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  U.S. Senate Sens. Schumer Mc Connell on Debate Rules  CSPAN  April 7, 2019 2:22pm-3:03pm EDT

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to news. the social effect in the political effect of facebook are enormous. >> monday at 8:00 p.m. eastern on c-span2. >> the senate voted wednesday to reduce the length of debate on non-cabinet level nominees and certain traditional nominees from 30 hours to two hours. it's a third time in sixers the majority party has used the so-called nuclear option to unilaterally change usual rules of the chamber with a simple majority vote. this time, to work through backlog of president trump's nominations. here are charles schumer and mitch mcconnell. >> mr. president, this is a very sad day for the senate. at a time when leader mcconnell brags about confirming more judges than anyone has done in a
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very long time, he feels the need to invoke the terribly destructive and disproportionate procedure of the nuclear option in order to fast-track even more of president trump's ultra conservative nominees to the federal bench. before i discuss in greater detail, i want to note for the record democrats were prepared to confirm the nomination of mr. kessler by unanimous consent so the cloture vote we had was unnecessary. now, if you had been listening to senators debate this issue in recent days, you've heard a lot of claims and counterclaims about cloture votes, about rates of confirmation for circuit and district courts in different congresses, about judicial vacancies and other arcane things that may not sound very illuminating. vacancies and other arcane things that may not sound very illuminating.
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so i want to start which making clear what this debate is really all about. i want to issue a warning about what is at stake in this fight. underneath all the statistics, what leader mcconnell, president trump, and republicans in the senate are trying to do is use the courts to adopt a far-right agenda that republicans know they cannot enact through the legislative process. why can't they? because it's an agenda the american people reject, an agenda set by the far right that republicans in the senate follow. senator mcconnell and republicans in washington understand that they will never persuade enough americans to support backward goals likening women's reproductive freedom,
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taking away health care, rolling back civil rights, making it more difficult to vote, or abolishing safeguards for clean air and clean water. instead, they decided there was another route to achieving their policy goals, one that neither -- that requires neither public support nor legislation, the courts. so republicans, pressured by the hard right and wealthy special interest donors launched a sustained effort to pack the courts with very, very conservative judges, preferably young ones who would sit on the bench for decades. these perspective judges were identified as early as law school, having signaled their hard-right leanings through their writings or membership in
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conservative groups like the federalist society. nominees like these started to appear during the george w. bush administration. take miguel estrada, a bush nominee with no judicial experience, who held membership in the federalist society but had no writings and claimed that he had never even thought about roe v. wade, or william pryor, another bush nominee who called roe, quote, the worst abomination in the history of constitution law and argued that states should have the are right to criminalize homosexual. or take charles pickering, who advocate add reduced sentence for a man convicted of burning a cross in the front yard of an interracial couple. before the republicans launched their campaign to remake the courts, neither party would have dared put forward such radical
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nominees. starting with his campaign, and into his presidency, president trump has been captive, totally captive, to the conservative campaign to take over the courts. before he was a presidential candidate, mr. trump had been a democrat and a person with no fixed judicial philosophy, so conservatives didn't trust him. he and his advisors came up with a solution. act the federalist society to produce a list of far-right supreme court nominees, and then have candidate trump pledge only to nominate people on that list. and not just the supreme court. the federalist society played and continued to play a huge influence on nominees to the circuit courts. no other presidential candidate had so willingly and openly
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outsourced judicial nominations this way, but it mollified the hard right and the president has dutifully nominated people from the list to the supreme court. he has made similarly ideological choices for the circuit and district courts. this is an alarming strategy because over the last two years president trump has nominated and senate republicans have advanced the most unqualified and radical nominees in modern times. consider the nomination of ryan bounds who misled the oregon senators by partisan judicial selection committee about his controversial writings in the past, writings in which he dismissed efforts to increase diversity as mere race thing, criticized stanford university yes for -- university's
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punishment for defacing a pride statue and criticized a group for firing workers who tried to unionize and disavowed the university for disciplinary actions against students convicted of violence. five members of the screening committee, including the committee's chair said they would not have recommended bounds had they known of his college writings when they first interviewed him. fortunately, it became clear that a few republicans would not support mr. bounds on the floor and the nomination was withdrawn. or consider the nomination of thomas farr, who had an extensive record defending discriminatory voting laws and racial gerrymandering in north carolina. he's also creditably alleged to
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have played a role in jesse helms' campaign voter suppression efforts, including sending over 100,000 postcards to heavily african american precincts that falsely told voters that they could be found ineligible to vote based on several conditions involving place and length of residence. yet, amazingly, after something as despicable as that president trump and leader mcconnell pushed hard for his nomination, but it could not withstand scrutiny with the senate and was ultimately withdrawn due to the united democratic opposition and a few conscious republican senators. i would note that in the cases of both mr. farr and mr. bounds the republican concerns only
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emerged at the end of post-cloture debate time, which republicans now propose to limit. had we had only two hours, horrible, horrible nominees, way beyond the bounds of normal nomination and discourse, even from conservatives, like farr, like bounds would be sitting on the courts today. i agree with what my colleague, senator klobuchar, has said. two hours for a lifetime appointment is unacceptable. two hours for a lifetime appointment with huge influence on people's lives is unacceptable. it's ridiculous. it's a mockery of how this institution should work. it's not just the courts.
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there are many examples in the executive branch as well. annemarie berkele nominated to chair the bcsb, it was reported that the nominee blocked action at the commission to recall hundreds of thousands of potentially defective baby strollers even in the face of reports they caused, quote, potentially life-threatening injuries. she even kept democratic commissioners in the dark about the investigation. and, of course, there's chad raddler who led the charge to end preexisting condition protections. president trump and senate republicans, the self-declared party of health care rewarded him by overwhelmingly confirming him to a lifetime position as a
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sicker court judge. despite mr. radler's conspicuous role in trying to curtail american's health care, no, no republicans were willing to stand up to president trump and vote against his confirmation. now, at this point people listening to these proceedings might be asking themselves, what happened when a democratic president occupied the white house? the answer is that republicans, led by senator mcconnell, remained undeterred. in such times they chose to employ the extraordinary tactic of denying confirmation to a democratic president's nominees in order to hold vacancies open until a republican could regain the presidency, and it was an audacious and insidious gambit,
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a way to full -- nullify a democratic president's power to fill judicial vacancies. we saw this tactic during the clinton administration what republicans on the judiciary committee killed a number of president clinton's quite moderate judicial nominees, even without the basic courtesy of a hearing. we saw it again during the obama administration, when republicans used the filibuster and other forms of delay to more than double the number of circuit and district court vacancies. during obama's last two years in office, the republican senate confirmed fewer circuit court nominees than any congress in 70 years. and then in the march of 2016, senator mcconnell and senate republicans took this maneuver
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to a new machiavellian low. they refused to even consider president obama's nomination to the supreme court of u.s. circuit judge merrick garland, one of the most respected jurists in the nation, a man known not only for his judicial excellence and perfect judicial temperament but his moderation. in fact, senator orrin hatch, a conservative's conservative, a former chairman of the judiciary, had previously endorsed judge garland for the supreme court. but the merits didn't concern senator mcconnell. his cynical strategy required republicans to block the garland nomination for almost a year, until after president obama's second term ended, and that is exactly what they did.
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it was widely condemned as a naked power grab that nullified a president's constitutional authority. it was a terrible, deeply lamentable moment for our democracy and our constitution. and yet -- and yet, as "the new york times" reported, senator mcconnell says it was one of his, quote, proudest achievements. after president trump took office, republicans sensed an opportunity to grease the conveyor belt even more. they did away with the long-standing practice that senators being consulted about district court nominees in their home states. the blue slip tradition ensured that judicial nominees reflected the ideology and values of the
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state to which they were nominated. it provided some healthy counterbalance against nominees who were outside the mainstream from either party or were lacking in proper qualifications. thanks to senate republicans, led by senator mcconnell, that protection is now history. so when republicans complain about democratic handling of nominees, there's no other word for it but hypocrisy. you don't have to take my word for it. according to the congressional research service, more circuit judges have been confirmed in the first two years of the trump administration than in the first two years of any presidency since at least the truman administration.
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the majority leader himself has celebrated the pace of confirmations. he bragged about it to the heritage foundation. he said this to them a few months ago. quote, we confirmed every circuit judge. we've now done 29 circuit judges. that's a record for this quick in any administration in history. those are leader mcconnell's words, not mine, and now we have to change the rules, even though you've confirmed more circuit court judges than anyone in history? that's a shame. that's a disgrace. that is not the senate we want. for leader mcconnell to brag
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about confirming more judges than ever before and then complain about democratic obstruction and say the process is broken, so you have to change the rules, is the height of hypocrisy. now, leader mcconnell and senate republicans also complain about the pace of nomination -- of confirmation for president trump's executive branch and independent agency choices. they conveniently omit republicans' sorry record of obstruction of nominees to democratic seats at important agencies, like the nlrb, the fdic, the s.e.c. which have suffered as republicans caused dedicated public servants like former nlrb chair mark pierce to
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languish for months or even years. it's actually a little surprising that leader mcconnell and his republican colleagues would draw attention to the subject of executive nominees now, given the appalling history of incompetence, corruption, and convenientality among -- venality among president trump's so-called best people, not to mention the fact that there are hundreds -- hundreds -- of vacancies that the president can't even be bothered to fill. staffing the government is serious business and so is the system of justice assigned to the courts by our constitution. they both deserve better than the senate republicans' cynical, partisan efforts to turn the senate into a conveyor belt for ideological conservatives.
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the notion that president trump's judicial nominees have been treated unfairly is simply false -- simply false. there's no truth to it, as all these statistics that i've talked about have shown. what republicans really want to see is the elimination of yet another norm of the senate so they can auto mate and expedite -- automate and expedite the nomination process without a modicum of debate. they're all for consent with no advise. with all undue haste, they want to pack the courts with partisan warriors, not impartial jurists. it's outrageous. democrats have a different view of who should sit on the federal bench. we have a different view of the role of this chamber. our judicial system works best when we hold nominees to three
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simple standards -- excellence, moderation, diversity. these are not ideological litmus tests. they are the pillars of a healthy system of justice. they are the benchmarks by which we can rest assured that the men and women who are appointed to the federal bench will respect the rule of law and execute their duties impartially. and it cuts both ways. when republicans are prepared to act in good faith and advance nominees of high caliber, we're ready to give them the consideration they deserve. mr. president, for generations, the united states senate has done the work of the american people through consensus, through compromise, through
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corporation's cooperation. it's been a place where seemingly impossible disagreements have found sensible solutions. indeed, the legacy of the senate is a story of debate, ample debate, followed by compromise. and it's thanks in large part to the rules that govern how this chamber works. it's crucial those rules not be twisted or abused for partisan advantage. the majority, by taking yet another step to erode that legacy, risks turning this body into a coliseum of zero-sum infighting, a place where the brute power of the majority rules with little or no regard to the concerns of the minority party and where long-standing
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rules have little or no meaning. i am sorry, so sorry, my republican colleagues have gone along with senator mcconnell's debasement of the senate. to do this for such blatantly political ends is simply unworthy of this institution. i yield the floor. mr. mcconnell: mr. president? the presiding officer: the majority leader. mr. mcconnell: one of the advantages of having been around the advise and consent process for as long as i have is i know a little history. i was actually here as a young staffer on the judiciary committee when richard nixon appointed two supreme court justices who were defeated. during most of those years, our
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democratic friends were in the majority here in the senate. they could have done whatever they wanted to on the executive calendar to slow down, obstruct, and prevent republican presidents from having nominations confirmed. i can remember during the clinton years, at the urging of both senator daschle and senator lott, when my party was in the majority, to invoke cloture on circuit court nominees that i opposed in order to keep the senate from developing a process of filibustering the executive calendar, which had never been done before. and the clearest example of why it was never done before is the clarence thomas nomination, the most controversial nomination for the supreme court in history, with the possible
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exception of brett kavanaugh. he came out of committee with a dead-even vote, could have killed him in committee, went to the floor and was confirmed 52-48. we all know it only takes one senator -- just one -- to make us get 60 votes on something. joe biden, ted kennedy -- they were hard over against clarence thomas. but nobody -- not one of the 100 senators -- said you have to get 60 votes. clarence thomas was confirmed 52-48. been on the supreme court for 30 years. he would have never been there -- a single senator, just one, had said you have to get 60 votes. now, my friends, i'd call that a pretty firm tradition that you don't filibuster the executive calendar. was it possible? yeah, it was possible.
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it just wasn't done. so when did all of this start? well, the junior senator from new york got elected in 1998. george w. bush gets elected president in 2000. the alarms go off. they're going to appoint a bunch of crazy right-wingers to the circuit courts. so my friend be, the democratic leader, at a seminar or a meeting invited a couple of people named laurence tribe and cast unseen -- two rather famous liberal law professors -- and they had a discussion about what to do about these all of right-wing judges that are going to be sent up. and so the conclusion was, open the toolbox, take out whatever tool will work, and save america
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from these kind of people. and so they did. and the poster child for that was miguel estrada, who they said openly they were afraid was going to give president bush the opportunity to make the first hispanic appointment to the supreme court. we had all night -- we had all-night filibusters. we actually stayed up all night trying to make a point. didn't make a difference. ultimately, we thought maybe we should employ the so-called nuclear option. we ended up not doing it, after there was a gang of 14 that developed and worked out an agreement and some of the nominees were confirmed and some weren't. but what had been clearly established, clearly established, was now the norm in the senate was you filibuster anybody you want to on the executive calendar.
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that had been now established as a matter of practice. so that continued through the bush years. it was actually an effort to keep justice alito on the supreme court by requiring a fill butter for the purpose of defeating justice alito but it was not successful. a number of circuit judges were stopped. we fast forward into the obama years, and we used -- our side used the filibuster twice to defeat two circuit judges over a period of five and a half years. majority leader harry reid decided in his zeal to pack the d.c. circuit, that this had gone
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on long enough. and so in 2013, in november i believe it was, the nuclear option was employed. the threshold was lowered to 51 for everybody on the executive calendar, except the supreme court. the d.c. circuit court judges were confirmed. and i said at the time i didn't like the way it was done. and i thought maybe the other side would rue the day they did it. amazingly enough, about a year and a half later i'm the majority leader. funny how these things change, isn't it? and a number of my members came up and said why don't we change it back? and i said look, i don't think we liked the way they did it but this is the way the executive calendar was handled for 200 years until senator schumer and his allies, comes sunstiin said
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why don't we use any tool in the toolbox to stop judicial appointments. so i discouraged going back to 60 because i'd actually seen that both sides had respected using a simple majority on the executive calendar down to 2003. and so we didn't. now look. with regard to these continued complaints about merrick garland, that's not what this proposal is about. this proposal is about subcabinet appointments and district judges. and for those of you who were not here in 2013, it's almost identical to what every one of
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you voted for, every one of you, in 2013, a standing order that lasted two years, almost every one of you did. and a good number of us giving president obama the opportunity to advance these subcabinet appointments and district judges more quickly. so let's talk about district judges for a minute. chairman grassley and chairman graham honored the blue slip for district judges so there's not a single -- there are 47 of you guys. there's not a single district judge that comes out here on the calendar that doesn't have two blue slips returned from whomever the senators are from the home state. so what that means is you guys are not irrelevant on district judge appointments. you're not irrelevant. for example, i tried to get my good friend, the democratic leader, to approve a list of 30
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district judges last fall, 14 of them were from blue states. oh, no, not going to do any district judges on a voice vote, even if we're for them. even if we're for them. so look, all this proposal we're talking about today does is reduce the postcloture time for subcabinet appointments just like we helped you all do in 2013 and for district judges none of whom will even be on the calendar unless both blue slips are returned positively. not exactly a radical change. now back to merrick garland for a minute. look, i made the decision and my colleagues on the republican side join me in making that decision because i knew for su
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sure, for absolute certainty that if the roles were reversed and there was a republican president and a democratic senate, you wouldn't have filled the vacancy. how did i know that? you have to go back to the 1880's to find the last time a vacancy on the supreme court occurring in the middle of a presidential election year was confirmed by a senate of a different party from the president. 1880. oh, but that wasn't enough. our friend joe biden, chairman of the judiciary committee, 1992, republican in the white house, democratic senate, no vacancy on the supreme court but he helpfully opined that if a vacancy occurred, he wouldn't
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fill it. he wouldn't fill it. oh, but guess what? 18 months, 18 months before the end of the bush 43 term, the majority leader of the senate, harry reid, and a fellow named chuck schumer said the followi following, if a vacancy occurr occurred, they wouldn't fill it. that was 18 months before the end of the bush term. and oh, on the business of filibustering the executive calendar, one thing i left out i want to catch up here, back in 2003 when my good friend, the democratic leader started all of this that we've been wrestling with since then, he said i am
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the leader of the filibuster movement and you know i'm proud of it. the buffalo news, may 27, 2003. i'm the leader of the filibuster movement, and i'm proud of it. the buffalo news. charles e. schumer recommended using an extreme tactic filibuster to block some of bush administration nominees for federal judgeships. talk about being proud of something. he started this whole thing that we've been wrestling with since 2003. cooked it up, convinced his colleagues to do it, and once it started it continued until 2013 when it was turned off. so look, where are we?
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where we are is the executive calendar is very close to being returned to the way it was treated down to 2000, by parties of both -- both parties. not the legislative calendar but the executive calendar. there's nothing radical about this. he's acting like it's a sad day for the senate. you want to pick a sad day for the senate, go back to 2003 when we started filibustering the executive calendar and he started it. that was a sad day. this is a glad day. we're trying to end the dysfunction on the executive calendar. and talk about dysfunction, 128 cloture votes in the last congress, many of them on nominees for whom there was no objection, no objection at all.
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128. goodness gracious, in the first two years of at least the last six presidents cumulatively, the majority leader whichever party had to do that 24 times in order to try to advance a nomination. so don't hand me this sad day in the senate stuff. what's been going on here is completely and totally unacceptable. you know why i know that? because many of you members, mr. leader, have told me privately they would be happy to do this provided it took effect january 2021. oh, what might happen in january 2021? i can imagine. why, it might be a democratic president. and a democratic senate. i can understand. but oh, not now. not now. look, we know you don't like donald trump, but there was an
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election. he's at least entitled to set up the administration and make it function. and with regard to the judicia judiciary, circuit judges every president of both parties feel is their prerogative. senator alexander has pointed out the history of the blue slip. there's been a little confusion about that. he's noted that blue slips were not used -- not used as an absolute veto over judicial nominees until -- listen to this -- until the 1950's when former judiciary committee chairman james easlan of mississippi afforded them the status because he did not want federal judges appointed by president icen hour -- eisenhower interfering with segregation policies in the jim
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crowe south. when he became judiciary committee chairman, ted kennedy restored blue slips to their historical purpose of ensuring consultation as opposed to serving as a one-member veto of a qualified judicial nominee. so all we have done is restore blue slips for circuit court nominees to the consultative function they played for most of their history. i've been here under presidents of both parties. they do not defer to us on circuit court judges. we don't get to pick them. and you know we almost do get to pick them when they're district court judges and we are of the same party as the white house. and we have a lot of clout because the chairman honor the blue slip for district court judges. they're entirely contained within our states. and none of them get out here on
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the floor unless the senators approve them. 47 of these guys over here are not toothless when it comes to district judges. so this is not a bad day for the senate. this is a day we end this completely outrageous level of interference and obstruction with this administration. and so i don't think anybody ought to hear -- ought to be seized with guilt over any institutional damage being done to the united states senate. the senate voted to reduce the length on don cabinet nominees and judicial nominees from 30 hours to two hours. all democrats opposed the move and they were joined by republican susan collins and mike lee. it is the third time in six years the majority party has used the "nuclear option" to
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unilaterally change years old rules of the chamber with a simple majority vote, this time to work through a backlog of president trump's cabinet's. the house debates a bill to restore net neutrality standards in place before the fcc decision last june. watch the house on c-span. the senate spent much of the week on nominations. republican leader mcconnell filed motions to limited that limit debate on six nominations. watch the senate on c-span two. you can see both on c-span.org and listen to congressional debate on c-span's free radio app. >> are this month on c-span we will feature the winners of our