Transcript: Press briefing Q&A with Senate Democrats on filibuster rule changes – Nov. 21, 2013

Partial transcript of press briefing Q&A with Senate Democrats on changes to the Senate’s filibuster rule on Nov. 21, 2013:

Question:
[Inaudible]

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada):
First of all…I do want to respond partially this way…There’s a column, I think, by Gail Collins [in the New York Times], she said that it’s a wonder the way things have been going on whether we get through the prayer every morning. And that’s what it’s come to. I wouldn’t be surprised had we not done this that they’d start objecting to the prayer.

So Sen. Murray, respond to that budget stuff.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington):
I’d just simply say that Chairman Ryan and I are working closely together to find a path forward in good faith.

Question:
Sen. Reid, when you made this decision, to what extent did you weigh the potential long-term consequences of this, if Republicans jump back in control of the Senate and push through judges who’d be overturning Roe [v. Wade], or weaken the filibusters so they can easily repeal Obamacare?

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada):
As I mentioned earlier, this country did really well for 140 years. The first vote on ending a speech – the first filibusters was in 1919 with the League of Nations. The country did great up until then. The filibuster was put in place to get things done. It’s been turned on its head; now it’s being used to stop everything. So the four of us have really tried extremely hard, and that’s why I’ve been criticized by a lot of people for having gone through two Congresses. And I wanted to get along. Rodney King, “Let’s get along.” I tried that.

And as I tried to explain in the floor today, they have simply not told the truth. Look what’s happened. And the thing about this is they don’t deny why they’re doing it. That’s what’s so interesting.

So we understand all the considerations. But let’s be realistic: What could they do more to slow down the country? What could they do more than what they’ve already done to stop the Senate from legislating?

We’ve all been in Congress a long time. Three of us through in the House. Sen. Murray has been in the Senate a long time. We’re some of the senior members of the Senate. We came here to get things done. There was a time when we used to do that but not anymore.

All these happy talks coming from my Republican friends, “Harry, we know you’re right. We know your right.” And I said, “But why don’t you vote the way you do then?” They vote together on everything and it’s only to discourage the President of the United States.

Question:
Sen. McConnell said earlier this year that if the majority were to change the filibuster rules with a simple majority that they would do it for everything, including the nominees for the [inaudible]…?

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada):
Let him do it. As I said, the country did pretty damn well for 140 years. So I think we’re beyond seeing who can out-talk the other. Let’s just get some work done on the Senate floor. Let him do whatever he wants to.

Question:
Won’t it come back to bite you when you’re in the minority?

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada):
No. What I said on the floor – this is the way it has to be. The Senate has changed. The Senate has changed. Look what’s happened. If we have a Republican President and we think he shouldn’t have the team he wants – one thing that people don’t understand and I want to try to explain this a little bit – simple majority is not going to be a piece of cake in every instance. There’s stuff on the calendar where there are some Democrats that don’t like some of the nominees that President Obama put forward…I have no fear of this whatsoever. Having served in the House where it’s a majority rule, it’s a different body, it’s a bicameral legislature. You know, majority vote’s not so bad…

Question:
…You said that had Republicans made this move it would have been a black chapter in history of the Senate. Why isn’t this a black chapter?

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada):
Well, because back then – I gave speeches saying we can’t do this, we can’t do this, it’d be a bad day, and it would have been a bad day, and we helped make it a bad day. We – I took part of that deal. Part of that deal. Do you realize with my consent, we allowed Janice Rogers Brown to go on that court? [Brett] Kavanaugh to go on that court? I mean, so, things have changed dramatically since 2005. Dramatically.

For the last 4.5 years, they have done everything they can to deny the fact that Obama was elected and then re-elected. As you know during the last Congress, Republican Leader McConnell said his number one goal was to defeat Obama. Didn’t work. Obama’s been re-elected.

And so I acknowledged on the floor that, you know, things change. I said publicly I don’t know if there was a bigger advocate on the floor of ENDA that had just passed. But I’d tell you something else, I didn’t always feel that way; I have a right to change how I feel about things.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York):
We’d much prefer the risk of up or down votes in majority rule than the risk of continued total obstruction. That’s the bottom line. No matter who’s in power.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada):
Well, here’s what they should do and here’s my suggestion. We have 30 hours on [Patricia] Millett. Time, as you know we’ve talked about that, we’ve wasted days and weeks and months of this wasted time. They should just yield that back. I would agree – my caucus would agree – we’ll vote on her when we get back.

Let’s vote cloture on the defense bill. That would allow Sen. Levin and Inhofe to go to conference with the House. Their bill is not perfect. There are a lot of people that want to offer amendments but we need a defense bill so that’s what I’ve suggested to Republicans. I don’t know what they’re going to do. But that’s what they should do.

If there’s really this angst from them about the defense of this country, what I think they should do is invoke cloture, let them start the conference with the House.

Question:
…Given what you’ve said about the filibuster, why leave it in place for Supreme Court justice? Why not just eviscerate it?

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada):
I think that we felt – my caucus felt very strongly is that – the Supreme Court, we thought we were doing the right thing by saying let’s set the Supreme Court separate. It’s something we don’t want to be jamming anybody on that. I think it’s important…Supreme Court we think that’s kind of a separate part of our country and our Constitution.

Question:
Aren’t you worried that Republicans will just get rid of the filibuster on the Supreme Court anyways?

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada):
Well, let them do it. Why in the world would we care? We were trying to protect everybody. I mean, if they want simple majority – fine. I know all these threats about “We’re going to change the rules more.” As Sen. Schumer said, what is the choice? Continue like we are or have democracy?

Question:
Looking ahead, if HealthCare.gov isn’t fixed by after Thanksgiving when you come back, are you going to put the Shaheen bill on the floor or the Udall bill on the floor?

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada):
Let’s just wait and see what happens. We’re going to take two weeks off. I’m going to visit with my five children together for the first time, 16 grandchildren, 44 people for Thanksgiving dinner…

Question:
Are you cooking?

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada):
I’m cooking nothing. [Laughter]

 

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