Executive Session

Floor Speech

By:  Elizabeth Warren
Date: May 15, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. WARREN. Mr. President, I want to start by thanking the senior Senator from Virginia both for advancing a nomination that we will vote on this afternoon and for his comments about Gina McCarthy. She is, as the Senator says, a quite remarkable person, and she will be a wonderful director of the Environmental Protection Agency. I very much appreciate the Senator's comments about her, and I know Ms. McCarthy does as well, and the people of Massachusetts do as well.

I rise today to do something very simple. I ask my colleagues to give a simple vote to the President's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency. This is not fancy or ambitious, it is just a basic principle of good government in our constitutional system.

When the Founders of our Republic came together to write the Constitution, they knew the President would need help in administering this great and expansive Nation. Without help, without a government that was staffed, justice would not be established, our common defense would be threatened, and the blessings of liberty we hoped to secure through our laws would go unfulfilled.

The Founders of our Republic gave to the President the task of nominating individuals to serve and gave us the responsibility to advise on and consent to these appointments. For more than 200 years this process has worked. Presidents over the years have nominated thousands of qualified men and women who were willing to serve in key executive branch positions.

The Senate has considered nominations in a timely fashion and taken up-or-down votes. Of course, there have been bumps along the way, but we have never seen anything like this. Time and again, Members of this body have resorted to procedural technicalities and flatout obstructionism to block qualified nominees.

At the moment, there are 85 judicial vacancies in the U.S. courts, some of which are classified as ``judicial emergencies.'' That is more than double the number of judicial vacancies at the comparable point during President George W. Bush's second term. Yet right now there are 10 nominees awaiting a vote in the Senate, and they have not gotten one.

But that is not all. The nomination of the Secretary of Defense was held up for weeks and then filibustered. The nominee for the Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez, has been held up on an obscure technical maneuver. Then, of course, there is the determined effort to block Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau--not because he is unqualified; in fact, he has received praise from industry and consumer groups alike. Even the Republicans who blocked him have praised his fairness and his evenhandedness. No, Rich Cordray is blocked because some Members of this body do not like the agency he heads. They know they do not have the votes to get rid of it or to weaken it, so instead they are holding the Director's nomination hostage.

Now we get to Gina McCarthy. This past Thursday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee was scheduled to vote on Gina McCarthy's nomination to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Right before the scheduled vote, all the Republicans decided not to show up. Under Senate rules, that meant there was no quorum and thus the vote could not take place.

The President has done his job. He named an outstanding nominee for the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy. Gina has dedicated her professional life to the protection of our public health and to the stewardship of our environment. She was confirmed to her previous position at the EPA as Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation by voice vote without objection.

Just to be clear, this means most of the Members of this Chamber have already voted to approve her once before.

Gina also has a long record of working effectively across party lines. She served under Republican and Democratic Governors alike, including working for Gov. Mitt Romney, the most recent Republican Presidential nominee. Her record in Massachusetts was stellar, and she has done all of us in the Commonwealth proud through her service in Washington.

Gina herself has also done her job and more. She has answered a staggering 1,120 questions from the Environment and Public Works Committee. That is the largest number of questions ever asked of a nominee facing a Senate confirmation. To put this in some perspective, 4 years ago the last confirmed Administrator of the EPA, Lisa Jackson, was asked 157 questions during her nomination process.

When Congress convened in January, many of us, both veterans and newcomers, were concerned that this kind of obstructionism would persist in the new Congress. We pushed hard for changes to the filibuster rules. We understood passions on both sides of the issue, and we listened to our colleagues. Ultimately, the two sides reached a compromise, a compromise that many of us were concerned about, but it included a clear understanding that the Democrats would not make substantial changes to the filibuster and, in return, the Republicans would not abuse its use. But in the past 3 months, abuse has been piled on abuse. Republicans have prevented votes on judges, on agency heads, and on administration Secretaries.

This is wrong. Republicans can vote no on any nominee they choose, but blocking a vote is nothing more than obstructionism. Blocking the business of government, the business of protecting people from cheating credit card companies, from mercury in the water or from unfair labor practices must stop.

The President has done his job. Gina McCarthy has done her job. Now it is time for the Senate to do its job. Gina McCarthy deserves a vote.

I yield the floor.

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