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Public Statements

Advice and Consent

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. BARRASSO. Mr. President, I come to the floor today to talk about the advice and consent duties of the Senate. Our Constitution gives the Senate the responsibility to advise the President on high-level executive positions and judgeships. The Senate is also asked to consent on those appointments to ensure that only those who are worthy of the public's trust hold positions of such great power. The confirmation process is a way to protect the American people from nominees who simply aren't up to the job or to the times we are in as a country.

It is also an important opportunity for the Senate to exercise oversight over the agencies and the policies of an administration and to do this on behalf of the American people. Let me repeat that. It is about exercising oversight on behalf of the American people.

This is one of the most important roles we play as Senators. This is one of the reasons our Nation's Founding Fathers intentionally made the pace of the Senate deliberate. They wanted to make sure there was free debate on important subjects so we could give appropriate consideration to policies, to laws, and to nominations.

The Father of our Constitution, James Madison, explained the Senate's role was ``first to protect the people against their rulers.''

``First to protect the people against their rulers'' was the point of this body. That is why, over its long history, the Senate has adopted rules that provide strong protections for political minorities.

Lately some in the majority have decided the American people shouldn't ask so many questions and the minority shouldn't have so many rights. Here is a little perspective on the conversation we are having today. Over the last 6 years Majority Leader Reid has taken an unprecedented stand against the rights of the minority in this body. He has done it through procedural tactics such as filling the amendment tree on bills and bypassing committees using something called rule XIV of the Senate rules. Those techniques may make it easier for the majority leader to get what he wants, but they shut many Senators out of legislating, and they shut out the Americans we represent, Democrats as well as Republicans.

At the beginning of the last Congress and again at the start of this Congress, there was an attempt to use the so-called nuclear option and to use it to radically change the rules of the Senate and to strip the rights of the minority. Back in 2011, Majority Leader Reid made a commitment not to use the nuclear option.

On the floor he said:

I agree that the proper way to change Senate rules is through the procedures established in those rules, and I will oppose any effort in this Congress or the next to change the Senate rules other than through the regular order.

He said this Congress or the next Congress, so that includes the Congress we are in right now today.

It didn't stop some of the members of his caucus from trying to force the nuclear option again earlier this year. I was one of a bipartisan group of Senators--eight of us--who worked together and negotiated, I thought, responsible changes to Senate procedures. Our goal was to avoid the rush that would take drastic steps that would damage this body and our country forever. It was a fair agreement.

It was also an agreement that we were told would rule out the use of the nuclear option. So Republicans agreed to support two new standing orders and two new standing rules of the Senate. Those changes were overwhelmingly supported by Republicans as well as Democrats in this body.

In return, the majority leader again gave his word he would not try to break the rules in order to change the rules. Here is what he said a few months ago on the Senate floor: ``Any other resolutions related to Senate procedure would be subject to a regular order process.''

He even added this included considerations by the Rules Committee. There was no equivocating in the statement by the Democratic leader. There were no ifs, ands, or buts. This was January 24 of this year. Here we are again, less than 5 months later, and we are having this same argument.

Some Senate Democrats want to use the nuclear option to break the rules, to change the rules, and do away with the right to extended debate on nominations. This would be an unprecedented power grab by the majority. It would gut the advice and consent function of the Senate. It would trample the rights of the minority. It would deprive millions of Americans of their right to have their voices heard through their representatives here in Washington. The nuclear option would irreparably change this institution.

Republicans have raised principled objections to a select few of the President's nominees. In other cases, such as the DC Circuit Court, we simply want to apply the standard the Democrats had set, that the court's workload doesn't justify the addition of three more judges.

The President claims his nominees have been treated unfairly. Even the Washington Post's Fact Checker said the President's comments were untrue. The other day the Post Fact Checker gave the President not just one but two Pinocchios for his claims about Republican delays on his judicial nominees.

The White House and the majority leader don't want to hear it. They want the Senate to rubberstamp the President's nominees. The Democrats aren't happy with the rulings by the DC Circuit Court, and they want to avoid any more inconvenient questions about the Obama administration. Democrats claim they want to change the rules to make things move more quickly, but that is no excuse. Remember when the majority leader threatened the same drastic step a couple of years ago? One of the Democrats who stood up to oppose the current majority leader at the time was former Senator Chris Dodd. In his farewell speech in this body in late 2010, this is what Senator Dodd had to say:

I can understand the temptation to change the rules that make the Senate so unique--and, simultaneously, so frustrating. But whether such a temptation is motivated by a noble desire to speed up the legislative process, or by pure political expedience, I believe such changes would be unwise.

This was a Democratic Senator with 30 years of service in the Senate.

The reality is the pace of the Senate can be deliberate. Extended debate and questioning of nominees is a vital tool to help ensure the men and women who run our government are up to the job and are held accountable.

Under the system some in the majority want to impose, there will be less opportunity for political minorities to question nominees. There will be less government transparency. The faith of the American people in their government will get smaller and smaller.

I believe it would be a terrible mistake for Democrats to pursue the nuclear option and an irresponsible abuse of power. From the beginning the American political system has functioned on majority rule but with strong minority rights. Democracy is not winner-take-all. Senator Reid gave his word. We negotiated in good faith earlier this year. We reached a bipartisan agreement to avoid the nuclear option. Using the nuclear option on nominations now would unfairly disregard that agreement. If Democrats break the rules to change the rules, political minorities and all Americans will lose.

I yield the floor.


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