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Public Statements


Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, recently we have seen troubling signs. There are some in the executive branch who would use the power of the Federal Government to intimidate political opponents. For instance, there were reports that the IRS targeted conservative groups for harassment and discriminatory treatment because they sought to exercise their first amendment rights of freedom of association and speech, and during the debate on ObamaCare when the Department of Health and Human Services issued a gag order on insurance plans in an attempt to prevent them from telling their customers about problems with the bill.

Now there are published reports that the same department is trying to shake down some of these same companies for money so it can try to convince Americans to finally like ObamaCare.

Over at the FCC, the President's allies are trying to shut down or make it difficult for people who want to buy advertising to exercise their first amendment rights to criticize the administration. There are similar efforts over at the SEC. It all points to a culture of political intimidation.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem the culture of intimidation is simply confined to the executive branch. The administration's allies in the Senate are trying to intimidate their political opponents as well. What I am talking about is the persistent threat by the majority to break the rules of the Senate in order to change the rules of the Senate; in other words, to use the nuclear option if they don't get their way.

For example, Senate Democrats were incensed that Republicans had the temerity to exercise their advice and consent responsibility to block a grand total of just one nominee to the DC Circuit. What did our Democratic colleagues do in response? They consulted with the White House and pledged to pack the DC court with appointees ``one way or another''--meaning use the nuclear option.

They are certainly not doing this because the DC Circuit is burdened with cases--far from it. The DC Circuit is one of the least busy courts in the country. They want to use the nuclear option to pack the DC Circuit so it can rubberstamp the President's big government agenda--the same big government we have seen over at the IRS and elsewhere.

That is not the limit of the culture of intimidation in the Senate. Let's look at the NLRB situation. Despite the story that the administration and Senate Democrats want to spin, Senate Republicans did not block the President's nominees to the National Labor Relations Board; rather, it was the President who blocked the nominees to the Republican slots on the NLRB so he could, once again, pack a powerful branch of government, in this case, the NLRB.

The administration sat on one of the two Democratic vacancies at the NLRB for 4 months. Then it waited until the middle of December in 2011 to send up both nominees for the Democratic seats on the NLRB while refusing to send up any of the nominees for the Republican seats. In fact, the administration sat on the Republican nominees to the NLRB for 9 months.

Then, with no Republican nominees to the NLRB before the Senate, the President purported to recess appoint the two Democratic nominees to the Board when their nominations had been before the Senate for less than 3 weeks. It was so fast the majority leader didn't even have time to schedule a hearing. Our Democratic colleagues did not defend the Senate from the President's unprecedented and unconstitutional power grab. Senate Republicans had to do that.

Now that the DC Circuit has found these purported appointments to be unconstitutional--by the way, that was a unanimous three-judge court--and other circuit courts are agreeing with its reasoning, what is the Democratic majority threatening to do now? It is planning to double down and aid the administration with its power grab at the NLRB.

Specifically, as with their effort to pack the DC circuit, the majority is threatening to use the nuclear option so they can push through unlawfully appointed board members over the principled objection of Senate Republicans. It doesn't seem that our Democratic colleagues want to respect the rules of the Senate or that they want to respect the rulings of our Federal courts. It appears they want to enable the President and organized labor to exercise power at a powerful Federal agency without anyone getting in the way.

Let's be clear. These threats to use the nuclear option because of obstruction are just pretext for a power grab.

What are the facts? The Senate has confirmed 19 of the President's judicial nominees so far this year. At this point in President Bush's second term when my party controlled the Senate, President Bush had a grand total of four judicial nominees confirmed. There have been 19 confirmed so far in the second term of President Obama with Democratic control of the Senate and four in the second term of President Bush with a Republican control of the Senate.

Moreover, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee just voted unanimously to support the President's current nomination to the DC Circuit. The Senate Republican conference agreed yesterday to hold an up-or-down vote on his nomination--which has only been on the calendar since Monday of this week--to occur after the Memorial Day recess. That way Members who do not serve on the committee, which is a vast majority of the Senate, could have at least 1 week to evaluate this important nomination.

Instead, the majority leader chose to jam the minority. He rejected our offer for an up-or-down vote, just 10 days or so from now, and filed cloture on the nomination just 1 day after it appeared on the executive calendar. This is just another example of the majority manufacturing a crisis to justify heavy-handed behavior.

As for the NLRB, Republicans are willing to support nominees who are not unlawfully appointed and who have not been unlawfully exercising governmental power. Regarding nominees generally, Senate Republicans have been willing to work with the President to get his team in place. The Secretary of Energy was confirmed 97 to 0, the Secretary of Interior was confirmed 87 to 11, the Secretary of the Treasury was confirmed 71 to 26, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget was confirmed 96 to 0, and the Secretary of State was confirmed 94 to 3, just 7 days after the Senate received his nomination.

These continued threats to use the nuclear option point to the majority's own culture of intimidation in the Senate. Their view is that we had better confirm the people they want when they want them or they will break the rules of the Senate to change the rules so we can't stop them. So much for respecting the rights of the minority and so much for a meaningful application of advice and consent.

Senate Republicans will work with the administration and the Democratic majority, but we will not be intimidated. We have principled objections to some of the President's nominees and constant threats to break the rules are not going to work. Constant threats to break the rules are not going to work. We want to work with the Democrats, but these tactics are not the way to go about getting our cooperation.

The majority leader has twice committed on the Senate floor not to use the nuclear option. The last time was just a few months ago. These were not conditional commitments. They were not commitments not to violate the rules of the Senate unless it became convenient for political purposes to violate the rules of the Senate.

The comments of Senators are supposed to matter. Our words are supposed to mean something around here. The commitments of the Senate majority leader need to matter. We simply cannot start breaking commitments around here, especially on something that goes to the very essence of the Senate. The majority leader needs to keep his commitments.

I indicated to the majority leader I was going to ask unanimous consent--and I assume he has a copy of it--on the DC Circuit Court nomination that the majority leader filed a cloture motion on last night. We have already stated that we agreed to a debate and a vote which came out of the committee unanimously.

We confirmed two judicial nominations Monday of this week, and we have an additional two scheduled for later this week. I have already indicated that confirmations of judges this year are stunningly fair to the majority compared to a time when President Bush was in his second term and my party controlled the Senate.

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