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Public Statements


Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, I am glad I had the opportunity to be on the floor today to hear the remarks of the Senator from Virginia. All of us look forward to the President's remarks tomorrow night. I am going to reserve my comments because of the seriousness of the subject and out of respect for the Office of the President until after the President addresses the Nation. But I would say this. Having heard the Senator from Virginia, I hope the President and his advisers listened carefully to what the Senator from Virginia said. None of us want to see another military adventure in the Middle East. As in Virginia and West Virginia and Tennessee, we have had thousands--tens of thousands of Tennesseans who have been in Iraq and Afghanistan three, four, five, or six times on tours of duty. But this ISIS threat is a different kind of threat to civilization, and very well could be a threat to the United States. It requires a response. It requires the President's leadership. He is the Commander in Chief, and it is his job to lay out for us a firm and clear strategy for, in the words of his administration, how we will defeat and destroy this new movement.

In thinking about whether to come to the Congress, I think it is useful for the President to think back to the first President Bush and the decision he had to make. I was in his cabinet. I came just about that time and the idea of a ground war in the Middle East was a shocking thought. We had not had something like that in this country for a while, and the President was reluctant at first to come to the Congress to seek approval for that, but he did it. And he said after he had done it that in retrospect he was glad he did. What did he gain?

Even though it was a contentious debate and the margin of the vote wasn't large, it gave a clear signal to the world that we were united as a country against the threat at that time. It gave a clear signal to the country that regardless of party we were united with the President of the United States on what he saw as an urgent mission for our country. As a result of that, he had an enormously successful operation. It was well planned, funded by other countries, primarily, and had a limited objective. They got to the gates of Baghdad, the objective was realized, and we came home. I think the fact that the President sought the advice of Congress was a part of that.

In this case I think this President would find in this body careful listeners to what he has to say, a willingness on both sides of the aisle to consider his strategy, and a willingness to support a carefully crafted plan to meet his objectives. This is not Libya, this is not Grenada, and this is not Panama. This is at least 2 or 3 years. Any time our country is expected to have a military action especially in the Middle East again, it needs to have the full support of the American people, and that starts here.

So I will wait until Wednesday night to hear what the President has to say, but the Senator from Virginia has given some very careful and reasonable advice, and I hope the President and his advisers will consider that very carefully.

I am here today to speak on another subject. I am here today because Senate Democrats want to amend the Bill of Rights--at least 48 of them do. Forty-eight of them want to say: Let's amend the United States Constitution and the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. Let's amend the guarantee of free speech. That is an extraordinary development.

If passed, Senate Joint Resolution 19, which is the subject on the floor today, would give Congress and State governments the power to decide which Americans can speak in elections, what they can say, when they can say it, and how they say it. This measure would gut the free speech provisions of the First Amendment. It is a shocking proposal--a shocking proposal made even more so by the fact that it is supported by 48 Democratic Senators and President Obama. I wonder if any of them have taken the time to see the writing on the wall of the Newseum down the street. In big bold letters carved into the concrete it says: ``Congress shall make no law ..... abridging the freedom of speech ..... '' That is in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Our Founders passed the Constitution, and they said, well, we forgot to do the Bill of Rights. So they came back with the Bill of Rights, and this is in the First Amendment. Free speech is one of the defining characteristics of liberal democracies worldwide. No country has embraced free speech and protected it as much as has the United States of America. Other countries look to us as a model for this remarkable freedom. So why would anyone attempt to amend the Constitution, amend the Bill of Rights, and change the free speech clause in the First Amendment?

When we look at the Democratic leadership in the Senate we see a pattern of using a gag rule to silence Senators who were sent here on behalf of the people who elected them to represent their views. The majority leader has prevented Tennesseans, for example, from having their say through their Senators, their elected officials, for years now, by using the gag rule in this body to keep amendments from being considered and voted on. Senators have listened to their constituents and proposed amendments on ObamaCare, taxes, the National Labor Relations Board, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, etc., and they are told by the Democratic leadership that they won't get votes. I have said on this floor many times, it is like being invited to join the Grand Ole Opry and not being allowed to sing.

But the consequences are much more serious than that. It is not just my amendment or my colleague Senator Corker's amendment, and it is not just Tennesseans' amendments. It is the voters of every State who sent us here to have a say on their behalf. Senator Barrasso from Wyoming has counted that since July of 2013, last year, only 14 Republican amendments and 9 Democratic amendments have received votes. That is an astounding number. There are 100 Senators here representing more than 300 million Americans. This is said to be the world's greatest deliberative body. The new book ``The American Senate'' describes this body, saying: ``This is the one authentic touch of genius in the American political system.'' What makes it ``the one authentic touch of genius in the American political system'' then? It is that you take a difficult message or a difficult bill, you put it on the floor, and you talk about it and you talk about it, and you debate it, and you amend it, until finally you say that is enough and 60 of us say it is time to cut off debate. Let's vote and have a result.

Yet in a year's time there have only been 23 amendments to legislation that have received votes. Some Members of this body who are running for re-election and have never had a vote on any amendment they offered on the Senate floor. Someone might well ask, well, what have you been doing?

Then this summer the Democrats extended the gag rule from the Senate floor to the Senate committee rooms. The bills of some members of the Appropriations Committee, on which I serve, were indefinitely postponed because the Senate leadership wanted to avoid difficult votes on those amendments--no vote on clean water, no vote on energy, no vote because it was a difficult vote.

Now in this provision Democrats and the President are trying to extend the gag rule to the free speech clause of the First Amendment. What this proposal would do is give Congress the power to silence the groups or organizations that threaten their reelection. For example, the government could tell a gun owner in Johnson City, TN, that he or she cannot spend money to advocate in defense of Second Amendment rights if that speech falls too close to an election and threatens to influence the campaign of incumbents. Or similarly, Congress might tell Tennessee Right to Life: You cannot advertise to protect the rights of the unborn. Congress could decide that such speech should be restricted or prohibited because incumbents fear it is really an endorsement of a candidate for political office.

Also incumbents could seek to stop new political movements like the tea party by placing unachievable conditions on their ability to raise and spend funds on behalf of candidates they support. They can do this under the guise of protecting donors by saying you can't receive donations unless you've been successful in a previous election or you have a real chance of being successful in the future. The decision of whether a new political movement is politically viable would of course be made by their political competitors. Or Congress might criminalize expenditures by organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who might oppose a plan by Senate Democrats to increase the minimum wage on the grounds that the funds spent by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are the equivalent of attack ads against Democratic candidates in tight reelection races.

Who might be exempt from this gag rule on free speech? Well, freedom of the press--that is mentioned in the amendment. And who would freedom of the press be? Who might this be? Well, it would be billionaires who could buy television stations, billionaires who could buy a newspaper and buy any form of this new media that we see around us. So ordinary Americans could have their ability to advocate their views restricted, but billionaires could buy TV stations or buy a newspaper or buy any form of media and say whatever they think. Those are the people exempt from the gag rule proposed by the Democrats.

What about millionaire candidates? It has been considered by the Supreme Court and by all who looked at it that while Congress might put rules on raising from others that it could never place on spending your own money. So we have candidates running for President, running for the Senate, who spend their own money. So we might not be limiting the millionaire candidates to the Senate and their right to free speech. We might not be limiting the billionaire owners of television stations and newspapers and their right to free speech, but ordinary Americans would have a gag rule. So the gag rule that began on the Senate floor and went to the Senate hearing rooms would now be applied by Congress to the ordinary Americans across this country. The Founders would never have imagined that. They passed the First Amendment to protect against this very concern--that government censors would tell ordinary Americans what they can and cannot say.

President Harry Truman, who liked to exercise a lot of free speech himself, warned about this in a message to Congress on August 8, 1950. He said:

Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures until it becomes a source of terror to all of its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.

That is President Harry Truman.

That is not a description of this country. That is not a description of America. That is a description of our enemies.

Look through our history. How would this law apply in our history? What about Harriet Beecher Stowe before the Civil War, writing ``Uncle Tom's Cabin?'' Maybe she would want to buy an ad in the local newspaper saying: Mr. Lincoln is a nice man. Read my book.

The State might not like that. They might like holding slaves. They might not like what she says and what she wants to advertise.

What about Thomas Payne at the beginning of our country's history writing ``Common Sense''? Would a law such as this apply to his tract--the 1 he published or if he published 10 or if he published 20?

Taken to its logical conclusion, this proposal could be used by a Congress or a State to ban books, to ban writings. It is shocking that we are standing here today and debating such a proposal. It is not surprising that so few from the other side of the aisle are streaming through the door and standing on the floor--as the Senator from Utah mentioned--to defend this proposal.

Every American ought to be concerned about this proposal to amend the Bill of Rights and the free speech clause in the First Amendment. They should be deeply concerned that the Senate majority leader and his gag rule have effectively silenced their elected representatives here in the Senate, and now he wants to silence them.

I thank the Presiding Officer.

I yield the floor.


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