Transcript: Sen. Harry Reid’s floor remarks on changes to Senate filibuster rule – Nov. 21, 2013

Partial transcript of Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-Nevada) floor remarks on changes to the Senate’s filibuster rule on Nov. 21, 2013:

…The American people believe the Senate is broken, and I believe the American people are right.

During this Congress – the 113th Congress – the United States has wasted an unprecedented amount of time on procedural hurdles and partisan obstruction. As a result, the work of this country goes undone.

Congress should be passing legislation that strengthens our economy, protects American families. Instead, we’re burning wasted hours and wasted days between filibusters. I could say instead we’re burning wasted days and wasted weeks between filibusters.

Even one of the Senate’s most basic duties – confirmation of presidential nominees – has become completely unworkable.

Mr. President, there’s been unbelievable, unprecedented obstruction. For the first time in the history of our republic, Republicans have routinely used the filibuster to prevent President Obama from appointing his executive team or confirming judges.

It’s truly a troubling trend that Republicans are willing to block executive branch nominations even when they have no objections to the qualifications of the nominee.

Instead, they block qualified executive branch nominees to circumvent the legislative process. They block qualified executive branch nominations to force wholesale changes to laws. They block qualified executive branch nominees to restructure entire executive branch departments. And they block qualified judicial nominees because they don’t want President Obama to appoint any judges to certain courts.

The need for change is so, so very obvious. It’s clearly visible. It’s manifest we have to do something to change things.

In the history of our country, some 230 plus years, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations. Half of them have occurred during the Obama administration. Mr. President, 230 plus years – 50% 4.5 years – 50%. Is there anything fair about that?

These nominees deserve at least an up or down vote – yes or no. But Republican filibusters deny them a fair vote – any vote – and deny the President his team.

Gridlock has consequences and they’re terrible. It’s not only bad for President Obama, it’s bad for this body – the United States Senate – it’s bad for our country, it’s bad for our national security and bad for our economic security.

That’s why it’s time to get the Senate working again, not for the good of the current democratic majority or some future Republican majority but for the good of the United States of America. It’s time to change. It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete.

Mr. President, at the beginning of this Congress, the Republican leader pledged that – and I quote – “This Congress should be more bipartisan than the last Congress.”

Mr. President, we’re told in Scripture – let’s take, for example, Old Testament, the Book of Numbers – promises, pledges of vow one must not break his word.

In January, Republicans promised to work with the majority to process nominations in a timely manner by unanimous consent except in extraordinary circumstances.

Mr. President, exactly three weeks later, Republicans mounted a first in history filibuster of a highly qualified nominee for Secretary of Defense. Despite being a former Republican Senator, a decorated war hero, having saved his brother’s life in Vietnam, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s nomination was pending in the Senate for a record 34 days – more than three times the previous average for Secretary of Defense. Remember, Mr. President, our country was at war.

Republicans have blocked executive nominees like Secretary Hagel not because they object to their qualifications, but simply because they seek to undermine the very government in which they were elected to serve.

Take the nomination of Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. There was no doubt about his ability to do the job. But the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – the brain child of Elizabeth Warren – went for more than two years without a leader because Republicans refused to accept the law of the land, because they wanted to roll back a law that protects consumers from the greed of Wall Street.

So I say to my Republican colleagues, you don’t have to like the laws of the land but you do have to respect those laws and acknowledge them and abide by them.

Similar obstructions continued unabated for 7 more months until Democrats threatened to change Senate rules to allow up or down votes on executive nominations. In July, after obstructing dozens of executive nominees for months – and some for years – Republicans once again promised they would end the unprecedented obstruction.

One look at the Senate’s executive calendar shows that nothing has changed since July. Republicans have continued their record of obstruction as if no agreement had been reached.

There are currently 75 executive branch nominations ready to be confirmed by the Senate have been waiting an average of 140 days for confirmation.

One executive nominee to the agency that safeguards the water that my children and my grandchildren drink and the air they breathe has waited almost 900 days for confirmation.

We agreed in July that the Senate should be confirming nominees to ensure the proper functioning of government.

Consistent and unprecedented obstruction by the Republican caucus has turned advise and consent into deny and obstruct.

In addition to filibustering the nominee for Secretary of Defense for the first time in history, Senate Republicans also blocked a sitting member of Congress for an administration position for the first time since 1843.

As a senior member of the House Financial Service Committee, Congressman Mel Watt (D-North Carolina) understanding the mistakes that led to the housing crisis made him uniquely qualified to serve as administrator of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Senate Republicans simply don’t like the consumer protections Congressman Watt was nominated to develop and implement. So they denied a fellow member of Congress and a graduate of the Yale School of Law even the courtesy of an up or down vote.

Mr. President, in the last three weeks alone, Republicans have blocked up or down votes on three highly qualified nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. This doesn’t take into consideration they twice turned down one of the most qualified people in my 30 years in the Senate that I’ve ever seen come before this body – Caitlin Halligan. So we have three more to add to that list.

The D.C. Circuit is considered by many to be the highest court of the land and some think the most important – deals with these complex cases that come from federal agencies and other things within their jurisdiction. Republicans have blocked four of President Obama’s five nominees to the D.C. Circuit, whereas Democrats approved four of President Bush’s six nominations to this important court.

Today, the D.C. Circuit Court – at least the second most important court in the land – has more than 25% in vacancies…Mr. President, there isn’t a single legitimate objection to the qualifications of any of these nominees to the D.C. Circuit that President Obama has put forward. Republicans refuse to give them up or down vote – a simple yes or no vote. Republicans simply don’t want President Obama to make any appointments at all to this vital court – none, zero.

Further, only 23 district court nominations have been filibustered in the entire history of our country – 23. You know what? 20 of them have been in the last 4.5 years. 230 plus years – 3. Last 4.5 years – 20. That’s not fair.

With one out of every 10 federal judgeship are vacant, millions of Americans who are relying on courts that are overworked and understaffed are being denied the justice they rightly deserve.

Mr. President, more than half of the nation’s population lives in parts of the country that have been declared a judicial emergency. No one has worked harder than the presiding officer to move judges. Presiding officer’s also the Chairman of the judiciary committee [Patrick Leahy]. No one knows the problem more than the presiding officer.

Mr. President, the American people are fed up with this kind of obstruction and gridlock. The American people – Democrats, Republicans, Independents – are fed up with this gridlock, this obstruction. The American people want Washington to work for American families once again.

Mr. President, I’m on their side, which I’ve proposed an important change to the rules to the United States Senate.

The present Republican leader [Mitch McConnell] himself said – and this is a direct quote – “The Senate has repeatedly changed its rules as circumstances dictate.” He’s right. In fact, the Senate has changed its rules 18 times by sustaining an order overturning the ruling of a presiding officer in the last 36 years during the tenures of both Republicans and Democratic majorities.

The change we propose today would ensure executive and judicial nominations an up or down vote on confirmation – yes, no.

The rule change will make cloture for all nominations – other than the Supreme Court – majority threshold vote – yes or no.

The Senate is a living thing and to survive it must change, as it has over the history of this great country.

To the average American, adapting the rules to make the Senate work again is just common sense. This is not about Democrats versus Republicans. This is about making Washington work regardless of who’s in the White House or who controls the Senate. To remain relevant and effective as an institution, the Senate must evolve to meet the challenges of this modern era.

I have no doubt my Republican colleagues would argue the fault is ours – “It’s the Democrats’ fault.” I can say from experience that no one’s hands are entirely clean on this issue. But today, the important distinction is not between Democrats or Republicans. It’s between those who are willing to help break the gridlock in Washington and those who defend the status quo.

Is the Senate working now? Can anyone say the Senate is working now? I don’t think so.

Today, Democrats and Independents are saying enough is enough. To change the rule regarding presidential nominees will apply equally to both parties. When Republicans are in power, these changes will apply to them just as well. That, Mr. President, is simple fairness, and it’s something both sides should be willing to live with to make Washington work again. That’s simple fairness.




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