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Public Statements

30-Something Working Group

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

30-SOMETHING WORKING GROUP

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Thank you so much to my good friend.

First, let me say that that is a beautiful orange and blue tie, Mr. Ryan, an excellent choice of colors, and coincidentally, the colors of my alma mater which, by the way, is playing in the NCAA tournament beginning tomorrow night. And who will be at the White House to celebrate the national championship in football? But I digress.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Anyway, to get back to the matter at hand, Mr. Meek referred to the fact that the 30-something Working Group was probably expected to shrivel up and die, to blow away after we won the majority, to just not re-emerge because one might think that there was no point in our continuing to exist. However, because the United States Congress and because we believe Democrats are responsible in the leadership of this Congress for accountability, we absolutely need to make sure that we use multiple facets of opportunity available to us to hold people accountable.

We had an opportunity the last number of years to use this forum to hold our good friends on the other side of the aisle accountable, yet we still need to hold this administration accountable. And Lord knows that they certainly need it, as they continue to demonstrate every single day.

And I just want to move on a little past the whistleblower act and the 104 hearings that we have had on this war in Iraq that have been scheduled since we took over the leadership of this Congress to the Attorney General, the U.S. Attorney firings that occurred in the last 10 days or so.

I just came from a House Committee on the Judiciary meeting in which we adopted legislation that will ensure that we reassert the Congress', on the Senate side, role in confirming U.S. Attorneys and restore the check and balance that used to be in place before a provision was inserted in the dead of night by the Republicans in the conference committee without any committee reviewing it whatsoever. They completely changed the way the U.S. Attorneys were confirmed. They politicized that process without any Member being able to have the opportunity to debate it in the light of day.

And clearly we can see as a result of the actions of Attorney General Gonzales and the fact that he has chosen to throw a staff person under the bus rather than have the buck stop with him, seems to be a pattern in this administration, i.e. Scooter Libby. We need to make sure that Congress reasserts our oversight role, and that is exactly what we just did in the Judiciary Committee.

But let's just recap what happened with the U.S. Attorneys. Eight U.S. Attorneys were fired. Now, the U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President, and we certainly don't deny that. However, when asked, when an inquiry was made, as is the Congress' responsibility, as to why those eight U.S. Attorneys were fired, the answer that we got was, well, the eventual answer we got was that it was performance related. Well, of course the eight U.S. Attorneys took umbrage at that and some of them came forward and suggested that there were actually some lawmakers, our good friends on the other side of the aisle specifically, that called and inquired about the progress of cases against Democrats in their jurisdiction. And then coincidentally, a few weeks later those that had gotten called that weren't responsive enough seemed to have been let go.

Now, in the wake of all of this, in the wake of the Attorney General being less than factual in front of a committee of this body and in the wake of the clear difference in what he said and what actually happened, you have the chief of staff to the Attorney General who has resigned. Last week you had another individual responsible for overseeing the U.S. Attorneys resign. Now, they say that he was on his way out anyway.

But it is time, and thank God we are able to now exercise Congress' oversight role and make sure that we have some fairness, make sure that we have justice administered in the way that Americans expect it to be, and that we are not politicizing the Department of Justice or the legal process that U.S. Attorneys oversee in each of their jurisdictions. Without us pointing that out, it would normally have just been swept under the rug. The administration would have just tried to ride it out and weather the storm. But now that we have a Democratic Congress, they can't do that anymore.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. They actually went farther than that. You have a former Chief of Staff of the White House, a U.S. Senator from New Hampshire, Mr. Sununu, who said, ``I think the Attorney General should be fired,'' period, dot, in the words of Mr. Meek.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Can I share a story with you? I know I have shared this with you before, but I think it's worth repeating.

Right before we debated the Iraq war resolution a couple of weeks ago, I took the opportunity to go to Walter Reed and visit our wounded soldiers, had a chance to meet with six or eight of the finest young men that I have ever encountered. One of them was a young man who suffered from an inexplicable illness and was recovering at Walter Reed.

When I met him, his wife and his 6 year-old little boy were there. The gentleman explained to me that he had been in the middle of his third tour of duty, and he had a 6 year-old little boy. Each tour was 1 year, 1 year.

Now, if you do the math, that means that he missed half of his little boy's life. The overwhelming sadness that came over me was almost too much to bear. I mean, this little boy was so sweet, his wife was so understanding, they were so committed to his dad's service, her husband's service. The little boy said to me, just spontaneously, you know, as 6 year-old little boys are, I have a 7 year-old little boy so I know, he spontaneously burst out, he knew his dad was supposed to finish his tour in August, and he was going to come home forever in August. We forget this is about families and people, and we are destroying the fabric of these families.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. I am so glad that you went through those benchmarks and stressed that these were the President's benchmarks that we used. The President, on January 10, outlined the benchmarks for success, that he felt were imperative that we need.

Those were that we must give the United States the authority to pursue all extremists, we must rein in the militias and have Iraqis step up to the plate to enforce security. They have to decide how their oil revenues are going to be distributed. That is a very important benchmark that has to be accomplished, and they have to pass reconciliation initiatives to keep their country together. Their country is essentially about to fall apart. They are in the midst of civil war and are absolutely at the breaking point.

Besides those benchmarks that we had in that supplemental that we passed out of the Appropriations Committee today, and besides the incredibly necessary emergency funding that the troops need and that our veterans need, we also put provisions in that legislation to make sure that our troops can catch their breath.

I referred to that soldier who I met in Walter Reed, whose little boy just wanted him to come home, and who had missed half his little boy's life. We have soldiers, many, many soldiers, who have completed three tours of duty, are about to go on their fourth, who are deployed for 365 days and then that deployment is extended.

The language we put in that bill ensures and says to the Army that they need to make sure that those deployments are not beyond 365 days.

The President can waive that provision by submitting a report to Congress detailing why that unit's deployment is in the interest of national security. But that is the kind of accountability that we are inserting to protect our troops, to make sure that the President certifies that that deployment, that extension is absolutely essential to protect national security, despite the assessment that the unit is not fully mission capable.

Our readiness is shot. We are spread so incredibly thin, and we are talking about the impact on human beings' lives.

How about the length of deployment? The language in our bill requires the Defense Department to abide by its current policy and avoid extending the deployment of units in Iraq in excess of the 365 days. We have to make sure that those units are fully mission capable, and the time between deployments is essential as well.

The Defense Department would be required to abide by, again, its current policy and avoid sending units back into Iraq before troops get the required time out of the combat zone and training time, 365 days for the Army, and 210 days for the Marines. And the President can also waive that provision in the interest of national security. He just has to certify to Congress that that is the case.

And that is the kind of accountability that the American people insisted upon on November 7. They asked us for a new direction, in the 6 in 2006 items of our agenda that we have already passed, and they insisted that we move this war in a new direction so that there would be an end in sight, so that the President would no longer have a blank check, and so that we could make sure we could protect our men and women in uniform who are protecting us. And I would be happy to yield to the gentleman. And I am going to have to take my leave of the gentleman because I have constituents that are in town that I need to speak with. I look forward to you carrying on

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