U.S. Senate Confirms HUD and Energy Secretary Nominees CSPAN March 2, 2017 3:29pm-5:30pm EST
mr. hatch: mr. president, i ask that the quorum call be dispensed with. the presiding officer: without objection, so ordered. mr. hatch: mr. president, in a little more than two weeks, the judiciary committee will open its hearing on the nomination of judge neil gorsuch. to the united states supreme court. this is the 14th supreme court confirmation process in which i have participated. over that time, while some things have changed, others have stayed the same. the conflict over judicial appointments especially to the supreme court remains at its core a conflict of the proper role of judges in our system of government. the two sides of this con afflict could -- conflict two very different kinds of judges. some liberal allies on the other side of the aisle want judges to owe their fidelity to a particular political agenda. for them, the judiciary is simply a backup plan for
achieving political objectives. if the legislative branch does not deliver, they go to the executives, as they often did in the previous administration. if that doesn't work, they figure that the courts offer a second or third bite at the political apple. this decision was fundamentally inconsistent with the way our system of government was destined, designed and intended to be. instead, the framers deviced the role of the judiciary on the wisdom of montesquieu who posited, quote, where the power of judging joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control. were it joined to the executive power, the judge might behave as an oppressor, unquote. that was montesquieu. reflecting this wisdom, the constitution endows the judge with the role of saying what the
law is rather than what he wishes the law would be. as alexander hamilton rightly observed, the people's liberty cannot be endangered by the judiciary, quote, so long as the judiciary remains truly distinct for both the legislative -- legislature and the executives, unquote. mistakes in this con -- the stakes in this conflict over judicial power are really enormous. the choice determines whether the people or our elected judges will govern the country and define the culture. our system of government and the liberty it makes possible allow only one answer -- the confirmation process allows us to determine which kind of judge neil gorsuch is and which kind of justice he will be. the dynamics of the confirmation process often reveal what kind
of judge senators and interest groups really seek. those who want political judges, for example, use a variety of strategies to determine how a judicial nominee, especially to the supreme court, will rule on issues in cases that they care about. in fact, most of the time, it seems that the policy consequences of how a judge will rule is the only thing that some senators and advocates really care about. for example, when president bush nominated chief justice john roberts in 2005, one democratic member of the judiciary committee said that the real question was this -- quote, whose side is judge roberts really on on the really important issues of our time? unquote. another democratic senator said that, quote, before we vote, it
is important to know where judge roberts stands on key issues, unquote. and another said that she needed to know, quote, whether judge roberts will stand with us and with our families to be on the side -- or be on the side of major special interests, unquote. now, something is seriously wrong when the confirmation process for a supreme court nominee sounds more like an election campaign for a u.s. senator or senate seat. unfortunately, the same thing is happening again today regarding judge gorsuch. if a corporation won a case before him on a -- on the tenth circuit, for example, those groups claim that he is a champion of corporate interests, no matter the legal grounds of the decision, the facts or anything else. if another decision's result does not sufficiently advance the feminist agenda, they say
that he is antiwomen. his radical approach seems to say that judges are free to decide every case based on the political popularity of the result, and therefore that the judge personally intends every outcome. these advocates do not distinguish between the commands of the law and the personal preferences of the judge. in this view, statutes and the constitution mean whatever judges want them to mean, making unelected, unaccountable lifetime appointees the master of the people. political judges take away from the people the power to govern themselves and undermine their liberty using political or ideological litmus tests in the quest for such political judges,
demanding that they take sides and insisting that they make a -- make commitments to certain policy agendas before even taking office poses a similar threat to the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. there is nothing mainstream about political judges and nothing mainstream in the tactics used to appoint them. in contrast, in -- impartial judges are consistent with the principles upon which our system of government is based and the independence that the judges must have. when judge gorsuch took his seat on the u.s. court of appeals for the tenth circuit in 2006, he took the oath required by title 28, section 453 of the united states code. he pledged to administer justice without respect to persons and to faithfully and impartially
discharge the judiciary's duties. i want to suggest that my colleagues try an experiment. ask your constituents whether judges should make up their mind on the case before hearing all the evidence and arguments, ask whether judges should take positions on issues before those issues even come before them in court. i know what utahans would say. the a.b.a. model code of judicial conduct, for example, twice states this principle on this particular chart. quote, a judge shall not, in connection with cases, controversies, or issues that are likely to come before the court, make pledges, promises, or commitments that are inconsistent with the impartial performance of the adjudicative functions and duties of judicial office, unquote.
state codes of judicial conduct include the same commonsense protection for judicial impartiality. the california case, for example, prohibits statements, whether public or not, that, quote, commit the judge with respect to cases, controversies or issues that are likely to come before the courts, unquote. now, this has been the consistent practice of judicial nominees before the judiciary committee. elaine a -- kagan came before the judiciary committee in january, 2010, after being nominated by president obama to replace justice john paul stevens. on june 29, 2010, she said it would not be appropriate for her to comment on an issue that could come before the court. samuel alito, justice alito came before the committee in january,
2006, after being nominated by president bush to replace justice sandra day o'connor. on january 11, 2006, he said, quote, but the line i have to draw, and i think every nominee including justice ginsburg has drawn, is to say that when it comes to something that realistically could come before the court, they can't answer about how they would decide that question. that would be a disservice to the judicial process, unquote. now, ruth bader ginsburg, justice ginsburg appeared before the judiciary committee in july, 1993, nominated by president clinton to replace justice byron white. on july 20, 1993, she said this on this chart -- quote, a judge
sworn to decide impartially can offer no forecasts, no hints, for that would show not only disregard for the specifics of the particular case, it would display disdain for the entire judicial process, unquote. antonin scalia came before the committee in august 1986 after being nominated by president reagan to replace justice william rehnquist. on august 5, 1966, he said -- 1986, he said that taking positions on a hearing on issues that could come before him was not just a slippery slope, but in his words, a precipice. he said, quote, i just cannot do it. and i think the only way to be sure that i'm not impairing my ability to be impartial in the future cases is simply to
respectfully decline to give an opinion, unquote. let me reach even further back. justice abe fortas came before the judiciary committee in july 1958. after being nominated to replace chief justice earl warren, the committee ssents the nomination to the full senate and said -- in these words in its report, quote, to rare justice to state his views on legal discussions or to discuss his past decisions before the committee would threaten the independence of the judiciary and the integrity of the judicial system itself. it would also impinge on the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers among the three branches of government, as required by the constitution, unquote.
judge thurgood marshall came before the court -- or should i say, before the committee, in july 1967 nominated by president johnson to replace justice tom clark. the committee sent the nomination to the full senate and its report noted that the nominee has, quote, wisely and forthrightly declined to give a judicial opinion on hypothetical questions, unquote. just two years earlier, when the committee reported the nomination of abe fortas to be an associate justice, its report said, quote, we have always felt it would be unfair to ask any nominee for any judicial office to give a legal opinion on the basis of a hypothetical question, unquote. i think the point is obvious. every nominee of either party for decades has taken the same
position and it is the right position. it reflects a commitment to judicial impartial and to the integrity of the judicial branch of government. if my democratic colleagues and their liberal allies believe that justices kagan, alito, kinsburg, scalia, fortas and marshal were all wrong, they should say so. if they believe that judges should prejudge cases by committing to particular outcomes, then they should make that case. if they believe that the oath of judicial office and code of judicial conduct are all misguided, then, it seems to me, they should be up front about it. i, for one, believe that judges should be impartial, that they should follow the law, and that they should stay within their
designated role. america needs impartial, not political, judges. i don't care which party you're in. if you're an attorney generals you've got to appreciate judges that are impartial, especially if you are an honest attorney. we need judges who will follow rather than lead the law. the constitution, after all, is the primary way that the american people set the rules for government, and that includes, god bless it, the judicial branch. the constitution cannot control judges if judges control the constitution. mr. president, yesterday the judiciary committee received a letter signed by more than 30 prominent members of the supreme court bar. in combination, they have argued more than 500 cases before the
united states supreme court. though they hold different political and legal views, they are united in strongly supporting judge gorsuch's nomination. they write that he is fair-minded, principled, and, quote, has the unusual combination of character, dedication, and intellect that would make him an asset to our nation's highest court, unquote. i ask consent that this letter appear in the record following my remarks. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. hatch: i believe the record demonstrates that judge neil gorsuch is an impartial judge and will, when confirmed, be an impartial -- be an impartial supreme court justice. he will take the law he's finds it and apply it, quote, without respect to persons, unquote.
just as the judicial oath demands. with him on the bench, the law made by the people's elected representatives will determine winners and losers. in doing so, he will be exactly the kind of justice america needs. mr. president, judge gorsuch has a tremendous reputation on the supreme court court of appeals, supported by democrats and republicans aligning he is a brilliant lawyer and an even more brilliant judge. he is a person of impeccable reputation and integrity. he is exactly the type of person you would want deciding your case if you had a case before the supreme court. he is exactly the type of a person that other judges could emulate and follow. so he is exactly the type of a person who we want on the
supreme court. i've heard some ugly rumors that some of my colleagues in this body might, because of political concerns and political pressure, want to vote against judge gorsuch. i would caution them not to do that. i think judge gorsuch will basically please most everybody in this body over the years that he serves as a supreme court justice. he is a really fine man, he is a fine family man, he is he a very fine -- he's very fine -- he's a very fine lawyer and a fantastic court of appeals judge. he will make a great justice on the united states supreme court. so i urge my colleagues on both sides to vote for him and help us to fill this void so that the court can continue to act as the
mr. durbin: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from illinois. mr. durbin: i ask consent the quorum call be dispensed with. the presiding officer: without objection, so ordered. mr. durbin: mr. president, the highlight of the week, of course, is president trump's speech to a joint session of congress, the first public -- major public speech he's given since his inauguration. the house of representatives
chamber was filled with members of both house and senate. the supreme court justices, the cabinet, many other dignitaries in attendance for the speech. it went for about 60 minutes which is reasonable under presidential standards. many have gone much longer. and i listened carefully to the statement by the new president to really glean his priorities in terms of his administration and what he hopes to see happen in this country. there were many issues that he touched, but there was one that he didn't. he didn't say a word, not one word about the russian intervention in our last presidential campaign. this is not speculation. this is reality. 17 different u.s. intelligence agencies have told us that vladimir putin and the russian government was attempting to subvert and undermine our presidential election. that to our knowledge has never happened any time in the history
of the united states. it is the first time that a sovereign nation has tried to literally launch a cyber invasion of the united states of america. to try to change the outcome of the most important electoral choice under our constitution, the choice of president of the united states. it is a major issue. it's one that president trump cannot ignore. he never once during the course of that speech mention the word "russia." he never raised this issue as to whether it was even worthy of investigation. he described it as a ruse. he dismissed it. he's basically paid no attention to it whatsoever and wants the rest of america to forget it as well. that's not going to happen because, you see, the investigation about this russian invasion, cyber invasion continues. we know the federal bureau of investigation is deep into an investigation.
i don't know what it will find. i don't know if they'll find any complicity with anyone in the united states, anyone in the trump campaign. it's only after we have an independent, complete and credible investigation that we may know the facts. we also have an investigation under way by many of our intelligence agencies which are looking at the involvement of the russians trying to change the outcome of our election. those investigations are under way, but the one element that came up last night has changed the conversation in washington about this whole issue. even before last night's news, we knew that attorney general jeff sessions needed to recuse himself from any justice department investigation into russia's efforts to influence the 2016 election in support of the trump campaign. the department of justice standard for recusal -- that's the removal of the attorney general from an investigation -- is pretty clear. it requires recusal by someone
who has, quote, a personal or political relationship with any person or organization substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation, end of quote. the department of justice regulations define political relationship to include service as a principle advisor to a candidate or campaign organization. well, that's -- that certainly covers attorney general jeff sessions and the trump campaign. attorney general sessions was named in march 2016 as chairman of then candidate trump's national security advisory committee. steve bannon formerly of breitbart news and now a close advisor to the president described jeff sessions to "the washington post" as follows and i quote, throughout the campaign sessions has been the fiercest, most dedicated, and most loyal promoter in congress of trump's agenda and has played a critical
role as the clearing house for policy and philosophy to undergird the implementation of that agenda. attorney general sessions' close relationship with the trump campaign creates a compelling basis for his recusal from any investigation of russian involvement in that campaign. so far to this day, to this moment jeff sessions has refused to recuse himself from this investigation. he refused when i asked him about it during the course of the hearing and he's refused since he was named attorney general. now it's clear that his unwillingness to recuse himself is no longer tenable or acceptable or even explainable. last night "the washington post" reported that then senator jeff sessions spoke with russian ambassador sergey kislyka twice during the presidential campaign. in july at a heritage foundation
event near the republican national convention and in september in a private conversation in the senator's office. these communications came as a great surprise because until last night, attorney general sessions did not disclose them. during his hearing in january in preparation to become attorney general, jeff sessions then senator was asked by senator al franken of minnesota and i quote, if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the trump campaign communicated with the russian government in the course of this campaign, what would you do? end of quote. jeff sessions' answer under oath included this statement, and i quote, i did not have communications with the russians, closed quote. senator patrick leahy of vermont also asked attorney general sessions in writing, quote, have you been in contact with anyone
connected to any part of the russian government about the 2016 election either before or after election day? and attorney general sessions' response was no. it is hard to understand why attorney general sessions has not been more forthcoming and upfront with congress and the american people about communications which we now know in fact did take place. if he thinks there was nothing wrong with these communications, why would he conceal them? it is deeply troubling. the reality is that the attorney general has compromised his credibility when it comes to investigating russia's cyber invasion of america's election. his recusal is no longer an option. it is a necessity. people say oh, of course, a democratic senator saying that the republican attorney general should recuse himself. this morning it's been reported that a number of top republicans
in congress have called for the attorney general's recusal, including house majority leader kevin mcare a thy and -- mccarthy and house oversight chairman jason chaffetz. it's imperative that professionals be allowed to follow the facts in this investigation to discover the truth and we may need a special counsel. but these steps alone are not sufficient. i believe we need an independent, bipartisan commission led by americans of unpeachable integrity to get to the bottom and get to the facts on this attack on our democracy. i know the senate intelligence committee is also cutting an investigation. the house intelligence committee, which is chaired by devin nunes, who served on the executive committee of president trump's transition team, agreed to the parameters of an investigation yesterday. but the intelligence committees
cannot by their very nature provide the transparency and accountability that an independent commission would bring to this issue, and the chairman of those two committees, house and senate, have already raised serious questions about their own impartiality by calling on the media organizations, at the behest of the white house, to challenge news stories on this issue. how could you possibly maintain objectivity if the elements of an investigation are compromised before the investigation even starts? i'm particularly concerned that chairman nunes already publicly expressed views of the outcome of his committee's investigation before it even started. that is not a professional, honest, or credible way to approach this. we need an independent,
bipartisan commission to get to the truth, and that may include taking a hard look at the attorney general's communications with the russians and his refusal to disclose those communications. we also need to point out the obvious, that when it comes to investigating russia's involvement in helping the trump campaign, we have to follow the money, and that includes reviewing president trump's tax returns, which unlike any other presidential candidate in modern times he has refused to share with the american people. yesterday senator stabenow, wyden, and a number of my colleagues sent a letter to the chairman of the finance committee, senator orrin hatch of utah, urging him to allow committee members to review the president's tax returns in a closed executive session. that is something the chairman of the senate finance committee has the authority to do. the letter pontsed out that this oversight is essential -- pointed out that this oversight is essential, given the media
reports about russia as well as the possible unconstitutional emoluments be accepted by president trump's vast business empire. i support this request by my colleagues. it's imperative that president trump level with the american people about his businesse busi- business' foreign entangle manies, especially those involving russia. this issue is not going away. i urge my colleagues both sides of the aisle to join me in pursuing all the facts about last year's russian attack on our democracy. mr. president, it was just a few weeksing a that the president's national security advisor general mcflynn resigned. do you remember why? he misrepresented to the vice president and the american people conversations which he had had with the russians, and he ended up giving his position as the number-one person in security -- national security -- in the white house. now questions have been raised
about the credibility of the attorney general, the number-one person in the trump administration when it comes to the administration of justice. and what is the issue? the same issue as general flynn: conversations with the russians which were not disclosed to the american public. this is an issue that is going to continue to be in the forefront, as it should be, until we can bring the facts to the american people. the only way to reach that point is by having the attorney general recuse himself from any investigation, appointing as a special prosecutor or someone in that capacity someone who is credible, who can pursue this matter; and then initiating an independent, bipartisan investigation by a national commission with credible chairs who have no political agenda but care enough for the united states to view this invasion by russia as absolutely unacceptable. mr. president, i yield the
mr. wicker: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from mississippi. mr. wicker: are we in a quorum call? the presiding officer: we are. mr. wicker: i ask unanimous consent that the quorum call be vitiated. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. wicker: madam president, earlier today during his opening remarks, the distinguished majority leader paid tribute to my senior senator, thad cochran, upon the occasion of his becoming the 10th
longest-serving senator in the history of our republic. if you think about this -- i just checked with the cloakroom -- the senate first convened in march of 1789 in new york estimatnew york city.and so in e united states senate, thad cochran of mississippi now becomes the 10th lon longest-serving senator in history. quite a milestone. i was chairing a subcommittee hearing this morning and was not able to be on the floor during the majority leader's remarks, and so i take a moment or two now to pay tribute to senator cochran at this milestone in his career and in the history of the senate. most members do not know that senator cochran and i were born
in the same small town. we're both natives of panatoc, mississippi. we are alumni of the same university, ol' miss rebels. and we share the same political lineage in mississippi of being early pioneers in the development of the republican party. i was the first republican member of the house of representatives in my congressional district, the first district of mississippi, back in 1994, and senator cochran blazed an even more significant trail by becoming the first popularly elected senate republican -- republican senator from mississippi back in 1978 in over a century. he succeeded former president
pro tempore jim eastland of mississippi. and so i've been able to watch him and be somewhat of a teammate over the decades, and i just want to pay tribute to thad cochran as a trailblazer for quite sometime. this is a milestone, and it's a testimony to the proven record that -- to the proven record that senator cochran has built in this chamber. he served six years in the house prior to that. so he's been around a long time, and he's always been a good public servant. he's ails been a strong american, he's always been a good troupe. he's chairman of the appropriations committee and a lot of funds are distributed through that committee, but he's part of the team, and his committee are part of the team, and, again, madam president, a lot of our colleagues don't realize this, but we set budget numbers -- house and senate.
we come to an agreement, and we set those spending levels, and then the appropriations committee, under the leadership of thad cochran, do the hard work of figuring out how to abide by those budget caps. and they do it year in and year out, and with leadership like senator thad cochran's, usually the numbers are crunched and they make it work on a bipartisan basis. many of the votes in the appropriations committee last year under the leadership of chairman cochran were unanimous votes, or virtually unanimous votes. at the same time he's been able, within the contrarians of those budget caps, to -- within the constraints of those budget caps, to take care of needs and certainly for our state of mississippi at some very, very dark moments in the history of our state.
hurricane katrina, the worst natural disaster in history ever to hit the north american continent, was visited upon our state and we were certainly fortunate to have the leadership of senator thad cochran, and again i was glad to be his partner in that regard. after the deepwater horizon, the entire gulf coast region and in fact the entire nation benefited from the leadership of senator cochran. so he makes us proud, and he's made us proud for years and years now. he was called by someone "the quiet persuader" and that nickname has stuck and has been appropriate for quite sometime. throughout his time in congress, indeed, thad cochran has been the quiet persuader. not a lot of demagoguery, not a lot of arm waving, not a lot of rhetoric comes from this desk in
front of me. but leadership and resolve and taking care of business on behalf of the united states of america. you know, before he was a congressman, thad cochran was a successful young lawyer. before that he was a member of the navy. he served our country well. and before that, he was perhaps the most outstanding law student with perhaps the highest grade point average ever in the history of the ole miss law school. so he's made us proud in so many ways, and although i was not able to be on the floor, madam president, at the moment when senator mcconnell made this recognition, i did want to come, now that i have a moment or two, and add my words of encouragement and congratulations to thad
cochran, also my word of appreciation on behalf of a grateful state and a grateful nation for the many ways in which thad cochran has made us better and a stronger country. thank you, madam president. i yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call: