Mr. COATS. Madam President, Thomas Jefferson once said:
The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society.
The foundation of this society, this great society based on democracy, is the principle of self-determination and the belief that every American is equal under the law and guaranteed liberty. This principle is ingrained in the character of our Nation, and it is enshrined in our Constitution.
Of the many things that set us apart from other nations, there is none greater than the First Amendment to the Constitution--the freedom of religion, the freedom of the press, freedom to assemble and to petition our government, and the freedom of speech.
Under the First Amendment, Americans have the right to organize around the issues and values they believe in, and they have the right to disagree with their government. This liberty is part of what energizes our democracy, and it is essential if this democracy is to prevail.
That freedom has come under attack recently by our very own government when the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups, including at least one in my home State of Indiana, for extra scrutiny based on their political leanings. The IRS must be nonpartisan. It has to be. It is not a partisan watchdog.
Why did the enforcers of our Tax Code target groups with applications that included the words ``tea party,'' ``patriots,'' or ``9/12 Project''? Why did it single out applications of groups focusing on issues such as government spending, government debt and taxes, to educate the public by advocacy to ``make America a better place to live,'' or those who sought to educate Americans about our Constitution? The IRS singled out a group formed to better educate Americans about our Constitution. What, are they afraid they are going to read it? The IRS targeted a group that wants to make America a better place to live. They are afraid that these groups are going to succeed by questioning the policies of this administration and perhaps suggesting a different course.
This is outrageous, this targeting. The inspector general issued a report yesterday saying these are very serious allegations, and they reveal an effort to misuse government power to unfairly scrutinize those who simply disagree with the policies of this administration. Remember the timing. All of this took place during a national election.
I have met with tea party groups all across the State of Indiana. Unlike the characterization that is made by some, these are honest, law-abiding citizens who are deeply concerned about the future of their country. They are deeply concerned about our nation's plunge into deficit spending and debt that may never be able to be repaid and may be dumped in the laps of our children and our grandchildren. They want to do something about it, and they are deeply concerned about abuses of the rights guaranteed under the Constitution. They said one of the first things they do is suggest why don't we read the Constitution and better understand the Constitution.
I think that is a good idea, because I think some of the things we are doing raise the question of whether they are constitutional. To form a group for the purpose of addressing concerns about the national debt, which is running out of control, about a government that is spending like a drunken sailor, about a government that refuses to do what just about every business in America and every family in America has had to do during this time of downturn and recession--that is to tighten their belts and spend more wisely--only the Federal Government doesn't do this and hasn't done this successfully.
So they get targeted by an agency that oversees their taxes and intimidates them or fails to give a rational evaluation of their application for tax exempt status? This targeting is not only inappropriate, it is outrageous and it is disgraceful. It is a despicable abuse of power and a direct assault on our Constitution. It is exactly the type of thing that makes Americans further distrust their government.
Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center released a poll revealing that 73 percent of Americans distrust their government. In other words, only 3 out of every 10 Americans have faith in the Federal Government. This trust deficit is something we should not ignore. It is an alarming indication of how the American people view their government--one that continues to overreach. Those of us who are trying to assure our constituents that we are doing everything we can to keep this government from overreaching, who know we need to restore this trust, we are now hit with something like this.
The IRS is given the responsibility of carrying out the law. It should never use its powers for partisan purposes--ever. Violating that standard destroys the integrity of our government and further erodes the trust of the American people. Neither those of us who make the laws nor those who enforce the laws can be above the law, but the IRS believed it was above the law when it targeted conservative groups for scrutiny. Make no mistake, it is the IRS that will be under scrutiny because of their own abuse, and so will every other agency of government because we are beginning to discover a disturbing pattern of politically motivated abuse.
Sometimes I think we are beginning to hear the echoes of Watergate whispering through this town and through the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
I have a hard time believing their apology and explanation that this was simply a misguided effort by low-level bureaucrats attempting to organize applications for tax exempt status. Where have we heard that before? Oh, yes, Benghazi--these were some low-level bureaucrats who made the wrong decision.
Where does the buck stop in this town? It doesn't stop at the President's desk or at the desk of the Secretary of State. It seems to be pushed down to the ``low-level bureaucrats'' who should have been supervised better. These people went off and did their own thing so let's just dismiss it, push it to the side. So, yes, we lost an ambassador--that was a tragic situation--and three others who were there trying to protect him, but what is the big deal? It is over with. It was a mistake, so let's move on.
It is just like this pathetically weak statement from our President who said if this turns out to be the case, then, of course, we will need to do something about it. It is real. It is there. It has to be addressed.
While an apology from the IRS is necessary, it is not enough to just simply say it is an inappropriate act. The targeting of these groups, which was confirmed by, as I said, the inspector general, is a very serious allegation and reveals an effort to misuse government power to unfairly scrutinize those who disagree with the administration. The actions of the IRS to target groups based on political viewpoints is outrageous and disgraceful. It is an abuse of power and a direct assault on our Constitution.
Madam President, there must be accountability and responsibility from top leadership, and that includes the White House. The American people deserve answers. How could this clearly unconstitutional action have occurred? Who was involved and who else was aware of this deliberate targeting? What steps will be taken to ensure this doesn't happen again?
Today, I have joined all of my Senate Republican colleagues in sending the President a letter demanding the administration comply fully with all congressional inquiries on this matter. No more avoiding, no more delaying, no more stonewalling, no more inappropriate responses. It is time for the administration to start answering some questions for the American people.
This scandal has left a stain on the IRS that I believe cannot be repaired under current leadership. The head of the IRS, as well as every supervisor involved, should be removed from their posts.
We will not tolerate the intimidation and silencing of Americans simply for exercising their First Amendment rights.
Let me conclude by repeating Thomas Jefferson's warning:
We must not allow this abuse of fundamental constitutional rights to break up the very foundations of society.
Madam President, I yield the floor.