back to justice sandra owe connor. that's -- sandra o'connor. that's 100 days. how many days are there between now and when the next president takes office? do the math. there's 268 days. for anyone who comes to this floor and says, there just isn't time, that individual is just making a case with no foundation, because the record shows that from the time the nomination is made to a vote,
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time and time again -- under democrats, under republicans -- it's less than 100 days. and yet we have more than 260 days left before the next president takes office. now, there are other folks who have come to the floor of this chamber and they have invented this new principle. it's called the job strike during the last year that a president is in office. that there is something in the constitution which gives this senate permission not to do its job during the last year a president is in office. well, i encourage my friends to pull out their constitution, read the constitution, find that clause and bring it to the floor, because it does not exist. the constitution anticipates that each of us will fulfill our responsibilities throughout the entire length that we serve, until we exit office; that a president will serve and work
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through all four years of his or her term; that a senator will serve and work through all six years of his or her term. there is no vacation in the constitution for the last year. there is no special permission to fail to do your constitutional responsibility in the last year of a term. that simply doesn't exist. many supreme court justices have been confirmed in the final year of a presidency, and so for those that come to this floor and argue that there's some historical precedent, that precedent doesn't exist either. republican presidents, democratic presidents have issued nominations regardless of the party in control of the senate, and the senate, regardless of the party of the president, has done its job in
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case after case after case. the senate has vetted the nominees, individual senators have met with the nominee, their record has been exposed, the opportunity for public input to all of us, and we have voted in committee and on this floor. and if we look to the recent past, justice kennedy was confirmed in the last year of president reagan's final term. and, by the way, the senate was controlled by democrats. so the democratic leadership didn't say, we're going to go on a job strike and not vet the candidate, not hold a vote, and not do our responsibility. no, they honored their responsibility under the constitution, and so should
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every senator today. this is a black mark on the record of the senate. and think about what it will lead to. let's say, for example, that the job strike engaged in today for purely political efforts, let's say it succeeds in delaying a nomination into the next presidency, and the next president nominates someone from the far edges, wait out of the mainstream, then what does each party do? does it say, well, the other party worked to pack the court and refused to do their job. so now, because the consequences would be so destructive and so sparnt t--and so partisan to th, we'll refuse to do our job only because of what preceded it? that's not a conversation that we should ever have. that's not a dialogue that we
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should ever have in this chamber of action to politicize the court, to pack the court, followed by reaction to try to blunt the impact of the initial action, followed by reaction -- back and forth. this will deeply undermine the integrity of the supreme court of the united states. and let me tell you, the court is already in trouble. the court decisions, the activist court decisions of the far right trying to write legislation through court decisions to change the fundamental understandings of how our nation operates have deeply politicized the court already. citizens united turned on its head the fundamental premise written in our constitution. our constitution was written all about "we the people." jefferson talked about the mother principle, the mother
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principle is that we could only claim to be a republic to the degree the decisions reflected the will of the people and that for that to happen, citizens had to have an equal voice. his vision was one of the town square, where there was no cost to participate. everyone got to stand up and have their say. lincoln talked about the equal voice principle for citizens. this is the fundamental premise that in a republic to express the will of the people, people have to have the ability to participate in roughly equal proportion. but now the town square is for sale. it's the television, it's the internet, it's the web sites, it's the radio, and our court has decided, it's okay for the very rich to buy it up and destroy the equal voice principle that our founders so cherished. this activist court on the far right has decided to undermine
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those important first three words of the constitution, "we the people." well, this has produce add great cynicism in -- this has produce add great cynicism in america, because once this massive contribution of money buys up the ton -- buys up the town squ, influentials elections, it's no longer "we the people." it's we the powerful and we the privileged. wouldn't it be nice not to have these supreme court decisions that have undermined the power of the supreme court? but we have them and now this body wants to further damage the supreme court, further politicize the supreme court, and that is a huge mistake. we should go the other direction. we should invest in the integrity of the supreme court. now, that doesn't mean that a nominee gets automatically passed through this body. because we have a job under the constitution.
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we have a responsibility to vet the nominee. we have the responsibility, as hamilton said, to judge whether the nominee is unfit or fit. but how can you have that judgment if we do not hold hearings? how can you have that judgment if the committee does not vote? how can you have that judgment if there is not a debate on the floor of the senate. how can you have that judgment if there is not a vote on this floor? so i say to my colleagues, end your job strike that is so out of sync with the tradition of the senate. end your job strike that is so damaging to the supreme court's integrity. end your job strike that is so damaging to the we the people principles of our nation. do your job. do your job. hold the hearing. meet with the nominee.
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exercise your vote. do your job. thank you, mr. president. i would note the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
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a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from minnesota. a senator: mr. president, i ask that the quorum call be vitiated. a senator: without objection. mr. franken: thank you, mr. president. i rise today to talk about the nomination of merrick garland to the united states supreme court, and to urge my colleagues to grant timely consideration to the president's nominee. i recently had the pleasure of meeting chief judge garland as
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many of my colleagues have on both sides of the aisle. i encourage all senators to meet the nominee because i suspect that you'll find as i did that the rumors are true. he is an exceptionally qualified nominee. since joining the d.c. circuit, chief judge garland has been recognized as one of the best appellate judges in the nation. his reputation for working with colleagues to identify areas of agreement and to craft strong consensus decisions is well earned. after meeting judge garland and discussing the ways -- the way that he approaches his role as a judge and as a chief judge, i am
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pleased to agree with my colleague, senator hatch, and my friend, senator hatch who described judge garland in 1997 in this way and i quote, "i believe mr. garland is a fine nominee. i know of his integrity. i know of his legal ability. i know of his honesty. i know of his acumen. and he belongs on the court. " senator -- on the court." senator hatch was right. he was talking about the d.c. circuit, the second court in the nation, really. before judge garland was nominated, the white house reached out to me, as i know to
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many of my colleagues, especially those on the judiciary committee to ask the type of nominee that i hoped that president obama would put forward or whether i had any particular names in mind. i didn't. my own recommendation was that the president nominate someone whose intellect and experience and demeanor would be apparent during a meager and that americans -- during a hearing and that americans who watched the confirmation hearings would come away with -- this is what i told the white house: i want americans who watch these confirmation hearings, i want a nominee who people come away going, like, i'd like nine of those. i want -- i feel really good with nine of those.
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and now that i've met judge garland, i will set about the task of reviewing judge garland's full record and all of his opinions. i'll set that aside, but the american people deserve to meet him and decide for themselves whether he is qualified to sit on the highest court in the land. the american people deserve a hearing. but, mr. president, in my view, confirmation hearings also serve a broader purpose. hearings aren't just an opportunity for the public to get to know the nominee and discover how he views -- or she views -- important issues.
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open public hearings provide an opportunity for the american people to learn about the supreme court's jurisprudence and to demystify the court's role in our democracy. hearings also allow our constituents to see and judge for themselves how and whether the government is working, whether we are doing our jobs. but before any of us knew who the president would nominate, senate republicans wasted no time in refusing to fill the vacancy until after the election. the supreme court said -- and i quote -- "this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president." republican members of the judiciary gathered by themselves and vowed to deny the eventual
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nominee a hearing. many republicans refused even to meet with the nominee. they said it didn't matter who the president nominated; this was about principle. mr. president, this type of obstruction marks an historic dereliction of the senate's constitutional duty. since 1916 -- a little past 100 years -- the senate judiciary committee has fulfilled that duty by holding hearings. nonetheless, senate republicans have stood firm in their opposition. but within a day of judge garland's nomination being announced, some republicans began to change their tune once they discovered that the president had nominated a consensus candidate, a judge who had earned the praise of so many
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republican senators during the course of his career that their calculus began to change. now my republican friends are tying themselves in knots trying to explain to the american people how they plan to move forward. quite a few republican senators broke ranks and agreed to meet judge garland privately while none the maintaining that the senate should not -- while nonetheless maintaining that the senate should not grant the nominee a hearing i -- an open public hearing. it would seem that they, not their constituents, deserve the opportunity to question and to meet -- to meet and to question the nominee. a few republicans said that they would consider judge garland and even vote to confirm him in the
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lame-duck session but only if the democrats win the white house. very odd sense of what the principle here is. i guess the thinking behind that is the republicans are afraid that, should the election not go in the election they prefer, that then the people shouldn't decide. they should decide unless they decide the wrong thing. that's the odd principle that i've heard in the judiciary committee when we've had business meetings there where members come in and make a statement and then leave. i hear a lot of contradictory stuff.
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so i guess their -- i mean, obviously, the fear is that, should a democrat being elected to the -- should a democrat be elected to the white house, that they might eventually face a nominee that hasn't earned quite as much bipartisan praise, so then we'll do garland. that's absurd. that has nothing to do with principle. this has nothing to do with principle. and it never did. this is about politics. mr. president, the supreme court is too important, it's too
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central to our system of democracy to let fall victim to partisan politics. it's been just over one month since president obama nominated judge garland to fill the vacancy in the supreme court, a vacancy caused by the death of a justice. and during that month, the effect of allowing a vacancy to persist has been made clear. the eight-member court has deadlocked twice now, handing down two 4-4 decisions, permitting a seat on the supreme court bench to remain vacant means that in some cases the court is not able to fulfill its core mission, it's core function of resolving the splits among
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the courts of appeals and serving as the final arbiter of our laws. the court -- the court isn't able to do its job. i think we have to go through our history and look at when justice marshal l was a point -- when justice marshall was appointed in the last weeks, i believe, of adams' administration. i hope that my republican colleagues are finally coming to the understanding that they have an obligation here to replace
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this vacancy. members of the senate and of the judiciary committee in particular have an obligation to do our jobs, to get to work. thank you, mr. president. and i would suggest the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
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quorum call:


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