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Public Statements

Nuclear Option

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

NUCLEAR OPTION -- (Senate - April 13, 2005)

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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise today to urge my colleagues to think about the implications of what has been called the nuclear option and what effect that might have on this Chamber and on this country. I urge all of us to think not just about winning every debate but about protecting free and democratic debate.

During my Senate campaign, I had the privilege and opportunity to meet Americans from all walks of life and both ends of the political spectrum. They told me about their lives, about their hopes, about the issues that matter to them, and they also told me what they think about Washington.

Because my colleagues have heard it themselves, I know it will not surprise many of them to learn that a lot of people do not think much gets done around here on issues about which they care the most. They think the atmosphere has become too partisan, the arguments have become too nasty, and the political agendas have become too petty.

While I have not been here too long, I have noticed that partisan debate is sharp, and dissent is not always well received. Honest differences of opinion and principled compromise often seem to be the victim of a determination to score points against one's opponents.

But the American people sent us here to be their voice. They understand that those voices can at times become loud and argumentative, but they also hope we can disagree without being disagreeable. At the end of the day, they expect both parties to work together to get the people's business done.

What they do not expect is for one party, be it Republican or Democrat, to change the rules in the middle of the game so they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet.

The American people want less partisanship in this town, but everyone in this Chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster, if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse.

I understand that Republicans are getting a lot of pressure to do this from factions outside the Chamber, but we need to rise above ``the ends justify the means'' mentality because we are here to answer to the people--all of the people, not just the ones who are wearing our particular party label.

The fact is that both parties have worked together to confirm 95 percent of this President's judicial nominees. The Senate has accepted 205 of his 214 selections. In fact, we just confirmed another one of the President's judges this week by a vote of 95 to 0. Overall, this is a better record than any President has had in the last 25 years. For a President who received 51 percent of the vote and a Senate Chamber made up of 55 percent of the President's party, I would say that confirming 95 percent of their judicial nominations is a record to be proud of.

Again, I urge my Republican colleagues not to go through with changing these rules. In the long run, it is not a good result for either party. One day Democrats will be in the majority again, and this rule change will be no fairer to a Republican minority than it is to a Democratic minority.

I sense that talk of the nuclear option is more about power than about fairness. I believe some of my colleagues propose this rule change because they can get away with it rather than because they know it is good for our democracy.

Right now we are faced with rising gas prices, skyrocketing tuition costs, a record number of uninsured Americans, and some of the most serious national security threats we have ever had, while our bravest young men and women are risking their lives halfway around the world to keep us safe. These are challenges we all want to meet and problems we all want to solve, even if we do not always agree on how to do it. But if the right of free and open debate is taken away from the minority party and the millions of Americans who ask us to be their voice, I fear the partisan atmosphere in Washington will be poisoned to the point where no one will be able to agree on anything. That does not serve anybody's best interest, and it certainly is not what the patriots who founded this democracy had in mind. We owe the people who sent us here more than that. We owe them much more.

Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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