tv U.S. Senate U.S. Senate CSPAN December 21, 2017 9:59am-12:00pm EST
look forward to further discussion on not sure i am completely behind what you have look forward to further discussion on the concept. and let me just start with that. as innumerable we talked a little bit about justice scott polk and the fact that he had come before the senate before, i was in your event at a think for purposes of new senators, this is all new to us as well. i would like to see a quick process moving through, particularly as an attorney cares about judiciary and what happens. i'm not on the judiciary committee would like the time to properly vet these individuals. so i think for purposes moving far for new senators, what do given that authority as well and just because they're not just about previously, that would be my concern i would be curious speedy you can see the rest of this on a website c-span.org. type senate rules committee in the search box. we take you live to the use
apart the godly for yourself, surrounding them with the shield of your favor. may they never forget that you alone can keep a nation safe. lord, lead them on the path that will bring them to abundant life, telling them what to do and showing them which way to turn. as hanukkah ended last evening and christmas approaches, may your blessings and peace rest on our nation and world. we pray in your holy name. amen.
the presiding officer: please join me in reciting the pledge of allegiance to our flag. i pledge allegiance to the flag of the united states of america, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under god, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. the presiding officer: the clerk will read a communication to the senate. the clerk: washington d.c, december, 21, 2017, to the senate: under the provisions of rule 1, paragraph 3, of the standing rules of the senate, i hereby appoint the honorable luther strange, a senator from the state of alabama, to perform the duties of the chair. signed: orrin g.hatch, president
pro tempore. mr. mcconnell: mr. president. the presiding officer: the majority leader. mr. mcconnell: throughout this process of tax reform, senate republicans explained time and again that we're fighting for the middle class. our opponents lobbed one attack after another claiming we were
selling hardworking families short. of course that's completely wrong. and the tax bill we passed was written to help middle-class families from the very beginning. our goal was to make their taxes lower, simpler and fairer. under our legislation, the typical family of four making the median income can expect nearly $2,000 in tax relief next year. just yesterday we saw that tax reform has already inspired job creators to increase take-home pay for thousands of their employees. yet, not a single democrat joined us to pass this tax relief for american families. what's worse, just before we voted, senate democrats raised a point of order that proved who is really is going after low-income families. when given the chance, senate
democrats, by the junior senator from vermont, raised a procedural challenge to strike out a provision that protects colleges that provide students with tuition-free education. let me say it again, mr. president. the junior senator from vermont raised a procedural challenge to strike out a provision that protects colleges that provide students with a tuition-free education. and they chose to do it, they chose to do it after the same provision had already passed the senate before we went to conference. they didn't have to raise the challenge when required. they chose to. and in the process, they knowingly hurt schools that
provide tuition-free education to students who can't otherwise afford to go to college. let me give an example. a college in my home state of kentucky, dedicated to educating students from the appalachian region who have limited economic resources -- in other words, poor kids from appalachia, their student's average household income is less than $30,000 a year. these are kids from families making less than $30,000 a year from appalachia. their families don't have the means to pay for their education. so here p's what they do at berea. every single student receives a scholarship which covers the cost of their tuition. every student.
but what the kids do is they work at the school, and in their communities to help cover additional living expenses beyond the cost of attending school. in fact, the vast majority of berea students are able to graduate debt-free. for example, they have a great restaurant over there. you go there and eat lunch. the kids are cooking, and they're serving. they're working their way through school. and when they graduate, they don't have any debt. located in one of the most economically challenged areas of my state, this little school, berea college, offers a quality education to students with the greatest financial need, and has done so since 1855. 1855. it was founded by abolitionists.
in fact, as my friend in the chair knows, i'm originally from his state. let me tell you when i first heard of berea college. my grandmother and my grandfather had an african american family that helped them around the house, and they had an adopted daughter. and i was a little kid, and i remember them talking about her going off to college, and i said where are you going? she said i'm going to berea. i said where's that? it's up in kentucky. and, mr. president, it was the closest college that would take african american students at that time. and of course since they didn't have the means to pay for the tuition, it was a great opportunity to get a
tuition-free education. a few years back i called up the president of berea college and i said i'd like to try to locate somebody. he said, well the privacy rules are such that all i can do is see if i can find them and see if they want to meet you. i said fair enough. i said this would be a person about a certain age, would have been originally from athens, alabama. if you can identify this student, i'd love to meet her. well, he did. i subsequently found out when she came into my office here in the capitol with her daughter who lives in the area, mr. president, that she graduated from berea, went on to be a nurse, lived in the north most of her life, and has
now relocated back to athens, alabama. this is berea college. this is the college these guys over here, every single one of them voted to target by making their endowment subject to a tax that would otherwise only apply to the really big schools in the country, the ivy league schools. so every year berea uses the returns on its endowment solely for scholarships that sets it apart from every other college and university in the nation. so i worked with the finance committee to include a provision to protect schools like berea from taxes on endowments that apply to private schools that choose to sit on these large funds rather than using them aggressively to reduce the cost of attending school.
but senate democrats identified this exemption as a bridge too far. so instead of allowing the provision to stand, they protected students -- instead of allowing the provision to stand, thereby protecting these students at schools like berea, they decided to pick partisan politics and attack the measure simply because they could. and in the process, they assured that berea would bear the brunt of this blatant political calculation. so because democrats stripped part of the bill, berea estimates it could pay a tax penalty of nearly $1 million every year. berea's president has already explained to us the effect of this tax. the school will be offered, will be forced to offer fewer scholarships to kids. fewer scholarships.
the junior senator from vermont and his allies which included every single member of the democratic conference have chosen to make it harder for low-income students to earn a college degree. this is especially hypocritical coming from the man who claims to support free college for all. i remember the presidential campaign last year. i say to the occupant of the chair i remember he was promising free college to everyone except to students at berea college, where it's already free thanks to generation of donors who built their endowment. i'm at a loss for words. i don't understand how they could claim to fight for students in one moment and then make it harder for students to afford college the next. it's used to attack the tax bill
by any means necessary even though they knew the outcome and in the process launched a direct attack on the ability of schools like berea to provide tuition-free education to needy students. well, mr. president, this action by senate democrats is deeply disappointing and will provide real and lasting harm. i hope my friends on the other side of the aisle realize that the american people will see their partisan tactics for what they really are, an attack on low-income students who want to pursue opportunity and find success. a number of my colleagues in congress have said they're interested in fixing this problem, including my colleague from kentucky, congressman andy barr. i'm committed to working with him and other members of congress and with schools like berea to help right this wrong. it's hard not to repeat.
if this amendment were offered by the man who wanted to provide every student in america with friew college -- free college tuition but at the same time wanted to reduce the number of scholarships in a college where it's already free thanks to the generosity of decades of wealthy people who gave to their endowment, believing that the mission, the mission of providing a college education for poor kids from appalachia, was a worthy goal. we're going to fix this problem, mr. president. we're going to fix it as soon as we can. now on another matter, the senate has important business to conclude this week. the american people are counting on congress to reach a government funding agreement. if we fail to reach an
agreement, we would be failing to ensure that our all-volunteer armed forces have all the resources they need to protect our country. in the face of myriad threats from all around the globe. we would be subjecting programs that american families rely on to draconian sequestration cuts that none of us want to take effect. so, mr. president, the senate stands ready to take up an agreement as soon as one originates over in the house. we're ready to work together across the aisle to ensure there is no lapse in funding for critical services. furthermore, my republican colleagues in the senate stand ready and eager to ensure full and long-term funding for the children's health insurance program. nine million children receive coverage through chip. they and their parents deserve to know that congress is committed to them. republicans agree. we support a provision that would fund chip, not just for a few weeks, but for five years.
not just for a few weeks, but for five years. unfortunately, our democratic colleagues are unwilling to make that commitment to american families. thus far, they have opposed all of our efforts to include five years, five years of chip funding in this week's agreement. whatever partisan politics are leading my colleagues on the other side to this mystifying conclusion, it's time to put them aside and focus on our constituents. so i hope we can all work together to give americans the peace of mind they deserve, particularly going into the christmas season. now, on a completely different matter, i'd like to say a few words in tribute to a fine colleague whose all too brief time in the senate will soon draw to a close. senator luther strange of alabama is the newest member of
this body, sworn in just this past february. but he did not waste any time making an impact. in this historic year for the senate, luther quickly emerged as a strong voice on policy and an important vote on landmark legislation. and on a personal level, it didn't take anyone long to realize this newcomer would rank among the most diligent, dedicated, and public spirited members of this institution. at first, we even wondered whether luther might be a little too diligent. upon arriving in washington, the senator dived into the task of meeting his colleagues with friendly earnestness that is his calling card. the first time luther passed senator roberts in a capitol hallway, he stopped to introduce himself and share his excitement to be joining the agriculture committee. nothing unusual there. but i have it on good authority that the very next day, when
luther found himself sharing an elevator with senator roberts, the junior senator from alabama introduced himself all over again. not long after, a chance meeting on the train occasioned yet a third introduction. pat roberts had to put a stop to it. he said yes, luther, he broke in, i think we have met before, and we are sure glad to have you here, too. and we certainly were glad as well. luther came to the senate with a national reputation for integrity and excellence in public service that started young. the proud son of a navy veteran turned college professor, this birmingham paperboy made eagle scout at age 13. an accomplishment that still shows up on his lapel from time to time. he received his bachelor's from tulane where -- and i know this
may come as a shock -- the man the senate historian has apparently verified as the tallest senator in history played scholarship basketball. after graduation to save for law school, he spent a year on a boat that supplied oil rigs up in the north sea. he pitched in on everything, did waldorf it took to help the team and help the crew navigate the ship through choppy waters. those qualities will sound familiar to everyone who's worked with luther since. he built a sterling reputation as an up and coming lawyer in private practice. then he set it aside to serve the people of the state he loves as alabama's attorney general. in the fine alabama tradition of public servants like his friends and mentors jeff sessions and richard shelby, he combined a
steel spine with a servant's heart. whenever the people of his state needed defending, their businesses, their religious liberty, their second amendment rights, their attorney general was there for them. then, as now, he fought fiercely when times required it and his principles demanded it. but no matter how important the issue at hand from the supreme court to the senate floor, luther never loses his good humor or his conviction that we serve in order to help our constituents, not to aggrandize ourselves. luther strange reminds us that character counts. he reminds us that deeply held conservative values do not in any way stand opposed to collegiality and common decency. to the contrary, our values
require these things. he reminds us that the american people need not choose between leaders who share their principles and leaders who dignify public service. they should not hold their elected officials to a high standard and demand we do, too. if you can't tell, luther's colleagues look up to him in more ways than one. we're' sorry to see him go. in the farewell speech that senator strange delivered on this floor, he challenged his colleagues to derive greater comity in this body. he implored us not to give up on bipartisanship or on building friendships that run deeper than policy disagreements. he reminded us that the senate's marble room across the hallway from this chamber used to be a popular gathering place. senators from both parties would relax and get to know one another above and beyond the specific disputes of the day.
today, luther pointed out this room often sits empty. his advice is well taken. i have an idea how we could begin to put it into practice. all of us on both sides of the aisle could try to approach our work with more of the optimism, can-do spirit and reverence for this great institution that luther strange brought to work every single day. of course, the senate's loss will be a happy gain for luther's beloved family. despite the fact that his bright idea for a first date with melissa was a trip to the talladega super speedway to take in the talladega 500, he convinced her to marry him anyway. their loving partnership has now spanned 36 years and counting. they have raised two sons.
i hear that luke is just an inch shy of his dad's height. and cane is an inch taller. in recent years, luther and melissa became the proud grandparents of two young boys. and i have it on good authority that a certain black lab named sophie might be the most excited of all the strangers -- stranges to welcome the senator back home to birmingham. wherever luther's distinguished career takes him next, i know he is glad it will involve more time with the people that he loves most. he served with distinction in the senate during a year of historic achievements. on behalf of alabamians, he has made vital contributions on the agriculture, armed services, budget, and energy and natural resources committees. he's cast votes to help middle-class families and set america on a brighter trajectory for years to come. so we want to thank him, wish
him every success in his future endeavors, and we salute him for the dedicated service he has rendered to his country and to the people of the great state of alabama. the presiding officer: under the previous order, the leadership time is reserved. under
the previous order, the senate will be in a period of morning business with senators permitted to speak therein for up to ten minutes each. mr. mcconnell: i suggest the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
mr. hatch: mr. president. the presiding officer: the senator from utah. mr. hatch: i ask the quorum be -- call be suspended. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. hatch: it can be difficult to focus on what counts. we live in an informational environment that is increasingly atomized and persistently polarized. almost all will inevitably focus on who is up and who is down in the endless cycle of partisan gamesmanship. news cycles come and news cycles go. poll numbers jump, then fall, then jump again, then fall again. but nobody should forget what really matters around here.
at the end of the day, it's policy. in the first year of unified republican government has delivered plenty of that. in 2016, the american people faced a stark choice. republicans promised a new era of deregulation and limited government, a new policy approach that would entrust free markets and free citizens to drive us forward. the democrats, on the other hand, renewed and restated their faith in the effectiveness of government centered here in washington, to direct and command the national welfare. well, the american people spoke loudly, and they spoke decisively. republicans were given the reins and instructed to sort all of this out. nobody needs to remind me that elections are the beginning of the challenge, not the end. republicans may have prevailed
in the campaign. that an election won is nothing more than an opportunity seized. it's nothing more than a charge to carry out the promises offered on the trail, and that's precisely what we're doing. here in the senate, the fight -- despite fits and starts, we are moving the ball forward, notwithstanding often vicious treatments by the media and the constant obstruction of the democrats here in the congress, we are getting work done. promises made in 2016 have become promises kept in 2017. the american people were promised the removal of red tape, and the infuriating bureaucratic encumbrances on economic growth. as soon as we took office in early 2017, we moved to do just that. we confirmed the administrator of the office of information and
regulatory affairs, naomi roe. under her stewardship, the executive has cut over a dozen old rules for every single new rule created. regulation has been subjected to actual cost saving analysis. and likely billions have been saved in the process. here in congress, we passed a dozen c.r.a.'s to cut down on costly and ineffective rules passed in the twilight hours of the obama administration. the list of deregulatory items speaks for itself. restoration of free markets and free competition on the internet, done. new environmental policies to unleash the potential of american energy production, done. reform of public lands designations and renewal of local and state control over western territories, done. labor department reform that
restores bargaining power to employees and employers rather than unions and bureaucrats, done. on nearly every front from education to justice issues and everything in between, there has been substantial progress. personnel is often the catalyst to policy and we still have nominations to several agencies to come. the consumer financial protection bureau is in good hands with mick mul mulvaney and will eventually be headed off to a capable permanent director. the federal trade communication nominations should be arriving shortly. just recently, the senate judiciary committee unanimously reported the next director of the u.s. p.t.o., andre yunsu. a long-time champion of
intellectual property rights and head of the republican high-tech task force, i've within doing that for years. i encourage my colleagues to swiftly confirm him to this post. overall, this president has delivered on his nominations and his nominees have delivered on his promises. while i'm on the topic of nominations, i want to talk about the judiciary. controversy seems to be swirling due to a few recent and i'd say unfortunate bumps in the road. but we mustn't miss the forest no matter how much the press would like to hearken on a few of the trees. in addressing the judiciary have been historic. neil gorsuch was a superb choice for the supreme court. at a critical juncture for our courts he stands poised to cease
the mantle left by justice anthony scalia and carry the cause of originalism and texturallism for a new generation but he was only the beginning from the circuit courts to the district courts judicial nominations across the board have really been outstanding. we've confirmed more circuit court nominees this year than in any president's first year in american history. we accomplished this despite democrats using their time tested obstruction tactics and even coming up with some new ones. they forced us to take 18 cloture votes on judicial nominees alone this year compared to just one cloture vote during the first year of all previous presidents combin combined. nevertheless, we got the job done. the results will be felt for
decades to come. that's why whatever our differences on other issues, conservatives across the board heartily approve the way this administration has handled judicial nominations. i'll continue to work with my colleagues here in the senate judiciary committee as well as leader mcconnell to confirm these judges. as the rest of our agenda gains steam, judicial selections will remain the vanguard. there are more judges to come this new year, and we are going to keep on confirming them. each and every week a new trial or a appellate court judge will join the ranks of a rapidly improving judiciary. finally, on the legislative front, this administration, republican congress, have just delivered the most consequential and far-reaching tax reform package in 30 years.
when other administrations -- when other sessions of congress couldn't get it done, we did. individuals will see their tax rates drop. large corporations that employ thousands paying pass-through rates will enjoy new sapt for investment, -- capital for investment, expansion and more. seemingly to the dismay of our democratic colleagues, businesses are already responding to the good news with announcements of bonuses and new ventures. and that's just the beginning. on top of it all, the individual mandate has been repealed and obamacare is now firmly on its way out. thank goodness. despite earlier difficulties, we are well under way toward repeal. as we move toward 2016 -- or 2018, excuse me, we can look forward to additional policy successes on everything from
entitlements to infrastructure, to immigration. in conclusion, mr. president, i don't want to hear anyone claim that this president and this congress have not gotten things done. promises were made and promises were kept. only a year into things we are making good on our pledge for historic change in washington. now on another matter, mr. president, i'd like to offer a few words of support for the nomination of ryan nelson as the solicitor for the department of interior. mr. nelson has a distinguished legal background having worked in both the private and public sector, including in all three branches of the federal government. most importantly he is respected by those members of the idaho bar who know him best. he's been endorsed by numerous colleagues representing a broad
spectrum of political views. mr. nelson's exemplary legal background makes him ideally suited to serve as the department of interior solicit solicitor, and we owe the people of utah and the west to confirm him at once. once confirmed, i am very eager to work with mr. nelson and secretary ryan zinke to continue a shared mission of regulating and restoring trust between the federal government and the people of the west. there have been some marvelous changes in this year. there would be even more if we could just work together and quit all the bumbling around here as though we hate each other. i'm grateful for my colleagues on both sides of the floor. i believe we've made a lot of strides this year. i think we can make even more. and i'm grateful for what we
have been able to get done this year. mr. president, i yield the floor. a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from pennsylvania. mr. casey: thank you, mr. president. i'd ask consent to speak as if in morning business. the presiding officer: the senator is recognized. mr. casey: thank you, mr. president. i rise this morning to outline some ideas about our national security as we approach the end of the year. many americans are heading into the holiday season with some very reasonable fears about the threats facing our nation. in 2017, we saw an emboldened
north korean regime testing missiles and nuclear weapons. terrorist groups continue to execute attacks across the globe. violent state and nonstate actors continue to destabilize syria, afghanistan, ukraine, yemen, nigeria, and others. we saw russia continue meddling in elections just as they did in ours last year. this was a year of great volatility and uncertainty. however, we also saw the united states military leading an international coalition that is loosening the stranglehold isis had on parts of iraq and syria. we saw the recovery of american hostage, including constituents of mine held captive for years by terrorists.
in europe u.s. and nato forces partnered to counter russian aggression and dispel propagan propaganda. u.s. development assistance or i should say assistance projects helped hundreds of millions of people across the world, including 11 million farmers and 27.5 million children under the feed the future program. even when it seemed like there were many reasons to be afraid, the u.s. military, diplomats and development professionals were responsible for a lot of good progress this year. on monday of this week, president trump laid out his administration's national security strategy. i want to commend the work of the national security professionals who crafted the document which warrants a
thorough review. it's a substantial body of work, but it paints a very dark picture of the world and our role in it. a little more than two years ago, i stood here on this floor and invoked senator vannenberg, the senator from michigan back in the world war ii era, invoked his words for, quote, maximum united effort, unquote. and senator vandenberg's admonition that politics should stop at the water's edge. when i spoke these words, this was at a time when it seemed that the only response from my republican colleagues had at that time to the obama administration's foreign policy was, to use my word, categorical condemnation. so i want categorically condemn the administration's new
strategy, but i will pose a challenge and here it is. reject reject the false choice between investing at home and engaging abroad. utilize our diplomatic and development tool kit as much if not more than you exercise our defense capabilities. lead by example. the world will indeed become a dark place if we hard america's light under a bushel basket, to use words from scripture. in the face of our adversaries' aggression, we can choose between competition and cooperation. the new strategy outlined by the administration references competition nearly three times more than cooperation. i would suggest to the administration the words of president franklin d. roosevelt
who said, quote, competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation which is a thing we must strive for today begins where competition leaves off. unquote. i would yield to the distinguished democratic leader. mr. schumer: as always, he's a gentleman as well as
a great legislator and a great human being so thank you. i meant all of those very sincerely unrelated to him yielding to me. now, on year end issues, mr. president, we're staring down a litany of unresolved issues. we're quickly running out of time to solve them. not only do we need to pass an extension of government funding, but as i've said many times, we need to deal with budget caps,
chip, community health centers, 702-5's, disaster supplemental and of course the dreamers. i believe we could have resolved all of these issues had my republican colleagues, especially in the house, not put them on the back burner while jamming through their tax bill. it's unclear still what the house is going to send us to keep the government open and whether or not it will be acceptable to the senate. at the same time, the house may move forward on an unacceptable disaster supplemental which still does not treat fairly california, puerto rico, and the u.s. virgin islands. it doesn't include, as best we know -- they're still working on it -- cost-sharing for puerto rico, additional funding for medicaid, drinking water infrastructure. while house republicans included some tax provisions in the disaster supplemental, they failed to extend the e.i.t.c. for puerto rico, extend the tax care credit consistent with other states, and the tax bill
also includes a devastating new business tax that treats puerto rico as if it's a foreign country, which could encourage manufacturers to leave the island. this tax could cost thousands of jobs and decimate puerto rico's economy at exactly the time that puerto rico is hurting from the hurricane and needs all the help it can get. those things must be fixed before a disaster supplemental can move forward. because of these inadequacies, the disaster supplemental may have to slip to next year. i think we can work it out in a bipartisan way. i certainly do. but just jamming it through without consulting us and not being fair to is a many other parts of the country doesn't make sense. unfortunately, we still have not reached a deal yet on the dreamers who are very important, not only to my caucus, not only to some on the republican side, but to the american people. they have overwhelming support.
these kids are those who were brought here very young through no fault of their own. they learn in our schools, work at our companies, serve in our military and pledge allegiance to our flag. they are americans in every single important way but one. their paperwork. this is an issue we have a moral imperative to solve here in congress. so democrats want to make sure that we have equal bargaining, and we're not going to allow things like disaster relief go forward without discussing some of the other issues we care about that i mentioned. we have to solve these issues together, even if that means passing a clean short-term c.r. is extension with some anomalies. we understand there always have to be some anomalies but not those that change the structure and continuing negotiations into january. now on tax, earlier this week the senate passed one of the worst pieces of legislation in
at least a decade, maybe longer. the republican tax bill will go down in history as a rushed, sloppy, partisan rewrite of the tax code that benefited those who already have so much while doing little or hurting those who have too little. it will be remembered as throwing the extraordinary income inequality we see today into overdrive and fulfilling very few of the ambitious republican promises about growth, job creation, deficit reduction. but perhaps most of all, the republican tax bill will define the republican party as the party of the rich and powerful, the party against the middle class. and that will be a rubric we will hear from now until next november, and even further on. yesterday in the oval office president trump admitted that cutting the corporate tax rate was probably, quote, the biggest
factor in our plan. unquote. despite all his rhetoric about this being a middle-class tax bill, as soon as it passes, he admits that lowering the corporate rate was the republicans' primary goal. as corporations get a massive permanent tax break, individuals will get small and temporary ones. by 2027, 145 million american families making under $200,000, 83% of the middle class, will be either paying more in taxes or get a cut of less than $100. that's according to the joint committee on taxation, no partisan affiliation. meanwhile the top 1% of income earners in our country will reap 83% of the benefits from this tax plan. those facts are what make this bill so dramatically unpopular with the american people by a two to one margin in some polls. and next year the american people will have the opportunity to reject this bill and move our country in a different
direction. finally on special prosecutor mueller, i want to spend a moment to praise my friend from virginia, senator mark warner, vice chair of the senate intelligence committee, for his speech yesterday about special counsel mueller. it was an eloquent speech. i'd like to associate myself with the substance of his fine remarks. if the president were to fire special counsel mueller, our country would face a constitutional crisis. as my colleague from virginia said, it would cross a red line. additionally, there are steps below that brash and brazen act that would also cross lines here in congress, as senator warner noted, including the use of the presidential pardon on members of the trump campaign who have been convicted, whether those pardons are intended to subvert the investigation or prevent testimony and further cooperation. so i say to my colleagues, just as firing special prosecutor
mueller would cross a red line, so would pardoning people like manafort and flynn. the bottom line is this, president trump must allow this investigation to proceed without a scintilla of interference. he'd be wise to listen to senator warner's speech yesterday and act accordingly. finally, mr. president, as this is the last time i might be able to address this chamber before the end of the year -- let's hope so -- i'd like to look back at what the senate has accomplished this year. the long and short of it, though, is the senate has not accomplished much to be proud of. despite winning only a slim majority in the last election, a condition made this year -- that made this year ripe for cooperation between the parties, the republicans used their power not to seek consensus or bipartisanship, but rather to try to jam through a partisan agenda.
my friend, the majority leader, once promised that if he were ever given the majority he would return the body to regular order. he cautioned against the senate becoming a, quote, assembly line for one's party partisan legislative agenda. that's what mitch mcconnell said two yearsing -- years ago. a few years ago. sadly that's what the senate has become under his leadership this year. for a man who professed to love the senate and relish bipartisanship this is probably the most partisan senate i've served in in all the years i've been here and we've departed from regular order and the customs of the senate in ways never seen before. for what end? well, this chamber under republican leadership has devoted itself to furthering the interests of the wealthy and powerful while ignoring or harming the interests of the middle class and working america. republicans will argue they had a great year, pointing to three
things: judge gorsuch, the use of the congressional review act to roll back regulations, and their tax bill. all three of those things help the rich. they'll help corporations. but they won't help the middle class. senate republicans engaged in historic obstruction to keep a supreme court seat open so the heritage foundation and federalist society could pick a judge that would rule on the side of corporations instead of people. senate republicans jammed through congressional review act bills that roll back protections for women, students, workers, while lifting requirements based on bad actors in the big oil, gas, mining and gun industries. and of course they capped a year by passing a tax bill that provides huge tax breaks for the rich and biggest corporations while providing crumbs and even tax hikes for the middle class. they tried for months to repeal the affordable care act which would send costs soaring for millions of americans and cause
millions more to lose coverage. they failed to fully authorize chip, the children health insurance program, failed to rebuild our infrastructure despite the president's promises. the stock market is up but wages are flat. the president -- or barely flat, nearly flat. the president and republicans promised that they'd stop outsourcing. that hasn't happened. even companies the president said he personally saved have sent jobs to mexico leaving families in the midwest and across the country without the income they need this holiday season. time and time again the middle class is an after-thought or simply forgotten by senate republicans and president trump. that's been the story of the year. republicans haven't accomplished much, but what they have accomplished has only benefited the wealthy and well connected. the senate's record this year has exposed the full populism of the center of president trump's
political identity. though he rode into office promising to help the forgotten man and woman, those are exactly the people he's forgotten, abandoning them in favor of wealthy special interests. populism, unfortunately, under president trump has been traded for plutocracy. millions of americans in 2016 who were frustrated at a washington that didn't work for them feel more frustrated today and the millions of working men and women who voted for president trump, many of them are already feeling betrayed. we hope the future will be different, and our republican friends realize their legislative and l political goals are better served by bipartisanship and compromise rather than gridlock and strife. if they do, we're ready and willing to work with them. but if they don't, voters will have a chance to move our country in a dramatically different direction in 2018. we're already seeing a yearning
for that direction in elections in virginia, new jersey, tennessee, and even in deep red alabama. if the republicans continue to hurt the middle class, give handouts to big corporations and the wealthy, they're in for a reckoning next november. i yield the floor and thank my colleague from pennsylvania for his
courtesy. mr. casey: mr. president. the presiding officer: the senator from pennsylvania. mr. casey: i want to thank the democratic leader for his remarks. when i was speaking a few moments ago about national security, i had made a suggestion to the administration now that there's a national security strategy that's been outlined that the administration reject the false choice between investing at home and engaging abroad and making sure that they would utilize our diplomatic and development tool kits as much, if not more than the exercise of our defense capabilities.
we have major challenges, and that's why i think it's important to outline this morning some of those challenges and some of our responses as we head into the new year. just for discussion purposes, i wanted to paint the picture of a nation that doesn't describe one nation, but i think we can imagine a country that fits this description, or at least a number of countries that might. if you just imagine a sovereign state, a member of the united nations, a nation whose leaders are singularly focused on staying in power and who will do anything to remain in power, including undermining their colleagues and erstwhile friends, in this country, this country i'm describing, those who speak truth to power are
dismissed, ridiculed or, at worst, treated as criminals. this particular country or profile of a country looks inward, putting its domestic troubles first as its reputation in the world declines. out of fear of its near peer competitors, the country retreats from diplomatic engagement and doubles down on military capabilities. does this sound familiar? it might to some. it may describe a number of countries in whole or in part. of course there are a number of countries that fit this description. certainly the dictatorial regimes that rule north korea, syria, and iran prioritize self-preservation over the welfare of their citizens. in russia and china, journalists and opposition leaders are regularly silenced, jailed, or worse.
here in the u.s., we're going through an especially turbulent chapter in the american story as we celebrate the holidays, we might be dreading the inevitable political debates with family members or friends whose views differ from ours. however, in that if i can tisch shus, owe -- if that fictitious oppressive country i described earlier, you can't have these debates, or you can try but you won't last too long because the authorities will come knocking. that's what's great about our country. the united states is the land of the free and the home of the brave. and i'm reminded of that every time i meet with service members and veterans who are willing to put their lives on the line every day to defend our inalienable rights to criticize and to disagree with our leaders
so what about this new strategy that the administration just outlined this week? this new strategy states in pertinent part, quote, america possesses unmatched political, economic, military, and technological advantages. unquote. that's what the strategy says. and that's certainly true. i think we should add a few other advantages, even attributes, that are part of the american story, part of the american advantage. certainly our history of generosity sets us apart from the world. a tradition of pluralism as well. the freedom to debate and dissent without fear. the respect for the rule of law.
and finally, a culture of innovation unmatched anywhere in the world. as i've said before, americans don't wait for the future. we invent the future. through the execution of its strategy, the administration has an opportunity to invent the future of our nation as well as its role in the world. a future where the american economy is firing on all cylinders, where investments here at home lift everyone up, where researchers and manufacturers lead the world in production of cutting-edge technologies. for the last 11 months this administration has sent the world mixed signals about what, quote, america first, unquote, really means. from pulling out of the paris climate agreement to threatening to walk away from nato, to hollowing out the state
department, i believe the strategy implementation presents an opportunity to reverse that course. we cannot turn away from the world and try to go it alone. we should ask our allies certainly to pull their weight and pay their fair share, whether it's nato or the counter isis coalition, the u.s. can always press our partners to do more. bu÷ -- but not by threatening that we will abandon these alliances or by creating any uncertainty about these alliances. simply put, we need partners to tackle some of the greatest threats facing our nation in the world. let's go through a couple of them. north korea first on the list. the north korean regime is unpredictable and armed with nuclear, chemical, and
biological preps, and the means to deliver them. just across the demilitarized stone are tens of thousands of u.s. forces and our south korean allies. just across the water are more u.s. military personnel and our japanese allies. this regime is a significant threat to the north korean regime, a threat exacerbateed by reckless ridicule, bombastic statements, and ill-considered tweets. one miscalculation can be disastrous. the administration should accelerate serious, sober diplomacy in lockstep with our allies. and let's maybe in the new year
agree on a new rule. all of us, both branches of government. leave the tweets for domestic policy only. sound foreign policy and security policy cannot be done in 280 characters. congress has offered the administration powerful leverage in this circumstance, in the form of several pieces of legislation. first, the countering america's adversaries through sanctions act, which passed this summer, and the banking restrictions involving north korea act which is pending before the senate now. i support these tough, bipartisan sanction measures because i believe in turning the economic screws coupled with genuine diplomacy can yield results. in the new year, i urge the president to tone down the
rhetoric and empower the secretary of state and our senior diplomats to work with our partners in the region to find a diplomatic path towards a stable north korea that doesn't threaten the united states or our allies. how about terrorist groups around the world? over the last 16 years, the u.s. military, the intelligence community, and our homeland security professionals have worked hand in hand to meet the rise of terrorist groups head on. we owe the men and women in uniform a debt of gratitude for tirelessly leading the coalition fight that's rolled back isis's territorial gains. implementing the new strategy, the administration's new strategy in its call to fight terrorism at its source is not just about the military fight. the u.s. should also lead the
international community in addressing the underlying issues that drive terrorist recruitment and help to rebuild communities newly liberated from terrorist control. think about this. more than 65 million people around the world are displaced from their homes right now. 65 million people. so there is no purely military solution for this refugee crisis. a success counterterrorism strategy requires us to work with our partners for information sharing and for contributions of development assistance. another trouble spot in the world, syria. in syria, the connection between instability, displacement and terrorism is clear. the conflict has been raging for nearly seven years.
in the absence of u.s. engagement on a political solution to this crisis, regional powers, namely russia, iran, and turkey, have run the table to the benefit of the murderous assad regime and at the expense of the syrian people. the u.s. has be a buy dated its leadership role and ceded control of the outcomes to nations with interests often in direct conflict with our own. recently, we learned that the administration will endorse a political transition plan that leaves bashar assad in power for at least another four years. this is unacceptable and dangerous. assad is responsible for terrible war crimes which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of syrians and the displacement of millions more. the strategy outlined by the administration says, and i quote, we will seek a settlement
to the syrian civil war that sets the conditions for refugees to return home and rebuild their lives in safety, unquote. i agree with that goal. most people would agree with that goal, but the administration has missed the bigger picture. we need a strategy that pushes back on russian and iranian influences in syria and addresses the underlying grievances that led to the conflict in the first place. let me move to iran. the iranian regime remains a powerful source for -- a powerful force, i should say, for instability in the middle east, especially through its support of terrorist proxies and militias. we know that the iranians want to maintain control of territory linking tehran with beirut so they will continue to act against u.s. interests in iraq and syria. here again, congress has offered
powerful tools to the administration in the form of the combating america's adversaries through sanctions act. the nuclear deal with iran is giving us an unprecedented visibility on the iranian nuclear program. both the multilateral diplomatic channels billed alongside that agreement have at row ph.d. under this -- atrophied under this administration. every time the president threatens to walk away from the iran nuclear deal, he sends a clear signal to our allies and adversaries alike. u.s. commitments are written in disappearing ink. if the administration wants to get tough on iran's nonnuclear bad behavior, there are concrete steps to take today. number one, work with our allies to step up maritime interdictions of any illicit weapons traffic to or from iran. second, push the europeans to do
more to combat the financial networks that enrich the iranian terrorist proxy, hezbollah. my bipartisan stop terrorists operations resources and money act, so-called storm act, which is bipartisan, could help with that. and third, begin diplomatic conversations with our allies about a multilateral strategy to curtail the iranian ballistic missile program. all of these efforts take cooperation with our allies which the president makes harder every time he calls into question the future of the nuclear deal known as the joint comprehensive plan of action. finally, russia and china. this new strategy by the administration repeatedly describes russia and china as our competitors. let me be clear. these countries are not our friends. they actively work against u.s.
interests. they are threatened by american military dominance and economic power, and both are trying to game the system to undermine our advantages. china systematically, perniciously games the international trade system to its advantage. i firmly believe american workers and industry can outinnovate and outproduce any others in the world when the playing field is leveled. driven by similar motives, russia has meddled in elections across the western world, trying to undermine confidence in one of our most fundamental institutions of democracy. again, there are concrete steps the administration can take to counter these threats for both china and russia. number one, shore up our electrical system to help others do the same. number two, counter propaganda. number three, fight corruption. number four, get serious about
holding trade cheaters like china accountable. through engagement and cooperation, we can lead the rest of the world away from cold war-era clashes of power -- i should say the cold war clash of major powers that russia and china want to create. mr. president, just in conclusion. if this outline of some of the threats and challenges posed seems like a tremendous challenge, a great challenge for our nation, it's because it always has been so. it's always been a challenge. but as president truman once said, quote, america was not built on fear. america was built on courage, on imagination, and on unbeatable determination to do the job at hand." unquote. when faced with a challenge, whether it's pennsylvanians or americans, we don't shrink
inward. we step up. our adversaries want us to be divided into hysteria. these adversaries underestimate the courage, the imagination, and the determination of the american people. president trump might see it differently, but as we close out 2017, i see a world that needs american leadership more than ever. to paraphrase president kennedy, we should seek not a pox americana enforced on the world by american weapons of war, but a genuine peace that makes life on earth worth living. the american people are ready to rise to that challenge. i hope the administration is, too. mr. president, i would yield the floor.
mr. cornyn: mr. president. the presiding officer: the majority whip. mr. cornyn: mr. president, i would like to speak briefly today about the year we have had here in washington. at times along the way, it wasn't easy. there were more than one or two bumps in the road, and times when we got discouraged because we weren't able to accomplish everything we wanted to accomplish on the part of the american people. but looking back, i'm proud of what we were able to get done. the first thing to note is the speed with which president trump was able to nominate and we were able to confirm federal judges. everyone remembers last january when president trump nominated neil gorsuch to the u.s. supreme
court. this was an excellent choice, an experienced federal judge and accomplished scholar who understands the proper role of a judge under our constitution. mr. cornyn: mr. president, i think the weather and my sinuses are not cooperating here at this moment, so what i'm going to do is i'm going to note the absence of a quorum, and i will be back later. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
quorum call: the presiding officer: the senator from georgia stack sack i ask unanimous consent that the quorum call be vitiated. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. isakson: mr. president, i'm glad to join my colleague, senator tester, from montana on the floor today for a discussion of our veterans affairs, our accomplishments over the last three years, and our challenges for the future. but i want to start out with my part of the conversation by saying this. three years the veterans administration were making big headlines. those headlines were they weren't working well. our veterans were waiting too long for care. there were failures in our system throughout, and people were looking for an alternative v.a. system because it was in such a quagmire. thanks to the work of our committee of which the presiding
officer today is one of those members, we set out to fix a lot of problems. number one was the hospital in denver which is 40% finished. three years behind and would have closed in. the hospital is open today and operating because the veterans affairs committee of the senate buckled its shoes and got to work, got the v.a. fixed, got the hospital finished. but the most challenging thing we faced were long wait times for appointments for our veterans and veterans services for health care. longer than 30 days for a routine appointment. sometimes being as long as six months to wait, sometimes dying before they got called up from the waiting list as happened in the arizona case in phoenix. we had some tragic stories that came through and our committee came together and said we're going to fix this. we're going to put our shoulder to the grindstone, work hard and make it happen. like always, fixing anything requires one element and that's hard work. and the committee has worked hard. democrats and republicans alike been willing to get the new
secretary, secretary shulkin, get all of his aides, tom as a direct aide to the secretary and said what is it we need to do to get it fixed. we started out this year with 11 bills introduced for the veterans administration improvements in terms of health care. ten of those 11 have passed. there's one left. we're going to have a perfect 121 -- 11 for 11 year if we get the care bill passed for our veterans. even if that doesn't make it, we dealt with long waiting lines for determination of benefits for veterans. they're beginning to dissipate. we don't have hospitals being shut down because they can't be finished. we don't have near as many cases of horror stories in a v.a. health facility because the facilities are being run better. we have problems? sure, we have problems. any time you have the second largest agency of the federal government which the v.a. health system s. you're going to have problems. but we're meeting them head-on.
we're not running away from them. we have a secretary who is really willing to work to make it happen. i can't say enough about secretary shull kin. he has been fan -- shulkin. he has been fantastic, a great worker. he has given president trump the message in terms of what our veterans need and the white house to join us and the white house substantially has done so to make improvements. working with our ranking member we decided we'd do a number of things. we'd end the wait times for determination of disability and we've done that. that process is in process. we want to see to it the modern access to health care was available to all our veterans. we wanted to make sure we came up with creative ideas by using telemedicine and other ideas. most importantly we knew the choice act that we passed three years ago led by senator mccain who is in our prayers and thoughts every day, i might add, on the floor of the senate today, and we wish him the very best if he's listening, but
senator mccain went to work and came up with the first aspect of choice which passed three years ago. i was on the conference committee. we had this crazy idea that we're going to let veterans choose where they want to go for their health care. we set up a system to do that. the system worked pretty well in some cases. senator tester will tell you it doesn't work all that good in some cases in rural america. but it was a good idea of ours to make the private sector in america, and expand the access for health care to our vets. now we have before the senate what we call the care act. it's the finishing touches of what was originally the choice act. we're taking the things we learned and repealing what were wrong. we've taken things we learned are right and enhancing them. i hope every member of the senate can hear my voice today, will join me sometime in the next few weeks ahead to finish the job and pass the care act. our committee passed out 14-1. democrats and republicans alike, shoulder to shoulder voting for
the right thing to do for our vets. we hopefully are going to do the same thing on the floor. and the care act doesn't -- does a lot of amazing things but it takes what we learned in three years and applies it to real world for our veterans. it says a veteran has choice for his health care, public or private, v.a. or private sector. the veteran may determine where they want to go. the doctor and their physician providing the services if outside the system will cooperate with the v.a. so we have good medical records of that veteran and they'll work together to choose doctors that have the quality, the reputation, and the ability to deliver the service, whether in the v.a. or outside the v.a. the veteran comes first in veterans choice. in caring for the veterans, the veteran comes first. not members of the senate, not employees in the v.a. but the veteran comes first which is what we need to do. so i hope everyone will join senator tester and myself and see to it when we get this to
the floor and we're trying every day, they join us in helping pass the care act. one last thing i'll mention about the care act is it also contains the funding necessary to complete the year for veterans administration in terms of health services. but more importantly, it consolidates the stove pipes of finishing in the v.a. so we no longer have this mickey mouse game which we've all experienced for the last five or six years where the v.a. is always running out of money. the congress has never cut the v.a. off. when we had the biggest shutdown five or six years ago or potential shutdowns in the government we had, we passed bills that exempted the v.a. to demonstrate long and hard that we would never leave our veterans in need of health care coverage waiting because we couldn't act in the congress. that would happen again today if that was threatening us. this is not a matter of anybody threatening. it is a matter of finishing the job for our veterans and seeing that the veterans administration has the resources necessary to deliver the services to our veterans. to those who can hear this plea,
and it's a plea, understand i came to the floor to say three things. one is thank you. thank you to every member of the senate that voted with us to get us where we are today, that passed the 10 of 11 bills we brought in this year for veterans health care services. thank you very much. senator tester as the ranking member, thank you for your cooperation. we have worked together to find a solution to every impasse that we confronted throughout the year. the senator from alaska is presiding today as a member of the committee. thank you for what you did for those veterans in need and our states that are limited -- that have limited access to health care, like alaska. we need to make sure the alaskan veteran has the same access and the same benefits that they signed up for that the one does in georgia or in any other state. senator tester from montana who has worked so hard to make sure rural america has the same type of access. there may not be as many doctors or v.a. facilities but we can design a system that gives them
the very best access, the very best care that that region where they choose to live with offer. that is our challenge. our challenge in the v.a. is not to say you should live somewhere else. our challenge is we should have concentrated more in the v.a. to see where you live is the right place to be in terms of veteran services and we're going to do that i want to thank secretary shulkin. he was approved 100-0 by the senate. i believe i'm right he was the only cabinet member confirmed by the senate 100-0. we haven't agreed much of nothing in the last few months. we does on david shull kin. he has -- shull kin. and he has -- shulkin. and he has delivered time and time again working for our veteran, helping to work with us together, and i look forward to next year as we bring a close to the care act and pass it, to moving forward with the new things we need to pay attention to. i look forward to working with senator tester from montana and the members of the democratic party and the republican party and our committee.
we're veterans first. we're americans first. god bless our veterans. may god bless the united states of america. i yield to senator tester. mr. tester: thank you. mr. chairman. the presiding officer: the senator from montana. mr. tester: i want to thank senator isakson for his words. i want to thank the chairman of today's senate currently sitting in the chair for his work on the veterans affairs committee. i want to talk a little bit about chairman isakson before i talk about the care act. over the last year, i've been able to work with a great man from georgia who has done great work. you know, when we started out, we talked about doing stuff we could agree upon and the stuff we disagreed on and it's ended up where we've agreed on a lot of stuff and been able to get a lot of stuff done. and i would just say in a body that is full of impasse over this last year, chairman isakson
has been a great guy to work with because the fact of the matter is that we have set aside the political labels and we have worked for our veterans in that committee. and not only johnnie and myself but members of both sides of the aisle in that committee have worked so very, very well together and communicated so very, very well to make sure we can take care of the needs of the veterans across this country, whether it's rural america or not riewcial america. but our work is not done. the care act is a very important piece of legislation. it's a bipartisan compromise. it's a bill that we all negotiated on so not everybody got everything. there's always things in it that you wish would be better regardless of where you're at in the spectrum. but this program does a lot of good things for our veterans. it first of all will eliminate the veterans choice program and relate it with one that is much
more easier for our veterans to navigate in a system that puts in place where the veterans can seek care. and it puts that system in the hands of the veteran and the doctor. now, this is a bill that passed out of committee 14-1 and it has 26 veteran service organizations representing millions of americans, millions of veterans i should say that have endorsed this bill. it's a good bill. i wish the veterans administration who we worked so close with on this bill would come out forcefully and endorse it. i think that would help a lot. but it does is established a veteran community care program. merges seven community care programs into one program with one set of rules for both providers and the veterans. it puts a decision of where to seek care in the hands of the veteran and their doctor. no more one-size-fits-all eligibility. if a local v.a. doesn't have the
equipment for a certain test and there is another v.a. locally that can provide that test, the vet can go to the community doctor. if the roads to another v.a. facility are closed for snow, veterans can go to their local doctor rather than waiting for the roads to clear, which is a big issue in rural america. if a nearby v.a. clinic has a time of doc a vet needs to do but there's a community doc closer and the vet has a bad back, that vet can see that doc in that community, as an example. it offers convenient walk-in care so vets can get care closer to home for minor illnesses. third-party administrators, a.k.a. the government contractors will have a smaller role at the local level. the local v.a. will have the flexibility of when to use scheduling for what makes sense for the local v.a. so won't be decided by bureaucrats in washington. the second thing it does is improve accountability and transparency of v.a. spending.
it requires the v.a. to give congress more notice when funding levels for programs that impact veterans are running low. it forces the v.a. to put together a business-like plan about how it's going to spend taxpayer dollars. and it gives congress more visibility in the v.a. contracts. it requires accountability at the medical center, regional and the federal level. if the clinic isn't brought back up to snuff, we know who has failed to do their job. i could give you a timeline on what's gone on in the last three years with the choice program and not having enough money, having more than enough money, not having enough money. take will end when we pass this bill. congress will be able to have the oversight over the community care program that it needs. it will give long-term certainty to our veterans because a lack of long-term certainty is devastating to those veterans. and it will give those of us who have served a social security si and -- served the consistency.
no more band aids. it improves v.a. resources in health care. veterans tell me time and time again once they get through the door they love the care that the v.a. gives them. i've been told by a number of veterans the v.a. has saved their life. the problem has always been getting through the door. and the biggest reason for those delays to get through that door is workforce shortages. so our bill incentizes medical staff to work in rural and underserved areas and tribal v.a. facilities, deploys more mobile teams to provide additional care. it removes the barriers for veterans to access telemedicine, including mental health care closer to home. and it brings more nurses and heart and lung specialists to work at the v.a. and clinical staff to work at vet centers. the answer to the v.a. is not privatization. it is to build the v.a. and use the private sector to fill in the gaps that the v.a. cannot provide. that's what this bill does. it also expands the v.a.
caregiver program to veterans of all areas and their caregivers. right now the v.a. caregiver program only applies to post-9/11 veterans. we have a whole lot of veterans, especially the folks in the vietnam war that are getting a lot older and this caregiver program expansion to the veterans before 9/11 is absolutely critical. so the bottom line is this. we worked well on the committee. we put out a good bill. we put out a bill that works for the taxpayer, and most importantly, for the veterans, and this bill is a long-term solution. we don't need another band-aid fix. the care act is that long-term solution. it provides the v.a. it needs to hire staff for top-notch care, it provides an integrated network of community providers to fill in the gaps for that
care, and it is a balance between those two and the veterans win. the v.s.o.'s are on board. they were part of the discussion on this bill. the v.a. we talked to extensively to make sure that the bill would work for the v.a., and they agreed. as i said before, i would love to have the v.a. come out forcefully for this bill. i think it would help it to pass this body. we will pass a temporary stop-gap bill for the budget. i will tell you that this is the last band-aid i'm willing to put on the choice program. we need a long-temple solution. and -- long-term solution, and if we don't get that long-term solution, we are not doing right by our veterans. thank you to senator isakson and his work on the v.a. committee. when we come back in 2018
hopefully we can get this bill passed early in the session because it's the right thing to do for our veterans. i yield the floor. i suggest the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call: mr. franken: mr. president. the presiding officer: the senator from minnesota. mr. franken: mr. president, i ask that the quorum call be vitiated. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. franken: i ask unanimous consent to speak for as much time as by may consume. the presiding officer: without
objection. mr. franken: thank you, mr. president. this is my final speech on the floor of the senate. i have come here many times. we come here to cast votes and debate issues that are important to our states and to the country, we introduce and explain legislation, and we talk about our states and what we learn on our latest visit to a community health center, farm or small business. what we don't talk about all that often, mr. president, is the work of all the men and women on our staffs who make all of this possible. i've been fortunate to have had a dedicated, hardworking staff in washington and minnesota, and i have no doubt that they will go on to do great things and to serve our nation well. mr. president, i'm also very lucky to have a wonderful family that has stood with me through the tough time and good times as
senators. as senators we have packed schedules, there are late nights, and difficult votes and time when we need to understand our -- i'm grateful to my wife, children, and their spouses to have stood by me to help me do my work effectively. finally, mr. president, as i leave the senate, i take great comfort knowing that my successor tina smith has a well-earned reputation for being a smart, hard-working -- hardworking colleague and i know she will serve our constituents very well. when most people think about publics, they think about arguments, the arguments they
have around the dinner table, the arguments they have online, and most of all the argument that's we have here in washington. that's a big part of the reason why a lot of people just don't like politics. often the debate here in washington can sometimes seem arcane and tough to understand, other times, especially in recent years, it can be so bitter that it doesn't even feel like we're trying to resolve anything, just spenting our spleens at -- venting our spleens at each other. i get that. i get why people want us to stop arguing and doing stuff. since i'm leaving the senate, i thought i would take a big risk and say a few words in favor of our arguments. after all, there's no single magic solution that can bring all 100 of us together because there's no one set of values that brought all of us here in
the first place. i think many of you have heard me talk about what brought me to politics and what makes me a democrat, and it's my wife fran. when she was 17 months old, her father, a deck indicated world war ii veteran, died in a car accident, leaving her mom widowed at age 29 with five kids. there was one sibling younger than african, -- than fran, bootsy. they made it thanks to social security survivor benefits. sometimes they had to turn off the heat in winter, this is portland maine. franni and her three sisters all went to college on combinations of scholarships and pell grants.
at the time a full pell grant paid for about 80% of a public college education, but today it only byes about 35% -- pays for 35%. when bootsy went to high school, my mother-in-law got a loan and became an elementary school teacher. because she taught title one kids all her loans were forgiven. my brother-in-law neil went into the coast guard and became an electrical engineer. every member of fran's family became a productive member of society. they tell you in this country to pull yourselves up by your bootstraps, but first you've got to have the boots, and the federal government, through social security security survivor benefits and pell
grants and the g.i. bill and title 1, the federal government, gave my family the boots, and that's why i'm a democrat. that's why i'm a democrat. over the years i've heard democrats and republicans talk about their own values, the things that they believe that brought them to politics, the things that make them care about what happens here. i've learned so much from listening to the arguments we have in this country and the arguments that we have here in this chamber. i've learned from republicans. i learned to respect, if not always agree, with their opinions and learned how their backgrounds can lead them to reach, in good faith, a conclusion i could never have imagined. and, of course, i learned so much from my fellow democrats. but the person i learned the
most from is someone who isn't here. for 12 years the seat i currently occupied was occupied by paul wellstone. he was a tireless, passionate champion for working families. he fought for veterans, farmers, and those who needed a voice. paul had a saying that represents the values and principles for which he fought. he used to say that we all do better when we all do better. that was paul's creed. what he meant is that the working poor and the middle class and the poor, and the well-off, the country does better when each of us is able to contribute to economy fairly.
i think paul was right. not everybody does. some people's values are different. some people believe that those at the top are there for a reason and that they shouldn't have to concern themselves with what's going on in the lives with the people who haven't been so lucky or even so accomplished. some people believe -- honestly legitimately believe -- that not everyone deserves to have the same standing in this country. they believe your standing as a citizen should depend, in part, on where you were born or what you believe or who you love or what you do for a living. some people believe that at some fundamental level we are all in this on our own. i don't agree with any of those values. but i respect that some people hold them and that's why arguments matter. when we argue, whether it's across the fence with your neighbor or on a cable news show
or here on the floor of the senate, it can help us sharpen our ability to articulate what we want and challenge our own views with a more critical eye and help highlight a chase for the american people. after all in a democracy the people get to choose. as i prepare to leave the senate, mr. president, i've been thinking a lot about my values and paul's values, the values we share with many of my colleagues here in the senate and many of the progressive activists that i met and worked alongside of in minnesota and around the country. and that's because, regrettably, the policies pursued by the trump administration and congressional republicans today could not stand in starker contrast to the principles paul championed and the values i have fought for during my time in the
senate. mr. president, the values being advanced by the president and his allies in congress simply don't represent my belief that our economy, our democracy, and our country works best when they work for everyone. indeed, the values propelling the republican agenda today are about consolidating political and economic power in the hands of corporations and the very wealthy. just take the tax bill that congress passed this week. at virtually each and every step of the process republicans drafting this bill chose to embrace the failed trickle-down policies of the past, crafting an enormous -- an ee enormous -- giveaway that helps their corporate campaign backers and wealthy donors. according to the joint commission on taxation, by 2027,
83% of the benefits in the republican tax bill will accrue to the top 1% of income earners. that's people who make more than $912,000 a year. 83% of the benefits go to the top 1%. do we really need any other data point? well, here's one. at the same time the republican tax bill would increase taxes on 35 million low-and middle-income families. during his inaugural address, president trump vowed, quote, the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. but the tax bill is a slap in the face to those forgotten men and women. i guess the president forgot about them. make no mistake, the republican tax bill is deeply you'd flawed,
but -- is deeply flawed, but when they looked to reconcile the bill, behind closed doors, even more favors were dolled out to republican donors and special interest. new rules were created to give real estate developers, like president trump and his son on law, more benefits, the rate was cut lower to the house -- is lower than the house and senate versions of the bill. the provisions in the bill that were designed to stop foreign corporations to avoid taxes by shifting profits overseas, what is known as earnings stripping, were dropped all together. mr. president, the problem in this country is not that the wealthy aren't doing well enough. after all, the top 1% of the country's population controls
nearly 40% of its wealth. the problem is that too many working families have been left out of the economic growth that the top 1% have enjoyed in recent years. but rather than use the tax reform bill as an opportunity to help those working families, republicans have instead decided to shower corporations and wealthy donors with tax breaks and special favors. the tax bill didn't just come out of the blue. quite the contrary, mr. president. the faction bill comes on the heels of countless republican attempts to shred policies that offer protection to working families and the environment. but the corporations, wealthy donors who support my republican colleagues believe that these policies stand in the way of their profits. take health care, for example. despite president trump's campaign promise that, quote, we're going to have insurance
for everybody, unquote, when his administration attempted to deliver on that promise, house republicans devised and passed a bill that would have resulted in 23 million fewer people having health insurance including 14 million people who rely on medicaid. facing unprecedented public outcry, republican senators eventually proposed a narrower people, one that didn't repeal and replace the affordable care act outright but undermined some of its most foundational provisions. but this narrower senate bill still would have left 16 million more americans uninsured all while spiking premiums by 20%, according to c.b.o. the american people continued to fight, demanding that the senate kill the bill. and thanks to the incredibly hard work of organizers,
activists, including the american medical association, by the way, and everyday americans, that's exactly what happened. the republican attempts to repeal the a.c.a. failed. but it seems that my republican colleagues have not learned their lesson. finding themselves unable to sustain an open assault on the affordable care act, they instead included a measure in the tax bill that will repeal an essential component of that law, the individual mandate. as a result, 13 fewer million -- 13 million fewer americans will have health insurance in the years to come. but that doesn't matter to president trump and his allies who claim that they need to repeal an essential pillar of obamacare in order to pay for the massive tax cuts that their wealthy donors demand. those same wealthy donors also demand that republicans turn a blind eye to climate change, an existential threat to humanity.
climate change is not just an environment problem. climate change stands to affect virtually every aspect of our lives posing a grave threat to public health, national security, our country's infrastructure, and our economy circumstances require that we take immediate action in order to protect the welfare of future generations. but almost every republican in congress refused to take the issue of climate change seriously. they continued to deny the underlying evidence and science behind it, even as americans suffer the devastating consequences of their denial. this year alone hurricanes raged texas, florida, puerto rico, and the u.s. virgin islands. and wildfires raged across the west, most recently in los angeles. we know that climate change makes these extreme weather
events worse. and this is just the beginning. what we are witnessing is the beginning of a new normal, a new normal that this country simply cannot endure. but it doesn't have to be this way. it is possible to address climate change while at the same time growing our economy and creating jobs. during the obama administration, the federal government increased research and development investments and clean energy technology both through tax credits designed to incentivize investment and through the energy title that i was proud to help write and the farm bill which allowed people in rural america to participate in the clean energy revolution. and those investments paid off. since 2009, the cost of wind power has decreased by 66%. and the coast of solar power -- and the cost of solar power has dropped by 85%.
but we need to do more. i championed an energy efficiency standard that will require utilities to become more efficient. i led legislation to encourage energy storage, a game changer that allows wind and solar to be used when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining. and i pushed to deploy distributed energy that makes our grid more resilient and reliable. but rather than join me and my democratic colleagues in confronting the cheanl of climate -- the challenge of climate change republicans ordered a retreat at the behest of public interests, the republicans put forward nominees for key environmental posts who cut their teeth defending corporate polluters, not enforcing the laws that keep our air and water clean. and they have pushed an agenda that cuts funding for science and innovation. mr. president, the republican
strategy of denial and obfuscation isn't just an affront to good government. it's an affront to common sense. but, mr. president, the trump administration and its allies in congress have never let science or common sense stand in the way of ideology. time and time again they have acted to roll back evidence-based commonsense protections put in place to improve the lives of minority or marginalizeed communities including women and lgbt people. for example, in october the trump administration announced a new rule that guts a provision in the affordable care act that required health insurance plans to cover birth control free of charge, a policy that has benefited more than 62 million americans. mr. president, the ability to access affordable reproductive health care has a powerful effect on the choices that women and families make every day, choices about whether to finish
college, buy a home, or start a business. ensuring that women have access to contraception is vital to the economic security of our families, and that's why i filed a brief in support of the a.c.a.'s contraceptive coverage requirement when it was challenged before the supreme court. but despite the millions of women who have benefited from the policy and despite the science demonstrating that restricting access to contraception has negative health consequences, the trump administration has eviscerated the policy. in february the trump administration rescinded obama-era guidelines and instructed schools how to protect transgender students under a federal law called title 9. mr. president, lgbt students deserve to learn in an environment free from
discrimination, and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. but far too often lgbt kids, particularly transgender kids, experience bullying and harassment. when that happens, those students are deprived of an equal education. that's why i led the senate in calling on the obama administration to issue those guidelines back in 2015. nonetheless, the trump administration decided to scrap that guidance. a callous and mean-spirited decision that sent a terrible message to lgbt children and their parents and which took away a tool designed to protect our children. it is our responsibility not just as senators, but as adults, as adults to protect our children. not turn a blind eye when they face prejudice and cruelty.
mr. president, nothing that republicans have done is more galling, nothing poses a greater threat to the fabric of our democracy than their deliberate and sustained attack on the right to vote. let's start with the supreme court's disastrous 2013 decision in shelby county vs. holden, a 5-4 decision in which the court's conservative justice effectively gutted the voting rights act and eliminated a vital checks on states with a history of discrimination at the polls. after shelby county, states swiftly began to enact harsh restrictions on the right to vote and in many cases citing the myth of so-called voter fraud as justification. now take north carolina, for example. just a few months after shelby county, the state enacted one of the nation's strictest voter i.d. laws, without any evidence
the state described the new restrictions as necessary to prevent fraud. and without the protections of the voting rights act, those changes went into effect, keeping poor and minority voters from casting a ballot. when north carolina's restrictions were eventually challenged in court the fourth circuit found that the primary purpose of the restrictions wasn't to fight fraud but to make it harder for black people to vote. the court found that, quote, the new provisions target african americans with almost surgical precision. unquote. now, mr. president, the fact that north carolina's restrictions stand as a blatant example of race discrimination is undeniable. but the strategy behind adopting such harsh restrictions is even more insidious. the strategy here is designed to ensure that voters who don't agree with their candidates or their policies aren't able to vote against them.
mr. president, paul wellstone's words are more important today than ever before. we all do better when we all do better. i believe that to my core. mr. president, the policies pursued by president trump and his allies are not about lifting people out of poverty or about the politically powerless -- giving them a louder voice in our democracy. these policies are intended to line the pockets of wealthy donors and protect the power of those who already wield outside influence in our democracy. that is a far cry from paul's creed. and when i think about what's gone wrong here, when i reflect on how this country has strayed so far from the values that i believe a majority of americans share, i have to say i think there's something wrong with the
way that we are arguing. and it started long before 2016. lurking behind each of those issues isn't just a difference of opinion or a difference of values. there's something far worse. a lie. take, for example, the trump administration's efforts to suppress votes. shortly after winning the presidential election, then- president-elect trump was confronted with the unpleasant fact that he lost the popular vote. he tweeted, quote, in addition to winning the electoral college in a landslide, i won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally. now let's be clear, president trump lost the popular vote by more than 2.8 million votes. so what he claimed in that tweet is that nearly three million fraudulent votes were cast. in fact, he later cast between three million and five million illegal votes caused him to lose
the popular vote, citing no evidence. mr. president, 138 million votes were cast in the 2016 presidential election. state election and law enforcement officials found virtually no credible evidence of fraud and no states, not one state reported any indications of widespread fraud. none. but that didn't stop the trump administration from quickly turning the president's tweets into policy. the white house created a new commission to investigate the president's wild and unsubstantiated claim, a commission led by kansas secretary of state chris coback, a right-wing extremist who made a career out of trafficking in the voter fraud myth and who was fined for repeatedly lying to a federal court in voter i.d. litigation. when coback was asked whether he believed the president's claim that millions of people voted
illegally, he said, and i quote, we may never know the answer to that question. really? mr. president, this episode could almost be considered funny if the ramifications weren't so deadly serious. coback's voter fraud commission requested sensitive information about voters including the names, dates of birth, party registration and voting history from all 50 states. this is information that could lay the groundwork for disenfranchising scores of millions of eligible voters. which is why more than 40 states refused to comply with that request. at the same time the trump sessions